Friday, 19 June 2020

Songs that influenced me, part 3

The final part of a three part post on the songs that most influenced my taste in music.

A recap - a facebook thread on the 10 albums that most influenced your taste in music made me realise that, for us kids of the 60s, it was singles not albums that mainly influenced our taste in music - we couldn't afford "LPs" even if we had a record player.

So to complete my list, following on from Please Please Me, You Really Got Me, Purple Haze, Reach Out I'll Be There and See Emily Play, I have:

I'm So Glad - Cream 1969
OK so this is the first album track in my list as I switched to vinyl and joined my peer group in getting blown away by Goodbye Cream. But specifically this was the track that got me into long discursive tracks of extemporised music, in particular prog rock in all its pomp. Which I've never grown out of.

Hors D'Oeuvres - Roy Harper 1971
I wondered about this choice for a while. Did Roy influence my taste in music? Most people realising my favourite musician is basically a man with an acoustic guitar assume I like folk, or acoustic singer songwriters, but for the most part I don't. After all he has been described as "epic, progressive acoustic - a category of one". However, I have nearly twice as many Harper albums as any other artist in my music collection. Roy influenced me to listen to Roy more than any other artist over the whole 50 years since I first saw him play. When I'm not sure what to listen to, I listen to Roy. So I guess that counts as an influence. When I first saw Harper I'd not heard any of his music: I don't know about underground but he was (and for the most part remained) unplayed on radio apart from John Peel and once in a blue moon now on Radio 6. This was the first song he played that night - when he eventually stopped chatting with the odd strum thrown in. I was immediately hooked. The song is about how quick we are to judge and criticise people and is typical Harper: quite long with two verses, the first allegorically setting the scene, the second focussing on the specific target. Dave Gilmour once said that Harper would go for subjects that other musicians decided not to touch (so, for example, explicitly criticising Islam). This one was aimed at his critics in the music papers:
The critic rubs his tired arse
And scrapes his poor brains and strains and farts
And wields a pen that stops and starts
And thinks in terms of booze and tarts
And sits there playing with his parts...
And he says this singer's just a farce
He's got no healing formulas
He's got no cure-all for our scars
He's got no bra-strap for our bras
And our sagging tits no longer hold a full house of hearts
And you know what? I don't think this little song's gonna make the charts
Well you can lead a horse to water
But you're never gonna make him drink

And you can lead a man to slaughter
But you're never gonna make him think
Needless to say this indeed wasn't the hit single EMI were hoping Harper would record. But he has probably made me think more than all the other musicians I've ever heard put together. Yes, an influence then.

Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2, 1901
The girl who was to become Mrs H introduced me to this in the early 70s. I'd never listened to classical before. She's always liked piano music and we listened to this quite a lot when we first got married. A couple of decades later I started listening to much more classical music but this has remained a favourite. I like them both but there's more Tchaikovsky in my collection than Oasis.

Peaches - The Stranglers 1977
I'd read about punk rock and I didn't think I wanted to hear it. Then I heard this on the radio and it piqued my interest. Though the Stranglers weren't really punk and, while more than ok, aren't my favourite new wave band, this opened my ears to what was happening and pretty soon I'd moved from listening to Mike Oldfield to The Clash. For me the new wave era from 1977 to the early 80s is the second great flowering of British pop music nearly equalling the mid 60s.

Breaking The Girl - Red Hot Chili Peppers 1991
My red son is responsible for my last choice. I'd listened with him to the Chilis Californication album quite a lot in the car without really warming to it, but I loved the next album, the more commercial By The Way. A bit later he ripped a CD for me with a selection of stuff including three tracks from the Blood Sugar Sex Magik album which predated the two I knew. Bingo, now I got it. The Chilis are my favourite post 1990 artists and frequently feature in my car. I asked the red son about Breaking The Girl, saying it sounded a bit Beatles-ish. He laughed and said he'd read that John Frusciante had listened to Beatles songs all day before writing it. Which explains why I liked it and neatly closes the loop on my 10 influential songs with where I started, on Please Please Me.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Songs that influenced me, part 2

