I originally wrote this journal entry in January 2009 on last.fm:
I was 20 - an adult. Of sorts. I had been in employment for a year. I maintained contact with many of my old school friends, and during those days my pleasure was derived at the end of a pint glass with most of them. The yin yang of responsible adulthood and the irrelevance of youthful exuberance. My days were spent at work, my nights and weekends in a drunken mess of silliness. Much of the remainder was spent, quite diligently, in music.
The NME, the Melody Maker and John Peel on the radio.
I would go out, be it the pub, a party or a nightclub, always wearing (if dress codes allowed) a music based t-shirt. That was my identity. I would be somewhere, often a place far removed from the world of indie, often a drunken mess amongst neon lights and the latest 'club' sounds of the day, enjoying myself with my peers yes, but also showing my true colours, telling the world who I really was and what really motivated, connected and excited me, secretly hoping that someone would somehow recognise everything going on my head, my real stimulation, connect with me and take me to some magical place somewhere else, just because I happened to wearing a t-shirt. I could have gone further with my image - I contemplated piercings, a pseudo gothic dress sense, something to offer a public demonstration of my feelings, my passions, hunger, spirit and yes, my frustrations. I was however too self conscious to really go there and besides I would have lost my job overnight and my friends at the time would have taken the piss out of me mercilessly as an oddball. My t-shirts were all I had.
At that time artists defined their record label, or vice versa, I never was sure.
Rough Trade had the spunky, spiky, left field bands - music to approach with caution but often I'd find a gem.
Factory Records was the Manchester label which in 1992 was still squeezing the creative juices from the nearly shriveled fruit of the late 80's summer of love and the subsequent indie 'baggy' scene - it had New Order, Happy Mondays and a host of 'Madchester' wannabes.
4AD was was a repository for the indie cognoscenti - Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses, Pixies. Being an elitist connoisseur of all things 'alternative' I naturally have a fondness for 4AD ;)
Then there was Creation Records - Alan McGee's label whose name aptly captured the innovation of the period. The Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.
Then, in the early 1990's a string of bands, 'shoegazing' bands influenced by the established indiedom of The Cure and their like and the Boston 'scene' but more than anything the contemporary 'wall of noise' dreamlike guitar sound, created with such imagination and inventiveness by Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine.
Creation Records were their home. Early records by The Boo Radleys captured this. Slowdive worked too in their own ethereal, dreamy way (as did Lush, on 4AD). For me though, Ride captured it best.
Oh how I loved Ride. To this day, I can't think of a better debut album than Nowhere . Released in 1990 with a wash of distortion, mood, and oblique, often desolate lyrics.
'Nowhere' stands the test of time. I've played it in its entirety this week. It can't be played loud enough. The production by Alan Moulder is sublime, creating a cavernous, engulfing noise with the echoes of the drums, the distortion of the guitars and subtleties of the vocal harmonies. It sounds like a desolate place, particularly on the slower paced tracks - Dreams Burn Down and Nowhere. The faster songs Taste and Seagull fill the room with tension and bitterness in equal measure.
It is heavily influenced by My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth records of the period but like Slowdive and Lush, Ride created their own, unique sound - theirs being a melodic, passionate, harmonic wonder.
Sadly they never created anything so unique again. The follow up album - Going Blank Again is good but isn't as special as Nowhere. Much of the record suffers from '2nd album syndrome', where bands fall into the trap of trying too hard - trying different styles, adding too many instrumental quirks and saying 'look at what we can do '.
Ride's subsequent two albums are poorer still in terms of invention, exploring 1970's influences and the songwriting by the two guitarists / vocalists, Andy Bell and Mark Gardener took place away from the band dynamic. Solo projects and subsequent bands have never come anywhere near the creative spark of the early 1990's. Indeed, in recent years it has been hard to see how the Andy Bell who wrote most of the gems on Ride's debut - Dreams Burn Down, Seagull, Taste and Vapour Trail is the same Andy Bell who now plays bass in Oasis and contributes the odd, uneventful song to their albums.
One day, (like they did in 2001 for a TV show about Sonic Youth), all four members of Ride might get back together and make something truly creative again. That is perhaps just me being greedy. They've done enough to bring sparkle into my life. Maybe all four of them no longer feel a need to make music so passionately and they are happy somewhere else. Maybe Andy Bell is content with playing Champagne Supernova to packed arenas. Good luck to him.
But back to 1992 and Going Blank Again.Ignore what I said about the album. I was talking about everything that appears after track numero uno, the lead single. The best song ever recorded.
