I can count on one hand the number of songs that have utterly ripped my world apart in my adult life. I’m not just talking about “wow that’s my song of the year”. I mean full-on, powerless obsession – there when you wake up, with you all day and keeping you awake all night.
I have a theory that whenever a song is stuck in your head, the best way to rid yourself of it is to sit down and put it on repeat, no matter how embarassing or irritating it is. This might sound like the last thing you’d want to do with Michael Bublé (depending on your preference), but bloody hell it works. Your brain is saying “You may not like that you like this, but you DO like this. So stop lying to yourself, and listen to the goddamn track.” With its desire sated, it moves on.
This might work for most tracks, but not an Obsession Track. Obsession Tracks can’t be shaken off with a mere listen. Listening only feeds their power, makes them stronger so they’re easier to accurately recreate it in your head at 2am, ready for you to dream about. They’re not to be confused with your favourite ever songs, tho there might be an overlap.
The first Obsession Track of my adult life was also the most influential of my career. “There’s Nothing In Between” by Stuart Davis hit me like a ton of feathers (they weigh the same as a ton of bricks but have a different constitution). For the first time I realised that you can do technical things on a guitar and not be an egotistical, self-indulgent fret-wanker. You could create a stunningly beautiful, lyrically transcendent song, and use skill to move people, not move them to the nearest exit. Every element of the song is magical to me. It’s flawless.
Nevermind how impossibly difficult it looked to play, I had to learn it. Nothing was going to stop me. I sat in front of the grainy footage and watched his fingers, changing the tuning of my guitar strings until the sounds they made matched what I saw, then tried to copy his movements.
I started playing it, and playing it, and getting to the end and playing it again, and again, and then youtubing my own version of it, then playing it live, then playing it again. Without it I would never have written This City, which started everything for me, and the guitar tuning, DADGAD, was the one I wrote most of my debut album in.
Fast forward a year and one of my brothers stumbles across this song by Imogen Heap. I’d never seen anyone loop like that. I felt giddy with awe for her voice, her beauty and her command of technology. But this was nothing compared to what happened next – I heard “Hide And Seek” and started drowning in feathers again.
This meld of woman and machine moving as one was just too much to take. Where does her voice end and the synth begin? The decision to keep it raw and simple was a bold masterstroke. I imagined her adding other instruments before realising that everything she added detracted from the song. Again I worked out a version on guitar, and again I was powerless not to pass hour after joyous hour repeating it over and over and over again, playing it live, playing it again.
All this is on my mind because recently it’s all happened again, and it started with someone posting a Bon Iver cover of I Can’t Make You Love Me on Facebook. Bit by bit I felt the familiar shift from solid footing to slippery slope. I read the lyrics while he sung and I knew the game was up.
Bon Iver will always be cooler, but it wasn’t quite an obsession until I also fell in love with the original from Bonnie Raitt. Bonnie had my hook, line and boat all sleeping on the sea bed. The arrangement is cheesy as hell, full of electric pianos and windchimes, but it’s a perfect example of how a good song is a good song regardless of what era it was produced in. Songs like that are timeless long after the original recording sounds dated.
The simplest ideas aren’t always the simplest to convey in a song – you need something magical that animates the dust into life. You need melodies, rhythms and lyrics that bypass your brain and hit you straight in the gut. (Incidentlly talking of lyrics, it’s interesting how the gut processes waste food not instinctual decisions, a bit like how the heart tends to pump blood around rather than experience emotions).
Well this one totally broke my emotion receptor. Just one more listen – and then one more – making me late to meet John to get to the Wiltshire gig.
At least I was there at all. I’d woken up to a wall of illness – chesty cough, sore throat, leaking nose and tiredness – and was toying with the idea of pulling a sickie which I’ve never done before. But Alex and Cam Shepherd, in with a good shout at being my biggest fans (although others may disagree!), were coming along, and I should probably man up. This one was for you boys!
If I could have chosen which gig of the tour was to be filmed with 5 HD cameras and mixed down from a 24 track mixing desk, it probably wouldn’t have been this one. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting it to go well, but with the help of a great crowd we conjoured a great atmosphere in the room. We made plenty of new friends, saw good old friends again, and played music honestly and passionately. I call that a good day’s work.
Any Obsession Tracks you’d like to share?
Postcard Sent To: Claire
Next Postcard To: Alex and Cam Shepherd
Free T-Shirt To: Alex Shepherd
Thanks To: Rob, Dean, Paul Robinson and the Angst Band, Alex, Cam, Ali and Dave, Jennifer Crook, ED, Annie, Max, Doug and The Bodle Constrictor.