Following on from An Influence which WAS Number One, 3 June, here are some of the nine songs I've chosen to follow on from The Beatles Please Please Me as the songs that most influenced my taste in music:

You Really Got Me - The Kinks, 1964
I first heard this when it got in the charts in early September 1964. We must have just been back at school because I recall hardly anyone else in the class liking it at first. They all seemed to think it was a raucous noise. To be fair, a record company executive had described the guitar sound, courtesy of Dave Davies's deliberately slashed speaker, as sounding like a "barking dog". The song is credited as the first to use deliberate distortion. Producer Shel Talmy recorded two guitar tracks, one distorted, the other not to make it sound louder. And he used an unprecedented 12 microphones to record the drums, so it would sound like they were "bouncing off the walls". A couple of weeks later it was number one and you can trace a direct line from here through to hard rock, punk, heavy metal, garage and grunge. It's not just me saying that but also Ray Davies's biographer Thomas M Kitts* who also quotes Mike Rutherford of Genesis saying "I heard it when I was at school and it really blew me away. I’d never heard a riff like it. It’s still one of the greatest riffs of all time”.
One of the greatest riffs of all time is also one of the simplest, based around two chords, F and G. While it then goes up a tone to G and A and then to C and D it's still basically a two chord riff (the joke a decade later being that you needed three chords to play punk rock). There a fascinating interchange between guitarists on the riff on a site called**
Ray Davies was a songwriting genius but his vision of the song was jazz/bluesy and it was his brother Dave who created the guitar sound. He slashed his speaker cone with a razor blade in anger because his childhood sweetheart got pregnant. Their parents said they were too young to get married and split them up. Fortunately he decided not to slash his wrists.....

Reach Out I'll Be There - The Four Tops, 1966
Arguably there were two great worldwide sounds of the 60s - The Beatles and Motown. I could have picked a Supremes song but I think it was this song that made me realise there was a lot more to Motown than Diana Ross and Smokey, Marvin et al have been a constant source of pleasure ever since.

Purple Haze - The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967
Dave Davies was a pioneer but Hendrix virtually re-imagined what the electric guitar could be and made guitarists all over the world see their instrument differently overnight. Hey Joe was a good song but this was the song that made me realise something special was going on.

See Emily Play - Pink Floyd, 1967
Pop music's vintage year, 1967 had lots of great songs: Waterloo Sunset, Paper Sun, San Francisco, All You Need Is Love and so on. But it was this particular song that paved the way for me to psychedelia and one of the other great musical loves of mine, progressive rock.

Five more to go in a post to follow.

* From Ray Davies - Not Like Anybody Else, Thomas M Kitts
**  Chords for You Really Got Me,,Got%20Me%20are%3A%20F%20G%20F%20G.
See also How The Kinks Changed Rock Music With One Riff,

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

It's coming home!

 Premier League football returns today. I'm sure the government is delighted to get something (anything!) going again, but especially football as it will undoubtedly deflect some attention away from both covid and what statues matter. We can't go to the matches - and I currently don't know if or when I will ever feel comfortable again pushing through the pre-match throng to get to the bar in the Winslow on Goodison Road:

But football is, in a way, coming home as many matches will be live in many homes around the country over the next few weeks. 33 of the 92 fixtures due to be played to complete the 2019/20 season are being shown free to air so football really is coming into our homes. Even Sky is making some games available free, including Sunday's Merseyside derby. But not tonight's first matches, Aston Villa hosting Sheffield United and Manchester City against Arsenal.

It will be interesting to see whether the games are as intense without fans present in the grounds and to hear how the, er, eloquent banter between players is dealt with - presumably with a lot of apologies from the commentator if sounds from within the ground can be clearly heard. I expect I will find any added fake crowd noise, which EA Sports has made available from its FIFA video game, highly irritating and much less entertaining than hearing the players bad mouth each other.

