Once upon a time I was really young and partying quite a lot in the few places where you could listen to indie music in Paris. We would get dressed carefully, mostly copying the looks from Pulp or Suede videos, whilst sipping Martini Bianco because it made us feel sophisticated and we didn’t have enough money to afford more than a few drinks at the clubs anyway. Elsewhere, the same kids would be doing the same thing at Trash and Popstarz in London, Razzmatazz in Barcelona or Misshapes in New York. We would dance the night away, making new friends, hoping to fall in love, and possibly feeling at home for the first time in this small crowd of misfits, marvelling at the discovery that no, we were not the only ones listening to Bernard Lenoir on the radio in our bedroom (the closest thing France had to John Peel).
I have a vivid memory of the first time I watched the sunrise in Pigalle after a night out at the Sheherazade – a Britpop club night so small that more than twenty years on, I still know (and am friends with) most of the people that used to go there. Dazed – and sometimes a little confused – we would go for a cup of coffee on Place Blanche while waiting for the first métro, and witness the city waking up. That, or we’d crash on somebody’s couch. In either case, never wanting the party to end. Even if the night had been wild, even though I was not yet 20, I always felt a certain melancholy to it, knowing that soon enough we would have to grow up and go our separate ways, that we wouldn’t live like this forever (no one actually believed the Gallagher brothers’ credo when sober).
This compilation opens with Jacques Dutronc’s ode to early morning Paris, with the ‘bakers baking breads’ and almost ends with possibly the most famous song about early morning drunkenness, Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. Now that I am almost incapable of going to bed after 2am, the songs in-between never fail to make me smile fondly at all these great (and sometimes miserable) returns, especially when I am on my way to work at 7am. Pulp’s “Bar Italia” (a place round the corner, in Soho, where all the drunken people go...) reminds me of watching dawn on the Camden Canal, and Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” brings me back to a magical taxi ride through Central Park with all the windows down at daybreak on an August morning ….
Some songs are literally about these wee hours, although walking down the Champs Elysées after going to the legendary Respect Is Burning party at The Queen Club never made me want to listen to Joe Dassin’s impossibly cheerful eponymous song about two lovers who spent the night in a basement with crazy guitar strumming kids.
Therefore the other tracks have more to do with the various states one can be in at 6am, depending on how things went the night before. Heartbroken (Gerry & The Pacemakers “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”), trying to keep one’s head up (Nina Simone’s “My Way” is a masterpiece of conflicting emotions), desperate (Bowie’s “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”), self-pitying (Morrissey’s “Moonriver” sounds nothing like a breakfast at Tiffany’s), or just jaunty (Faith No More’s “Easy”, which smells like waking up in an ashtray). In some situations, I would find comfort in music that would make my drunken stupor seem poetically psychedelic, hence the presence of Lee Hazelwood, Primal Scream, Spiritualized, the Velvet Underground, and Dion’s fantastic cover of “Purple Haze”. In others, I would just need the reassuring melodies of Cat Stevens (a childhood memory) or Big Star, telling me that things would be fine. As it turns out, they did, and even though I wouldn’t want to actually go back in time, I am always happy to let my mind wander back to those days. Finally – and because it encompasses all these feelings and somehow all the songs listed above – I chose to bring this walk down boozy memory lane home with “A Day in the Life”, hoping that you enjoyed it as much as I did.