We asked Michael Lindsay-Hogg, author of Luck and Circumstance, to pull together a Spotify playlist of some of his favorite songs. Not only did he put together a fantastic selection of tunes guaranteed to get your toes tapping, he also told us why he picked each song. Below is the first half, and be sure to tune in tomorrow to read the rest. You can listen to his selections, which includes a collaboration between Elton John and John Lennon, on Spotify now, and if you’re not already a Spotify user, click here to learn more about Knopf Doubleday on Spotify and see our other playlists.
Songs. “The potency of cheap music,” Noel Coward called it in Private Lives. If that’s not the quote, it’s near enough.
Because of my time directing a live TV rock and roll show, Ready Steady Go! in England in the 60’s, I found myself working with the great bands and musicians of the period, so I have an up-close and personal connection to some, but not all, of these songs.
“Play With Fire” by The Rolling Stones
The first time I directed RSG! with The Rolling Stones, I was 24, Mick 21, and their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham 20, and the single they were promoting was “The Last Time” and the B-side was “PWF.” Andrew said he didn’t want to do it on the show, because it would feature Brian Jones playing the harmonium, or some similar keyboard instrument, and because of certain tensions within the group, he didn’t think it was a smart idea. I persisted. I loved the song, the mood, the lyrics. “You get your kicks in Stepney, not in Knightsbridge anymore.” Stepney was, at the time, a low rent district and Knightsbridge like, say, Park Avenue. My enthusiasm wore Andrew down (not an easy thing to do). We did it and it was wonderful and came across as powerfully sophisticated and jaded, strange since the songwriters, Mick and Keith, were both so young. Wes Anderson used it in a haunting way in his terrific movie, Darjeeling Limited.
“Substitute” by The Who
On Ready Steady Go!, we did “Substitute” with The Who. Pete Townshend wrote such fabulous lyrics, “I may look tall but my heels are high,” and was the bard of the unready, the insecure, the stoned, the striving and I’m honored to call him my friend. “(Talking About) My Generation” runs this one a close second. “Tommy” was yet to come. I directed their first video, “Happy Jack.” Their managers, Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert, were the funniest two men I think I’ve ever met, and like a nightclub act, they were a study in opposites. One sort of rough trade, and the other sort of posh. Their humor was quick and instinctive. I’d known Kit since I was at Oxford, my first, and only, year being his last. Later we shared an apartment in London together, with my friend, Jean Marsh, who went on to co-create the television series, Upstairs Downstairs. Kit was a combustible character, his wit like a poison pen, an audacious man, with a kind of handsomeness more from the 1930s, when his father, Constant Lambert, had been a successful, self-destructive composer. Self-destructiveness was in Kit’s make-up too. He died too young.
“La Mer” by Charles Trenet
I don’t know when I first heard “La Mer,” but I was probably 17 or so, and it was maybe on a jukebox in some late night dive bar, when I was going out with people who were older than me, and with me, at that time, wishing to be “sophisticated” = grown up. I didn’t know what the lyrics were, they ‘re in French, and I didn’t even know that “La Mer” meant “The Sea,” and I didn’t know Charles Trenet was a gay chanteur who started singing in in nightclubs and cabarets, and who would become so successful that he was able to sell out the large Olympia, the prime spot to do with anything musical in Paris, nor that he had composed a thick catalogue of popular, quirky and poetic songs. I bought it as a 78 (RPM) and I’d sit in my room at night and play it and when it was finished, would lift the arm and put the needle on the first groove and play it again. I think I was in love at the time, an unrequited one, she was older; and the slow, almost melancholy, way it started, but with its fabulous affirmative ending, made me feel something would, maybe, someday be okay, whatever “something” and “someday” meant to me. It was very connected to me being young and unsure, but looking toward the future and, whatever that would be, I didn’t know. Now, older, much, whenever I hear “La Mer” by Charles Trenet and still love it, there are my memories still from when I was looking to find my way in life.
“Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” by Elton John and John Lennon
One of the things that’s always interested me about Elton is that he writes the music, not the lyrics. Bernie Taupin does that. I always thought the singer would write the lyrics and, if there is one, his partner would write the music. That’s the way, pretty much, it works for Mick and Keith. In the early days, Lennon and McCartney did both together, but then they were both singers. Elton’s way, though, has worked for 40 years. EJ is a fascinating man – very smart and funny, taking an extravagant pleasure in performing, collecting, and living. Also, he’s a staunch activist for the LGBT community and, of course, his AIDS foundation has raised millions of dollars.
I did some videos with him, the first being for “Ego.” 1978, I think. He liked the video so much that he gave it a screening in a Hollywood movie theatre, a red carpet premiere. Everyone came in their fanciest clothes, went in, sat down, the lights dimmed. The film played for its 4 or so minutes, and after a short pause, played a second time, then everyone went off for dinner.
Listening to them, you can feel the excitement EJ and JL felt playing together and their enthusiasm for Rock n’ Roll. And sure, why not? Whatever gets you through the night.
“Sh-Boom” by The Chords
I had been in Ireland in the summer of 1953, when I was 13, with my mother and step-father, she to spend some time with her parents and for me to see my father, Edward
Lindsay-Hogg. He’d left my mother and me in California in early 1943, to go back to neutral Ireland, where he was a citizen, for the remainder of World War II. I only saw him every couple of years, and, after this trip, would not see him again for the next five years.
I was packing my suitcase on the bed in my room around 11 o’clock at night, for we would soon be taking a car to be driven through the night by a sober (this being Ireland) friend to Cobh (pronounced Cove) on the south coast to, in the early a.m., board an ocean liner to sail back to America. As I packed, I was listening to a static-y radio station, Radio Luxembourg, which broadcast late night music, sometimes really early Rock n’ Roll, to the British Isles (and Ireland). Radio Luxembourg was the first pirate station because the BBC was the only legally sanctioned British broadcaster. Packing my small bag, I was looking forward to the long night drive, because it was sort of an adventure, and it would give me some time to think about a girl I’d met that summer (but would probably never see again), if I managed to stay awake, something I was not always able to do on long drives. “Sh-Boom” started on the radio. “Sh-Boom, ba doh. Life is but a dream.” What was this song, I thought, this song with its jaunty insistence placing itself in my mind. That night, and forever, as it turned out. This was my earliest connection to earliest Rock n’ Roll and I wouldn’t find anything like it for a couple of years.
16 years later, when I was doing “Let It Be” with The Beatles, John Lennon and I were talking. We were both born in 1940, and he’d been listening to the same radio station when he was 13, and he said that his first sense of being stirred by something new was listening to “Sh-Boom” on Radio Luxembourg.