Simon & Schuster, £12.99, 352pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Reelin' In The Years, By Mark Radcliffe
Friday 20 May 2011
Named after a single by Steely Dan, Reelin' In The Years is a pleasant ramble through five decades of pop culture seen through the eyes of a music-loving northerner and told through a series of singles that each represents a year of his life. Alongside snapshots from his childhood in Bolton, his student days in Manchester and his broadcasting career, most notably at Radios 1, 2 and 6Music, Mark Radcliffe guides us through his most significant records, an impressively diverse collection that takes in prog-rock (Genesis), krautrock (Kraftwerk), manufactured pop (The Monkees), country (Johnny Cash) and contemporary folk (Fleet Foxes).
Radcliffe writes in much the same way that he talks – warmly and wryly. Like any radio presenter who lives in daily fear of dead air, he frequently veers off the point. Along with passing meditations on football and television, the book also finds him pondering the merits of serving hatches, storage heaters, Rupert Bear, root beer and old blokes with ponytails. If his non-musical observations are somewhat hackneyed, he brings greater authority to his reflections on pop.
It's refreshing that Radcliffe's favourite singles aren't always fashionable and, with a few exceptions, steer clear of the rock canon as approved by readers of Mojo. For a long time he preferred the Monkees to the Beatles, mainly because it was his father who first bought Sgt Pepper, so stripping it of edginess and cool.
The first album that Radcliffe bought was Master of Reality (1971) by Black Sabbath, though looking back he realises it was Slade who made a more lasting impression singing "Coz I love You" on Top of the Pops - largely due to the eye-watering tightness of their trousers. With a healthy self-awareness, he reveals the logic behind his choices, which aren't always related to musical quality. His enthusiasm for Sandie Shaw's Eurovision song "Puppet on a String" was "because I thought she was beautiful. I still do".
If he is embarrassed by the inclusion of Shaw, he is mortified at highlighting Dire Straits, and presents the 1985 chapter as a written apology to the clearly more deserving Kate Bush. Though Hounds of Love was obviously the better record, Dire Straits's Brothers in Arms happened to be the first CD he ever bought.
Despite the inclusion of Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the first record he can recall seeing in his house as a child, jazz gets amusingly short shrift, with Radcliffe observing: "Just as a group of downhill slalom Olympic skiers utilise all their dexterity at high speed to avoid any obstacle, so a group of jazzers often utilise all their dexterity at high speed to avoid any tune." Elsewhere, there are assorted encounters with pop stars, including an interview with Marianne Faithfull that culminates in the pair watching the 1982 World Cup lying on her hotel bed. Here, as in his many other anecdotes, Radcliffe portrays himself as a wide-eyed and somewhat clueless bystander in his own life, a man who can't quite believe his fortune at making a living out of the music he loves.
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