“Songs are what I listen to, almost to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t listen to classical music or jazz very often, and when people ask me what music I like, I find it very difficult to reply, because they usually want names of people, and I can only give them song titles”.
So began the illustrious gathering of 31 songs – most of them loved, some of them once loved and all of them significant to Nick Hornby. They begin with Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Your Love Is In The Place Where I Come From’, ending with Patti Smith’s ‘Pissing In A River’, and encompassing singers as varied as Van Morrison and Nelly Furtado, songs as different as ‘Thunder Road’ and ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ (reggae style). He discusses, among other things, guitar solos and singers whose teeth whistle, and the sort of music you hear in ‘The Body Shop’.
The mind of a musician is a difficult one to fathom, that of a music fan is even more so. Hornby lists his favourite songs and albums, by way of anecdotal explanation, and describes just what it is about music that stirs the blood in his trademark succinct and sparse fashion. He reveals intimate details about his family with touching references to his autistic son and his hope and fears for his future.
We might not agree with Hornby’s eclectic song choices, but will be more likely to side with his topography of the musical mind. He is unashamed in his adulation of songwriters, and admits that he writes books because he cannot write music: “Maybe it’s only songwriters who have ever had any inkling of what Jesus felt like on a bad day”. Hornby loves the relationship that anyone has with music: “because there’s something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out”. This is as good an attempt as you’re likely to get. It is at best interesting and informative, as well as entertaining, and will have you humming by the final page. I have to admit I knew only of half the musical material written about. Maybe, and if it ever goes into reprint, a complimentary CD will be supplied. Apparently, some National Sunday newspapers are doing this already…