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The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music: From Adele to Ziggy, the Real A to Z of Rock and Pop

The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music: From Adele to Ziggy, the Real A to Z of Rock and Pop

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The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music: From Adele to Ziggy, the Real A to Z of Rock and Pop

1,133 pages
11 hours
Oct 30, 2012


The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music
is an incredible and opinionated collection of celebrated cultural critic Dylan Jones's thoughts on more than 350 of the most important artists around the world—alive and dead, big and small, at length and in brief. This A to Z reference is the true musical heir to David Thomson's seminal The New Biographical Dictionary of Popular Film. Jones writes entertainingly about bands that have inspired, bedeviled, and fascinated him over the years.

Oct 30, 2012

About the author

A former editor at i-D, The Face, Arena, the Observer and the Sunday Times, Dylan Jones is the award-winning editor of GQ magazine. He has won the BSME Editor of the Year award a record nine times, in 2013 was awarded an OBE for services to publishing and the fashion industry, and last year was awarded Editor of the Year at the PPA Awards. He is the author of many books about music and popular culture, the most recent being Elvis Has Left the Building: The Day the King Died. He collaborated with David Cameron on Cameron on Cameron: Conversations with Dylan Jones, which was shortlisted for the Channel 4 Political Book of the Year, is a Trustee of the Hay Festival and Chairman of London Collections: Men.

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The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music - Dylan Jones

The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music

From Adele to Ziggy, the Real A to Z of Rock and Pop

Dylan Jones

Picador | New York

The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way. Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at:

Also by Dylan Jones

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Cameron on Cameron: Conversations with Dylan Jones

Mr. Jones’ Rules for the Modern Man

iPod, Therefore I Am

Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

Sex, Power and Travel

Paul Smith True Brit

Jim Morrison: Dark Star

For Ed Victor


Everything You Know Is Wrong

"As through this world I’ve wandered,

I’ve seen lots of funny men;

Some will rob you with a six-gun,

And some with a fountain pen."*

Woody Guthrie, Pretty Boy Floyd

* Or indeed a Mont Blanc ballpoint, a BlackBerry, an iMac, or a pencil...

Many blue moons ago, back in the mid-Nineties, during that peculiar, heightened time when Swinging London seemed important again – a period when Brit very quickly became the only acceptable prefix for cultural insurrection – an acquaintance in the music press tried to get a new publication off the ground. I was working in a managerial capacity for a publishing company at the time, and he came to see me one day with his proposition.

The premise was simple: he wanted to produce a regular music magazine (I can’t remember the proposed frequency, not that it matters) that roughly mirrored the London Review of Books – it may even have been called the London Review of Records.

The proposed dummy was going to look very elegant, I was told, and very smart in a sub-Modern Review-type way. It was going to be printed on heavy-stock newsprint, with the type of over-designed borders, rules and curlicues used in certain old-school newspapers. It was going to look scholarly, refined, almost arch (a bit like Rolling Stone did when it launched). It was going to look lovely, with fine writers writing fine words about the likes of Radiohead, Beck, Blur, and every heritage act worth their salt-and-pepper goatees. This would be the place to go for a proper soup-to-nuts 3,000-word review of the latest Bob Dylan or Peter Gabriel album, the sort of magazine (or was it a newspaper? A newspaper sounded even fancier!) where the editor might throw caution – and budgetary restrictions – to the wind and ask two writers to review the same record. Jeez, didn’t the NME used to do that back in the early Seventies? What the hell. A 6,000-word treatise on the Flaming Lips? Coming up!

It was going to be the sort of magazine – I imagined – that might contain a 5,000-word piece explaining why David Bowie’s Young Americans really was his best album of the Seventies.

My acquaintance’s magazine was a lovely idea, and one that I would have looked forward to reading. But I didn’t like it so much that I wanted to publish it. No one bought the idea, and TLROR faded into the past, yet another great idea without a benefactor.

When I told friends about the pitch, they scoffed. He may as well have called it ‘Music I Like’, said one. ‘Music I think is good because I am so much smarter than you, and a person with much better taste’.

Music magazines were already on the wane, and the advertising base was diminishing to such an extent that even established periodicals were finding it increasingly difficult to hit their like-for-likes. Even in the mid-Nineties, the business was shrinking. Back in the Seventies, record companies couldn’t afford not to advertise in the NME, Sounds, or Rolling Stone, but in the Nineties you advertised music like you would soap or a new Hollywood hopeful – everywhere and anywhere. Who needed to advertise in a magazine or newspaper that you knew was going to treat your new release like a joke with no punchline? What the industry wanted for its product was exposure, not criticism. It needed viral hits, social media, a commercial.

Commercially unpromising it may have been, but I liked the idea of something so prescriptive, something so judgmental (while also thinking that Judge Mental might be quite a good name for an imaginary support band), so authoritative, yet so subjective. It chimed with an idea I’d had myself.

Every couple of years, whenever I ended up having a conversation with my agent about what book I should do next, we would discuss the things that were currently interesting me – technology, politics, music, my inability to make my children to do anything I asked them to, even when bribed with pantechnicons full of chocolate and DVDs. And the conversation would always end the same way: Ed would tell me to write a novel, and I would say that what I’d love to read – and possibly write – was a biographical dictionary of music, the sort of book that treats subjectivity with respect..., a book not too dissimilar to David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film.

Ed would say, Yeah, yeah, yeah, OK, that’s all very well, but that’s not the kind of book you want to write. Firstly, it would take you years, and secondly it would drive you insane. That’s a job for someone else.

Which is why Ed is such a good agent – carefully trying to protect me from myself. But I pig-headedly persevered, and, many years later, here we are.

There are dozens of music encyclopedias, and many of them are very cleverly written, full of career minutiae and critical acuity. They’re also obsessively objective and pathologically comprehensive.