There is a huge amount at stake for the teams that could qualify for Europe but even more for the teams facing relegation. Ejection from the Premier League is financially catastrophic at the best of times but the vastly lower TV revenue in the Championship means the lack of a definite timescale for capacity crowds will make budgeting a huge headache this time.

We also learned something interesting from the shutdown. Suggestions of curtailing the season brought a firm response from the commercial rights holders, who made it clear that the battle to avoid relegation is every bit as important as the race for European places in the squeaky bum stage of the season. This cheered me up no end as I've always held that the TV money should be shared out equally by appearances. I know more people normally watch Man U than Sheff U but not many are interested in watching Man U play anyone unless it's a Premier League match. It takes 20 teams to form the league, not half a dozen and we now have hard commercial evidence for that.

The only unfortunate aspect about the return is that the race for the top and bottom places doesn't look much of a race and could be pretty well all over very quickly leaving a lot of dead rubbers.

Unusually, as readers will know they are the team I've loved to hate for nearly 50 years, I hope Manchester City do not lose tonight because that would mean that Liverpool cannot clinch the league by winning at Goodison on Sunday. Yes, of course that  reveals the extent of my confidence in my own team. Liverpool have never won the Premier League title (oh, I so enjoyed writing that) but it will take a lot more than a Stevie G la slip this time and so it is of course only a matter of time before they deservedly clinch their first top flight title since 1990. But, please, not at Goodison Park.

What else will happen? After an unplanned spring break there is no form to go on. Even so, while other clubs are not, in that strange phrase, "mathematically safe" - after all, can you be "mathematically pregnant?" - it's hard to see any team outside the bottom six going down. Southampton are 7th bottom with 34 points and one would think 38 points or lower might be where the line is drawn. So Norwich, stranded at the bottom on 21 points, look sunk even without examination of their fixture list - which looks "interesting". After warming up against Southampton and Everton at home they face 3 key head to head matches in a row against other relegation rivals - Brighton, Watford and West Ham. Even if they pick up wins in those matches their last three games then include Chelsea and Man City away. So Norwich are surely gone. Even though striker Teemu Pukki - whose name always reminds me of Pukka pies even though my preferred half time snack is a chunky KitKat - has a goal in him, their goal difference is the worst in the division by some margin, so they don't score many and they let in a lot.

The other teams in the bottom three, Villa and Bournemouth, also have hard fixtures with more than three-quarters of their remaining games against teams in the top twelve. Watford, and West Ham, both on 27 points with Bournemouth, have more like half their games against top  twelve teams. Watford and West Ham look to me to have a good chance of getting clear, though not quickly as their easier games don't come at the start.

The team that might make take a late dive for the trap door is Brighton, currently in 15th place and only two points ahead of the three way tie between Watford, West Ham and Bournemouth for the third relegation spot. Their next 6 matches are against Arsenal, Leicester, Man United, relegation rivals Norwich, Liverpool and Man City. So for me it looks like the relegated teams will be Norwich, Villa (ouch, after net transfer spending of £142 million in the last two windows, more than any club in Europe apart from Real Madrid!) and a south coast death battle between Bournemouth and Brighton.

Which clubs will do well from the break and low-atmosphere matches? Well several clubs have got players back to fitness. I imagine Spurs fans will be the most pleased at the prospect of having Kane and Son back, but  Man United fans will be intrigued to watch perennial under-performer Paul Pogba alongside Bruno Fernandes. If, as many expect, the break and the empty stadia produce lower intensity matches Pogba, who seems to like the pace of Serie A rather than the Premier League, may well hit his stride. I also expect several other teams to do well in what is likely to be a training ground atmosphere lacking in edge. Man City and Arsenal always like to play "training ground" football and I would fancy Wolves and maybe Chelsea to also benefit. Jurgen Klopp has challenged Liverpool to produce their normal intensity - it will be difficult, but not actually that important. They might be better coasting to the League and saving some energy for next season. I think it will be more difficult for teams like Leicester and Sheffield United to reproduce their pre-lockdown form. I think we will learn quite a bit about the character of players in mid-table squads like Burnley's and Everton's  where we will see if the coaches and leaders on the pitch can cajole performances out of the squad members who have rather enjoyed being at home with their families, some of whom are likely to be playing as if wearing their flip flops ready for their summer holidays.

