Lockdown Blog 47: Songs from my life, Part One

Hey there folks,

I hope you’re all still happy and healthy! This has been going on for a long time now, I know (certainly here in the UK).

I’ve recently been reflecting on some of the songs that have had the greatest impact on me over the course of my life so far, and I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourites with you in these lockdown blogs.

Unlike the other guys, I wasn’t a chorister in a church or chapel as a young child. We went to church in southwest London every week as a family, but our church had a much more “modern” take on the music performed. There was no choir per se, nor hymn books. The words were displayed on an overhead projector, and the accompaniment came from a band rather than an organ. At home and on car journeys, we did listen to classical music, although it certainly wasn’t the default. I more distinctly remember cassette tapes of songs from musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber, collections of Abba’s greatest hits, and – at my insistence – compilation double-albums of pop songs (a new instalment of which would come over every three months or so), that we played on repeat in the car, and to which I would sing along ceaselessly. Some of the most powerful memories I have of music in my childhood were featured on these Now! That’s What I Call Music albums, so that’s where I’m going to start.

Song 1: Wannabe by The Spice Girls

Wannabe was released on June 26th 1996, and spent seven weeks at Number One in the UK (the longest any single had been at Number One since Everything I do, I do it for you by Bryan Adams, which had been Number One for *sixteen* weeks in 1991). I was just finishing my first year in an English state primary school, after spending three years at the German International School in London. At the German School I was young, but I was also detached from English culture. I spent every afternoon with a different German family, as my parents both worked full-time. We watched German television, I read German magazines and books, and I only really listened to the tapes of German children’s songs that my parents had given me (aside from cassettes of hymns, which I memorised obsessively – although that’s a different story).

When I arrived at Itchingfield County Primary School (and its wonderful, tiny countryside campus and green and grey uniform), I knew nothing about English pop music (any pop music really, if you discount Swedish groups of the 1980s). But I was in a class of English children, who grew up in English families, read English books, watched English TV and listened to English music. I was behind. Wanting to fit in as quickly as possible, I realised that knowing about pop music was a power I could develop and then harness. These children all had their favourite bands, read Smash Hits, watched Top of the Tops, and had their opinions about which pop stars mattered and which did not. My tactic? To learn as much as possible, as fast as possible. Every Sunday at 4pm, I would record the UK Top 40 on BBC Radio 1, writing down the whole chart and noting how long each song had been there, how they moved around from week to week, and what the noteworthy new entries were. I would memorise that list, to be able to share my knowledge with my peers (it all sounds so calculated in hindsight, doesn’t it…). This worked. I could speak with authority about Take That and Boyzone, name all the members of Eternal, and tell you when new singles and albums were going to be released. People liked it. I was “in touch”.

When Wannabe was released, I could tell that something special was happening. The Spice Girls were getting a lot of press, and the song rocketed to Number One in its first week. I was mesmerised. These women were magical, playing by a different rulebook, and immensely popular. I knew that it would be a great idea if I became an ardent fan of the group. With friends – a mix of male and female – we each pretended to be a different girl (I was Posh, of course…), and I knew all the words in a flash – not just to Wannabe, but to all the songs on their debut album, Spice. Wannabe represented a moment when I really felt like I was able to fit in with my friends at my new, English school, and when I learned about the larger cultural machine that informs so many aspects of our lives. I wore out the cassette single over the course of that Summer, and bought the CD album twice when it was released, in case one copy became lost or broken.

Whenever I hear the song now, my heart is still filled with fondness. It sits right at the beginning of a long musical journey for me, when I started to discover more and more about pop music, and realised what it meant to me – how it had helped me to find my place at a new school and develop my own tastes.

If you’re really lucky, you might even hear me perform the rap one – or dress up as Posh Spice.


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