31 Songs, Nick Hornby (My Younger Years)

I read Nick Hornby’s 31 songs over several days. It was a good book to dip into from time to time when I had a few spare minutes.


It’s a book of essays/articles that use Hornby’s 31 songs as a starting point for him to write about his wider views of music and the music industry.

I didn’t know a lot of the artists and I’m familiar with only one or two of the songs, so my appreciation of the book was slightly disadvantaged.

So rather than examine the book itself, I decided to present my own “31 songs”,  however I found that I could only come up with a few that had any reasonable personal relevance, and my attempts to add more made the list far too contrived to make the effort worthwhile.

So here are the only five genuinely “significant” songs that stand out, all of them date back to my childhood and teens. (Click on the song titles to access videos of the songs)


1) She Loves You, the Beatles.
My first ever record, bought for me when I was about 5 years old. The first answer I remember giving to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up” was “I want to be a Beatle”.

2) Bits and Pieces, the Dave Clark Five.
Maybe the second single my parents bought for me. I’m not sure what exactly appealed, but it’s a song that even in memory, stirs feelings of nostalgia.

3) 48 Crash, Suzi Quatro.
Quatro was my first teenage celebrity crush. At the time of its release I’d skip from radio station to radio station, waiting until they played this song before re-tuning to another to (hopefully) hear it again. Her first Sydney concert was also my first ever concert attendance.

4) Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen.
It was nothing like anything else on the charts at the time and I loved the changes of style and tempo throughout differing sections. I attended what was probably Queen’s first Sydney concert and remember how funny it was to see Freddie Mercury’s shadow being backlit on to a white sheet during the line “I see a little silhouetto of a man…” Very primitive compared to their later hi-tech approach. A friend told me how he’d sing it in the shower while at Bible school – until he realised singing about Beelzebub having a devil put aside for him maybe wasn’t appropriate.

5) The Sixteens, The Sweet,
This came out the year I was sixteen, and for that reason it seemed significant – especially early the next year during the few weeks between my then girlfriend’s 16th birthday and my 17th. Again, I attended what I think was The Sweet’s first Sydney concert.


If the list was of albums rather than individual songs I might be able to stretch it closer to 31 and bring the time line nearer to today. But that could be a project for later.

Funny Girl, Nick Hornby

funny girl

Nick Hornby was another safe bet. Another author who could be trusted to help me out of the book-reading difficulties I had last year.

One of the appealing things about Funny Girl was its nostalgia; there were a lot of references to people and events from my childhood.

That element of nostalgia is also what appealed to me in the first Nick Horny book I read, Fever Pitch. That book brought back memories of attending football matches with my dad, standing on the terraces, mostly to see his favourite team, Derby County, but when the opportunity arose, to see my team, Stoke City.

And then there was the film adaptation of Fever Pitch starring Colin Firth. Scenes of him attending games and being physically carried along with the ebb and flow of surging spectators brought back experiences I’d forgotten of being part of similar football crowds.

With Funny Girl the nostalgia wasn’t quite so personally relevant. It brought back the flavour of an era (1960s England) rather than memories of my own experiences. The nostalgic familiarity was in the setting more than in the characters and their situations, possibly because I was much younger than the book’s characters when I lived through the 60s

I enjoyed Funny Girl, but perhaps not as much as previous Hornby books. For me the tone throughout remained too light. Even through potentially confrontational situations, there seemed to be little sense of real loss or grief, or any other strong emotional connection.

Earlier this week I mentioned to the readers of another blog that I was approaching the end of the book and said: “the thing that is standing out is the lack of any real difficulties in the character’s lives. Everything seems to fall into place easily for them and there’s been no real conflict. There’s still time I suppose, but if something like that happens in the remaining 50 pages I think it will be too much of a change of tone.”

An example of what I mean is the way the lead character Barbara chooses to move from Blackpool to London to chase her dream of emulating her heroine, Lucille Ball, by becoming a comic actress. In a very short time she is lucky enough to accidently cross paths with a theatre agent willing to support her until he finds her work. And very soon after finds herself in the right place at the right time with the right people, to become the star of a popular sitcom written specially around her.

And that’s the way it continues until the “remaining 50 pages” that I mentioned above. Around that point of the book the tone does change, but not harshly enough to grate with what came before. The lightness remains, but a degree of melancholy is added to the mix when we have the characters are brought into the present day, looking back at the successes or failures they’ve had throughout the years.

I felt that latter part of the book was more like the Hornby writing I’ve enjoyed in the past, where the ongoing humour is balanced with something a little darker that gives the story more emotional ambiguity. Until that final section, I felt the book lacked that depth.

Juliet Naked by Nick Hornby

Duncan’s life is centred on his obsession with musician Tucker Crowe. His idea of a good holiday is a pilgrimage visiting sites of “relevance” to Crowe’s career.

Juliet is Crowe’s most successful album, after which he disappeared into anonymity, until the internet gave a platform for a few widespread fans to air their views on his career and to spread theories about his current situation and whereabouts.

A recording of demo tapes made before the hard production work turned Juliet into a more polished and commercial product is released with the title Juliet Naked, and the internet discussion spurred by the album changes relationships, breaking some and creating new ones. The obsession that has given Duncan a sense of purpose for decades eventually brings to an end the certainty and security that he’s taken for granted.

I can partly recognise in Duncan a more extreme example of my younger self and how deeply I could get caught up with a favoured singer or group. How in my early teens I would continually switch radio stations, trying to hear Suzi Quatro’s 48 Crash again and again. Or how, almost two decades later, I’d listen to Roaring Jack’s Cat Among the Pigeons at least once every day; and drive a 160km round trip every Thursday night to see them perform at a Newtown pub.

But one aspect of the book portrays a reality far different to my own attitudes: an aspect that depicts today’s society and human relationships in a not too flattering light.

While Juliet Naked is not the risqué book that the title might suggest, part of the book does portray a very casual attitude to sex, as if it’s merely a form of recreation or entertainment, like going out for a drink or a meal. Just another form of personal gratification devoid of love or commitment or even the thought of shared experience. Potential sexual partners are seen as a means to a personal end

In this I see a sad symptom of the shallowness of an “it’s all about me” society where individuals feel it unnecessary to look beyond themselves and their own “needs”.