Put on your red shoes and dance the blues

As I keep seeing listings (on Facebook) of music albums that people listened to a teens and which made a lasting impression, I thought I’d write a blog post about it.

Until I was fifteen or sixteen, I didn’t listen to whole albums, just whatever was on the radio, and the compilation catridges (yes, catridges) and cassettes my sisters played. I also remember a record player, but that was way back, when I was under five.

Before I was about thirteen, I didn’t really know what an album was, and the terms LPs, EPs and singles didn’t mean anything to me. I grew up in two small towns in Johor, Malaysia. There was no internet and only two TV channels. If I did hear about music charts, I had no idea what they were and how they worked: Why did only certain songs get played ad nauseum of the radio, while others didn’t receive any airtime at all?

I bought my first ‘single’ when I was eighteen and studying in Singapore. However, I didn’t have a record player and so I never played it. It was just something cool to own, but I can’t even remember who the artist was. I also remember buying John Taylor’s single I Do What I Do – a truly terrible song, but I thought he was hot (he was very pretty).

Singles would not have made sense in a market that dealt mainly in cassette tapes and it was still mainly tapes right into the first couple of years of the 90s. Also, music piracy was rife and we rarely bought original cassettes, preferring pirated ones for less than half what we would have paid for the originals. Pirated cassettes were known for containing more than just the album advertised on the sleeve. So, sometimes you’d get the artist’s earlier songs, or even stuff by someone else, but often uncredited. Thus, for years I thought The Miracles’ Love Machine was by Wham!

Another thing we did was make compilation cassettes, either recording straight from the radio (this meant the start of the song was sometimes missing, or the DJ would be talking over the track), or getting it done ‘professionally’ by a music shop: you gave them a list of songs and they’d get them on a cassette for you.

I used to get compilation tapes made at this music shop in Coronation Plaza in Singapore. Strange, but I remember so clearly the face of the guy who worked there, but not the tapes I had made, except for one of Debussy’s ‘greatest hits’. This was also where I bought my very first copy of David Bowie’s Station to Station, on cassette.

I think the first Bowie song I ever consciously heard was Oh! You Pretty Things, but it may have been the Herman’s Hermits version and I must have been about four or five. Growing up, I was aware of Bowie, the rock star, though because my sister had a Ziggy Stardust poster on her bedroom wall. I hasten to add that she was not a fan – she just put every poster in Jackie magazine on her wall.

I remember my father once remarked that Bowie was hideous. When I pointed out Wizzard’s Roy Wood to him, he said, ‘Well, this one [Bowie] doesn’t even need make-up to look ugly.’

I became a Bowie fan when he released Let’s Dance and I saved for his concert when he performed in Singapore. Station to Station and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars were the albums I had on on repeat in my room in Jurong West. When I think of studying for the ‘A’ levels, Suffragette City or Golden Years start playing in my head. I bought a blank book for History notes, but I filled it with Bowie lyrics instead.

Some of these days, and it won’t be long
Gonna drive back down
where you once belonged
In the back of a dream car
twenty foot long 

We can’t dance, we don’t talk much
We just ball and play
But then we move like tigers on vaseline
Well the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar
You’re the blessed, we’re the Spiders from Mars

It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine
I’m thinking that it must be love

I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you
I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you

I listened to a whole lot of albums when I was a teen. Most of the time it was because I thought the singer or band members were cute, but it was the 80s and lots of catchy songs (including some extremely silly ones) were released (the most annoying thing about cassette tapes were that you had to keep rewinding them to replay the song you wanted to listen to – often only one in an entire album). I can still sing along to most of these songs, and I guess that means they made a lasting impression on me. However, only a few albums I listened to then have stood the test of time, and remain in my music collection.

Bowie and the albums I mentioned; Kate Bush’s The Hounds of Love, which I’ve blogged about before; and Hall & Oates’ Rock ‘n Soul Part 1 (a singles collection, sorry but it happens) actually shaped my musical consciousness and tastes. I honestly can’t think of any others.




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