As for European qualification, the big question is whether Sheffield United can do it. It would be a marvellous feat and the manager's achievements with the club are remarkable, though I think they are far from the easiest club to warm to. I doubt the break will help them in terms of momentum and, looking at it with cold hearted scepticism, Man United, Wolves, Tottenham and Arsenal are vying with the Blades for one European place, two if Man City's ban is upheld for next season at least. Five of the top 9 clubs, down to Arsenal and including Sheffield United, are in the F A Cup quarter finals which could therefore  provide an extra European place to this group. That still makes the odds only around 50-50 without allowing for pedigree. For what it's worth I don't think Sheffield United will qualify for Europe. But then I said Leicester definitely wouldn't win the Premier League at the beginning of 2016.

As for the intensity of the programme rather than the matches, I hear Pep Guardiola is worried about injuries from the schedule of up to 13 games in 40 days, depending on their F A Cup results. The poor dears. With their big squads I suspect the real joker over the next month will be positive coronavirus tests in Premier League squads rather than injuries.

I don't normally watch much live football on tv if my own team isn't playing and I haven't missed live sport on tv as much as I would have expected. But I am quite excited about it coming back and more interested than usual in seeing teams other than my own. Mrs H is, of course, absolutely thrilled.

However, as we are ploughing our way through the Shetland crime series on catch up tv football probably won't be coming into our home much tonight and will have to wait for the weekend. Going to the match? Who knows but, for old times sake, here I am in the Winslow, aka the People's Pub,  with my blue son, our faces filled with pre-match excitement before the last game we went to at Goodison in January:

I know the picture was taken before the match because I doubt we looked that thrilled at the end. Everton were coasting at 2-0 after an hour and had plenty more chances to seal the deal. Newcastle looked pretty sorry throughout until they scored in the 4th minute of time added on, then came alive and equalised with practically the last touch of the game in the 96th minute to make it 2-2.

It's been quite nice not having to get agitated about my team, VAR, etc. But this week the emotional roller coaster gets switched back on...... I'm sure football fans across the country will enjoy the ride and the government will welcome the distraction provided by the modern day opium of the people.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Time to take some risk or get a two word answer

The government's strategy of using its scientists as human shields may be about to implode. We've heard ad nauseam that it has been either "following the science" or "guided by the science". Yet the  "science" has not yet had the answer to more than a small proportion of the many relevant questions we are facing in tackling the novel coronavirus. So we are being guided by the judgement (or guesswork) of some admittedly knowledgeable scientists. Scientists whose advice continued to be based on a flu type rather than a SARS type virus in the early stages of the outbreak, which may have contributed to some of the missteps made by the decision makers.

While support for the government was very high at the start of lockdown it was always going to be the case that it would wane as we started to ease, with some feeling we are going to fast and others feeling we aren't moving fast enough. But the government has exacerbated this natural dichotomy by appearing indecisive at best.

A classic example of this is the face mask issue. It was understandable in the early stage of lockdown, when there were severe PPE shortages in health and care settings, that the government was not inclined to recommend face coverings. After all the "science" (and the WHO) always said there wasn't much, if any, benefit. For what it's worth I've always believed that bit of the science. But whether there is any benefit also depends on the particular situation you are in. More significantly it seemed to me that, to purloin a phrase from health and safety legislation, wearing a face covering is "reasonably practicable". Home made versions aren't costly and don't reduce the availablity of PPE for others. It's not particularly onerous and it might make the wearer feel safer though at the risk of giving false confidence. Or, since the main benefit is to others not the wearer, it might make wearers feel better about themselves. So it seemed to me that it was an easy thing for the government to say at the outset that the wearing face coverings, but not medical standard PPE, was a sensible precaution while warning that the benefit might be small.

