By Rachael Smith, London
I started listening to Tori Amos, as is so often the case with me, far later than everyone else.  ‘Little Earthquakes’ was released in 1991 but became my all time favourite album in the year 2000.  I used to listen to it obsessively on the way to and from work.  For some reason I could relate to it completely at that time in my life.

I still cannot listen to track 5: Winter, without producing a wistful tear.  It evokes for me the image of a cold day, with me as a child walking down the long path which led to my father’s church – him in his cloak and my hand in his pocket.

My father, like Tori Amos’s was a vicar.  This made me feel a kind of affinity with her.  When she sings ‘I put my hand in my father’s glove’ I misheard it as ‘cloak’ and remembered my father in his long black cloak walking down the path next to our house.

Shortly after I became so fond of that album my father died and the song took on a new meaning for me.  Our relationship was difficult and my father – though I loved him dearly – uncommunicative and distant.  I listened to the lyrics and imagined him saying or even thinking  the words:

When you gonna make up your mind
When you gonna love you as much as I do
When you gonna make up your mind
Cause things are gonna change so fast
All the white horses are still in bed
I tell you that I'll always want you near
You say that things change my dear

I found great comfort in the feelings and imagery the song evoked for me.  It made me feel close to my father and became a special Winter world where I could encapsulate my feelings safely.

Rachael is a teacher in South East London

By Rachael Smith, London
This song represents, for me, a time of indecision and hope for the future.  It was released from the album ‘Room To Roam’ by The Waterboys in 1990, at a time when I was about to leave university for the big wide world.

I remember clearly the feeling of complete confusion about what I wanted to do and be and eventually become.  I was immature and naive and and completely lacking in life experience.  My friend Charlotte and I started to panic about what we would do and where we would find ourselves the following year – a time of soul searching and self doubt yet fearful excitement for the future.

During the 1980s I had been attracted to folk and gothic rock bands such as, in particular, All About Eve and The Waterboys.  And so it was, in 1990 that my dear friend Charlotte and I found solace in the ballad ‘In Search of a Rose’ with it’s opening lyric – ‘Where will I wander I wonder, nobody knows, but wherever I’m a goin’ I’ll go in search of a rose…’

We both did TEFL courses and went off on our travels to different parts of the world – and this album became the soundtrack to my wandering – with a battered cassette in my backpack and my Sony Walkman to accompany me!

When I listen to it now I can conjure up feelings of freedom and hope and positivity for what is ahead of me. The song became a foundation for my love of folk music and still inspires me into action and revives a sense of excitement for what lies around the corner.

Rachael is a teacher in South East London.

By Stuart Muir, London
My Grandad, Walter, was a warm and witty Scotsman. He'd grown up as one of 10 siblings in Central Perthshire with very little and went away to join the navy aged 13. 

After several years of sailing all around the world, toughing it out through various gruelling naval duties (he was a stoker) and serving in the Second World War, he met my Grandma back in Scotland, then settled back in Liverpool where he worked on the docks and where my Dad and his two brothers were born.

There are plenty of men of his generation who had seen some tough times or awful things in the war, and as a result ended up emotionally inaccessible, or overly strict, or just plain no-fun, but my Grandad was none of these things. 

He still always made sure that what needed to be done was done, but the display of his love and commitment to his family could never be questioned - stories were always told of the effort he'd always make, even after a long day at the shipyard, to give his time to my Dad and his brothers. And I have many memories of his charisma, humour and caring nature from our Scottish holidays when I was younger, and the effort he would make to spend time with me and my sisters, teaching us card games around the coal fire while telling us tall tales of the monkey they had on the ship that allegedly made tea for the crew.

In 2002, in his 80s, Walter was nearing the end of a full life. My Grandma had died several years earlier, always leaving a void in his life, and he'd been back living in the small village where they'd met in Scotland where he 
was well-known among the locals. But his health had started to diminish, and he ended up in Stirling hospital battling serious heart problems. I had finished university the year before and was living in my first flat in 
Crewe; one weekend my parents and younger sister were over for a visit from Merseyside when we got the call that my Grandad had taken a turn and didn't have long to go.

I won't forget when we gave my Dad a moment to close the door and go into the living room of my flat to speak to him on the phone. No-one was listening in, but the atmosphere was charged while my Mum, sister and I 
could hear him thanking him for everything he'd done for him. There were no guarantees whatsoever that this wouldn't be the last time they would ever speak. My Dad had been making regular visits up there, but Crewe to 
Stirling is at least a 6-hour drive and time was not on his side. After getting off the phone, my Dad decided he was going to just drive up there to try make it in time to spend his father's last few hours with him.

I became a pretty big Death Cab for Cutie fan a bit later, and it's nice to make the tenuous connection between a band that sells out huge arenas with a lead singer who formally dated Zooey Deschanel and a working-class 
Scotsman who made his own soup every day and probably would have laughed at their name. Another noteworthy connection for me, but a non-parallel in this context, comes from another Death Cab song, Styrofoam Plates, that tells of the awkwardness at the funeral of a friend's father, who the song derides for never having been there for his family. DCFC's 2005 release Plans has a number of highlights, but the penultimate track, What Sarah Said, contains for me personally one of those moments when a song captures perfectly a situation or a feeling, good or bad, and makes it even more real, with huge efficacy. There is imagery of a hospital, and a loved one about to be taken. It sets the scene, circles and builds with a disconcerting urgency, and then pauses before hitting you with its beautifully haunting conclusion:

Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room, just nervous paces bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone lifts their head

But I was thinking of what Sarah said

That love is watching someone die

My Dad made it up to Stirling hospital in time. His brothers had years ago emigrated to the US, so he was the only family member left who would be able to be there with him for his last hours. It must have meant a huge 
amount for my Grandad to have his son there. I can't imagine what it would have been like for my Dad, driving up the M6 on his own, not knowing if he'd make it or not, the relief of getting there in time, followed by the sorrow of then losing him. But I'm so grateful that he did. The song itself comes from a realisation of a friend of DCFC lead singer Ben Gibbard's who dreads the thought of the day either her or her partner will die and leave the other. But the sentiment fits any number of scenarios, and certainly the time my Dad drove 250 miles to be with his Dad one more time, then watch him die.

