This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #148: It’s My Life by Talk Talk.
In the early 1980s, when I was just coming to understand that there was a whole world of music out there that I was unaware of, growing up in Cape Breton as I did….there were three distinct moments in my mind when I thought I was beginning to figure my new world out.
The first was when I started watching a show on City-TV called “City Limits” hosted by a man named Christopher Ward, who was billed as a “VJ”, which meant, “video jockey”, as opposed to a disc jockey from the radio. “City Limits” was my introduction to music videos that played as short movies set to the music of whatever song was playing. My first taste of artistically-created music videos was watching “New Years Day” by a, then, unknown group to me, called “U2”. After having my mind blown by some of the videos I was seeing, “City Limits” became regular viewing for me on Friday and Saturday nights before bed, after midnight. At the time, I was being introduced to many new and exciting bands and, for a while, I began to actually feel a little like someone who had the inside scoop of what was cool and new and cutting edge.
The second thing that helped advance by education in the new world of music that was exploding all around me was when Duran Duran came to play a concert in Toronto in support of their terrific album, “Rio”. I have written about this before *(which you can read here), so I won’t go into great detail but, the short strokes were that the whole city seemed to have been caught up in the excitement of their visit. Duran Duran mania was very real and tangible. Growing up on Cape Breton Island, we got excited when The Stampeders or Trooper or April Wine came to play in Sydney (and, justifiably so, lets be honest) but, what was going on in Toronto when Duran Duran were set to arrive was beyond anything I had experienced. Seeing as my residence was mere blocks from Maple Leaf Gardens, I felt as though I was at the epi-centre of an explosion of something fresh and new and exciting. So, buying “Rio” and learning all of their songs helped make me feel included in all of the madness and, by extension, it helped to reinforce this notion in my mind that I was becoming a true music insider.
The third thing that happened was that I discovered a radio station called CFNY which, nowadays, goes by the call letters 102.1: The Edge. This radio station played the music of the bands who were appearing on the “City Limits” music video show, I had discovered. CFNY was my introduction to a whole host of great music by bands whose albums and EPs I just had to buy. I actually ate poorly so I could re-allocate my nickels and dimes toward buying vinyl. I spent my grocery money on bands such as early Simple Minds, the Sisters of Mercy, U2, of course and, the subject of today’s post, Talk Talk. My album collection grew as exponentially as dandelions grow on my lawn today! It was a banner time to be a lover of music.
As my exposure to great new bands grew, so did my appreciation for those who created this music in the first place. I learned all about Bono from U2, Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran and, I, also, learned about a young man named Mark Hollis from Talk Talk. At the time I became aware of this band, they had just released an album called, “It’s My Life”. A song of the same name was their first release. I loved the song, “It’s My Life” when I first heard it and I still love this song forty years later. What I loved most about the song, “It’s My Life” was the sound of it. By that, I mean the sound quality was crisp, the notes were expansive and the instrumentation seemed unique and original and placed together perfectly for the song being played. Talk Talk were a Synth-Pop band at the time and were label mates with Duran Duran. The two bands even toured together for a time. But, that is where their similarities ended.
Duran Duran continued touring and making music videos that played up their visual appearance and ended up having a rousing career that still exists today. However, right from the get-go, Mark Hollis bristled at the idea of marketing himself, the band and their music in the same manner as Duran Duran was doing. For Hollis, music was Art and anything that detracted from the process of creating music was unnecessary and was to be avoided at all costs. So, when you see the official music video for “Its My Life”, you will note that it was performed under duress. The band was forced to participate in their own marketing and, as a result, in the video, Hollis refuses to lip sync. In fact, at times, the band places computer-generated black tape across his mouth while the words play aloud. This attitude of indignation by Hollis for the business side of music eventually led Talk Talk down a path that, in the end, has placed them in a category of being one of the most influential and important bands of the last thirty years. It isn’t every band who has the courage to turn their back on the possibility of enjoying a lucrative career in order to pursue a pure and innovative creative vision but, that is what Talk Talk ended up doing. After the success of a song like, “It’s My Life” and subsequent hits like “Life’s What You Make It”, they, basically, disappeared from commercial radio. But, they didn’t disband or give up hope. Instead, they evolved into a creative entity, more in keeping with who they always saw themselves as being.
The importance of who Talk Talk turned out to be is massive, in terms of a musical movement that has come to define much of what passes for cool music today and that is a genre called “Post-Rock”. But, that is a conversation for another post. For now, let me play for you one of my favourite songs of all-time; a song that was covered to great effect by the band, “No Doubt”, a song that helped launch the careers of Talk Talk and, finally, a song that has produced one of the most declarative renunciations of the business side of music of all time, too. Here is Talk Talk with “It’s My Life”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Talk Talk, can be found here.
The link to the official website for CFNY 102.1 radio station in Toronto, can be found here. They are still playing cutting edge music all these years later.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for not only playing cutting edge music but, for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.