In his tremendously entertaining treatise on Seventies cinema, Blockbuster, Tom Shone says that a book is a series of conversations passing themselves off as a monologue. I suppose that is an apt description of this book. This is a book that springs from personal prejudice, contrary predilections, and non-cognitive taste. This book is idiosyncratic and highly opinionated, although I hope it has a sense of logic (tempered with a bit of objectivity and the chorus of reason). Yes, it did take me some time to do, and while it didn’t make me mad, it certainly forced me to confront all the reasons I had for forming the opinions about everyone I’ve written about in this book. Many of the pieces here are rewritten versions of pieces I’ve written before – edited, updated, and hopefully with some (though probably not all) of the grammar improved. Some of the longer profiles are based on actual interviews. It’s obviously not necessary to meet a person in order to have an opinion on their records, and in some cases it’s probably best not to. There are artists whose music I love but whom I don’t especially want to meet in case I don’t like them, but there are some people you’d fall over yourself to meet, at least I have: Tony Bennett, Shirley MacLaine, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, the Sex Pistols, Quincy Jones, Bono, John Barry, Jarvis Cocker, Burt Bacharach, the Clash. It’s rarely the waifs and strays you want to talk to, it’s the bona fide legends, along with anyone who is hot. Why wouldn’t you want to meet Lady Gaga, Prince, Tinie Tempah, Adele, or Mark Ronson? And you want the experience to produce two things: selfishly you want it to give you a greater understanding of their work and personality (and, a great failing in a journalist, I know, privately you want to like them, too), and professionally you want to walk away with sufficient secrets to build on the established understanding of them. I’ve never set out to uncover human folly, although it’s a blessing when it happens.

I have interviewed enough celebrities to know that, from the moment we meet, there is often a kind of war of attrition between us. Because they are famous they have usually created a self – a self that is not completely them, but curiously it is not not them either. Which is what the journalist and profile writer Thomas B. Morgan said back in the mid-Sixties, Most better-known people tend toward an elegant solution of what they, or their advisors, call ‘the image problem’, he said. Over time, deliberately, they create a public self for the likes of me to interview, observe, and double-check. This self is a tested consumer item of proven value, a sophisticated invention, refined, polished, distilled, and certified OK in scores, perhaps hundreds of engagements with journalists, audiences, friends, family, and lovers. It is the commingling of an image and a personality, or what I’ve decided to call an Impersonality.

These days, impersonalities have become so successful that it’s nigh impossible to tell the difference between what is real and what is mediated. Often, because they are always on, some celebrities treat their impersonality as their real identity, their real character. And, as a lot of famous people long ago decided that fame was the only way to diminish, if not completely banish, their past, they are completely happy with this.

And, oddly, often we are, too.

Many of the people here have been included because I’ve found them fascinating, others because I’ve found them intriguing, and many more because it would have been perverse not to have included them. Others are here for different reasons. We all know that Julian Lennon will never have as much cultural resonance as his father, but as the child of one of the most influential entertainers of the 20th Century, his story is no less fascinating. And Lloyd Cole might not have built a career as sturdy as Leonard Cohen’s, yet as a tale of unfilled promise, his CV is second to none. As for the Motown snare sound? Well, I’m interested in the Motown snare sound.

I’m also interested in the parameters of authenticity. We all understand quality control – or the lack of it: The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin left (when nuance left the White House, slipping out a side door), the Clash’s last LP, Cut The Crap (all attitude and bad haircuts, but no decent tunes) – but I’ve rarely liked the sort of militant absolutism that refuses to acknowledge music that isn’t the result of particular counter-cultural forces. When Paul Simon wrote and recorded Bridge Over Troubled Water, he didn’t know it would become a supper-club classic, destined to be covered by any MOR singer wanting some of the Simon & Garfunkel magic; but as soon as he ceased to take ownership of it, so critics ceased wanting ownership of him. I consider his soft sound a cop-out, wrote the New Yorker music critic, Ellen Willis at the time. And I hate most of his lyrics; his alienation, like the word itself, is an old-fashioned, sentimental, West-Side-liberal bore.

Well, maybe, maybe not. But if so, then so what?

Some of what follows is exhaustive (some might say exhausting), some of it dismissive. Some of it macro, a lot of it micro. But on the whole, I hope it’s sympathetic to its subject.

As a critic, the music you like completely informs any objectivity you might attempt about a particular artist, or indeed about anything, really – if you’re seeking communion with something, how can you not have an opinion about it? When music moves you, it makes you dizzy, and you’ve got every right to dismiss music that leaves you cold and unmoved. Yes, you might trust the judgment of those whose opinion you respect – I know enough people who like PJ Harvey to understand that she must be good, even though I don’t much care for her myself, and so many friends told me that Elbow stole the show at Glastonbury in 2011, it made me wonder why their music refuses to move me – but in the end, personal prejudice has to win out.

So go with it. Don’t worry if you don’t like David Bowie’s Young Americans. You can’t be right about everything.


Title Page

Copyright Notice

Also by the Author



A Tribe Called Quest



AC/DC’s Back in Black

David Ackles

Adam Ant



Air Snare

Alan Aldridge

Marc Almond

Herb Alpert



Arcade Fire

Arctic Monkeys

Louis Armstrong


Virginia Astley


Burt Bacharach

Chet Baker

Danny Baker


Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force

Band Names

John Barry

Count Basie

Les Baxter

The Beastie Boys

The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night

The Beatles’ Everest


Belle and Sebastian

Tony Bennett


James Blake


The Blues


The Sound of Bollywood

Michael Bolton

Bombay Bicycle Club

Bon Iver

Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life

David Bowie

Owen Brady

Clifford Brown

James Brown

The Brill Building

Barney Bubbles

Buena Vista Social Club

Johnny Burnette

The Byrds

The B-52s


The Cambridge

Glen Campbell

Captain Beefheart

The Cardigans

Catwalk Music

Ray Charles

Neneh Cherry



Chill Out

Eric Clapton

The Clash

Jarvis Cocker

Leonard Cohen

Nik Cohn


Lloyd Cole

Nat King Cole

John Coltrane

The Congos

Alice Cooper

Elvis Costello

Cover Versions: 75 of the Best

The Cramps

Crosby, Stills & Nash

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Crowded House

Julee Cruise

Jamie Cullum


Dr. Alimantado

The Damned

Terence Trent D’Arby

Bobby Darin

Ray Davies

Miles Davis

Sammy Davis Jr.