I'm not always the most open person emotionally, but this song has me in pieces pretty much every time it comes on (usually due to some mp3-shuffle-blindside). It'll always point directly to that moment for me, but perhaps also a little to what is yet to come, on its final line. It simply asks "so who's going to watch you die?".

Stuart plays the accordion and trumpet in Elvers (

By Naima Reddick, New York City,

This song is unusual in that it’s almost equals parts uplifting and downtrodden, inspiring and depressing. Each lyric relates to the internal, cyclical struggle of bad habits, self-pity and self-absorption. So many songs speak about breaking out of difficult situations, becoming self-reliant, etc., etc., but few ever really capture the passage of life in such a way. I can listen to this song when I’m content, when I’m heartbroken, when I’m frustrated beyond belief, and yes, when I’ve caught myself in poor decisions and self pity, and the lyrics always ring true.

Even after listening to this song for the past 6 years, I never grow tired of the way that the present world fades while this song plays. It can remind me to not take life for granted, but also that getting caught in bad habits is a part of life, and not to worry too much about my little problems, which I am wont to do. Everyone goes through these struggles and everyone should know that they aren’t alone in them. I suppose that that’s the reason I like this song so much: to me it tells the story of life; whether it be mine or anyone else’s.

Naima works at Gallery Nine5 in New York

By Lee Washington, London

I've seen Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform on a couple of occasions and am always stunned by how much stage presence Karen O has.  She's mesmerizing.  The last time we went to see them was at Alexandra Palace in London and we were right at the front when they performed MAPS. I love the guitar intro and the way the drums come in, yet it's such a tender song and always brings me out in goose bumps.

The lyrics 'They don't love you like I love you' are so poignant and you can really feel her heartbreak. MAPS stands for 'My darling Angus Please Stay' and is about her boyfriend leaving for a new job. Karen O really expresses her loss and the tears she cries in the music video are real.

I went to the gig with my girlfriend who is also a big fan and the song always reminds me of her and how special she is to me. We've both decided we'd like it played at our wedding.

Lee Washington is a designer based near London

By Shana Subelsky Tibi, Sarasota, Florida-
In 1992, I was probably the youngest audience member at a Leonard Cohen concert in Detroit.  I went with my mom and step-father, who introduced me to Cohen's music.  I quickly found myself loving the poetic abstract lyrics and gravelly voice he used to tell his stories. 

It was around that time period that I fell madly in love with Bob Dylan and also the Grateful Dead.  I "came of age," so to speak, as the Dead wound down their massive touring. I never saw them live.  I was a camp counselor in the summer of 1995 when the Dead traveled through Michigan for the "millionth" time.  I remembered considering quitting my job to go to the show.  But summer camp was one of the biggest parts of my life and I couldn't let it go. I missed the show, then Jerry Garcia died a couple of months later. 

I missed out on that, but I did however, see many influential live shows, including Bob Dylan. I'm from the Detroit, Michigan area.  A place mixed with intense rock and serious rap and hip hop.  All of those genres, including folk, influenced my love of music.  Music, in it's varied forms in time and space was a constant companion for me. 

So, why on earth am I choosing to write about Beyoncé?  Besides my deep love for R&B and Hip Hop, I truly find Beyoncé to be inspirational.  Lately, she's been ruffling a lot of feathers.  Whether it be from moms not approving her clothing, or Bill O'Reilly condemning/ continuing to comment on her sexiness, Beyoncé is a hot topic.  As she should be!  As a grown woman, married for four years, with three children under the age of three (yes I have twins!), I can tell you first-hand how damn hard it is to balance it all and look good doing it. 

After the birth of my twins in May 2013, it's been a roller coaster of happiness and challenges, both for my own body image as well as my marriage.  I'm lucky to have a husband who supports me and is an amazing father.  I can't say I've always reciprocated his affection in the past year.  After the hundredth diaper change, endless crying, nose wiping, and toddler tantrums in one day, I'm DONE at the end of the day. 

Enter Beyoncé and Jay-Z duetting with Drunk In Love.  It's a smoking hot song.  She's a grown woman, with a husband, a child, a career, and self-confidence.  Sometimes you gotta "fake it til you make it" as a mom, wife, or anything you want to be a success.  With the help of Beyoncé, I went back to the gym, started to feel better about myself, began to relax, and yes be intimate with my ever loving and patient husband.

Even though I don't have her money, or body, I feel very empowered listening to Beyoncé.  She is a modern day feminist!  Who else in the music business today comes from a two parent household, is still married, has children, is NOT in rehab, and continues to evolve as a relevant artist? 

Go, Beyoncé, go!  For me, in this current phase of my life, Beyoncé is my soundtrack.

Shana Subelsky Tibi is a wife, mother, and works two part time jobs.  She writes content and does marketing at

By Fred Garnett, London, UK-
Is Tony in?

Who are you?

I’m John Garnett, from Number 7, I’m a Beatles fan and I wonder if …

Does our Tony know you?

No, I’m at Harrogate Grammar School and Tony isn’t, so I don’t know him, but I heard he has the new Beatles record and I’d like to hear it, please.

What’s that name again young un?

John, er some people call me Fred.

John Fred?

Er yeah…

Tony! She shouted indoors whilst continuing to guard the door, Tony, there’s some lad your age at the door. Says he likes The Beatles.

Tony was at his front door in seconds. I’d say in his rush he managed it in about minus two of our Earthly seconds.

The door opened wide with one urgent, decisive pull.

You like the Beatles then?

Whoah, YEAH!

Big smiles from both of us. Making friends took us about six words and two smiles. No time had passed during any of this.

