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Five Influential Songs

As a child growing up, my mother was always singing, and I was fascinated by songs she chose – traditional songs, hymns, hits from American musicals, pop songs in the ‘hit parade’ as we called it then.

For some reason I thought that the lyrics of these songs would teach me how to grow up, help me become a sophisticated adult, so I listened to them intently.


Paul Robeson

The first one I can remember was ‘Curly-Headed Baby’ by Paul Robeson, which she used to sing us as a lullaby each night.

‘Kingston Town’ by Harry Belafonte was another favourite, given added poignancy because my father was away at sea – I interpreted the lines ‘My heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town’ as a message to me personally.

We were always moving around from place to place, country to country, as a result of my father’s job in the navy. At one point we lived in a tiny village in Suffolk, where at school I learned folk songs, like ‘The Cuckoo’ which seemed to me to come from another world – wild, beautiful, menacing, and mysterious.

I also loved carols like ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ by Christina Rosetti, which always evokes for me the snowy winter of 1963, when the country came to a standstill and children tobogganed down the hushed streets, sent home from school to play.

Good_Vibrations_singleThe Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’ was the first pop single I owned, aged twelve, and the Mamas and Papas ‘Dedicated to the One I Love the second. I was fascinated by the harmonies in these songs, which reminded me of the nuns’ singing in my convent boarding school.

All these songs stayed with me, and many years later, helped form my own musical style.