While the science didn't change, some circumstantial evidence showed that countries with a mask-wearing culture were doing better in terms of controlling spread of the disease. That might just be noise on the line as there are a lot of confusing patterns when you look at what various countries are doing and their stats on numbers of cases. But another opportunity to advocate face coverings was missed. They didn't go there, resisted when Sadiq Khan called for face coverings on public transport and then finally back tracked and made them compulsory as part of the lockdown easing as two metre separation is impossible in that context.

For what it's worth, as I don't normally use public transport or have to work in an environment where 2 metre separation is problematic, I'm going with the original science and not wearing a face mask when I shop, having tried it early in lockdown and found it extremely uncomfortable. There is also a problem with spectacles misting though I've been told if you dunk them in the washing up bowl and leave them to dry the detergent film stops them from misting. But from a political point of view the face mask issue has made the government look confused and indecisive. Playing catch up with Khan after about a month was embarrassing.

There was a lot of criticism in the early stages of lockdown about the absence of an exit plan. At the time I pooh-poohed this criticism but I was wrong. If ministers (and their advisers) had thought some of these steps through at the outset then they might have taken some different decisions - on advising face coverings for starters - and they might have adopted different messaging from the outset. I've written before about people who could have worked opting to be furloughed. Having put the fear of God into most people and given many the financial opportunity to stay at home it isn't a surprise that some are reluctant to engage in the move back towards normality.

In the case of schools there is nothing the teaching unions like more than to defy a Tory government. As the risk to children has always been small and evidence from other countries seems to show that schools being open does not contribute significantly to the spread of the virus the teachers protestations about risk have always rung hollow. I could understand concerns about the welfare of older and BAME teachers but the blanket resistance to schools opening appears to me a blatantly politically driven tactic. Making things awkward for the government and increasing the depth and length of the recession is just too tempting.

But here also the government has failed to look more than a single step ahead. It was always obvious that there would be a capacity problem for schools as well as public transport with a 2 metre separation distance. Charging ahead and trying to get schools open more or less normally before reviewing that restriction was always doomed. And why is it only now that we are hearing plans for summer schools to allow some catch up? Mrs H will confirm I've been advocating this since March, taking advantage of the (normally) better weather to have more outdoor classes - and more healthy sport - to split class sizes and provide separation.

Indeed I'm a bit surprised both Gavin Williamson and Grant Schapps (responsible for education and transport respectively) didn't press back on the 2 metre rule saying there was no point in planning any resumption with it in place. But these ministers aren't part of the inner "quad". Williamson's days may be numbered because, as the Sunday Times reports one government insider saying, once you've realised he looks and sounds a bit like Frank Spencer there's no unseeing that image. But the quad is overly influenced by the fact that half of them have been ill with coronavirus and, in Johnson's case certainly, he looked under the weather for a long time after he resumed his duties and he may well not be fully recovered yet.

For education I feel we have already reached the stage where it might be better to aim for a full restart in January 2021, with all year groups starting where they were in January 2020. I accept a cohort of youngsters going to further education aged 19 rather than 18 might present a problem for the universities but I'm sure solutions can be found. The intervening time can be used to broaden educational opportunities for a group that otherwise will have only had reduced levels of teaching. One of my concerns is that a generation of engineers and doctors may be pushed through the system with gaps in their knowledge just to try to keep this and the next academic year moving on the normal timescale.

While we start to collect the worst economic performance data anyone alive has ever seen there is some evidence that
  • the number of new cases in the UK was already declining before we went into lockdown*
  • covid-19 might have been much more widespread at a much earlier stage than previously thought with anecdotal stories of people with covid type symptoms in January and February now being joined by some positive antibody tests for some of those people
  • if there is any substance in those points then taken together they mean that Prof Ferguson's model (the mathematical one which predicted a quarter to a half a million fatalities in the UK, not his floozy) quite possibly had completely the wrong input data. As his model could give flaky answers anyway (see University Challenged - it's all in his head 8 April and It's On His Head 24 May) Ferguson's estimates for covid may well have been as reliable as his 2009 estimate of 65,000 UK deaths from swine flu. (The actual number turned out to be 457 and this isn't his only "form" in apocalyptic predictions). I've not seen this garbage in - garbage out (or in this case gospel out) argument anywhere else but its seems more than possible to me. 
All told we probably locked down too late, then understandably went too hard without much thought on how to exit. Now we are struggling to make coherent changes to ease the lockdown and save the economy, leaving people confused and confidence evaporating.  

