What I didn’t mention then, however, is that long before Nick Hornby wrote his book — including the characters Rob, Dick and Barry, the owner and two employees of a record store, three hardcore music geeks who spend their downtime compiling Top Five lists of albums, songs, opening songs on albums, etc. — I was one of those characters.
While I didn’t work in a record store, it seemed I spent half my life in record stores, and my friends and I, starting in the early 1980s, 15 YEARS before High Fidelity was published, regularly rattled off our Top Five and Top Ten lists to each other, struggling to make the right choices, beating ourselves up or teasing each other over careless, obvious omissions…
Well, gulp, 30 plus years later, while we don’t exchange our lists nearly as often, they still spontaneously erupt from time to time, and just last night there was one such eruption. Here now is an excerpt from our discussion, edited for flow and clarity, which took place via text messages and emails, and if this doesn’t remind you of High Fidelity you either didn’t read/see it, or you weren’t paying attention. (BTW, 4708 was an address where we lived together back in 1989 or so.)
Keith: Dear Boys of 4708: If you had the chance to request and listen to front and center one song to be played by Pete Townshend, solo acoustic, what would it be?
Me: One song?! Impossible! Unheard of! Absurd! Instead, here are my Top Five off the top of my head, in no particular order, while retaining the right to add and subtract unlimited times for the rest of my life: 1. The Shout; 2. The Sea Refuses No River; 3. Drowned; 4. Blue Red & Grey; 5. Heart To Hang Onto…
Me: …6. Keep Me Turning; 7. I Am An Animal; 8. The Seeker; 9. Stop Hurting People; 10. So Sad About Us.
Mike: First of all, Keith and I were talking earlier tonight and your list of Townshend songs blew us away! We were saying that, in the future, we need some warning if you’re going to pull out the big guns like that. I mean, The Sea Refuses No River? Acoustic??? It may be TOO brilliant for my pee-sized brain to comprehend. Pure genius.
If I had to pick one song, right now, off the top of my head, I might pick After The Fire. The Naked Eye would be up there. Oh, and However Much I Booze. And Substitute is high up there as an all-time favorite. It’s hard to beat, “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.” It’s lines like that that makes me think maybe all humans aren’t completely fucking horrible.
Keith: One child going nuts, the other not going to bed, but here’s my list: 1. The Kids Are Alright; 2. The Seeker (learned, learned); 3. Imagine A Man; 4. A Quick One (available on YouTube in the attic series); 5. The Sea Refuses No River (or any other Ecclesiastes-Townshend collaborations)
I can also go for Sea and Sand…especially at this point in my life…I don’t remember ever hearing Townshend do a version.
Keep Me Turning…nice call! Vegas didn’t see that one on the list.
Me: What can I say? I’m honored and humbled at the same time.
Mike, Naked Eye is inspired! In fact, I now intend to learn to play that song!
Also, Substitute really does hold up in a big, big way. I think of early Beatles songs, classics for sure, but they don’t effect me in nearly the same, deep way that early Who songs do.
Keith: The Naked Eye solo acoustic. Holy Crap. Has it been done? If not, should it be required by law?
Latest headline in the London Times “The Boys of 4708 sue Peter Townshend for not playing The Naked Eye solo Acoustic.”
P.S. I woke up this morning with one thought: How did I forget English Boy?
Me: Keith, I can’t believe I didn’t comment on this last night, so it must be that I was so utterly stunned by your selection that I was left wordless, but…
Imagine A Man?! Absolutely.Brilliant! (BTW, I just wrote that while listening to the version of A Quick One on YouTube that you recommended. Great fun!)
Mike: BTW, Keith, I remember in high school or college you quoting the song Is It In My Head – the line, “I see a man without a problem.” And then you saying, “I want to be a man without a problem.” Ho-ly crap.
You know what? I’m putting that song on my list. My head might explode though if I heard Townshend sing, “I pick up phones and hear my history. I dream of all the calls I miss. I try to number those who love me, and find exactly what the trouble is.”
If you guys need me, I’ll be under the table in a fetal position.
See what I mean?
As a bonus, the following is the song that topped my list, a song that appeared on Townshend’s 1987 album Another Scoop, a compilation of demos and outtakes. This is the last song on Side B of the second record of this two-record LP, it’s a gorgeous meditation on love, with the guitar in some kind of open tuning, there’s a distinct Eastern flavor with all the drone strings droning, and it still gives me chills: