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Life's playlist is the ultimate democracy - here's my vote.


IT'S the ever-present soundtrack to millions of lives, a repository for countless memories from first romance to agonising break-ups, a comfort blanket at times of heartbreak and anxiety, the background to glorious drunken nights with old friends...and so much more.

Whether you're a Stones or a Beatles man (it's impossible to convincingly be both, I would vehemently argue), Tamla or punk, reggae or heavy metal, new wave or glam rock, music compares with little else in its enduring capacity to roll back the years and relive lost youth.

When Elvis first burst onto the scene in post-war America, the world changed overnight from drab monochrome grey to glorious technicolour. The truck driver from Tupelo with the jet black mane and the swivelling hips blew away the stuffy deference of the post-war years and helped give birth to a new artform which would rock much of the planet on its axis.

In company with a few other pioneers, from Bill Haley through to Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry to Buddy Holly, the 50s rock and rollers lit a flame which was to explode into a volcanic eruption of sound and majestic fury through the 60s, the most socially turbulent of all decades. Life would never be the same again for millions of us.

The newly unveiled B-side project right here in Birmingham doffs its cap to that very spirit, whether you're a baby-boomer from the Woodstock generation, a 70s punk or a New Wave enthusiast.

Birmingham and the surrounding West Midlands has played a not insignificant part in rock and roll history, supplying the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Move, Slade and the Spencer Davis Group, ELO and Ocean Colour Scene. We never quite came up with a Dylan or a Springsteen, although Robert Plant, and co fitted that sort of godlike status for many.

But if the true home of this most enduring and influential of all artforms is the American South, which gave birth to the blues in the shape of Robert Johnson and a few others, then Brum and its environs certainly deserves a mention or two in despatches.

Any region that can come up with the likes of or Brontosaurus by the Move, courtesy s of the great Roy Wood, one of the best songwriters this side of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, deserves its name up in lights.

I would also unreservedly recommend or by Slade as bona-fide top 20 the Spencer Davis Group speaks for itself, likewise , even if much of the Led Zep canon, with the self-indulgent drum solos and the semi-mystical power trips, largely left this listener cold.

But that's one of the the sheer beauties of rock and roll. It's all subjective, the ultimate democracy, you can construct your very own juke box of the mind and fill it with whatever you want. The internet may have taken over the world but it's essentially a gigantic electronic library, a clinical technological process.

Music, by contrast, is a living, jiving quasiorganism, a key to millions of memories, a true companion of the spirit. It's a universal language which engages the soul, like great literature or poetry down through the ages.

You can soak up the rhythms of whatever you desire, and no authority, from smalltown office bullyboy through to evil international dictators, can do a thing about it. The Nazis feared the power of the saxophone so much they banned it which tells its own chilling story.

You can suggest there's something slightly peculiar about all those Cliff Richard fans who camp out for days to get front row tickets (as indeed there clearly is) or argue only a neanderthal from Preston or Peterborough, say, could seriously believe that Madness or the Human League could be worth the price of admission. But the glory of music is that veryone is entitled to heir own view, and heir own juke box.

And music, unlike o much in life, flattens so many barriers like little else. The first time I clapped eyes on the Rolling Stones on a black and white TV set in the mid-60s changed my life forever.

My eight-year-old self could never have articulated it at the time but the primal jungle beat of Mick, Keith and co inspired a lifelong suspicion of authority which formed an essential part of my character for life. Listening to moptops Paul and John earnestly bleating on about wanting to hold somebody's hand just wasn't the same as rocking to, or. Like the Stones with their rebel beat, the counter-culture songbook of Bob Dylan heightened my consciousness. The early protest songs of the Minnesota Bard, the greatest artist of the 20th century in my book, helped end segregation and quite possibly shortened the Vietman War. Robbie Williams or Lady Gaga aren't quite in the same league, I would submit.

But Bob was not just a thorn in the side of the bullies and the bigots. He also brought genuine intelligence to rock lyrics, poetry set to melodies. While the Beatles chirpily sang or to a bunch of screaming schoolgirls, Dylan came up with or. Bob didn't so much tap into the Zeitgeist, he was the Zeitgeist, at least for a while.

Or as Bruce Springsteen so memorably said when inducting Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "Dylan - he was a revolutionary, man, the way that Elvis freed your body, Bob freed your mind. And he showed us that just because the music was innately physical, it did not mean that it was anti-intellect.

"He broke through the limitations of what a recording artist could achieve and he changed the face of rock and roll forever and ever. But the fact is that, to this day, where great rock music is being made, there is the shadow of Bob Dylan over and over and over again.

"And speaking as a fan, I guess when I was 15, and I heard I heard a guy like I've never heard before or since. A guy that had the guts to take on the whole world and made me feel like I had 'em too. And maybe some people mistook that voice to be saying somehow that you were gonna do the job for 'em. And as we know, as we grow older, that there isn't anybody out there that can do that job for anybody else.

"So I'm just here tonight to say thanks, to say that I wouldn't be here without you, to say that there isn't a soul in this room who does not owe you their thanks. And to steal a line from one of your songs, whether you like it or not, 'you was the brother that I never had.' Congratulations."

I happen to agree with every word of that Springsteen tribute, but the great beauty of all this is that musical snobbery is pointless and selfdefeating. What do any of us really know when music is such a personal companion through life for all of us? You are what you listen to, the juke box is yours and yours alone, and needs no external approval or peer pressure. Nobody can force anyone to love the Dylan, the Stones, the Beach Boys, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Paper Lace, Lulu, Abba, Bobby Boris Pickett and the Cryptkickers (do check out if you can) or even Terry Wogan and his ghastly . There are, however, some limits to this hippie-style tolerance. If the Move's (the only record my old newspaper mate, the late, great Andy Donkersley would ever deign to dance to) isn't voted Number One in Birmingham's B-Side project, then I'll just have to join the queue for Cliff Richard or convert to Madness.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 5, 2014
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