I heard you had the new Beatles record. My Dad wont let me buy it!

Who needed to say more than that to a fellow Beatles fan?

Come in then! Come on and listen to it with me. Then he uttered a magic incantation. “Its a double A-side”.

Double A-side? What’s that?

More mysteries from The Beatles.

Both sides are as good as each other.

That’s impossible! How do you turn the record over if it’s got two A-sides then?

Tony laughed at my naivety. But then I only owned two records. Well half of two records. Only one of which was any good. My qualifications as an arbiter of taste concerning music extended to one half decent record; mostly guitar with good drums and no lyrics. Didn’t really make me a good judge of Beatles songs and records. Tony was a great judge of Beatles records, not least because, as it turned out, he had all of them. Soon he was to become the epitome of cool amongst ALL of the twelve and thirteen year-olds in Gordon Avenue, Bilton and the neighbouring streets; all eight of us in fact. Tony was that cool.

OK! I’m going to play you a song and you have to tell me what it is.

No, No! Please play From Me To You, I can’t hear it at home at all, except on Pick of the Pops. Thank heavens it’s been number one for weeks.

What about Saturday Club? Brian Matthews plays the Beatles.

Oh yeah we listen to that sometimes; when we don’t go shopping or play football. But it’s on Saturday mornings, when we’re busy. Do you think it’s good then?

It’s really good! I listen to it all the time.

Obviously great then I thought. I made a note to try harder on Saturday mornings from now on.

Tony took the treasured single out of the soon to become iconic dark green Parlophone paper sleeve. It was the first time I had seen a Beatles single; holy plastic made flesh.

As it’s a double A-side I could play Thank You Girl.

I didn’t realise he was teasing me. He could see how desperate I was to hear From Me To You.

In fact I think that is the better song so…

How can it be better? From Me To You is the hit.

Its a double A-side, you have to make your mind up which one you like.

Then I’ll like both of them just the same.

You don’t have to!

Da da da da da dum dum da

Da da da da da dum dum da

The Beatles usual distinctively cheery opening but slightly slower paced and less urgent than Please Please Me

If there’s anything that you want

If there’s anything I can do

Just call on me and I’ll send it along

With love from me to you

Big smiles between us. We didn’t need any analysis to know that Beatles songs were great.

Tony had the classic Dansette record player. In red! We didn’t. Just Mum’s Philips that we had driven back with us from Germany. It was a good enough record player; I didn’t realise how good in fact, but it wasn’t cool like Tony’s Dansette. And we were in the Front Room. Tony’s Mum hadn’t said a word when he had dragged me into the Front Room. It had a bunch of records and the Dansette lying on the floor. He’d taken over their Front Room to play his records!

I got everything that you want

like a heart that’s oh so true

So he was playing his Beatles records anyway before I arrived. I was just adding to the fun he was already having all on his own. Unlike me back at home. I had been right to come round.

Just call on me and I’ll send it along

With love from me to you

The lyrics are great aren’t they? Just call on me and I’ll send it along with love from me to you.

Like you did! Just call on me, I mean…

Oh yeah like I did! How funny… I hope you don’t mind?

Are you joking! It’s fab you coming round. What made you call on me anyway?

I smiled back at my fellow Beatles fan. Our instant friendship was the best answer to that question.

Well I heard you had the new Beatles single and I just had to hear it. So I thought I’d come and ask you. You had to be nice, if you liked the Beatles.

Tony laughed. I’m not sure that makes me nice, but I definitely like the Beatles. They are the best thing I’ve ever heard.

I got arms that long to hold you

and keep you by my side

We smiled across our new found friendship

I got lips that long to kiss you

and keep you satisfied

I think I’d like to kiss a girl. Have you ever kissed a girl?

One or two…

What’s it like?

A bit squelchy. But they smell nice

What kisses?

No girls. Girls smell nice. And they are nice to hold.


The conversation was getting a bit complicated for me. And far too sophisticated; I was out of my depth here. I regretted mentioning kisses. I’d only kissed that Italian girl Anna in Germany when I was six. And only because she had tricked me into going down the cellar stairs with her on her sixth birthday. I didn’t want to be tricked into talking about that, so I concentrated on the sophisticated complications of the lyrics instead.

If there’s anything that you want

If there’s anything I can do

Just call on me and I’ll send it along

With love from me to you

Phew, no kisses there!

There is that magic harmonica again!

From Me

I love the way they use harmonica. That’s the secret to Please Please Me you know.

To You

Oh there are lots more secrets in Please Please Me

Just call on me and I’ll send it along

We smiled again at the reference about me calling on Tony.

With love from me to you

So who is your favourite Beatle then?

Paul of course, he’s the best.

Why do you like Paul?

Well he’s the best looking. He’s even better looking than Cliff.

At this point I’d spent more time looking at pictures of The Beatles than actually listening to them, which was partly why I’d invited myself over to Tony’s.

My Mum likes him the best too. I bet he gets loads of girls.

Do you like Cliff then?

Yeah and the Shadows! My brother and I like guitars and drums.

And The Beatles are really good at guitars and drums.

And harmonica too! They play so many instruments. The Beatles are the first beat group I’ve really liked. I think I like them just because they are The Beatles. Who’s your favourite then?

John Lennon.

John Lennon? Why? What’s so special about John Lennon? My Dad hates him. Well I am pretty sure he does.

Tony laughed again. I frowned, what was wrong with Paul McCartney? Sometimes this Pop Music was even harder than Biology.

Well John Lennon has loads of confidence. That’s the secret of life you know; Confidence.

But Paul’s a better singer, listen…

I got arms that long to hold you

and keep you by my side

I got lips that long to kiss you

and keep you satisfied

That’s the two of them harmonising. That’s another of their secrets.

But John’s voice is harsher. Paul’s is really sweet and he sings nicer.