Leave Them All Behind
I first heard a 'radio edit' of this single and reacted indifferently to it. As a four minute pop song, it is nothing special at all. But then I bought the single and listened to it in full, all 8 minutes 16 seconds of it. I remember the day, looking at the cd artwork while listening.
When it finished I played it again. Then again. I've been playing it every so often ever since.
If ever I'm asked the question - 'What is your favourite song?' - the answer has been the same since 1992 and probably forever more will be - Leave Them All Behind by Ride.
I love plenty of songs, spanning my lifetime. Many have sounds that energise and move me. Many more have lyrics that capture my mood, emotion, memory or hope. Such lyrically connecting songs, such personal songs.
Leave Them All Behind is different. Lyrically, nothing remarkable at all:
Wheels turning round, Into alien ground, Pass through different times, Leave them all behind
Just to see, We've got so far to go, Until we get there, Just let it flow
Colours shining clear, Fading into night, Our grasp is broken, There's nothing we can do
I don't care about the colours, I don't care about the light, I don't care about the truth
Hardly fills 8 minutes does it?
I understand that the lyrics were written by Mark Gardener and added at a late stage. It makes sense. I like the lyrics - they suit the song but it is the sound of the vocals, the sound of bloody everything in Leave Them All Behindthat is astonishing perfection to these ears.
I know every note of every instrument. The two minute 'intro', the beats of Colbert's drum, the bass riffs, the acoustic break, the crashing beauty of the guitar whooshes. Every distortion, every echo, every effect. All 8 minutes and 16 seconds of it. I wouldn't change anything. The studio version, the version that appears on the album, cannot be bettered.
The live versions only capture part of the magic but here's a performance from Brixton Academy in 1992:
Andy Bell wrote most of Nowhere, and thereafter much of Ride's songs were split between the two guitarists / vocalists - Bell and Gardener. Leave Them All Behind is however very much a band effort. All 4 contributed to the song, which they began work on whilst on tour two years previously, and it shows. It is what Ride were all about. For me, it is more than just the definitive Ride song. It is the definitive song. Full stop. It is mine.
What happened in that studio, sometime in late 1991, when Bell, Gardener, Queralt and Colbert recorded that noise two years in the making, and Alan Moulder produced it to perfection , I will never know. Over 17 years on though, I'm writing about it. I'm as moved by it now as I was then.
They made a difference. What a feeling that must be. That is the inspiration.
As I say unlike my other favourite songs, this one doesn't address my mood, bring a tear to my eye, or speak to me about a particular emotion, memory or aspiration. Wonderful and precious as those songs are to me, 'Leave Them All Behind' is the one.
It takes me to another world - some parallel universe where all the thoughts and feelings in my head, my heart, my soul, be they confused, upsetting, joyous or whatever all come together in a cavalcade of swirling guitars, bass and drums. Real life's complexities make sense.
I was 20 when I first heard it. I was young and the prospects of where I would go, what I would do with life were so uncertain that I didn't even entertain any such thoughts. If I did, they were fanciful not tangible. I was naive, immature and just happy to have made it past my education and formative years. I was fitting in with my adult surroundings and at that time I didn't contemplate the aging process. The thought of even turning 30 seemed like such a long time away.
If Leave Them All Behind took me somewhere else, it was still, at 20, a place where everything could fall into place in reality at a point in the future, a point so far away. For then, I was just happy to have made it that far, to have friends, the stupidity of life with them, concerts and compact discs and income from a job that made these things possible.
Leave Them All Behind was an inspiration as well as an imaginative, ethereal experience. One day, I would "grasp those fading colours" and dreams wouldn't "burn down", they could come true.
Somewhere, out of the fog that 20 year old has become 37 (goodness - I'll be nudging 40 before I know it!). What the hell happened there?
But you know what, that 37 year old has still been wearing his music t-shirts. Even in his office. He has been making business chat, concerning himself with professionalism, dividends, and tax compliance, in a sense acting these things out. But his t-shirts have remained. That 20 year old hasn't gone away. He still has dreams. He can still, like those 4 young lads from Oxford in 1992, make a difference, to others, but also to himself.
Now, at a time in my life when I've been contemplating my history, my future, my motivation, my reasons for my very me-ness, I listen again to Leave Them All Behind. Again it is too perfect, but I do have a reaction to it. I'm back. I'm 20 again. Everything I was capable of then, I'm capable of now. If anything I'm better prepared than before.
The noise of Leave Them All Behind still inspires, still takes me somewhere else. I'm going to chase that somewhere else, find it, colonise it and live there, not just visit it for 8 minutes and 16 seconds.
I do care about the colours. I do care about the light. I do care about the truth.