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Byline: Radio 2 DJ Stuart Maconie I DON'T think Plato ever freelanced for the music press. But he did come up with

I DON'T think Plato ever freelanced for the music press. But he did come up with a neat piece of music criticism.

He said: "When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake."

That'll make sense to anyone who has sung on a picket line, danced in a muddy field at midnight by the light of a glowstick, pogoed in a mosh pit Or spent long nights in their bedroom backcombing and spiking their hair or putting gravy browning on their legs in lieu of nylons or playing air guitar with a tennis racket or practising their rapping poses or any of the other things a pop fan does.

Just like rainwater in a leaky house, pop music gets everywhere.

It seeps through the cracks into the fabric of our daily life. If you want to know what Britain has been like since World War II, you could watch old newsreels or pore over history books.

But for me, nothing gives the authentic whiff and flavour of the time like the pop charts of the day.

From the genuinely "all in it together" sentimental singsongs of World War II to the sneering sarcasm of the Sex Pistols, this is the voice of the real Britain in all its diverse, dissenting, dizzying glory So when I was asked by the controller of Radio 2 whether I'd like to write and present a landmark series about the history of pop, I was a) delighted and b) determined not to rehash the earnest histories I'd seen, heard and read a hundred times.

I didn't want to know (again) about how Led Zeppelin trashed hotel rooms or those old hoary nuggets of rock lore.

I wanted to know which pop songs had actually shaped people's lives and formed the soundtracks to their world - the songs they'd fallen in love to, gone on strike to, danced at the school disco to, laughed to, snogged to, sang in their Anderson shelters, on the terraces, in the pub. A people's history of modern Britain told though our shared music.

In each of the 50 hour-long episodes of The People's Songs, we'll look at a different aspect of Britain this last half-century or so; Britain at war and at work, on holiday and in bed, from the Falklands to the Falls Road, from Girl Power to Gay Rights, New Labour to New Lad, Skiffle to Dizzee Rascal. At the heart of each show is one emblematic song. Here are some of the most evocative When the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in 1948 bringing 493 colourfully clad Jamaicans to chilly post-war Britain, one of the first cargoes was music; optimistic calypsos like London Is The Place For Me.

Since then we've had reggae, dancehall, bhangra, bluebeat and more.

The first Caribbean pop hit here in 1964 was an irrepressible little thing by an irrepressible little thing, My Boy Lollipop by Millie. When British civil servant Chris Blackwell was rescued from drowning by Rastas on Helshire Beach, Jamaica, his gratitude became a lifelong love of Jamaican culture.

He formed Island Records and his first hit was with a teenage girl he discovered in the shacks of Kingston. My Boy Lollipop was the first Jamaican record most Brits had heard and they were entranced. Don't blame her for The Police, though.

Spandau Ballet's Gold is a curiosity. Bellowed out by geezerish Tony Hadley with all the understated subtlety of a red-braced, red-faced trader on the Stock Exchange floor, 1983's Gold would seem to be the sound of Thatcherism - an anthem to greed, gloating and getting on.

But it was written by Gary Kemp, a Labour supporting soul boy from the council estates of north London, and is not quite the celebration of selfishness it seems.

Whatever, people love its unashamed gold lame glamour. Two years ago, an online petition demanding it be made the national anthem garnered thousands of votes.

When David Cameron said the Smiths were his favourite band, their guitarist Johnny Marr tweeted to the effect: "You cannot like The Smiths. I forbid you."

The Smiths set out to be the opposite of everything Spandau Ballet seemed to stand for - materialism, style over substance, the emptiness of the London scene over the austere beauty of England's rainy north.

The Smiths and their ilk - New Order, Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen - buried their heads in books, their skinny frames in long overcoats and sang of being "the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar".

1985's How Soon Is Now is the sound of the north rising again.

Ever since he punched that mulleted farmer, I've had a lot of time for John Prescott.

Anarcho-punks Chumbawamba doused him with water at the Brits in 1998. If he'd been able to get hold of them, my money would have been on Prezza.

But whatever you think of that, their loud and boisterous Tubthumping was an unlikely No1 that loosely represented a whole umbrella of 90s concerns of the "crusty" movement - road protests, travellers' rights, anti-vivisection, anarchism - and turned it into a Bacardi Breezer ballad of defiance and freedom.

It's the sound of Britain flashing its piercings and letting its white dreadlocks down. If Tubthumping was a bellicose protest song, The Specials' 1981 No1 Ghost Town was much more hopeless and eerie.

It conjures deserted yet dangerous streets, clubs serving weak lager and dole queues. It's a creepy carousel ride through their home town, Coventry, on the early 80s scrapheap.

If you want to hear the sound of a country and a class on the rise though, you can hear it in every oooh and yeah of The Beatles She Loves You from 1963. Just a few years earlier, prime minister Harold Macmillan said, a little patronisingly, that "we'd never had it so good".

From Ringo Starr's opening drum roll to that final fading "yeah yeah yeah", this is a new Britain - young, working class, vibrant and heading straight out to challenge the old guard.

One summer evening in 1973, teenagers watched wide-eyed and dads spluttered into their tea mugs when a stick thin, whey-faced David Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson during Starman on Top Of The Pops, ushering in a new Glam rock era of androgyny and menace.

When Bowie said: "I had to call someone so I picked on you-oo," and pointed into the living rooms of Britain, every weird kid and outsider in the land knew their day had come.

Twenty years earlier, it had been the Mums of Britain who had felt the force of a new youth cult in the disappearance of their washboards.

Skiffle was this country's first real indigenous pop sound, a mongrel of American folk and our cheeky music hall sensibilities and folk balladry.

Songs like Scots-born Lonnie Donegan's Rock Island Line turned the Ovalteenie generation into rebel rockers and a generation of British rock gods from Jimmy Page to Eric Clapton first took the stage in school halls in sweaters and check shirts with tea chest basses and rattling thimbles.

Within a few years, they'd have swapped all that for bellbottoms, aromatic cigarettes and equally fragrant sounds like 1967's A Whiter Shade Of Pale. This is the summer of love in three-and-a-half minutes - heady, seductive, totally unfathomable In Two Tribes, Holly Johnson asked: "Are we living in a land where sex and horror are the new gods?" It seemed that way in the early 80s. AIDS had made sex a kind of Russian Roulette while the Russians themselves (with a little help from Ronald Reagan) were stockpiling the most awesome technology of destruction.

Two Tribes used Trevor Horn's awesome technology to somewhat happier effect - a No1 full of paranoid thunder.

The technology that surrounds us today - ringtones, reversing alerts, satnav, computer games - comes clattering through Dizzee Rascal's 2009 chart-topper Bonkers, a modern classic that sounds like a lightning trip through the city streets of Britain today.

Danny Boyle thought so - he used it in the Olympics' opening ceremony.

'They're the songs we fall in love to, gone on strike to, sangin Anderson shelters, on terraces or in the pub .. it's a people's history'


GENIUS 3 The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr

TOP TUNES Z Dizzee Rascal, The Specials (top), Led Zep's Jimmy Page (left) and Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley (far left) have places in pop history

TALES TO TELL J From left, Lonnie Donegan, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Millie and The Beatles figure in shows
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 7, 2013
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