Blossom Dearie

The Dells

Depeche Mode


Neil Diamond

The Divine Comedy


Nick Drake

Duran Duran

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s Blind Willie McTell

Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street in Three Acts


The Eagles

Echo and the Bunnymen

Eel Pie Island


Duke Ellington


Brian Eno

Eric B. & Rakim


Bill Evans


Fairport Convention

The Fall

The Feeling

Bryan Ferry

The Festival

50 Cent

Ella Fitzgerald

Fleet Foxes

Fleetwood Mac

Ben Folds

Foo Fighters

Fountains of Wayne

Michael Franks

Funeral Music


Peter Gabriel

Marvin Gaye


The Gentle People

Astrud Gilberto

Dizzy Gillespie


The Go-Go’s



Al Green

Green Day

Grizzly Bear

Emmett Grogan

David Guetta

Guilty Pleasures

Guns N’ Roses


Daryl Hall & John Oates

Herbie Hancock

George Harrison

Richard Hawley

Isaac Hayes

Lee Hazelwood

Hed Kandi

Jimi Hendrix

Joe Henry

The High Llamas

Billie Holiday

Eddie Son House

The Human League

Michael Hutchence


Iggy Pop


The Interview

The Isley Brothers


Michael Jackson

Mick Jagger

The Jam



Gordon Jenkins

Joan As Police Woman

Elton John

Robert Johnson

Grace Jones

Quincy Jones

Janis Joplin

Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’

Joy Division/New Order


Miles Kane

Nick Kent

The Killers

The Kills

Kings Of Leon

Roland Kirk



Lenny Kravitz


Lady Gaga

Landscape (The Importance of)

The Laurel Canyon Country Store

Hugh Laurie

Led Zeppelin

Thomas Leer

John Legend

Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Julian Lennon

Ramsey Lewis

The Libertines

Linkin Park

Little Richard

Living Colour


Courtney Love

Lyle Lovett

John Lydon


Paul McCartney

Malcolm McLaren

Shirley MacLaine



The Manic Street Preachers

Tania Maria

Bob Marley

Bruno Mars

Dean Martin


Massive Attack


Melle Mel

Liza Minnelli

Joni Mitchell

Mobb Deep

Thelonious Monk

Alanis Morissette

Ennio Morricone

Jim Morrison

Van Morrison


The Motown Snare Sound

Mumford & Sons


The Museums of Rock

Music in Cars

Music in Shops


Willie Nelson

Neurotic Boy Outsiders

Harry Nilsson


Gary Numan

Laura Nyro



Phil Ochs




Charlie Parker

Van Dyke Parks

Tony Parsons

Dolly Parton

Katy Perry

Lee Scratch Perry

Pet Shop Boys

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Pink Floyd


Prefab Sprout

Elvis Presley

The Pretenders

Primal Scream


P.J. Proby

The Prodigy

Public Enemy

Punk Singles (1976-1979)



Queens of the Stone Age




The Ramones

Chris Rea

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Lou Reed


Della Reese

Reggae’s Greatest Hits


Keith Richards

The Rock’n’Roll T-Shirt

The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You

Mark Ronson

Diana Ross

Rough Trade

Bic Runga



Robert Sandall

Jon Savage

Mike Scott

Gil Scott-Heron

Shabazz Palaces

George Shearing

Judee Sill

Paul Simon

Frank Sinatra

Singing in the Shower

The Small Faces

Patti Smith

Snow Patrol

Stephen Sondheim

Sonic Youth

Soul II Soul

Spa Music

Spandau Ballet

The Specials

Sharleen Spiteri

Bruce Springsteen

Staple Singers

Ringo Starr

Steel Pulse

Steely Dan

Cat Stevens

Dave Stewart

Rod Stewart


Stone Roses

Barbra Streisand

The Strokes

The Style Council



Sugar Ray

Super Furry Animals

The Supremes

Swing Out Sister

The Swingle Singers


T. Rex

Take That

Talk Talk

Talking Heads

Tame Impala

James Taylor


Tinie Tempah

Throbbing Gristle

Tonto’s Expanding Head Band

Allen Toussaint


Twin Atlantic

Two Door Cinema Club


United Services Organisation




Suzanne Vega

Velvet Underground

The Verve

The Village People


Tom Waits

W.G. Snuffy Walden

Scott Walker

Dionne Warwick

Dinah Washington

Weather Report

Jimmy Webb

Kanye West

West Side Story


White Man’s Overbite

The White Stripes

The Who

Brian Wilson

Amy Winehouse’s Me & Mr Jones

Steve Winwood

Stevie Wonder

The Woodsman

The Word Podcast


X-Ray Spex




Neil Young

The Youngbloods


Frank Zappa

About the Author




A Tribe Called Quest

As the foundation of Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side glides across the stereo, a loop that immediately sounds as though it should come with its very own Lava Lamp, we hear Q-Tip and Phife Dawg shuffle into the picture, gibbering away as though they were in The Goon Show. And suddenly – as if from nowhere – Can I Kick It? is in full view. A Tribe Called Quest’s jazz-rap fusions can still play all night, moving from hotel lobby to shebeen to the iPad with ease, and you can dip in and out of their tunes without any great shock to the system. With laid back loops involving Cannonball Adderley, Roy Ayres, the Average White Band, and the Rotary Connection, unperturbing dynamics and the kind of restrained vocals usually associated with the coffee house, ATCQ invented a new kind of hip-hop, a decade after the first kind.

Nothing was touching Tribe, nothing, said Pharell Williams of these exponents of jazz-hop fusion, and for a while he was right. There was no boasting with Tribe, and as one critic succinctly put it, they heralded the advent of a generation of intellectual, philosophical, sociological rappers that investigated the condition of the African-American soul rather than the street epics of gangsters. Didn’t they just.

Hip-hop had embarked on a lexical inflation game in which each particular sub-genre of gangster rap had to be bigger, badder and more aggressive than the one before, whereas ATCQ were content to roll everything back, turn down the volume and allow things to take their natural course. Perhaps assuming there were many who thought rap was morally and culturally non-nutrient, Tribe created a bouillabaisse that was rich in content, rich in diversity, and diverse in delivery.

Out of Queens they came, all goatees and whispers, a central part of the Native Tongues Posse (a collective that also included De La Soul), surfing a wave of fresh alt hip-hop, determined to mix it up, elegantly fusing rap with jazz and getting justly rich in the process. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White launched themselves in 1985, and in their first incarnation lasted until 1998. Their first album, People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths Of Rhythm, was similar to De La Soul’s Three Feet High And Rising in that it celebrated its own eclecticism, not just musically, but lyrically, too, referencing safe sex and vegetarianism, and appearing unembarrassed about having a sense of humour – not something you find often with gangster rap. One reviewer said that record was, So sweet and lyrical, so user-friendly, you could play it in the background when you’re reading Proust. This was hip-hop moving from the foreground to the background, from upstage to downstage, from the dancehall to the gallery. With People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths Of Rhythm, hip-hop crossed the Rubicon of enforced recognition – you no longer had to pay attention to it, you could just listen to it passively. Hip-hop had left the classroom.

