April 22, 2014

Some weekends I find myself listening to Radio 4 on a Saturday morning when the show Saturday Live plays its segment called Inheritance Tracks. The idea of this segment is a little like Desert Island Discs — guests first choose a piece of music that they inherited’ and is special for them. They also choose a second track that they cherish and would like to bequeath to future generations.

It’s an interesting challenge and today I thought about what music was passed to me and what I would pass on to my children.

When I was young person I hated most of the music that was played in my home. My father didn’t have a huge collection of records and most of them were what we would now call easy listening’, basically popular music from the 1950s through to the 1960s. Just occasionally a track would hook me because it was different from the run-of-the-mill sounds of Tin Pan Alley. One such song was It Was a Very Good Year sung by Frank Sinatra. In this song the singer looks back fondly on the romances throughout his life and remembers how each phase was a very good year, like a vintage wine, culminating in a life as aged wine from fine old kegs. It always struck me that there’s a story to this song and the lyrics stand alone, like poetry. This song will always take me back to those times and fond memories of parents who are no longer alive.

When I was seventeen it was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls and soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights on the village green
When I was seventeen

When I was twenty-one it was a very good year
It was a very good year for city girls who lived up the stair
With all that perfumed hair and it came undone
When I was twenty-one

Then I was thirty-five it was a very good year
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
Of independent means, we’d ride in limousines their chauffeurs would drive
When I was thirty-five

But now the days grow short, I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs, and it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

The song I would pass on to the next generation is Brickbat by Billy Bragg, a reflection on how one’s life changes and dreams and ambitions settle down for something more domestic but equally satisfying. This is a song that proves that songs don’t have to be about big things, and the lyrics cleverly contrast images such as walking down the aisle for a wedding and walking down the supermarket aisle together as a couple. I’ve never heard a song that captures the pleasures of getting to know one’s young children as well as this.

I steal a kiss from you in the supermarket
I walk you down the aisle, you fill my basket
And through it all, the stick I take is worth it for the love we make

I used to want to plant bombs at the last night of the proms
But now you’ll find me with the baby, in the bathroom,
With that big shell, listening for the sound of the sea,
The baby and me

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