The song that changed my life

Songwriters reveal the tracks that made the biggest impact on their careers

Thursday 19 May 2011 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Tinchy Stryder

"Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check" by Busta Rhymes

The one song for me that changed my life was Busta Rhymes – "Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check". I remember hearing it from my older brother; his flow and creativity was different to other rappers at the time. After hearing that song I started listening to more of his stuff and that's when I started rapping and writing myself."

Matt Bellamy of Muse

"Blue Valentines" by Tom Waits

These are some of the greatest lyrics ever written and they changed my life and the way I felt about relationships, and women in general. That song says it all about how I feel about the past. Dom and I went to see Tom Waits in New York and it was immense. He's a huge influence on Muse in the way that he uses sounds and textures to create atmospheres – even if you can't directly hear it in our music.

Johnny Marr

"Metal Guru" by T. Rex

I would have been about 11 when I first heard this. T. Rex were the first band I was a fan of and Marc Bolan was my hero at the time. As a song it's quite nonsensical, but that doesn't matter; a great record doesn't necessarily have to be a great song. Once you've been affected by any art in such a powerful way, it stays with you.

KT Tunstall

"Loser" by Beck

My dad had just got satellite TV and MTV was playing it heavily. I'd never heard anything like it.

Brandon Flowers of The Killers

"Changes" by David Bowie

I still remember when I heard "Changes" for the first time. I thought it was Bob Dylan because of the way he sings the verses. I found out it was Bowie and it was from this album called Hunky Dory. It's the most important record to me, ever. I appreciate that he's still able to write songs, because even when there's a rough album, there will always be that one song on there that grabs you. But Hunky Dory is the pinnacle – there's not one song I skip past."

Joseph Mount of Metronomy

"Daisy Chain" (by school band)

"At the age of 14, I reached a crossroads in my life. I'd narrowed my potential job opportunities by taking single science and the easier version of maths for my GCSEs. I was playing Alanis Morissette covers in a school band. One Christmas assembly, the course of my life changed forever. A bunch of sixth-formers came on "stage" (sports hall) and played an original song. The guitarist (and one half of the writing team) was Gabriel Stebbing. Both band and song blew my mind; no one played original songs at school. Two or so days later I was headhunted by Gabriel and we, along with two others, formed a band. The band we formed started a chain of events that has led me here..."

Guy Chambers

"Hey Jude" by The Beatles

I remember constantly playing the Beatles' red and blue compilation albums as a child and always looking forward to this song. The shape of the melody; the hymn-like harmonies; the climatic climbing section that explodes into the final "na, na, na" outro; it all makes for a towering, unparalleled work of genius.

Allison Pierce

"She's Leaving Home" by The Beatles

I grew up listening to early Beatles because that was my father's favourite – and therefore mine. I think the later Beatles stuff reminded him of the darker, drug-addled years of his life, so he didn't put it on for the kids. I was at a friend's house one day and she put Sgt. Pepper's on the record player, which I had never heard. "She's Leaving Home" came on in all its beauty and sadness and longing, and I was transported. It went into that place in the soul that is reserved for great beauty and showed me the potential of music and life and love.

David Arnold (scored five Bond films and the Little Britain TV series)

"You Only live Twice" by John Barry, featuring Nancy Sinatra

I was 8 or 9 when I saw my first ever Bond movie. Probably not an ideal age to see the opening scene of Sean Connery, post-coitum, being machine-gunned to death. But after that moment – Those strings! That melody! That sound! I was totally hooked at that point and that feeling lay there gestating for some time, constantly reminding me of what I should be doing with myself.

Don Black

It Had To Be You, The Way You Look Tonight, If I Loved You

This is almost impossible to answer because there are so many. If you held a gun to my head I'd go for "It Had to Be You" or "The Way You Look Tonight" or "If I Loved You" or... well, I told you it was impossible...

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"The Times They Are a-Changin'" by Bob Dylan

And they really did.

Mary Hopkin

"Ave Maria" by Schubert

Surprisingly, despite its huge impact on my career, it is not "Those Were the Days" that comes immediately to mind as the song that changed my life. It was Schubert's "Ave Maria", which, aged 4, I played endlessly on my grandfather's wind-up gramophone. This inspired me to sing and later to embark on a musical path.