It’s both of them singing together, that’s what makes the Beatles special. Its not just Cliff or Elvis with some backing singers. Its all the Beatles, as a group, working together. Listen to it carefully.

If there is anything that you want

If there is anything I can do

Just call on me and I’ll send it along

With love from me to you

He was right! Their voices dropped in and out in various ways that emphasised almost every syllable in a different way. You could hear John and Paul both together and alone throughout the record. Blimey, such subtlety; no longer just a simple lead singer to worship and adore.

Do you think we could become Beatles too?

We’ll need guitars and drums. And a harmonica!

We laughed at the complexity of it all.

My brothers got a guitar, he likes Hank Marvin.

Oh, good! What about drums?

Um, well I’m a drummer.

Have you got any drums?

Er, I’ve got drumsticks.

No drums then?

Oh yes I’ve got drums. Not real ones though.

Not real drums? What does that mean?

Um, biscuit tins. I’ve got two biscuit tins. But I know how to hit them properly!

Tony laughed. Again! The record ended, cleverly reprising the opening whilst changing it into punctuation.

To You

To You

And out in less than two minutes this time; by tiny fractions…

Can I look at it please Tony?

Yeah, here have a good look. The label design is really interesting. How long have you liked the Beatles then?

Since I first heard them silly!

What since Love Me Do?

No! Please Please Me, of course. Their first hit record and and their first number one.

Love Me Do was their first hit record. Tony corrected my ignorance.

Love Me Do? What’s Love Me Do?

Their first hit record. I thought you liked the Beatles!?

I love them, but I’ve never heard of Love Me Do.

I’ve got to play it for you then. Its their first record, its great.

Is it as good as Please Please Me?

Not really. But if you heard it first, like me, then it’s really special.

Oh! What’s this Northern Songs on the label?

Only their publishing company; wait a second what about this instead?





Well she was just seventeen

You know what I mean

And the way she looked

was way beyond compare

Blimey that’s good! What is it?

I Saw Her Standing There. It’s from the album.

The album?

Please Please Me!

I raised my head and a sharp look passed from me to Tony

You’ve got the Album?

Tony lifted up the sleeve to show me

You’ve got the The Beatles Album!


The only albums we’ve got at home are The Pyjama Game and South Pacific. How on earth did you get it?

I’d never known anyone who wasn’t a grown up own an album before, not even Caroline.

Tony, the seriously cool Tony of Gordon Avenue, Bilton, Harrogate, located on the very same latitude as Liverpool, and so part of all songs Northern, let out his radiantly secretive smile

Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Of course I do!

That’s my secret!

And he laughed

Magic word secret.

I was in awe of Tony from that day forth. He played me loads of Beatles songs over the next hour before I had to go home for supper. I’d never heard so much good music in my life before. Gordon Avenue suddenly had its own oracle of all things Beatle.

I knew then that I only had to like The Beatles for everything to be alright in the future.

By Fred Garnett, London, UK
The above is an extract from Fred's learning novel, 63/68 A Visceral History 

By Clive Cosgrove, Nottingham, UK
Isn't it strange how the meaning of a song can change and evolve over the course of your life?  Even though I really enjoyed school there was no way I wasn’t going to join in with the chanting of We Don’t Need No Education – it was quite fun but the sentiment expressed in the song was quite alien to me.  I wanted as much of it as I could possibly get.

If that makes me sound something of a swot I suppose it’s not entirely inaccurate.  After school a few years of university followed by teacher training saw me go back to school in an altogether different capacity.  Teaching back then was still generally respected – despite the Pink Floyd song. parents still generally sided with the institution rather than the child and, more importantly, the institution was on the side of both.

This year will be my last year as a teacher (but not the last before my retirement) and it is Another Brick in the Wall that will resonate as I leave the profession.  I simply don't need no education – not professionally, not anymore.  I’ve had enough.  I feel guilty – over a spectrum – but I need to leave for the sake of my health, both mental and physical.

Gove, I don’t need your education, your dark sarcasm (I’m part of a blob am I?) which seeps in to the classroom, your thought control over what and how I should teach. Hey Minister, leave us teachers alone!  As for the future - well, that like the past is another country. I don’t know what I will do next (I will probably do a Ken Barlow and work in a supermarket or something like that) but all I know is I have to get out.

Quite when the seeds were sown for the effective dismantling of education in the UK, I do not know but over the twenty odd years I have taught the changes, year in year out were perhaps subtle enough to mean that I may not have noticed the differences that each academic year brought with them. The job that I did has been gradually chipped away with, eroded little by little so that now, outside of the classroom, it bears little resemblance to that which I started all those years ago.

Moreover, education has been taken out of the hands of the educators and sold off – sometimes not even to the highest bidder - but it seems to the pals and gravy train acquaintances of those in power.  The deeds of thousands of schools have been blithely passed from the hands of local authorities to the sweaty paws of those wishing to make a fast buck out of something which, almost by definition, should not make a profit.  The only profits there should be in education are the tools and means with which we equip the pupils to lead successful, creative and independent-minded lives.

There will be a day of reckoning, when these firms go the way of their Swedish counterpart and tens of thousands of kids are left without education.  I might rouse a little dark sarcasm on that day.

How can a government be so negligent of an entire generation? Right here right now because in Michael Gove we have someone prepared to sacrifice lives for the sake of ideology.  Right here, right now because teachers are burdened with a workload much of which has little or nothing to do with education in real terms.  Right here, right now because teachers are judged by a heartless inspectorate (most of whom are employed by private companies, rather than Ofsted itself) more interested in squashing kids like square pegs in to round holes and judging teachers by how they entertain rather than teach and the kids how they actively engage (oh, FFS!) – as if they can be plugged in like light bulbs – rather than how they prefer to learn.