As you can see in the award-winning documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest (which kick-started its critical victory lap by winning the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival), ATCQ fell apart acrimoniously, rather unnecessarily soiling their reputation as one of the most important founding fathers of modern hip-hop.

The iTunes algorithms seem to have produced the right rankings here, and they click with my personal choices: Can You Kick It? (obviously, predictably), Bonita Applebum from People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths Of Rhythm, and Electric Relaxation from Midnight Marauders.

They have their detractors, too. ATCQ? said a friend of mine, when asked. Like yoga, Starbucks, Banksy, camping, political prisoners, hummus, and Facebook – they’re just more stuff white people like.


Anyone who has been dragged kicking, screaming, and quite possibly frothing at the gills to see the musical Mamma Mia! will know – even against their so-called better judgement – how disarmingly engaging the experience is (the musical, that is, not the kicking, screaming, or frothing). I saw it in London in the middle of the Noughties, and as I sat there with kith and kin, nodding along to Does Your Mother Know, SOS, Take A Chance On Me, and all the rest, far from being stultified by the sheer tedium of it all, I was transported. Instantly. To a pink fluffy place called Abbaville. I loved it, every single minute of it, even the interval.

Mamma Mia! is the Ronseal theatrical experience: it does exactly what it says on the posters, which is make you feel happy, happier than you thought you could be at an ABBA musical. For many people the show, like The Sound Of Music, is restorative, resulting in many repeat visits. And it works because, unlike many things in life, it is actually a lot better than you think it’s going to be. My expectations were minimal, so low, actually, that even the world’s greatest limbo dancer wouldn’t have been able to squeeze underneath. But Mamma Mia! was like musical manna from heaven. Only with better tunes.

And oh my word it’s successful. At any given time, the show is being performed in over 200 countries. Professionally. When I started telling people how much I’d enjoyed the show, everyone and their mother admitted – rather reluctantly, obviously – they’d seen it, too. And they all seemed to have loved it. LOVED it. Turns out practically everyone I know has seen it. Which, given that it’s currently playing in over 200 countries, is perhaps not so surprising.

ABBA obviously weren’t meant to be hip – two over-made-up barmaids and a couple of chaps who looked like musical hall comedians – and in the years since they first became famous they have become as British as chicken tikka masala, chicken chow mein, or Bill Bryson.

But I always knew that ABBA were cool. I knew that Elvis Costello had based Oliver’s Army on Dancing Queen (There’s a real melancholy in [Abba’s] songs… all the flourishes, like big double octaves on the piano. We stole them like crazy, said Costello), knew that Knowing Me Knowing You was revered as one of those perfect pop records by those in the know. Yes, there was the Partridge problem (Knowing me Alan Partridge, knowing you…), but since Madonna sampled Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) for her single Hung Up, I think it’s fair to say that Sweden’s finest have been on an upswing.

While the average Mamma Mia! audience member probably isn’t au fait with the work of David Hare or Tom Stoppard, at my performance they were a very long way from the tracksuit-wearing, full-fat Coke-swigging, knuckle-draggers I had feared. The audience didn’t breathe through their mouths, they simply sang with them. Yes, there were a fair share of hen-nighters in micro shorts, boob tubes, and hastily applied lipstick, but no more than you’d find in your local pub come closing time. I saw more than a few slightly too-tipsy secretaries out for a midweek knees-up, an extended family that appeared to take up two entire rows, and a Japanese couple sitting next to us who were weighed down with Mamma Mia! programmes, posters, CDs, DVDs, and what looked like a couple of bejewelled sarongs and a pair of leatherette carriage clocks, too. If the concession stand had been selling Mamma Mia! polyester pillowcases, these two would have bought enough for the entire population of Sapporo.

Not that I cared a fig about the audience, as they seemed totally benign. How refreshing to sit in a theatre full of people determined to have a good time regardless of what’s put in front of them, rather than be surrounded by a bunch of been-there, done-that, already accessorised the T-shirt, know-it-alls.

There’s only one real drawback to going to see Mamma Mia!, and that happens about a week later, when you’re in the gym, sprinting along the treadmill, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you start singing Dancing Queen at the top of your voice, as everyone turns round to gawp. (Oh, and the film? Strangely appalling, the first film I’ve walked out of since Ken Russell’s Altered States in 1980.)


Martin Fry’s group pre-empted the entire Eighties New Pop Deal, creating a thoroughly convincing pop property with a light sense of irony – earnest backing vocals, gold lamé suits, and snarky lyrics. The only problem was, their first album, The Lexicon Of Love (1982), said it all, and every release that came in its wake was either reductive or arch (although much of their inactivity during the Eighties was in part due to Fry’s ill-health). On The Look Of Love, when Fry sings Sisters and brothers, should help each other, you just know his tongue is firmly in his cheek. Once he’d done it, he’d done it.

It was like disco, but in a Bob Dylan way, said the record’s producer, Trevor Horn, although it was actually much better than that. With The Look Of Love, Poison Arrow, Tears Are Not Enough, and All Of My Heart, ABC managed to create totally modern-sounding records that celebrated the very idea of pop itself. If the Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley had written songs for Motown they may have sounded like this. In a way, ABC were doing what Roxy Music did ten years previously, which was create a shiny pop environment, slightly at odds with the times. In ABC’s world, men wore suits and women were grateful. The defining quality of their music is its intelligence, driven by a desire to elevate the pop genre, rather than simply turn it into a commodity.

Former Buggles member Horn had only recently produced a series of clever singles for the slightly naff pop duo Dollar, yet the collaboration with ABC worked wonderfully well. Fry introduced him to New York records by Defunkt and James Chance And The Contortions, while Horn introduced Fry to the wonders of the recording studio. He gave us the keys to the candy store, said Fry. Trevor would say to us, ‘If you want pizza, I’ll get you pizza; if you want a string section, I’ll get you a string section.’ Demos were made using a Minimoog, a sequencer, and a drum machine, with the band recording over the top. It was like tracing, said Horn. Which meant that we got it really spot on and snappy and in your face.

On their follow-up album, Beauty Stab (1983), Fry included the single That Was Then But This Is Now, which contains one of the worst rhymes of all time, coupling mustn’t grumble with apple crumble.

