The other day for some bizarre reason that I can’t quite recall, I started playing Abba songs to the bubba. The Frog turned up his nose and pretended to be doing something really important like flattening cardboard boxes or something like that. Finally, after about the third or fourth sniff I asked: “Didn’t your parents listen to Abba?”
“They didn’t listen to music,” he answered.
“What no Abba?” He shook his head. “Boney M?”
“They didn’t listen to music.”
That I can’t imagine. My dad had this old reel to reel tape, and the only song I can remember on it is The Kinks Waterloo Sunset, but I still love that song to this day. My life always had a musical soundtrack. As a teenager I would listen to Tony Blackburn’s Golden hour and the songs conjured up such vivid memories that I almost always guessed the year right.
So as one of my new year’s resolutions is to post more than once a week on this blog, I was rather chuffed when I woke up with this idea. For the next twenty- six weeks I will give you an alphabetical run down of some special music. The idea is that every song I mention over the next few months I’ve heard live. It’s been quite fun and surprisingly difficult to get ONE song for each letter and some letters have many songs, but I did a bit of rejigging to make sure I got all twenty six. So this is about the music, and it’s about the stories, and let’s start with…
Alison by Elvis Costello
First time I heard it: No idea. Alison is one of those songs I grew up with. Obviously, once it appeared on The Man (The best of Elvis Costello) then it became a staple favourite at every single drunken student evening and had to be belted out at the top of my voice.
When I moved to Mexico City in 1996, I lived in this amazing flat in the south of the city in a little area called Aljibe up on a hill. Nobody knew where the hell it was and my first Spanish words were izquierda, derrecha and derrecho (not to be mistaken those two, or I’d have ended up God knows where), swiftly followed by soy casado (I’m married) as every single taxi driver in their little VW’s hit on me. But back to the point, the flat was amazing because being high up, the huge window at one end of the flat looked out for as far as you could see over Mexico City. It was like you were sitting on top of the world as you looked down at the twinkling lights. And way beyond the mountains, at night, you could watch the most amazing lightning storms you’ve ever seen. Anyway, we were having one of those impromptu ‘I’m so happy to be in Mexico’ parties, I don’t think there was a storm, or the music would have been off, because the best way to watch those was with the lights off and in silence. But, back to the party, Alison came on, I started singing, and someone shoved a metal slotted spoon at me and I was off.
First time I heard it live: September 19th 2002. By now I’d been here (gay Paree) for two years and as happens every two years in these international situations, I was finding myself in a bit of a Billy-no-mates situation, so I took out one of the newbie teachers for a drink and off the cuff asked: “Who wants to go and see Elvis Costello?”
Three of us went in the end. It was in Le Grand Rex on Boulevard Poissonière. It’s this huge hulking art deco cinema. There we were sitting in these plush red velour seats thinking this was all a bit weird. Steve Nieve came on with his Grand Piano and did a bit of a set that was equally strange. We were well comfortable in those big old seats by now. There didn’t seem to be a lot of people in this old theatre. I started to worry that the French crowd was going to be a bit of a let down. Were we all going to sit down and watch demurely? Finally, the lights came down and The Man walked on stage. It was one of those moments where no words were spoken, just a look and the three of us pelted out of our seats and down to the stage.
In my memory Elvis played just for the three of us. Obviously there were other people there, I know that. For a start there was the suit who turned up during the second song, slapped his briefcase on the edge of the stage and started boogying away. In between each song I either screamed “Alison” or argued with Marie about who he played the song to. He kept us going till the second encore before he played Alison and no I didn’t faint. He then finished with ‘I want you’, which is quite possibly my second favourite Elvis track of all time. I only own it on vinyl (white unless I’m mistaken) and I haven’t listened to it for ages, but it’s a cracker.
- Elvis Costello Spinning Songbook Takes Flight (vividseats.com)