Phil Collins

"She Loves You" by The Beatles

In terms of something that changed my life, it would have to be the first time I heard The Beatles. "She Loves You" was the song; everything from the first drum fill grabbed me. It was just an in-your-face song about love, played with an energy that hadn't really been expressed before. I came from a house where my sister listened to Neil Sedaka and my brother listened to Jim Reeves, so this was a breath of fresh air. I played air guitar in front of the mirror, pretending to be John Lennon – even though I had very short hair, I was desperately trying to make it curl up at the back like theirs did. It was all new and exciting and the beginning of something rather than being the end of something. It was like this had never been done before. The harmonies sounded like nothing that you'd ever heard before, the way it was produced, the way it was performed; it was genuinely a joyous sound. The very last chord they sing in harmony is quite a complicated chord. I think this is probably George Martin, the producer. Those kinds of moments still sound like they were recorded yesterday.

Adam Anderson of Hurts

"Paranoid Android" or "Exit Music (for a Film)" by Radiohead

I had zero interest in even listening to music until I bought OK Computer. My family had no musical heritage... I wasn't brought up with music around me in the slightest. I honestly only bought this album to begin with because I loved the artwork; I knew nothing about the band. I was so swept away by the music, just transported away instantly... so much so that within a few days I was always going to be a musician. It was probably one of these two songs that captured me the most.

Sir Tim Rice

"A Handful of Songs" by Tommy Steele, Lionel Bart and Michael Pratt

It was a hit on the radio when I was still young. My great aunt left me a wind-up 78 gramophone, and when I heard "A Handful of Songs" on the radio, I remember thinking, "that will sound great on my gramophone." And so I invested my six shillings.

Steve Winwood

Any Ray Charles song

Although I can't pick just one song, I came into a career in music through jazz and am heavily influenced by Ray Charles. He combined jazz, rock, gospel and R&B, and in the early 70s with Traffic, we were conscious of trying to combine various elements of folk, jazz, rock, African and even classical music to create our own sound. I'd make an error if I tried to name just one song as my favourite, so there are a group. In addition to Ray Charles songs, I'd choose "Hal-An-Tow" by The Watersons, "Midnight Walker" by Davy Spillane, "Howlin' Blues" by Harry Wolf, "Birdland" by Weather Report and Vaughan Williams's "Variations on a Theme".

Roberta Flack

"Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" by Stevie Wonder

"Here is a guy who has no sight but who writes with the most incredible vision that any of us could imagine. Summer means something else to him other than a seasonal change – it means "I never dreamed you'd leave when times were good". I don't think that it's sad at all; it's not so cut and dry. He doesn't say, "I hate you for going away". It's so beautiful; I can't get beyond the way it modulates and then comes back to the original start of the song. I think it's absolute perfection.

Mary J Blige

"Keep On Moving" by Soul II Soul

"Keep On Moving" saved my life. That record just seemed liked it shed some light in my life. It just felt so warm and good. We needed that when we were growing up in the projects. I first heard that song on the radio, and just blasted it. I'm serious. It was our song – a black people's song.

Conor O'Brien of Villagers

"Lola" by The Kinks

I must have been about 8 or 9 when I stole my sister's walkman and discovered heaven. There was something about those first three chords of "Lola" that opened my mind in a way that I had never experienced before. Then came the voice; that gloriously nasal, homely voice. And it was telling me a story. The fact that I thought music and walkmans were exclusively for girls meant that I felt shameful in my unadulterated enjoyment of the song. This, however, only heightened the thrill of repeated secret listens; the walkman was my sacred chalice and "Lola" the rich wine within. When my sister finally discovered me singing the song from start to finish, she made me perform it in front of my parents, fully aware of the fact that I was unknowingly recounting a meeting with a transsexual in a bar in Soho. It would be another four years before I fully understood the lyrics, a monumental discovery which coincided with my first forays in writing.

Katy B

"Love Rain" by Jill Scott

When I was at school I started a band with my classmates; my drummer gave me a mix-tape of tunes he liked and "Love Rain" by Jill Scott was on it. I remember getting home and listening to it for the first time. It kicks in with these haunting, high-pitched strings that grab you straight away; the Rhodes piano and bass sound so warm and the boom-bap of the drums have you nodding your head. Jill's spoken-word poetry took me on such a visual journey and the way she writes about love just hits the nail on the head every single time, personifying pure joy and pure misery brilliantly. Then and there she became my favourite singer. I remember being at a party with my friend on YouTube/DJ duties and we put the remix of "Love Rain" with Mos Def on; it had the lyrics on the screen, too, and I remember that we were both sitting there transfixed, reading every word and thinking that this song was perfection.

The 56th Ivor Novello Awards in association with BASCA and PRS for Music take place tonight (

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