A research team at Durham University found that music that was around in the respondent’s 15th year brought back the most memories – a “reminiscence bump” as the researchers termed it. They concluded, wait for it, that “memories that are central to one’s sense of identity are often inextricably associated with music”.
They suggested that the knock-on effects of this intense emotional bonding with the songs of your 15th year apparently play out in later life, too – and may play a key role in caring for dementia patients.
I am that person who used to spend all my birthday and Christmas money on albums – and I firmly believe that there’s a part of your brain (that researchers haven’t yet found) which holds song lyrics until they’re needed to sing along to something. It got me wondering what songs were around when I was 14 (or 15) and, further, what albums have been the most influential in my life – and if there is any correlation between the two. I’m about to turn 54 (on Friday, in case you’re interested), so the years between 1980 and 1982 are (according to the research) the most formative for me.
To an extent, this is true for the albums that formed me. They don’t all necessarily come from that time, but for various reasons each is important. Here are ten of them – in no specific order:
1.Bay City Rollers, Once Upon A Star (1975)
This was the first album I bought. I can still see myself carrying it home from the shop in Merriwa, where we lived at the time. It was 1975 so I was 8. I recall wanting tartan socks and to be able to roll my r’s like Les did in the little spoken part at the start.
Pick of the songs: “Bye Bye Baby”. Of course.
2. Abba (self titled) (1975)
This one is my favourite of all my ABBA albums. It’s chock full of great songs like “Mamma Mia”, “SOS”, “Bang A Boomerang” (who can forget that fabulous lyric: “love is a tune you hummy hum hum”?), “So Long”, “I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do”, and what could be my absolute favourite of all my favourite ABBA songs – “I’ve Been Waiting For You”.
3. Goanna, Spirit of Place (1982)
Even though this album (and reminds me of summer days at Bombala swimming pool), the song “Solid Rock” was the first time I registered that music could awaken a political conscience.
It was the first commercial charting record to feature a didgeridoo and opened my ears to the issue of Indigenous land rights. Just listen to the lyrics – to my 15-year-old ears they were so powerful. Check it out here. Also on the record was “Razor’s Edge” which dealt with rural poverty.
The album was re-released in 2003 and included another of their protest songs, “Let The Franklin Flow”, for the Tasmanian wilderness. (As an aside, it was listening to this song that inspired my novel Happy Ever After. #funfact)
4. Midnight Oil, 10.9.8.7.184.108.40.206.2.1 (1982)
If you’ve read my novel Happy Ever After you’d know how much I love The Oils. The songs and lyrics were the basis of my political education and through them, I became interested in indigenous rights, nuclear disarmament, environmental issues, corporate regulation, US forces in Australia, Maralinga…all of it. I read so widely and ended up studying political science as the major in my Economics degree at university. I even used a line from “Read About It” in an economics essay.
The rich get richerMidnight Oil
The poor get the picture
The bombs never hit you when you’re down so low
(I used that little factoid in Happy Ever After too – the eagle-eyed might have even noticed that I’ve incorrectly attributed the line to Power And The Passion #typo)
The standout tracks on this album are “Outside World”, “Short Memory”, “Read About It”, “US Forces” and “Power And The Passion.”
5. Moving Pictures, Days of Innocence (1982)
Oh my goodness I loved “What About Me?” so much. I loved the lyrics, I loved Alex Smith’s huge voice, I loved the saxophone solo, and that massive drum and voice moment in the last verse is goosebump stuff. This came out when I was doing work experience at a newspaper and the album will forever be associated with that time.
As an aside, the songwriter of this one, Garry Frost, also wrote “If I Could” for 1927 from their album “Ish” – the album falls just outside my top 10 but the song falls way inside my top 10 song list. Have a watch and a listen here.
6. Kate Bush, Never For Ever (1980)
I still listen to this album from cover to cover every so often – every song on it is quirkily fabulous and a self-contained story, but the standouts are “The Wedding List”, “Babooshka” and “Breathing”.
7. Pet Shop Boys
If I had to choose just two bands to listen to for the rest of my life it would be Abba and the Pet Shop Boys. PSB are another band with a message – albeit to a disco beat – and from such an embarrassment of riches it was tough to choose just one album. Did I go with Please (1986) and “West End Girls” or 1987’s Actually with the “It’s A Sin”, or even Bilingual (1996) which will always remind me of evenings when Sarah was a baby and she and I would have quiet time reading magazines waiting for Grant to come home from work. What about Very (1993) where every single song is fabulous or 2009’s Yes with “Love etc” and “Pandemonium”.
It might be cheating but I just can’t decide. I couldn’t even decide which songs to feature in this post, but have narrowed it down to these two – both of which mean something really special to me: “Pandemonium”, and “Miracles”.
8. Dire Straits, Love Over Gold (1982)
While “Industrial Disease” is a commentary on Thatcher’s Britain, it’s “Telegraph Road” that’s the standout for me. It starts hauntingly and builds into a story that encompasses generations. At 14 minutes long it’s epic, but it’s the story of how one man with a sack on his back puts down his load and a town grows up around it. Incredible.
9. ABC The Lexicon Of Love (1982)
Nothing says New Romantic quite like this album does. The cover is theatrical and over the top and the music, such as Poison Arrow, was equally as dramatic. It was also a little bit smart – and I liked that. As (another) aside, Martin Fry released The Lexicon of Love II in 2016. One of the songs on that one “Kiss Me Goodbye” was the inspiration for my novel Careful What You Wish For.
10. Damien Rice O (2002)
I came across this album in my late 40’s – just as I was contemplating a really existential mid-life crisis. I can still remember the first time I heard The Blower’s Daughter. Man, it blew me away (no pun intended). I saw it in a movie (“Closer”) in a hotel room in Melbourne – in those days I was spending part of every week in a hotel room in Melbourne. The next day I saw the album in the airline magazine. It was fate. Another highlight of this album is “Cannonball” – which has been redone so many times by so many people.
What about you? What albums influenced you the most?