At the start I said the government's strategy of using its scientific advisers as human shields could be about to implode.  Sources told the Sunday Times there was concern that Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance could quit: their posture was "much more aggressive" and they were on "resignation watch" (I thought this was normally called "suicide watch" in political circles, but they are scientists not ministers). The flash point may well be the 2m rule.

So where does the 2m "rule" come from? It dates from basic scientific research in the 1930s which showed that droplets released by coughs and sneezes mostly land within 1-2m. Sure, aerosol could get blown further (but also presumably diluted) and MIT recently showed specks could go up to 6m using high speed cameras.  But, surprise, surprise the chance of exposure and therefore catching the virus diminishes with distance much as per the classic inverse square rule. Time of exposure, and so the total "load" of virus one gets exposed to, also comes into it. A recent study published in The Lancet concluded that keeping at least 1 metre away from others was "the best way" to limit the chance of infection, saying that the risk is 13% within that distance but 3% beyond it. Sir Patrick Vallance has said spending 6 seconds at a distance of 1m presents the same risk as a minute at 2m implying that the extra metre reduces risk by a factor of 30. But the key question for that statement is what the risk is at 1m: Vallance says it goes from "small" to "very small" at 2m. He also said what you do with this information is a risk-based call rather than "science" per se.

This presents the government with a big problem. The population has never been comfortable with processing information on risks over which they feel they have little control, so-called "involuntary risk". In contrast, where the risk is one they choose to take because of a perceived benefit, whether it be speeding, jaywalking, or going for a bungee jump, they will accept remarkable levels of risk voluntarily. So we had the spectacle of people asking how come schools were dangerous and closed on Sunday 31 May but safe and due to re-open on Monday 1 June: what had changed? (This was a question that might well have been asked by families sitting on a crowded beach that weekend). The question was easily answerable but the government has proved incapable of explaining to people that they weren't completely safe staying at home and they aren't now at huge risk going to work or school. This is a problem the government could have anticipated and could have been preparing the ground for, with information on the benefits and risks of lockdown and easing. The stat that kids are more likely to die by being hit by lightning than going back to school gives some perspective.

I'm not normally one for blaming advisers but it is possible Dominic Cummings is partly to blame as the architect of the mind-numbingly simple messages which worked well in getting people to stay home but have now served their purpose.

But what if Matthew Parris is right* and the scientists are "wrong"? They can look at the wreckage of the economy at some stage in the future and say "it was only prudent to be cautious". Whitty acknowledges the health detriments of lockdown but I can see no evidence that he actually factors that into his advice, let alone the broader impacts.

The government will have to move on this at some point. They might as well make a virtue of doing it sooner rather than later. But there will be a political crisis if the key scientists resign. However, there are plenty of reputable scientists who think it is high time to relax the lockdown and plenty who think it far too early. This is a risk based judgement - a political call where the costs, risks and benefits to the whole country have to be weighed, based on gut feel as much as science.

So the government might need to urgently convene a broader group of scientists if it thinks its current appointees are, ironically, too "conservative". Or it can say that, on this point, it is going to follow the WHO advice - which is 1 metre, pointing to the many countries that have adopted this distance some of which, admittedly, have better track and trace or other measures in place to limit the risk.

The government also urgently needs to communicate a more nuanced message. Two word soundbites won't do the trick. Or they'll be told two words at the next election.

