Reviewed by Richard Tutin
Like many people, I enjoy listening to favourite pieces of music. The memories they invoke take me back to the time when I first listened to them. They are reminders of times past, good and not so good.
Tom Gatti has brought together fifty authors who have had similar experiences through their selection of musical albums that have shaped their thinking and future lives. He also reflects on the album form that, from 1965, when the Beatles produced their Rubber Soul album, has been a window into an artist’s thought processes.
He also reflects on the listener’s experience of a particular album from the time they first hear it and as they listened to it again and again. Each of the contributors offers a story about how their lives have been shaped by a particular artist’s album and how it has continued to affect them as the years progress.
Marlon Jones is taken, by listening to Björk’s Post, back to a crisis of faith and sexuality in his twenties and how it helped him to resolve his fears. Daljit Nagra reflects on how his family shop in Sheffield was defaced by racists who liked the same band as he did.
The essays cover a wide range of musical tastes from classical through rock and heavy metal to reggae and hip hop. Each one offers a quick and intimate portrait of both the writer and the music that has profoundly affected them.
It has been said that music is the window to our souls. It’s a reflection as to who we are, what we stand for and where we are going. Long Players certainly reflects this through the essays Gatti has sourced via his long running “Long Players” feature in the New Statesman magazine. Each essay is the result of listening to an album many times over many years.
As I progressed through the book, I too was reminded of the many albums, or LPs as we called them, I had bought and listened to over the years. For me, my album of choice will always be the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The memories it evokes are ones of friendship and companionship through the last years of secondary school. I wouldn’t say that it shaped me but I enjoy the memories.
Not so the essays curated by Gatti. Each album changed the lives of the contributors and continue to do so. They have worked their way into the souls of each of the authors shaping their outlook and identity. They have, as the dustjacket of the book says, become part of their story.
Albums are not as popular as they once were. Streaming services have changed our way of listening to all forms of recorded music. Even so, it is worth reflecting on how, as Gatti and his contributors do, particular forms of music have influenced and shaped us as we have listened to them through the passage of our years.
Tom Gatti is deputy editor of the New Statesman where Long Players began life as a feature. He joined the magazine in 2013 as culture editor. Before that, he was Saturday Review editor at The Times where he also wrote book reviews, features and interviews. From 1995 to the present, he has listened to Radiohead’s The Bends more times than is strictly necessary.
Long Players – Writers On The Albums That Shaped Them
Tom Gatti [editor]
ISBN 978 1 5266 2578 6