AC/DC’s Back in Black

Recorded just weeks after vocalist Bon Scott was found dead (and drunk) in a parked car in London, aged thirty-three, AC/DC’s Back In Black is now universally acknowledged as the greatest Heavy Metal album of all time – their masterpiece – with the sombre bell of the opener, Hell’s Bells, heralding possibly their finest song. At the time (July1980) anyone with a fashionable bone in their body was probably listening to Killing Joke and Joy Division, but if you ever feel like reliving the past you never had, this is the CD to upload on to the iPod. The album has sold an estimated 49 million copies worldwide to date, making it the second highest selling album of all time (behind Thriller). As the band said themselves, Fucking hell, this is a monster!

David Ackles

How could we have forgotten? Born on February 27, 1937, in Rock Island, Illinois, in the very heart of the American Midwest (Not a bad place for an incipient songwriter to get a start, he once said), David Ackles died of lung cancer on March 2, 1999, at the age of sixty-two, in Tujunga, California. A singer-songwriter in his adult years, he recorded four albums between 1968 and 1973, but in terms of recognition he has been stepped over time and time again. Elton John, Phil Collins, and Elvis Costello have tried to champion his cause (after Ackles’ death Costello said, It’s a mystery to me why his wonderful songs are not better known), but it seems as though we’re just not interested.

As his mother’s side of the family had already been involved in music hall, and his father was something of an accomplished amateur musician, show business was in Ackles’ blood. As a child he formed a vaudeville duet with his sister and he later acted in a series of sub-Lassie B-movies about Rusty the dog. Having been a child star, perhaps he expected success, although as his film career ended abruptly when he hit puberty, perhaps he expected failure, too.

He made seriously great records. Describing Ackles’ style in 2003, the critic Colin McElligatt wrote, An unlikely clash of anachronistic show business and modern-day lyricism... deeply informs his recorded output. Alternately calling to mind Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, Robbie Robertson, Tim Hardin, and Scott Walker, Ackles forged an utterly unique sound out of stray parts that comprise a whole that is as uncompromising as it is unrivalled.

Yup, he wasn’t really so bad.

Ackles began his recording career as a staff songwriter for Jac Holzman at Elektra Records. None of the songs he wrote worked for any of Elektra’s artists, so Holzman suggested Ackles record them himself. His first album, David Ackles (1968), didn’t make a mark, even when reissued in 1971 as The Road to Cairo, but it was influential among many, many singer-songwriters, who were blown away by his casual and honest delivery (you can hear his voice in work by Scott Walker, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Nick Cave, and even in material by Elton himself). The album’s highlight was Down River, which is actually Ackles’ best-known song. The song’s narrative sees Ackles taking the role of a man recently released from prison who runs into an old girlfriend, Rosie, only to find that the reason she didn’t write to him was that she had married his best friend. It sounds like a corny country song, Costello told Q in 1995. But the way he tells it, the way it unfolds in the course of the song is actually very dramatic. It was a record that changed Costello’s life, It was kind of my teenage angst record, he said. Elvis and Elton chose Down River to perform as their first-ever duet together for the finale of the premier episode of Costello’s TV series Spectacle: Elvis Costello with... in 2008. Down River was also covered by Spooky Tooth, Road to Cairo by Julie Driscoll & the Brian Auger Trinity.

The stentorian Subway to the Country, from 1969, with its strong theatrical influences, again failed to ignite. Strike two. American Gothic, released in 1972, was produced by Bernie Taupin, and was called by one critic, "The Sergeant Pepper of folk. Taupin and Ackles became friends when Ackles opened for Elton at his 1970 Troubadour gigs in Los Angeles. Taupin said of Ackles’ style, There was nothing quite like it. His stuff was sort of Brecht and Weill, and theatrical. It was very different than what the other singer-songwriters of the time were doing. There was also a darkness to it, which I really loved, because that was the kind of material I was drawn to."

After three albums for Elektra, Ackles abruptly left the label. He was signed to Columbia by Clive Davis, then president of the company and a long-time Ackles admirer. As he tried to create his first album for Columbia he felt the pressure of expectations engendered by American Gothic’s glowing reviews. All too aware that his last album had been called a milestone in pop and a study in excellence, and a new direction in pop music, and himself an important artist whose work eludes categorisation, Ackles began to second-guess himself.

In 1981 his car was hit by a drunk-driver. Ackles’ left arm was nearly severed and his left thighbone virtually pushed out through his back. He remembered his wife standing outside the operating theatre, shouting, ‘Don’t cut off his arm! He’s a piano player!’ He spent six months in a wheelchair, receiving a steel hip. Ackles fought cancer for many years before finally succumbing in 1992.

Many admirers bemoan his lack of success, but one wonders why he actually wanted it. The untalented can often make a habit of being overly ambitious, so it’s always nice to come across genuinely talented people who actually aren’t that bothered. I’ve often thought that if you really want to get on, then you don’t let anything get in your way, and in this case I’m not sure Ackles was really that hungry.

Adam Ant

During punk, to me, the 100 Club in London’s Oxford Street always felt like a malevolent student bar, as every time I went there a fight broke out. The place was cursed. I saw Adam & The Ants play there in 1977 and as guest vocalist Jordan (was she a singer? Well, she had an ability to stand in front of a microphone, shrieking, and looking vaguely intimidating) walked by me on her way to the front, a pint glass went spinning across my face, landing somewhere near a speaker stack to the right of the stage. The Ants weren’t what you would call accomplished – in 1977 no one was, and you would have been suspicious had they been – but they knew what to do on stage: namely create a din that spoke of every transgressive act one could imagine, be it sexual, political or cultural. Before Adam successfully reinvented himself as a dandy highwayman and short-term pin-up, he actually made some interesting records, most memorably Young Parisians and Dirk Wears White Socks. None of them are the type of thing you’re ever going to hear at a wedding, yet they’re still capable of instantly evoking a particularly incendiary period of British pop culture.


The only way to properly bridge the generation gap is by having cultural ubiquity, by having the sort of demographic spread and cross-generational traction that wins elections and appeals to critics, aficionados, and those who simply need something to stick in the CD player when they’re driving to and from work. Oh, and children. Look at the history of any truly mass pop act and they will more than likely have been hugely popular with the under tens. The Beatles. Take That. Justin Bieber. Adele.

