26 February 2009

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
How a record changed my life.



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In the heady atmosphere of 1985-1986, I never thought I'd live to see the day when the Jesus And Mary Chain - musical revolutionaries, performers of shambolic 20-minute sets of hellish white noise and inebriated chaos, banned from Student Unions across the country because of their concerts' tendency to end in (sort-of) riots, scruffy council-estate urchins from the industrial wastelands of West Central Scotland - would be having their music celebrated and given away free with copies of The Times. But I guess if you're right and you wait patiently enough, the world will often come round to your way of thinking eventually.

That's not what I want to talk about here, though. In so far as I can establish, it's rare that one can say with certainty that a piece of popular culture - whether it be music, a book, a film, a painting, a comic or anything else - has entirely by itself genuinely changed the entire course of your life, from the way you dress to the way you act, the places you go to and the people you associate with. But that's exactly what Jim and William Reid's epochal 1985 LP "Psychocandy" did for me. I was an entirely different person the day I heard it to the person I was before - for a start, you wouldn't be reading these words now without it.

It opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed, that I didn't even know I'd been looking for until I discovered it, whereupon I instantly knew it was where I belonged. This feature isn't intended to take you to that world - hey, you might not like it - but rather to illustrate that other worlds exist outside your awareness, and can be travelled to in a heartbeat. (It's also something I've owed this record for over 20 years, and it's time the debt was paid.)

Since my personal route to epiphany isn't of much relevance to anyone else, though, I'm mostly going to try to convey what's special about these songs themselves, in the order you'll hear them. It'll inevitably still involve a certain amount of local colour, of course, particularly towards the end where the point is located, but you'll just have to live with that.

As fate would have it, it's wholly possible that I'm largely responsible for the JAMC's first ever daytime radio play. "Just Like Honey" was the Mary Chain's fourth single, coming out after the album, but at the time both their sound and their reputation were far too abrasive and frightening for daytime listeners, and the notion that such a band could get mainstream exposure even for a delicate tune like "Honey" was outlandish. This was still the case on the day I got through to my local station Radio Forth to play "The Jingle Machine Game" on Jay Crawford's lunchtime show. The game was a fruit-machine-themed phone-in where you had to answer a qualifying question for the right to shout "Stop!" at a tape loop, whereupon it would play three sounds and you'd win various prizes depending on what they were.

Following a preamble where we'd talked a little about music and I'd mentioned the JAMC, I almost tripped up on the question. (Nobody ever failed on the question.) Asked to name three famous painters, I came up with Leonardo da Vinci and Andy Warhol, and then racked my empty 17-year-old brain in panic for about 20 seconds before desperately yelping "Rolf Harris!" in a flash of inspiration just before the time ran out. Phew. I didn't win the jackpot (25, I think) on the game, but I seem to recall getting a Radio Forth mug or some such.

After the usual  short closing chat with Jay, he asked if I wanted to say hello to anyone. This was the local radio and television convention of the time - before the internet, digital satellite TV, citizen journalism and such, it was still a novelty for normal people to be seen or heard on any sort of broadcast media, and traditionally they'd be given the opportunity for a toe-curling shout-out through the wireless to their posse, ie their mum and dad and Auntie Betty and, always, to "anyone else that knows me". I thought for a moment or two and said no.

[pause]

"Did you say 'No'?"

"No thanks, Jay."

This was unprecedented behaviour. The DJ momentarily seemed stunned, but you could hear that he was thrilled. We said goodbye, the station went to a commercial break, and when it came back he said "This one's for Stuart, who didn't want to say hello to anybody" and played "Just Like Honey". In the context of the easy-listening 80s pop of the lunchtime show, it sounded like something from an alien universe. Though it has a soft and gentle melody, a quite romantic lyric and a big Spector-esque wall of sound that wasn't in itself entirely anathema to popular radio even in 1986,  I never heard it in the daytime again.

MINI-FACT! "Just Like Honey" would eventually go on to achieve a kind of mainstream fame in 2003 when it featured over the closing sequence and credits of Sofia Coppola's wonderful movie "Lost In Translation", creating another uniquely special moment for WoS in the process.

 

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