Ariana Grande - Sweetener
I work in broadcasting: producing, news reading, presenting, reporting - it’s a great mix of disciplines. One of the highlights was being a Breakfast Show host on a commercial radio station in East Yorkshire. I loved it. Yes, the early starts were bad (I thought there was only one 4 o’clock in the day!), but, there was a problem far worse than that… Ear worms. And not your average ear worms either.
As there was a station playlist, songs got repeated across the week - and once an ear worm took hold, there was no stopping it.
I woke up in the dead of night, soaked in a cold sweat singing Two Hearts by Phil Collins, had a sleepless night in Manchester with only Feargal Sharkey’s A Good Heart for company - and spent four hours driving to London with Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody spinning me right round, baby, right round like a record, baby, right round, round, round (Ooh! That song too!).
But the album with the best ear-worm-to-song-ratio was Ariana Grande’s Sweetener.
In the space of a year, I had no less than three songs from it entered my inner monologue (God is a Woman, No Tears Left to Cry and Breathin’) - and stick around for days. That’s 20% of the album invading my sleep deprived mind!
The thing is… I actually grew to like them, but shh! Don’t tell anyone.
The Lightning Seeds - Like You Do… Best of The Lightning Seeds
As I work in broadcasting, choosing a ‘best of’ album may seem like an Alan Partridge parody…
(“What’s your favourite Beatles album, Alan?” “Well… I’d have to say, The Best of The Beatles,”)
But there is a good reason for choosing a collection of Ian Brodie’s sugar coated 90s pop treats.
Sadly, my dad passed away when I was 16. He was a kind, caring man - and he is missed by everyone who knew him. One of the many things he left me with was a love of sport - especially with my beloved Hull City. He’d take us to games through thick and thin - even away matches at Scarborough where we weren’t the favourite to win! They were wonderful times.
And an enduring memory of my Dad is sitting with him watching Euro 96 alongside my Brother, my mum and uncle.
My memory of that competition is an eternally sunshine dappled summer - Gazza was back with a vengeance (THAT goal against Scotland! The blonde hair! The dentist chair!), Alan Shearer still had hair…
And of course, there was ‘Three Lions’ by the Lightning Seeds, Baddiel and Skinner. It soundtracked that summer perfectly - and swept the nation up with it. Whenever I hear it, I’m instantly transported back to then - and think fondly of my dad. So, when it was reprised at the World Cup in 2018, you can imagine I was bit of an emotional wreck even before a ball was kicked - but in a good way. I loved it.
And like ’96, the semi-finals were where the journey ended, but with heads held high, facing the sunshine - and smiling.
Rest easy Dad.
Happy Mondays - Bummed
When I lived in the North West training in Broadcasting, I had a game: how long would it take on a night out before I heard a Madchester song being played at full volume from a bar? The results were varied: 1 minute 20 seconds (good work Bury town centre), 25 minutes (getting there Manchester Northern Quarter) to not at all (try harder, Stockport!).
I love all music that comes from the North West - it’s one of the reasons I moved there to study! Hearing any Madchester track whilst I was out was such a buzz!
But as I’m a Yorkshire lad, what album could I choose to evoke my time in the North West and still keep my roots? Well… thank you Happy Mondays!
Their album Bummed was recorded in Driffield, East Yorkshire. Twenty minutes from where I grew up. And the thing is with Driffield, it’s the most un-rock and roll towns there is. Trust me. I’ve been on nights out there. A sleepy market town, with lots of charity shops and sleepy pubs. The main reason the Mondays were sent there was to get away from the madness - and focus on recording an album.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Shaun Ryder allegedly ended up introducing the local army squaddies to substances other than beer - and many rock and roll shenanigans prevailed.
And on the odd occasion I hear Wrote for Luck being played, I’m simultaneously at home in Yorkshire - and back in Manchester, looking at my stop watch and grinning childishly from ear to ear.
Super Furry Animals - Radiator
I have a friend (who will remain nameless) who recently said the following: “I used to like Oasis… but then I grew up!” I don’t completely agree with this statement… but it did remind me of 1997.
I had invested heavily into the heady days of Britpop, with Oasis at the helm. As a young kid getting into music, I loved every minute of it - and even started learning the guitar because of Noel.
I liked the overblown bombast of Be Here Now, but by the time of its release, I was ready for something new.
But where could I turn next for musical inspiration?
Cue a shopping trip with my Gran to a record shop - and the Super Furry Animals single Hermann Love Pauline. For starters, the cover had a cartoon drawing of Einstein in a baby grow on it. And the music was like Roxy Music on acid.
In short, I was smitten.
The band were ace: they drove to festivals in a decommissioned army tank spewing out dance music from speakers - and they were from exotic Wales… to me, a kid from Yorkshire, Cardiff seemed like the other side of the world!
And the album was even better.
Songs about demons, screaming, playing it cool - and the final track starts with a plaintive melody about mountain people and ten minutes later ends in drum and bass chaos. Gruff and the band took me on a journey - and inspired my love of all things weird.
Although without Oasis selling millions, Creation Records might not have indulged the Super Furries in so many tanks and synths.
And for that, I am grateful.
Paul Simon - Graceland
Another thing that my Dad left me after his passing was his extensive record collection.