In April 2011, Adele Laurie Blue Adkins (as it says on her passport) overtook Madonna as the female star with the highest consecutive number of weeks at the top of the UK album charts, breaking a record set twenty-one years previously by Immaculate Collection. Which is ironic when you consider that at the time Adele was often referred to as the anti-Lady Gaga (who is often referred to as the 21st Century Madonna).

She was also the first living artist to have two top five hits in both the Official Singles Chart and the Official Albums Chart simultaneously since the Beatles back in 1964.

And she did it the old fashioned way, by making a strikingly direct record that didn’t rely on gimmicks, trends, or tie-ups with annoyingly fashionable hip-hop stars. And by having a great big walloping voice.

In the Noughties, the accepted wisdom concerning pop ingénues was that anyone could be moulded into something approaching a star. TV talent shows didn’t just facilitate this, they demanded it. With Auto-Tune, Pro Tools, and all the other software that modern pop stars had been persuaded were more important than amps, guitars, talent, and a bit of old-fashioned heads-down-I’ll-see-you-at-the-end enthusiasm, it was now possible for almost anyone to convincingly pass themselves off as an entertainer; sort of like professional karaoke for the social media age.

Again ironically, Adele was no stranger to hot-housing, being a graduate of the Brit School in Croydon, which is partially funded by the music business and focuses on the performing arts – the same school that produced Amy Winehouse, Jessie J, Leona Lewis, Katie Melua, and Kate Nash. It’s quite interesting to be around 700 kids who want to be something, rather than 700 kids who just want to get pregnant so they get their own flat, Adele said. Her first choice had been the Sylvia Young theatrical school, but her mother couldn’t afford the tuition fees. She was a proper, fully-formed Argos barmaid, a gobby, bawdy livewire brought up in the parts of London that don’t get celebrated in the in-flight magazines of foreign airlines. Properly beautiful, she says she wasn’t bothered by not being tuning fork thin, I don’t believe I need to look like that. I’m very confident. Until I start not liking my body, until it gets in the way of my health then I don’t care.

An Alison Moyet for her time, she’s a big girl who sings heartbroken soul (her own words) in a big, big voice, the sort of voice you want to be there when you’re going into battle (or at least when you’re overtaking someone on the dual carriageway section of the M3, the section just passed the first turn-off to the A303). She released her debut album 19 in 2008, the follow-up 21 just over two years later, and following her performance on the Brits in February 2011 – where she sang her song Someone Like You as though the future of mankind on this planet, and possibly on every other, somehow depended on her reducing everyone who heard it to tears (like all of her songs, it would have passed a polygraph test with flying colours) – overnight became as famous as Kate Middleton. Within an hour of her performance the song was sitting right at the top of the download charts.

My own kids love her records, in spite of the fact she doesn’t look or sound like Rihanna, Beyoncé, Lissie, or any of the other female singers they tended to like previously. Although my ten-year-old daughter has some reservations about the subject matter of her songs.

They’re all about love, she said to me at breakfast one morning. Why can’t she write some songs about what it’s like to wake up in the morning or going to the supermarket...


Like Fleetwood Mac, Leonard Cohen, Take That, and dozens of other unsuspecting luminaries who have fallen (or been pushed) down crevices when they were least expecting it – usually because they have reached such depths of physical, financial or creative turpitude that they find themselves unable to do anything but acknowledge this – Aerosmith have had two careers. Their first involved being a Seventies Stones copycat bar band, with a suspicious penchant for Lowry-thin leather trousers and long, flowing silk scarves. They were phenomenally successful, until – with a predictability that could almost have been written into their contracts – drug addiction and internal rivalries took their toll (with band members Joe Perry and Brad Whitford even being kicked out for four years, in 1980).

The band got clean, sobered up, got a new deal with Geffen Records and started having hits again, giving the Aerosmith sound the business class treatment. In 1986 they appeared on Run d.m.c.’s version of their own Walk This Way, having a worldwide smash and introducing them to a whole new generation in the process. Even bigger hits followed, and they became adept at the Bon Jovi-style power ballad (notably Crying, Amazing, Crazy, I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, Jaded, repeat till fade).

Air Snare

In my time I have seen politicians do many things. I have seen them attempt to dance (badly). I have seen them attempt to tell jokes (poorly). I have seen them dodge fruit and vegetables thrown by disgruntled members of their constituencies (always unsuccessfully). I have seen them talk with their mouths full (disgustingly), with food falling all over the table. And, on one occasion, I even saw one play air guitar – although to be honest with you, it was actually a politician’s wife (her husband was too busy having his chest hair shaved in full view of thirty, frankly astonished, members of a magazine team).

This in itself was odd, as air guitar has usually been the domain of the adolescent boy, or at least any man who’s an adolescent boy at heart (i.e. most of us). I have been as guilty as anyone else, and although I haven’t done it since my twenties, during my youth I was up there with the very best, noodling for Britain, the Commonwealth, and the Empire. The first record I can remember pretending to play the guitar to was the Beatles’ Revolution (I was eight, and already apparently hard-wired into the spirit of counter-cultural agitprop), and started to seriously get into it around the time of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust records, pretending to bend a pool cue in the style of Mick Ronson (not that I ever managed to find a six-stringed pool cue). To this day I can think of very few things from my adolescence that gave me as much fun as bouncing around the bedroom playing air guitar to Jean Jeanie, Five Years, or Starman.

I never used the family cricket bat – heaven forbid – although there were various secondhand badminton and tennis rackets that came in very useful when trying to get to grips with the intricacies of the convoluted guitar solos in Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years, the Allman Brothers’ Jessica, or Bell Bottom Blues by Derek and the Dominoes. In true life – as my youngest daughter still says – I was actually rather better at the air snare, and would happily while away the hours drumming along to the fills in the Who’s Baba O’Riley. And let me tell you this came in very handy when it was determined by the gods that I was going to be a drummer, rather than a guitarist. When the Buzzcocks’ Steve Diggle formed his spin-off band, Flag Of Convenience, in 1981, he actually asked me if I’d like to join him; but although the idea obviously appealed to my ego, I wasn’t about to follow in the footsteps of John Maher, the Buzzcocks’ original drummer, and probably one of the best of all time. Oh yes, and I’d just sold my drum kit for rent money.

