Malcolm Garrett gathered a very personal mix for his first outing in the Internet Music Programme. It’s a collection of the music his first girlfriend introduced him to, and a splendid slew it is indeed.
The year is 1972 and I’ve just met Barbie. I am not long turned 16. Barbie will have an immediate and lasting effect on my life, which is a whole story in itself. But as this site just concerns itself with music, I want to share with you the music that she shared with me. These are what I consider to be her songs.
Yes, this is a collection of songs, the point being that at that time my appreciation of music was predominantly for the sonic rather than the lyrical. I tended to like the instrumental passages in the music I listened to and lyrical detail always rather passed me by. I’d been enjoying the blues-based riffs of Cream, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and other similar ‘hard rock’ bands of the era (to be found in Pop Rock 70 elsewhere on this site). I loved the progressive music of King Crimson, Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator (in Advanced Progressive also on this site). And at an opposite extreme I was beginning an exploration into the avant garde electronics of the nascent Kosmische Musik of bands from Berlin, Düsseldorf and Cologne, all of which I enjoy to this day.
On reflection, though, Barbie surreptitiously introduced me to so much other music, some of which is collected here, and it prepared me for an appreciation of a whole other tonality, and another way of listening.
I’d always heard the human voice as another instrument, and looking back it seems I seldom paid attention to the words I was hearing. I enjoyed the cadence of a female voice, say, or the mystery of a lyric sung in a language I did not understand. I can’t really have been fully appreciative of what that meant, for I am genuinely surprised that I am only now hearing the songs properly as songs, and I realise that previously I never really took in much lyrical meaning from what I was listening to at all.
This collection, then, displays more depth and maturity than perhaps I did at the time. And over time I’ve come to appreciate these songs more and more. Barbie adored these songs. She would play them often, and consequently they have stuck with me. That said, there is a somewhat melancholy tone to many of them. This fact was not entirely lost on me, as I thought some of them far too ‘girly’ and sentimental, and not at all what a sophisticated music afficionado (such as me) should be listening to. How wrong was I?
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that so many sad songs were so loved by a girl who had such a bright disposition and always had what was almost a happy-go-lucky approach to life. Nothing seemed to get in her way, and things in life always seemed to go her way quite naturally. These songs reveal a sentimentality that she did not display in her day to day life. She was friendly and vivacious, and in many ways she quite suited the name Barbie, although she was not blonde, was nobody’s toy, and had a mind that was already adult, intelligent and focused on a bright future. I wonder what she thinks of this collection now.
After I compiled this I remembered some other songs that really should have been in the list. These include Perfect Day by Lou Reed, Without You by Nilsson, and The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel.
And a confession: the album ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’ was not a favourite of mine at all; I really did find it miserable at the time. The one song that stuck in my mind was the album opener Suzanne, which I found particularly hard going. Now I love it and it really should have been my first choice, rather than So Long Marianne (although that is a wonderful song too of course).