I look at the comments made by teachers in the letters pages of newspapers and on Facebook pages like Michael Gove Must Resign.  I genuinely feel sorry for those starting out in the profession now (over 20% of whom leave in their first few years – they weren’t brought up to put up with and endure such a gruelling Victorianesque working week).  As they set their targets, pore over their spreadsheets, and prepare for the ever-looming Ofsted inspection (not to mention often fighting against their workplace becoming an academy for no apparent reason) I wonder how they ever turn their minds to actually teaching with any spirit or vigour.

When did teachers become another brick in the wall?  I don’t know but let us just hope and imagine that one day the cement laid down so carefully by Michael Gove will crumble. 

Written by Jack Gillan, Birmingham, UK -
I was one of those kids at school who tried hard to look cool and enigmatic and, probably as a result of the trying, never quite achieved it with as much nonchalance as I would have liked. Nevertheless I made a habit, as did my peers, of walking the corridors in a poised manner with the latest almost-but-not-quite underground album sleeve pinned under one arm. These records signified not only musical tastes but almost even one’s place in the school pecking order. Dirk Wears White Sox had been one of my favourites, mostly because the vast majority of my peers had never heard of Adam and the Ants. I wanted to be out as desperately as I wanted to be in.

That was in 1979 and I was 15. The band was something of a cult: the transition from the punk rock era to post-punk and New Wave times was not without pain and Adam and the Ants had a certain lyrical appeal – plus they had recorded a session for the (even then) legendary John Peel’s late night radio show. They had careless and unstudied cool in spades written all over them. The album sleeve didn’t just indicate my musical preferences - they were a mark of allegiance. Then Adam and the Ants disappeared.

They came back with Kings of the Wild Frontier which was well-crafted pop music but chart success meant that I naturally shrank from them. Dirk did not make any reappearance at school. Yet imagine my horror when they followed up the Burundi-drum beats of Ant Music and Dog Eat Dog with the likes of Stand and Deliver! and Prince Charming. If Kings was about gaining commercial success, in my juvenile mind, these hugely popular hits were simply milking it. I just kept my fingers crossed that the cooler, older kids at school, around whose periphery I was allowed to orbit (because one of the sixth form girls thought I was cute and liked my flat-top haircut) would not remember the debacle of Dirk.

That girl. Her name was Liz. She was a year older and taller than me, dark glamour personified and although I fell under her spell immediately she was utterly, utterly out of my league. Yet although she could frown and pout with the best, she also had the kindest heart. Liz was instrumental in making the school a safe place for the younger kids by her policy of punkishly bullying the bully boys. Those short haired post-mod mods couldn’t bear to have a raven-haired girl in a trench coat and Doctor Martens give them a taste of their own medicine so they gave up being the tormentors and became almost human (amazing how one person can make a huge difference).

That is not so much of a digression as you may think as Liz (as well as the song) is the whole point of this, really. After the summer holiday of 1981 we all returned to school. It was my first year of sixth form (the two years we can opt to do in the UK after compulsory education then ended at 16) and it was Liz’s last before she went to university. As was the tradition, the school put on a disco in the school’s hall come theatre a few weeks in to the first term. Adam and the Ants were at Number One in the charts with Prince Charming.

The song was wildly popular with a video that even I grudgingly enjoyed, featuring an appearance by the much loved actress Diana Dors as the Fairy Godmother. And of course, there was that dance, which a lot of the students had already tried to imitate when the song had been played during the second hour of the disco. I had, of course, declined. I stood at the side with my friends, trying to look as disinterested and detached as possible. You might wonder why we even bothered to go but girls were the draw, of course – and the getting of experience with them our primary goal.

The whole thing had about half an hour to go before it ended with the compulsory slow songs (a terrifying moment because of the thought that you might get to slow dance with a girl was made almost unbearable by the inevitable inkling that you might not).

Liz and her friends made their appearance at the very moment Prince Charming was played for a second time.

She noticed me from the door through which she had made her (to my eyes) dazzling entrance, my punk angel, my new wave enchantress. She strode over to me, smiled, grabbed my hand and led me on to the dance floor. Although she wasn’t completely drunk it was obvious that she had had one or two ciders before her arrival and we proceed to dance to Prince Charming, aping the video as best we could along with the others. Alcohol had successfully removed her cool for the evening – and she did it for mine by just being her. It would have been hugely enjoyable if I hadn’t been so scared that my heart was going to explode at any moment.

When the song ended she gave me a huge hug, burying me deep in to the scent of her Opium perfume. I looked up to her (she was still taller despite the inch or two I had grown over the summer) and she smiled, kind of rolled her eyes in a what the f**k, why not kind of way and then kissed me for a long, long time.

Well, it was probably for about ten seconds but I still remember it as my first, proper, grown-up frenchie (except wasn’t it my tongue that was supposed to… oh who cares!?). Then, detaching herself with a smirk, she sauntered back to her friends and I was alone on the dance floor.

I was, of course, a hero to my friends for weeks afterwards. And I wish I could say it was the start of a long, burning and deep affair between Liz and me with meaningful glances exchanged between Biology and Double Maths. Of course, come Monday I was back to being the cute boy with the flat-top haricut and that was all.

I don’t know where Liz is now or what she does – or even if she would remember the boy in to whose life she came as such a dazzling if brief interlude - let alone the hormonal stirrings she precipitated in my youthful (thankfully non-exploded) heart. Perhaps that’s for the best. After all, I still have a blissful memory which I relive every time I hear Prince Charming!

Written by Madeleine Andrews, London, UK -
Firstly, I would like to dedicate this selection to my dear friend, Eloise Hazledene, an avid Flaming Lips fan who got me onto this track.

I hadn't heard of The Flaming Lips before, as although I would say I have a varied and rich taste in music I have ended up just listening to quite old songs as I love playing my old vinyl, which is good but means I miss out on a lot of more modern music.

When I first heard this song I loved it straightaway, I love the bounce that carries the tune and adds to the overall euphoric effect. The lyrics are very simple yet effective and moving so they never fail to lift my spirits and every time I listen to it I am reminded of how lucky I am to have met Eloise and how much I value our friendship and hope we will always be friends.