And that’s the problem, air guitar is not the sort of thing you should ever talk about in public; and as for actually doing it, well, these days that’s as socially acceptable as admitting that you’re sexually attracted to sheep. Which is why I was shocked when Christine Hamilton jumped up on a table during the GQ Christmas lunch a few years ago to expertly strum along to Rod Stewart’s Maggie May.

If it had been Tony Blair I would have obviously been less surprised – when he was in Ugly Rumours he was a dab hand at the Stratocaster swipe – but he hadn’t accepted our invitation that year (I think he was with Cliff Richard or Silvio Berlusconi). Our celebrity politicos that year were the disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton and his bubbly wife Christine – principally because we’d just photographed them naked for the magazine, posing as Adam and Eve (a joy to organise, let me tell you, although not necessarily to behold), and we thought it would be a wheeze to ask them along. We couldn’t have wished for better sports, and while Neil stripped down to his boxers in order for one of our girls to shave his chest hair (having failed to get him to shave his head), Christine, perhaps emboldened by seven or eight glasses of vintage champagne, leapt onto the boardroom table and played some of the most enthusiastic air guitar I’ve ever seen, belting out Townshend-esque windmill chords to Maggie May without a care.

When I woke up the next day, I couldn’t quite believe it, but I suppose that’s the point of office parties. You never know what’s going to happen, and considering what can and what does it’s probably best this way.

As for myself, I didn’t join in that day, although in the privacy of my own home, if the conditions were right, I think I could be persuaded. Yes, it might take an awful lot of good Bordeaux, and yes, the blinds would have to be drawn, and yes, cameras would have to be handed in at the door, along with mobile phones. But I could do it. I would cue the iPod to play Goodbye To Love by the Carpenters, fall on my knees, adopt the white man’s overbite, and then attempt a few deft power chords before working my way up and down my imaginary fretboard.

Alan Aldridge

I was onstage at Central St Martin’s Cochrane Theatre, as part of an extended series of interviews with various notable designers, and the illustrator Alan Aldridge was being engagingly indiscreet. Having told us all about working with Lord Snowdon (I was working alone in his house once and the phone rang. ‘Hello,’ I said, ‘Can I help?’, ‘Yes, is Margaret there?’ ‘No love, she’s out. Who wants to know?’ ‘Her sister...’), his frustrations with the Beatles (At Apple it was very difficult to get paid), the saga of the cover and aborted film of Elton John’s Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy (with Hollywood showing its homophobic side), he told us the story of creating the sleeve for Cream’s final album, Goodbye, in 1969.

Aldridge has always been something of an enigma, and even when he was riding high as the rock’n’roll graphic designer du jour in the Sixties, always tended to let his work do the talking. He designed the cover of A Quick One by the Who (1966), The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (1969), The Penguin Book Of Comics (1971), and The Butterfly Ball And The Grasshopper Feast (1973). But in the Noughties he began to talk himself, and with great self-deprecation.

Cream had already broken up when they came to release Goodbye, and couldn’t stand the sight of each other, so he had to tell Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker that they’d be photographed separately and the pictures glued together afterwards. When they arrived at the studio, they discovered that Aldridge was pulling a fast one, and that the only way the picture would work was if they were in the same frame together. Cue the sound of toys, drumsticks, Fenders, and plectrums being thrown out of prams, and three of the world’s biggest rock stars screaming like children. Frustrated beyond belief, Aldridge went outside for a cigarette, only to see the dancer and choreographer Lionel Blair about to board a bus. As a last resort, the designer coerced Blair into coming into the studio to try to convince the band to sit for the session. Remarkably, Blair did just that, and soon had the band running around, posing and laughing as though they were in the first flush of youth.

Marc Almond

Towards the end of Allison Pearson’s I Think I Love You, her more than marvellous evocation of female teenage obsession, she describes a David Cassidy concert in Las Vegas in the late Nineties, when his teenage fans had all but turned into middle-aged mums.

Up onstage, David was apologising. He knew they wanted the songs from before, but, just once, he wanted to try something newer, you know, a little more up to date; a little number that explained how he was feeling NOW... Pearson describes how the crowd then shifts in their seats, brimming with goodwill (Couldn’t blame the guy, could you, for wanting to break free of the past; give him a chance, right?), and reluctantly willing to indulge him a little... before he starts singing the opening words from How Can I Be Sure, his biggest hit, and the whole place erupts.

With performance, expectation is all. Expectation and a little surprise. And Marc Almond certainly surprised me.

Now, Almond is no David Cassidy, and his success in the early Eighties with Soft Cell owed more to the band’s quirky electro-pop image than his innate good looks and well-groomed hair. But he was a pin-up just the same, whose image was festooned across bedroom walls all over the country.

There has always been a tendency to describe Almond as having a ghostly pallor, a gothic screenwash that has helped prolong a career that by rights should have wandered off into oblivion – or at least an Eastern European leather bar – thirty years ago. When Jane Austen wrote, You have delighted us long enough, I, for one, have always imagined that if she had written those words in 1983 she might easily have been referring to Almond, a man I always assumed had a finite amount of talent.

For years afterwards Almond appeared to want to channel Beelzebub, or at least give the impression he was capable of doing so. His shtick became camp decadence, his trope a pop deviancy. He was a cabaret darling, a former pop idol recalibrated as a cocktail queen, trussed-up in black tie and patents, with Satan’s pitchfork in one hand and a silver cigarette case in the other. Sure, he could carry a tune, but he seemed to stagger under the load.

I’ve always considered him to be in the minor league, but in the autumn of 2011 I was forced to change my mind. This was annoying, as it meant I had to recalibrate everything I felt about him, but there’s now nothing I can do about it.

That week I went to the thirtieth anniversary of Le Caprice, the London restaurant that was opened (or reopened rather) with great success by Jeremy King and Chris Corbin in 1981. During dinner the Scottish R&B singer Emeli Sandé sat at the upright piano, playing an impassioned version of her debut single Heaven (which was always going to be so much better than the machine gun dance version that reached No.2 at the time), before handing over the microphone to… Marc Almond. Now, if I had known that the shrink-wrapped munchkin was going to be singing, I may have made my excuses (I don’t like Marc Almond and er, I don’t like Marc Almond) and left. But there I was, trapped, sitting exactly four feet away, and with no escape route in sight. Sure, I could have skipped passed him on the way to the loo and perhaps squeezed myself out of the lavatory window, but then my guests would have been left at the table, forced to endure the chipmunk-like warbling of the neo-gothic elf, self-consciously twirling their wine around and staring at their shoes.

