In radio land I was vaguely aware of Suzi Quatro, Can the can and Devil gate drive throbbed with life and one of those tracks featured on my very much coveted, scratched and well played’ Top of the Pops’ LP for 1973. Suzi made the first raucous and rowdy ripple across my early pop music pond. But it was only puppy love (thank you little Jimmy, but no…) and soon my head swerved towards the pint sized, flame haired punk rebel from Birmingham. She’s a wild woman that brilliantly boxed my teenage ears and energetically splashed colour across my tank grey life with theatre, spectacle and pop/punk ATTITUDE. Yeah, don’t laugh, it’s Toyah!
“I’m gonna turn suburbia upside down – scream and shout!
I’m gonna be free, I’m gonna be free, I’m gonna be freeeeeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeee!”
And who doesn’t want to be like her? I did. She was the answer to all my acne, angst filled (wet and dry) dreams. She had it all – big hair, thigh length boots up to her nose, Egyptian hieroglyphics painted all over her and more energy to make a Duracell bunny just not bother. It was definitely enough for me and my mate Roger to hand over our precious pocket money for a coach trip up to the unknown, exotic Odeon somewhere in a place called ‘Birmingham’ to see her, yeah, Toyah! Not on tv on Top of the Pops, or in a Smash hits lyric sheet but her, really on stage with a stack of booming, black amps, wild orange hair, climbing up the walls and singing(!) to the ecstatic roars of mostly, virgin, teenage boys.
Of course my cooler friends loved Siouxsie Sioux and Patti Smith and if I was fibbing – I’d claim that too, but…let’s see who else kindly cuddled and caressed my ear lobes and inspired still more colossal, musical awe?
Blondie of course was £3.99 of pocket money saved up and well spent for her album Parallel Lines. One track off that album, Hanging on the telephone, gets me every time. The energy, love and longing she crammed into those three perfectly crafted pop minutes. Can you see me swoon as I try to keep it together and type this?
Some early Annie Lennox got me, briefly, before my full on bed sit affair started with a new day dream, musical, American lover, Suzanne Vega. Have you met her? Heard her? Seen her? She wore long black coats – like me! She seemed baffled by love and romance – like me! She liked Marlene Dietrich – like me! She sang beautifully about diners, lost lovers and possible lovers – like me! Er, actually, of course not that last one, but you get the idea. I was besotted. Another American song bird had swooped out of the radio sky and I was a grateful musical mouse caught up in her well-manicured talons. After one particular gig in London I left a pile of poems with another fan/stage door Johnny to hand on to her in pure, unalloyed praise and appreciation - I had to get the last train home, but surely he would have dutifully passed them onto her and maybe her reply just went to my old address and never got forwarded…
Still, my really cool friends in London adored Michael Stipe and 10,000 Maniacs. I tried an album or two and now found myself shamelessly flirting and two-timing Suzanne with Natalie Merchant. They both had less make up and less bright hair and less obvious theatre than Toyah (sigh) but their beating hearts bled into every musical note and lyric which pulsated with life at an impossibly heightened, boiling point of emotion and insight. Oh yeah, it was catchy and infectious too!
Naturally things cooled and Suzanne dumped me after her 99F album and Natalie was becoming hard to keep in touch with, living across the pond as she did. I toyed with Tracy Chapman after Live Aid and Billy Bragg introduced me to yet another thrilling American song bird, Michelle Shocked, but somehow it seemed better to look and listen a little closer to home. Sleeper were bouncy little Brit poppers, but their lead singer, Louise Wiener, soon legged it to become a writer. Eeeeeek! Imagine that? Cerys Matthews first hit single also got me hooked, but in the end, even Wales was too far. I thought it might be restful and wise to become a musical vegetarian and listen to the radio instead.
BBC radio’s Mark Radcliffe eventually introduced me to some classic pop rockers and folkies along the way which worked well until my inevitable musical mid-life crisis catapulted me towards troubled, and troublingly brilliant, Amy. All the boys liked her. Her brittle, brave and blues soaked songs were thrilling. All the mums and dads, like me, liked her too. Amy, Amy, Amy Winehouse. It’s odd now to recall how a female friend at work had a spare ticket for her sold out show and I ran, panting in response to her ‘All Staff’ email, to claim that magic ticket, with glee. Amy could certainly sing and she had a different kind of drama surrounding her, compared to first love, Toyah, back in the day… And did I mention those tattoos? Boy oh boy. That’s a lot of Quink ink. One song in particular, Back to black, seemed to be the one most deeply dipped in musical despair and melancholy with an incredibly, concise evocation of impossible love and folly. What was not to like and be thankful for here? Thank god for ears! What a woman, what a voice, what a way to see and sing about the world she saw so clearly and so wanted us to hear, love and learn about. She sang like the pretty pop boys just never could.
If Seething Wells was still alive and writing for the NME maybe he could explain it? Anyhow, I’m just glad to listen out for all of the fabulous female voices that sweeten some of the sour times we all have to just wriggle, rock ‘n’ roll our way through.
Fifty fabulous things – pass it on, if you like, by Facebook, twitter and email.