I Am the God of Hellfire & I Bring You My Earliest Memories of Pop

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Having examined my parent’s record collection back in March, giving some insight into my musical education, I intend today turning the clock back further. Today I am going to share with you my earliest memories of pop. I don’t mean Mud on Supersonic or Sparks on TOTP or Mac & Katie Kissoon on Swap Shop. I don’t mean the memories of an eight or nine year old, I’m talking about when I was a kid who didn’t know his ABC from his 123 or his ABC from his Rockin’ Robin for that matter.

I’ll put these in a rough chronological order and we start in June 1968. I know the date because I’ve looked up the song in the Guinness book. I was barely three years old and round my nan and grandad’s house in Otway Street, Chatham. Top of the Pops was on the telly. I don’t remember any of the songs from that week’s chart, but I bloody remember the number one. Just take a look at this and imagine what your three-year-old would make of it. Next time they’re playing up, stick them in front of this ~ They’ll never step out of line again. Ghosts, goblins and werewolves are one thing, but the God of Hellfire screaming at you from within a square mahogany box in the corner of your grandparent’s house leaves you begging for mercy, promising never to misbehave ever again.

Two months later and we come to my earliest memory of a pop song not on television. We’re in Butlins in Bognor Regis and we’ve just entered the camp’s cafeteria. They’re playing music and the song I hear is Aretha Franklin’s sublimer than sublime I Say a Little Prayer. Now, you’ll have to trust my integrity here. Perhaps you were expecting me to confess Terry Scott’s My Brother or DDDBM&T’s Bend It or Pipkins Gimme Dat Ding (I would happily admit to this – an absolute pop masterpiece), but it’s true; I didn’t know what it was at the time, but the memory is clear.

Years later, when I knew all about the wonders of Ms Franklin I looked up the song in my Guinness book and discovered that it hit the charts in Aug ’68 ~ just about the time we were at Butlins (first and only time). The song is married to the aroma of fried food, stale tobacco, coffee, Farleys Rusks and ice cream that was the Butlins cafeteria, but doesn’t detract from the aural masterpiece that it is.

If you read my piece on my parents’ collection you will know that I lived in a house full of Beatles, Stones and Elvis (lucky me). My earliest memories of The Beatles and Elvis are lost, perhaps because they were always there; ubiquitous could be the word. However, I do recall my earliest taste of the Stones. Perhaps not strictly true, as I knew at the time that I was watching the Rolling Stones and I knew the song; I just hadn’t previously seen the film. Jumping Jack Flash was released a month before Fire, but though this clip is every bit as sinister as Arthur Brown’s Crazy World, it didn’t scare me. I remember being fascinated by it; drawn in to their mysterious world. I’d have seen it in black and white and reckon I saw this c. ’69 or ’70 rather than ’68. Brian still the coolest man in pop, just not for much longer.

That was how I remembered it, but the memory can play tricks. It is quite possible that I was drawn in by this slightly less scary clip instead.

My first memory of a song on the radio comes from as late as June ’71. Again, music in our house was so ubiquitous (that word again) that I’d have heard a thousand songs before this one stuck. We’d always have Radio 1 playing as Dad got ready for work. I’d get stuck into the biscuit barrel for about an hour before having to get ready for school. This song, though it only reached number 13, was around for 11 weeks, so I got to hear it a lot and loved it every time.

Around this time our babysitter Bill threw a party. Not at his house, he was house-sitting whilst some other friends were on holiday. As he was my folks’ babysitter, the only way they could go to the party was if they took me and my kid sister with them. We were put in an upstairs room to sleep whilst from under the floorboards below I heard Brown Sugar, Young Gifted & Black, Big Five, Double Barrel and Monkey Spanner. It was quite a party apparently. Mum and Dad helped clear up afterwards, but Bill forgot to get rid of the dustbin full of empties before the house owners returned from their hols!

One last song and one which I need hardly mention, for if you are of roughly the same age as me, this too will be among your first treasured memories of pop. This was the first pop song I remember being in love with. Everyone loved this, a song I hardly hear from one decade to another these days, but don’t need to. A pop colossus up there with all the greats; I wanna hold your hand, Love Grows, Get it on, Dancing Queen, Don’t go Breaking my Heart, Geno, Open Your Heart, Groovejet and Hey Ya.

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