How glad am I that I didn’t. Almond had been chosen to celebrate the anniversary as Soft Cell had been number one with Tainted Love when the restaurant opened, and after the meekest of introductions got up to sing it. And it was fairly extraordinary. Just a voice – a pretty good voice, still – and a piano, and enough self-contained charisma, and well-honed stagecraft to carry the room with him. I instantly regretted, and felt embarrassed about all the withering thoughts I’d had about him for the previous three decades. Redemption in one performance, a comeback at the flick of a lash, for me at least. In a restaurant, or indeed any room this size, there is literally nowhere to hide. You either work, or you stink like a three-day-old fish.

Marc Almond worked, and reinforced the fact that you can’t beat old-fashioned theatricality. Yes, he reminded me of Eartha Kitt or a camp Scott Walker, but never in a bad way. He finished off with another Soft Cell song, Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, and the heat in the room climbed even higher.

Props. Not only is Marc Almond better than he sounds, he doesn’t stink like a three-day-old fish.

Herb Alpert

If history can be caught in a single breath, then there are few better ways of explaining the Populuxe aspirations of American suburbia during the late Fifties and early Sixties (when the advertising industry began to believe its own publicity) than by listening to the piercing yet sweet ‘Ameriachi’ sound of Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass.

As the Fifties gave way to the Sixties, the suburban soundtrack of Mai Tai melodies and Space-age bachelor pad music (a kind of homely filter-tipped sonic wallpaper) was displaced by the brash, urban sophistication of men like Burt Bacharach, Sergio Mendes, and Herb Alpert. And as teen idols replaced the gruff rock’n’roll greaseballs, so smart young bandleaders replaced the quirkier exponents of ‘Exotica’. Alpert in particular credits the delirious, happy sound of the Tijuana Brass with ushering in a new era of American pop. It’s not a protest and not a put-down, he said. I think people were bugged with hearing music which had an undercurrent of unhappiness and anger, even sadism.

In the beginning, it was all serendipity. Born in Los Angeles in 1935 into a musical family (his father played the mandolin, his mother the violin, his sister the piano and his brother the drums), Alpert took up the trumpet at the tender age of eight, later studying with jazz and classical tutors at Fairfax High School. After two years in the army as a trumpeter-bugler at San Francisco’s Presidio garrison, he worked in LA as an A&R man, record producer, composer (writing Wonderful World, amongst others, for Sam Cooke), and session musician. He was a Herb of all trades.

One day in 1962, messing about in his ad hoc studio in the garage next to his house, he began experimenting with a song called Twinkle Star which had been written by a friend of his, Sol Lake. Exploiting the tune’s Spanish flavour, Alpert came up with a version that had some of the intonations of Mexican mariachi music; and so The Lonely Bull, the Tijuana Brass and A&M Records (hastily organised with another friend, record promotion man Jerry Moss) were born. Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass became the South of the Border soundtrack of the Swinging Sixties, flashpointed in Casino Royale, Tijuana Taxi, Spanish Flea, and A Taste of Honey; while by 1968 A&M annual turnover was in excess of $50 million, helped by the success of the Sandpipers and Sergio Mendes. During the Seventies and Eighties Alpert concentrated on running his record company, occasionally popping up with funk and dance tracks such as Rise, Rotation (both 1979), and Keep Your Eye on Me (1987).

For all his talk of giddy pop, Alpert is a master of moodsong, and his haunting trumpet sound has an innate maudlin quality. To wit: There are some things which have definitely sad overtones, like the tune we wrote in memory of the matador, Carlos Arruza, who was such a big influence upon my whole idea for the Brass sound. He was fighting in Tijuana on the day I got the inspiration for the sound. Thinking of how tragically he died, in a head-on automobile collision, after fighting bulls for twenty-five years, that music didn’t come out too happy.


A trip to Los Angeles always had a sense of tradition about it. You would arrive, drowsy yet excited, eager not just to explore the city, but also keen not to fall asleep. Yet before the exploring – and this was strictly indoor exploration, as this would inadvertently involve a new hotel bar, cocktail lounge, or restaurant – there would be the obligatory trip to Sunset Strip, and explicitly, the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Palm Avenue. You would park the car in the Tower Records car park – Patrons only; all other cars will be towed! – and then stroll across the road to Book Soup, where you would spend a stolen hour picking up the latest magazines and recently published indie busters.

Then, your bag overflowing with art, film, photography, and music books, you’d dart back over the road, dump your load in the boot of the hire car, and wander into Tower like a cowboy, your wallet bulging in the back pocket of your blue jeans, ready to stock up on some prime polycarbonate plastic.

Aaah, the subterranean joys of the record shop.

But those days have gone. Forever. Today the record shop is scarcer than an eel pie and mash house, rarer than a phone box, the last vestige of an analogue, vinyl kingdom, a kingdom where album sleeves had more cultural equity than motorway billboards. While there may be more tattoo parlours in North America than bookstores, record stores have almost disappeared completely. In our world of exponential choice, where the assumption is that everything can be found online if you look hard and long enough, the idea of walking up and down aisles in the vain hope that the longhairs who stocked the shop have exactly the same taste as you might seem stupidly quaint, but for me the record shop – and in particular the independent record shop – has always been the supermarket of the soul.

These days, any LA visit involves an obligatory trip to another part of Sunset Boulevard, many miles from where Tower once stood, to Amoeba, the greatest record store in North America. Here, in Hollywood, the world’s largest independently owned record store, you’ll find both new and secondhand CDs, new and secondhand vinyl, posters, DVDs, figurines, magazines, and books. This is the dustbin of esoterica, a compendium the size of a warehouse, where you should be able to find just about anything. And even if you can’t, this is one of the few places left on earth where you can experience the soothing sensation of traipsing the rows and rows of vinyl, just waiting to be surprised. Here, the flipping of plastic-covered cardboard and the clatter of CD boxes create a chorus of possibility, a symphony of opportunity.

Understandably, the people who used to treat going to a record shop as a leisure activity are now all talking to each other online, via chat rooms, blogs, and social networking. Much of the chat is simply nostalgic, wallowing in those moments of adolescence when an hour in a record shop seemed to easily last a week. There is a lot of kvetching, too, a backwash of bitching about those poor unfortunates (squares, they were called back then) who tended to treat the record shop as a refuelling exercise rather than a conventicle or reference library.

One former owner recalled

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