* Matthew Parris, The Times, 12 June

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

An influence which WAS a number one

Early in the great lockdown I got invited to do one of those things on Facebook where you pick 10 things, one a day, and nominate someone else each day to do the same. A kind of pyramid selling chain letter. This one was to nominate the 10 albums that had most influenced my taste in music. I don't normally go for these things but I carefully chose and posted 10 album covers being sure, as a pedant, that these were not my favourite all time albums, which it seemed to me was how most people read it. No, you CAN'T have three David Bowie albums in your list: the first one influenced you to get the other two, d'oh!!!!

I won't show the ten album covers here, partly because it struck me after picking The Beatles Abbey Road - and then backtracking and selecting an eleventh choice instead - that the question is a false premise for those of us over about 65. That is because it wasn't albums that influenced us the most, at least not initially, simply because we couldn't afford to buy them, at least in any number, until our musical tastes had started to form. Albums, or LPs as they were known (for "long players", kids) were beyond the scope of pocket money and were rare birthday or Christmas presents for a few kids in the class.

Back in the 60s we relied on either a record player - usually a multi-changer made by Dansette like this:
Or a reel to reel tape recorder for blagging music off the radio, like this:

No, kids, piracy wasn't invented with cassettes, or Napster....

The advantage of the tape recorder was that you could blag loads of music for your pocket money. But the disadvantage was how laborious it was to locate particular songs on the tapes, so you tended to move with the times very quickly and listen mainly to the run of songs you had recorded most recently.  The advantage of buying vinyl, which we all eventually migrated to, was being able to stack up records on the autochanger and build a once off version of what has now become known as a "playlist".

Anyway this all meant a fair number of the 10 pieces of music that have influenced me the most weren't albums but were singles. So which was the first?

Well, I have an enduring love of pop music. Hit songs from the past tap in to a deep vein of nostalgia in most people and I'm no different. I do draw a line somewhere (Eurovision for a start) but I can even enjoy disposable dross like Sugar Sugar (surely you remember The Archies) or the Bay City Rollers, albeit in small doses.

My love of pop music was initiated by my dad introducing me to it on the BBC Light Programme - the forerunner of Radio 2 - which had a few hours a day of music interspersed with  humour (The Goons and  Tony Hancock) and drama (well, if you call The Archers drama). As the music slots included things like the Billy Cotton Band show, chart music was very limited. It was restricted by needle time limits which the BBC were party to along with the industry, who managed the copyrights, and the Musicians Union. The Beeb was of course a monopoly apart from stuff beamed in from outside the country - Radio Luxembourg and then the pirates. By 1967 the limit was still only five hours a day until changes were wrung by the influence of the pirates. So there wasn't very much pop but there was Alan Freeman's wonderful Pick Of The Pops, in which he played new releases and records bubbling under the chart in the first half hour then the top 10 in the second half hour. The programme got more time and we basked in the luxury of hearing the top 20. I must have barely missed a single Sunday afternoon show from 1962 when my dad pointed me at the programme until I went off to Uni in 1970.

So my love for pop music is deeply ingrained. And therefore not influenced by any one song, though I'm still very fond of many early 60s pop songs by the likes of Brian Hyland (Sealed with a Kiss) and Del Shannon (several including Runaway and Keep Searchin'). While songs like these got me into pop music their influence was just that, which isn't specific enough for the question. The first song to give me a jolt from the opening bar and change the way I saw music was The Beatles' Please Please Me.

On all official listings the Beatles third single, From Me To You, is listed as their first number one, with Please Please Me shown as having reached number 2. Indeed it's not on the compilation album "1", which Wikipedia says features "virtually every number one single the band achieved in the United Kingdom and the United States from 1962 to 1970". Well, this truly awakens the pedant in me. It either does or doesn't include all those number ones, it can't feature "virtually" all of them. And there weren't any number ones in 1962, though Love Me Do is included as it reached number one in the States when they caught up with the mania in 1964. It also includes Yesterday, The Long and Winding Road and Eight Days a Week which weren't UK singles of the time, or at all. So they count more than Please Please Me, the Beatles' breakthrough single? I don't think so.

In the States Please Please Me only reached number 3 in 1964, with I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You above it that week. This was around the time the Beatles had all the top 5 records in the US chart, unheard of until streaming individual album tracks enabled things like Ed Sheeran having 14 of the top 15 in the UK not so long ago.