When I am feeling down, or too hyper, I listen to this song and it helps me get my perspective back, planting my feet firmly back on planet Earth whilst transporting my daydreaming head up into the sparkling stars of our beautiful galaxy!

Madeleine lives and works in London where she makes Stained Glass Shields

By Ruth Fishman, South East London, UK -
It's 1972, I'm 14 years old and go to secondary school in Chorley, Lancashire . OFSTED is no more than a bitter twinkle in Chris Woodhead's eye, boys still get the cane, we do 'O' levels, our school uniform is gradually being adapted to look fashionable and we have a record club. It takes place in a classroom and we organise it ourselves, borrow a big wooden record player from the music teacher, push the desks and chairs against the walls and listen to music. We dance too because this is Lancashire in the early 70's and we are playing Tamla Motown records and learning about Northern Soul.

Some of the older kids are expert dancers, the lads are athletic and cool, the girls more contained but following an incredibly fast paced set of steps. You can hardly see their feet move. One girl who is my age dances very confidently. She talks about going to the soul clubs in Manchester, the Twisted Wheel, the Five Bar Gate and in almost hushed tones, the holy of holies, the Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca. No mention as yet of the place that would really come to be seen as the home of Northern Soul, Wigan Casino. That isn't going to happen for another year. We are in awe of her, this girl who has a much older boyfriend (shocking in retrospect) and whose school uniform is customised so she looks like a proper soul girl with a big flowing skirt, and platform shoes.

It is at the record club, leaning against a desk which probably has an inkwell full of blue ink in it, that I first hear Road Runner by Junior Walker. It is a revelation, a call from another world. I'm desperate to go in to the centre of the grey tiles on the classroom floor and dance with the fifth formers but I'm far too shy. My friend and I practice our moves in the girls toilets and we dare each other to dance. We sidle to the edge of the dance area and begin to slide along the floor. We are doing it!

More practice in other toilets, youth clubs and pub discos, Monday nights at Leyland Civic Hall and finally a year later and 10 miles down the road on the 113 bus, we make it to Wigan, dancing round our handbags, talking about rare records imported from America and wearing those 70's clothes that will never, ever make a comeback! One night, amazingly, Junior Walker is there playing with his All Stars. The floor is packed. It is a magical night.

I buy my own copy of Road Runner and take it to parties, insisting that it be played and played. I love the sexy sax breaks and the on-the-road sentiment.

The summer before university I live with my uncle and auntie in North London, work on a play scheme in Hackney and go out with my cousin's friend Bill. Bill is not from the north but he loves Northern Soul and he buys us tickets to see Junior Walker at Hammersmith Odeon. It is so different from Wigan! We have to dance in the aisles and we are the only ones who get up. Everyone else sits in their seats! We can't understand how they can stay still .Junior Walker appreciates our exuberance though.

He gives us a big wave.

A little background by Ruth
Northern Soul was a big cultural phenomenon of 1970's northern England. Its origins lay in the R and B clubs which had existed throughout the country during the 60's. They were Mod clubs, heavily associated with amphetamine use and many were closed down because of this. The ones that were left were mostly in the north and they developed the focus on rare soul singles imported from America. The dancing, always an important part of the Mod scene, became faster and incredibly energetic and the clothes were baggier and sporty for the boys, floaty and a little bit reminiscent of the 50's for the girls. The drugs were still there but All Nighters in Wigan weren't licensed so people drunk cartons of milk to help them power through the dancing.

The first All Nighter at Wigan Casino was in September 1973 and there were Friday evening sessions from 8-11 that under 18's could go to. The Casino was a shabby old fashioned ballroom with a huge dance floor and a balcony tier running round three sides. It had a stage area too. Being well under 18 with anxious parents, I went to the Friday sessions which were less frenetic but still exciting. Everyone always danced, sliding, spinning, back flipping (boys mainly, showing off!) sometimes clapping and singing along to the music. There was never the awful cattle market feel of some of the other discos at the time. People just went for the music and the dancing. It felt very companionable and egalitarian.

Written by Keita Haruka, South Africa -
This song was of course featured on the animated movie "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron". At the time, I was in a very bad place emotionally. My great-grandfather, whom I was very close to, had recently passed away, and my mother lost her job due to paranoid schizophrenia. We were having money problems and dealing with her was...quite difficult.

Both parents were quite absent, both having full-time jobs before mom lost hers to the illness. I was a responsible kid though, so being left alone most of the time wasn't much of a problem for me. Suddenly having a crazy woman at home every day was hard to adjust to. I barely knew her and having her be all paranoid and crazy didn't help. Quite suddenly, I had zero privacy, and had to account for every second of every day. Like I said, I wasn't an irresponsible kid, so suddenly having to account for everything seemed unfair to say the least. I could have understood if I'd been acting out, abused the trust I'd previously had, or somehow had done something wrong...but I hadn't, and so her sudden, extreme efforts to control every second of my life led to a great deal of resentment. There were times when I outright hated her.

I had no outlet for that anger, and as the years passed, the anger (and the pain I felt at having to watch my own mother deteriorate like that) turned into despair of ever escaping from home and having my own life. She kept hammering at my defences, coming up with more and more ways to try and control even what I thought. It also didn't help that I'd discovered I was gay on top of everything else. The added guilt and potential judgement that would come my way if anyone ever found out threatened to crush me.

Then one day, I heard this song played on the radio. (Lyrics from the song, obviously) "Don't judge a thing till you know what's inside it/Don't push me I'll fight it/Never gonna give in/Never gonna give it up, no/If you can't catch a wave then you're never gonna ride it/You can't come uninvited/Never gonna give in/Never gonna give it up, no".