For that reason, I’ve always had a turntable (even during the late 90s and noughties when no one else did), just so I could keep that thread of my life alive.
And there’s some great albums in there: Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Toots and the Maytals: Funky Kingston, The Housemartins’: Hull Four, London Nil - the list goes on.
But the one I’ve chosen is Paul Simon’s Graceland.
Whenever it comes on, I’m instantly picked up and dropped back in my family living room aged four, wearing red corduroy dungarees, sporting a Boris Johnson style hair do - and dancing like a maniac to You Can Call Me Al.
I had such a great childhood - for which I’m eternally grateful. Living by the sea on the Yorkshire coast, the sharp salty air, cheap package holidays to Benidorm, grazed knees, the smells of malt, fish and cocoa from the four corners of Hull, football, camping trips to Whitby, cycling on BMXs through yellow and green fields - all underscored by a warm hearted family. All those memories are wrapped snuggly up in this album, like the fish and chips we’d have on a Saturday in greasy newspapers.
I do wish I still had those dungarees though - and hair do for that matter.
Kelis - Food
I’ve had many jobs: selling balloon rides for an events company, personal driver for Danny Dyer in Bristol, mandolin player in a Shakespeare company - not forgetting hand double for Nicholas ‘About a Boy’ Hoult. But they are all other stories I’ll share another time.
The one job that I had an absolute blast at was as a Recording Studio Manager in East London.
There was a lot of cable coiling, many cups of teas, a studio cat that liked a friendly bum pat (?!) and the odd game of street cricket on quiet days.
But one of the best parts of the job was the clients.
The vibe there was so welcoming and chilled. Every band I met was so down to earth - apart from the odd problem band, but they didn’t tend to come back for a repeat booking.
But one of the stranger quirks were the freebies we were given - I’m not talking free vinyl or merchandise either.
At the end of tours, band managers would leave boxes of band stuff and say “Can you dispose of this? If there’s anything in there you’d like, feel free!” That’s how I ended up owning a new pair of jeans and some baseball caps from Jamie T*, guitar picks from various indie bands - and a pair of dressing gown stage outfits from Kelis. My housemates loved them as gifts!
And so, this Kelis album (which she was touring at the time) reminds me of those heady days - and the random goodies we sometimes received.
*My autobiography will be called ‘Jamie T’s trousers - and other stories’… not really.
Joni Mitchell - Blue
Another big part of my life is performing music. I’ve been lucky enough to have played Glastonbury, tour NYC, the UK and Europe - and I’ve loved every minute of it.
I’ve chosen Joni Mitchell’s Blue album partly because it’s an absolute classic: it would be on my desert island discs, and ‘River’ is hands down the best Christmas song ever, no contest.
But, I’ve also chosen it because it’s tied up in a tour I did for SoFar Sounds in my ageing VW Polo.
The plan was to start in Southampton and work my way back up to Hull, performing gigs in pre-booked secret venues.
On my way down, I had a stop off at a friend’s house to go through their parent’s record collection - they were going free to a willing home in exchange for wine and beer.
It was brilliant! I picked out a bag full (Joni’s ‘Blue’ being a star feature) - they even persuaded me to take the whole lot - and why not? I love a good musical exploration!
Disaster struck as I hit my digs in Wiltshire though - the exhaust fell off my car! But how was I to pay for it? The tour was only just going to break even as it was! Luckily, a record collector lived nearby - and he took a shine to a few of the records (only a few mind, he couldn’t have all of them!).
Weirdly, the money he offered was EXACTLY the amount I needed to fix my car. So, the tour was saved. I went down a storm - and arrived home with the feeling serendipity did exist after all. When the needle hits the groove on Joni’s album, I never forget that trip.
Igor Stravinsky - The Soldier’s Tale
For nearly half a decade I worked at the Royal College of Music in Kensington in the recording studios. It’s in an amazing part of London - the entrance looks onto the Royal Albert Hall and it’s a stones throw from Hyde Park.
I met some great people, many of whom I’m still friends with today. I was so lucky to work there.
The college also owns four seats in the Royal Albert Hall, so for a small fee staff could get tickets to many concerts. I saw Elvis Costello, Spiritualized, Adele, Mavis Staples, Ron Sexsmith, Imelda May, Eels, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne - so many brilliant acts in such a prestigious venue.
But the main thing for me working at the college was learning more about classical music.
Being from a pop background, my knowledge was limited to start with - but my life was soon opened up to a new musical world!
I heard scores by film composers, heard symphonies, watched operas, assisted recorder players playing amazingly bonkers contemporary music - and even provided sound support for Prince Charles’ annual royal visit.
One of the highlights was a performance of The Soldier’s Tale by Stravinsky from 1918. It’s a Russian folk tale performed by an ensemble with a narrator and it deals with war, love and the devil - a heady mix! The show also featured a ballet dancer from the Royal Ballet - and actor Edward Fox as the narrator.
It blew my mind - and it’s likely I would never have heard it if I didn’t have that job.
So thank you, Royal College. You have a lot to answer for.
Rich Stephenson is a Broadcaster, Musician and Writer from the rural Yorkshire coast.
He used to sell balloon rides for a living.
His current project, Listening Club, is a band, a radio show - and forum for music lovers everywhere.