And yet... I distinctly remember Please Please Me being played as the number one on Alan Freeman's Pick Of The Pops in late February 1963. On and off since 1973 Radio 1 and then Radio 2 shows have run down charts from selected years in the past. The format was started by the infamous Jimmy Saville, with his Double (then Triple) Top Ten show from 1973 to 1987. We listened to it a lot (and yes, we thought he was pervy). Meanwhile Freeman started doing something similar on Capital Radio before Radio 1 brought the format back with Freeman as host and calling it Pick Of The Pops for old times' sake. On any of those shows, if they happened to choose February 1962 they had Please Please Me at number 2. Now these things matter to a pedant like me and I've often muttered to Mrs H about it. Please Please Me was a number one. So have I got a case of false memory? Well, actually I haven't.

I quote from a super blog site* which orders all the Beatles group and solo releases (and other stuff besides) in handy lists with links. For Please Please Me they say:

So, a common debate ... was this release The Beatles first number 1 !?
"Please Please Me" was the second official release by The Beatles since their signing to E.M.I. It was released on 11th January 1963 after having been recorded in 18 takes on 26th November 1962. To discuss the chart career of The Beatles follow-up to "Love Me Do" and it's omission from the greatest hits CD '1' we need to properly understand the evolution of the U.K. music charts.

The first U.K. chart of record sales was produced 14th November 1952 by the New Musical Express (N.M.E.) which is therefore the longest established chart. In the N.M.E. chart of 1963 "Please Please Me" did indeed reach the top spot on 22nd February where it remained for 2 weeks.
But prior to this, from 10th March 1960, the music industry started to compile it's own chart in "Record Retailer". This was a trade publication as used by record shops and the music industry which later became "Music Week". For a couple of years from it's inception this chart was not the most widely accepted chart and was largely overlooked by the record buying public who, on the whole, still relied on the ever-present N.M.E. listing.
But the "Record Retailer" chart is historically the official chart of the music industry as it was the fullest chart and no less accurate than any other. In this chart The Beatles reached number 2 on the 2nd March 1963 but were kept off of number 1 by Frank Ifield's third consecutive chart-topper "Wayward Wind".
retrospective (my added word) choice of this chart as the one used for "official" purposes is slightly unfortunate, because in the hit parades of NME, Melody Maker and Disc "Please Please Me" was number 1, and therefore the Beatles FIRST number one.

That will do for me. Alan Freeman played it as number one and everybody apart from some dudes in the trade thought it was number 1. Having it at number 2 for all history is like a cup final goal being disallowed by VAR years after the game has finished.

Please Please Me gave me a jolt of excitement I hadn't felt from music until then, previously I'd liked "nice songs". Suddenly I appreciated that this was happening now and thought "what's coming next?" It would be a few years before I felt that tingle you get in the back of your neck when a piece of music really connects - maybe you have to be adolescent before you get that - but the journey had started. The Beatles were a big part of that journey as the story unfolded through the 60s. While I liked most of their stuff I rarely listen to the early hits now. Indeed, I can remember me and the girl who would become Mrs H walking out of a student hall of residence disco when they went into a prolonged session of by then very old (nearly a decade!) Beatles hits. We must have had something better to do....

But I still think Please Please Me is one of the best early Beatles songs, full of energy and enthusiasm and a big influence on me, even if I only occasionally listen to the later albums now. Abbey Road is my favourite and, for me, the Long Medley on side 2 of Abbey Road is one of the greatest achievements in pop/rock music. So Abbey Road was one of my choices in the Facebook 10 albums question, until I realised that it couldn't have influenced me, I already loved the Beatles music.

So what other songs influenced me in the days before albums were relevant? I have a draft list.....

* Home page for super index of The Beatles recordings:
From which you can go to Beatles singles by date and the individual records, like Please Please Me: If you want to know the evolution of what was printed on every label, with pictures, this is the site for you.....