Oh yeah. I adopted it as my theme song for many years. Whenever I felt overwhelmed and unable to hold on, I'd play this song, and it would stoke the fires deep within, giving me the strength to go on. I changed me in a fundamental way, from a kid with little self-confidence and little hope to someone altogether stronger willed and determined. It helped me gather the courage to fight back instead of letting her run roughshod over me, and to work just as hard as I could at my studies to make sure I'd have the means to be free.

It's now more than a decade later, with a life that's mine, and that I'm happy with. I'm also "out" and unafraid to show it.

The funny thing is...I'm not even particularly a fan of Bryan Adams, and yet I owe this song of his (and therefore him) a debt of gratitude. I'd probably have been another teen suicide statistic if not for this song.

Written by Keita Haruka, South Africa -
I was still a whelp in high school when I first heard of Sarah Brightman. Our music teacher played "Phantom of the opera" and I was hooked. The very first item I ever bought with money I earned by my own labour was Sarah Brightman's "La Luna". Ooooh, fantastic music!

I grew up listening to her music, and each subsequent album of hers have had songs on it that touched me in one way or another, but none more so that "All I ask of you" by Sarah Brightman and Sir Cliff Richard. I'd just finished university, and came out of my first relationship a bit worse for wear. Having just the previous year admitted to myself I was gay, I don't think I was quite ready for that first relationship.

Anyway...I wasn't actually looking for anyone when I met him, the one who would become my partner. We were both a bit messed up inside and so comforting each other came naturally. We became friends, and one thing led to another, and before we knew it, we discovered that we were in love.

Neither of us wanted that at the time. Neither of us wanted or needed the complications of a relationship but there we were, staring one another in the face.

Like I said, we both had issues, one of which was an inability to really believe we could be loved. Through all the doubt, we kept holding on to each other. At some point, we discovered that we both loved "Phantom of the opera". One day, when I was feeling particularly down on myself, he told me to sit down, and played me this song. As he held me close, he whispered the lyrics to me...and after I recovered from melting into a little puddle right then and there, I whispered along to the second part of the song.

Not long after that, I got to return the favour. He was feeling low, and so I did a quick recording of the song and sent it to him.

It's become "our" affirmation of what we have, and a reminder of what we've been through together, along with a promise to always be there.

It's a powerful reminder when one of us feels unlovable. Plus it's quite a good song in its own right, don't you think?

Written by Pete Looman - San Antonio, TX -
When I was a teenager, music was my escape.  The heavier and more somber; the better.  When transitioning from the mainstream pop of the early 80s, I discovered Suicidal Tendencies as many others of my era did.  The anti-pop yet still very singable thrash melodies were cranked to 11 in my hidey hole of a room.

I have a brother about six years younger than me that started embracing the same music as I and we found our common bond.  He'd sometimes come home with a tape from a friend's house of music I hadn't heard yet myself and share.  80s metal became our way to communicate.  Soon we discovered that even with the age difference our paths and the paths of our friends would cross on a regular basis outside of our home.  It made the brotherly bond even stronger.

When my parents decided that they had enough of Texas and were going to move back to New York where we originated from, I was given the choice of joining them or staying behind to which I decided to continue life as a Texan.  My brother didn't have this choice and so our paths weren't to cross for some time after.  When they did we'd find ourselves sitting in a room listening to the latest and greatest, rattling the windows with our reunion.

In 1997 my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given a month to two months to live.  I rushed to New York to see the greatest man in my life withered and worn.  My brother told me that this had happened in the few weeks since his diagnosis.  He was refusing to eat and it was clear he was ready to take his leave.  As we were sitting on the front porch and listening to my father tell us a story, he suddenly looked at us both and became speechless.  His ice blue eyes darted back and forth and you could see that he was trying to talk, but the words weren't coming out.  My brother asked him what he was trying to say but he just couldn't respond.

We wandered back inside and up the narrow stairs to my brother's room, speechless ourselves.  My father was a storyteller and to see what we had seen took our breath away.  Not knowing what to say my brother hit the play button on his stereo and the first licks of "How Will I Laugh Tomorrow" began.  For the first time in my life, or so it seemed to me, I hugged my brother.  We cried till we couldn't cry anymore.

To this day the song is a reminder of loss and love so much deeper than anything I had heard before even though I had heard it dozens of times in the past.  Whenever I miss my family the CD comes out and I hit play, holding back a tear when I reach the tune I hold so close to my heart.

Written by Timothy M. Viard, South Carolina -
My Father died on Labor Day, 1976 from brain cancer. My mother was 31 and just was not equipped to respond the right way to such a massive change. She had never had a driver’s license, suffered from Bipolar illness, and had three young boys to tend to. We were living in Fort Mill, SC down the road from Carowinds in a trailer park called Twin Lakes Estates, Twin Lakes being a septic cesspool formation occupied by ducks and whatnot: picturesque in its own way I guess.

In my mind I hear a turbo prop buzzing overhead and a tan 16 year old girl is standing with a Kiss album. Afternoon Delight is playing, the sun is shining and faint screams of roller coaster riders,...then I'm kinda crying, sort of catch a glimpse of The Jerry Lewis Telethon and it’s nightfall. I'm listening to a 1972 Sony radio, wood like breadbox, with a bug stuck in the green glowing dial.

In the Spring of 77' the AMC dealership where my Father had been a car salesman, chipped in to get our mother a car and also got us a weekend pass to a country club. We went all day and stayed until it closed at 11:30. The whole day we swam in an indoor pool and enjoyed our new terry cloth jumpsuits they gave us.

It was late and we climbed into the blue 1972 Mazda RX3 and started back to the trailer park. A short time later we all became sleepy, the radio was kinda low with Cracker Box Palace playing, then HEY MOM!

Our mother had fallen asleep and jolted awake: she mashed the gas instead of the brake, over corrected and hit the grassy raised shoulder, launching us into the trees.

The volume knob got cranked and it was blasting the song, gas was pouring and we all yelled TURN OFF THE ENGINE!

