Amnesia Lane: Remembering Billy Bragg

The Guardian is running a series of articles in which columnists for the paper talk about their favorite albums. Yesterday’s favorite was Like A Prayer by Madonna. I was about the right age for early Madonna, but she just never did it for me. I knew the singles (of course, because you can’t avoid them unless you live under a rock) and liked a couple of her later songs (Vogue and most of all, Ray of Light), but I would never have considered buying an album.

Today’s favorite though, is Life’s a Riot With Spy Vs Spy by Billy Bragg. Now that’s a choice I can relate to. It’s many many years since I listened to Billy Bragg – he lost me after Workers’ Playtime when he moved away from the one man singing badly accompanied by a jangly guitar style of his first few records. But when I read the song titles mentioned in the article and in the comments following, it all came back to me. The left wing politics, the nasal singing, the inventive, sometimes funny, and often poignant lyrics, the lust and the longing – wonderful stuff.

I’ve just spent a lovely hour or so on youtube, listening to the whole album and generally noodling round Bragg’s oeuvre. I’m not sure how the songs would sound to the uninitiated because, for me, they’re so linked to a specific time in my life. My mid-teens, when me and my first real boyfriend were finding out all sorts of delightful (and occasionally, not so delightful) stuff about relationships and sex and growing up. Billy Bragg was the perfect accompaniment.

Here are links to two of my favorite songs.
A New England from Life’s a Riot. God knows how many years later and I still know all the words. Sample lyric:

I saw two shooting stars last night/I wished on them, but they were only satellites./Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?/I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care.

And A Lover Sings off Brewing Up with Billy Bragg. A great song about the first fumblings of sex and love and relationship. I was right there with those lyrics. Sample:

You and I are victims of a love
That lost a lot in the translation
When I think of all the time that I spent
Sitting on the edge of your bed in anticipation
Of you giving in and us living in sin

A hot day, the smell of hairspray
And the sound of a shower running softly
It’s things like this that remind me of how I felt
The first time you came back for coffee
The way you took it amazed me

Walking in the park, kissing in the dark
And my head against your pillow
Late at night a lover sings

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