It was a mess; my brother who was sitting in the front seat busted his nose wide open on the dash like an egg in a frying pan. Our Mom bit through her upper lip and my other brother flew in the fetal position, wedging in the back glass area. I got some serious rope burn to my forehead having not been restrained and I had been resting my head on the back of our mother’s seat.

The impact briefly replayed itself. We hit the tree and spun at least once all the way around it because the tree looked kind of like the old Batman between scenes thing.

After the wreck my oldest brother popped himself out of the back glass spot and we climbed out and walked to the road, it was pitch black. Joe went to a house and the people called for an ambulance. We stood along the shoulder and a while later they came and got us.

I got into Blood Rock when I was 14, the poor man’s Grand Funk.

Written by Oceanna Colgan, Illinois -
I grew up in the heartland of the United States, thousands of miles from the nearest ocean. Home-schooled with two older brothers and a much younger sister, I spent much of my time alone, imagining stories and finding ways to bring them to life.

The first cassette tape I ever owned was a hand-me-down copy of DO IT AGAIN by the Beach Boys. I remember staring at them, in their blue striped shirts -- and thinking of how cute they were. I, being quite isolated from the rest of the world, had hardly any concept of time: to me, this cassette was filled modern music, I didn't know three decades stood between me and those blonde boys, or that I couldn't have been further from their surfing, car loving, Southern California culture.

Maybe the connection with their music existed because I was named after the same body of water that served as the motivation for all their music; but listening to them inspired a longing to experience the ocean that they sang about, to be a "California Girl."

I continued to build my Beach Boys album collection. At one point in time, I remember being teased by neighborhood kids for only listening to "oldies." At a friend's house once, I was outraged when I realized the Hanson album she was listening to had 'stolen' one of the Beach Boy's Christmas classics. I treasured the re-runs of Full House guest starring the Beach Boys - if Uncle Jesse could jam with them, surely their music WAS cool!

My favorite songs would become "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "In My Room." For whatever reason, their music attached to my heart, their harmonies something I would rewind repeatedly. My love of music from generations past was nurtured by my dad. I remember laughing with him over the commonly misheard lyrics from "Help Me Rhonda" - how could people really think they sang "Well since you put me down. I've got owls puking in my bed"? We had discussions of Brian Wilson's breakdowns and the band's connections to the Charles Manson family.

"Pet Sounds" would become a pinnacle album for me, the tracks of which my dad and I enjoyed together. Who can resist "Good Vibrations"?

It's approaching the 4 year anniversary of losing my dad -- but the legacy he left of truly enjoying a song, being submerged, feeling the lyrics and searching for their meaning has never departed. When I hear our favorite songs, I feel him near.

When I met Jonathan, it was first time in my life I felt I finally fully appreciated "Wouldn't It Be Nice." What a beautiful song. At our wedding, I chose a Beach Boys song to walk down the aisle to. With a brother on either side, I proudly approached the altar with "Forever" playing (picture above) -- the choice was a melodic nod to my father, thanking him for sharing his love of music with me; it was the most wonderful day of my life, and I felt as if my dad was there.

Last year, Jon and I were finally able to make my long awaited pilgrimage to the West Coast. The entire trip I felt as if I was living their music. I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time, and it was every bit as wonderful as Mike, Brian, Al, Bruce and David had always made it seem.

Written by Oceanna Colgan
Filmmaker, Green Shoe Studio, Illinois

Written by Britt Colgan, Illinois -
Throughout the years I've enjoyed many different songs and artist. There's just something so great about finding something new to listen to.

Although I've never been one for favorites I can honestly say when it comes down to it there is one song that is my favorite and has been since I was a child. It's the song I whistle to without even knowing it, and one of the first songs I learned on the piano, You Are My Sunshine. So simple yet it has so much meaning to me.

It always takes me back. Almost like a time stamp and so many memories are linked to it. From singing it as a child in our station wagon with my siblings to humming it to my nephews when I babysat and put them to sleep.

Somehow over the years has become my go to song.

It doesn't really matter who sings it; Johnny Cash, Boxcar Willie, Civil Wars, or even my sister Tabitha. It always manages to put my mind at ease.

Written by Britt Colgan, Peoria Illinois
Britt works for Green Shoe Studio, which offers a wide variety of music genre recording, music videos, short films, and photography.

Written by RJ Evans, London, UK -
When I was a teenager in the early 1980s I think my first encounter with the name Nelson Mandela was probably through a badge.  Although my memory is a little fuzzy about exactly when, it was most likely 1983, the year before the Special AKA band released what is still in most Top 20 Political Songs lists – Free Nelson Mandela.  The song made it in to the top ten in the UK hit parade. The badge, though, with its typically 80s font, was ubiquitous.

As well as being worn to protest the on-going incarceration of the South African politician by his own government, the badge was also another way for us to show our displeasure with our own: Maggie Thatcher and her cohorts were currently smashing their way through UK industry like a wrecking ball.  The only pictures we got to see of Nelson Mandela were those taken before his trial and imprisonment – and that had been in 1962, over twenty years previously.

The man could already be representative of causes other than his own – a kind of marker of general political and personal duty: this transference from individual to universal symbol is something that few others have achieved.

The potency of this charisma was bound to find outlets through artistic expression both of the monumental and the personal kind. After his release and his inevitable rise to political power, Mandela’s face became (and I do not use the word without hesitation) iconographic, even in life.  He became a living, breathing symbol of the struggle for personal liberty, for freedom of speech, for universal education and suffrage – and more: I could probably leave a space here and each of you could fill in the gap with your own reason for admiring this man, surely one of the most pivotal in contemporary world history.

This song was not so much a political awakening for me as a confirmation of the direction in which my politics were going.  As such it helped shape my youth and define my future.  As Nelson Mandela is laid to rest in his family’s homeland in South Africa I want to thank him for helping to do that. 

It still gets my foot tapping within seconds…

Written by Robert-John Evans. 
RJ is a lecturer who lives in South East London. He curates the Kuriositas website.