Harkive: what I listened to yesterday (and how I listened to it)

This is my entry for Harkive.

As Craig Hamilton explains:

On 9th July 2013 I will be gathering stories from music fans across the globe in order to create a unique snapshot of the many listening cultures, habits and practices that exist on that day. I want to repeat this process every year and map how these change over time. My hope is that the results of my analysis into the responses to various instances of Harkive develop into a useful, informative and interesting resource for anyone interested in Popular Music. In order for this to happen, I need your help: I’d like you to tell me your story.

So here is mine.


The moment I wake up, I can hear music; all the windows are open and it’s coming from the conservatory. There is a stereo there – connected to the house’s network, and thus the internet – where Daz has spent the last couple of months ploughing through the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. He’s listening to every one on the list, in chronological order, and he’s up to the mid 70s now… barely halfway.

Harkive talks about capturing the ways in which we are able to access and listen to music now, and Daz’s 1001 albums quest is a great example of that. He can access every one of the albums on the list just by searching online and uploading them to our network. He already had many of them – he’s always been a prolific purchaser and collector of music – but now even the more obscure LPs are only a click away.

So what is this one? I can hear a woman’s voice but that’s about all; because it’s the middle of summer, it’s complemented by hammering from next door and a lawnmower from one of the houses out the back. I’m unable to identify the singer, or even discern a beat to the song, but she’s really blasting… something.

I step into the shower and realise I’ve got Stevie Wonder’s I Don’t Know Why I Love You in my head. I’m not sure where it’s come from but it’s there in its entirety; from the clanging, almost-too-low harpsichord intro, right up to his desperate-sounding, ragged gasps near the end: “I don’t know! You don’t know! We don’t know nothin’ ’bout it. Can’t do nothin’ ’bout it…” I’m fine with that – it’s one of my all-time favourite songs.

Going downstairs for breakfast, I still can’t put my finger on the music coming from the conservatory. Most of the sound is going out of the doors and into the garden. Daz comes into the kitchen to say hello and I ask him what he’s listening to.

“Led Zeppelin.”

“No… before – there was a woman singer…”

He gives me a look that’s somewhere between amusement and pity. “Nope – I’ve only listened to Led Zeppelin so far today. That was definitely Robert Plant.”


Daz goes out and I sit at the computer to answer some emails and write up my Harkive story so far. Writing about Stevie Wonder just makes the song in my head louder. I find it on YouTube and hum along with it obsessively, picking out the different sections. Guitar. Brass. Strings.

Even when I’ve watched all the available videos – including a live version with an orchestra that’s been arranged to finish “properly”, on a major chord, instead of fading out – I still find myself whistling the brass section. Perhaps it will be in my head forever.

Mind you, I thought that about Get Lucky yesterday.

I don’t listen to any music while I work today, because all the jobs I’ve got to do involve writing and – unlike many people – I find it hard to write and listen at the same time. If I had something repetitive or easy to do, though, I’d probably whack the study stereo on. Like the conservatory stereo, it’s also connected to the network – but I tend to prefer my “mix radio” on Last.fm, which plays me a mix of music I’ve heard before and music it recommends based on my library. My Last.fm profile is quite dance-and-electronica-heavy, because that’s the kind of music I prefer to work to.

12 noon

Stevie’s gone. I’ve just read a review of the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival from the weekend and now, despite only reading about it and not listening to anything, I’ve got four bars of Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll in my head. Just four bars, mind, and they’re not even part of the chorus. A looping verse. G#m, D#m, E, F#… G#m, D#m, E, F#…

Then, via Twitter, another YouTube video. No details on this group of teenage boys covering No Woman No Cry. My guess is a school talent show, although if there is an audience, they’ve been stunned into silence. But hey, they have the balls to get on stage, which is admirable. (Isn’t it?)


Daz is home from his meeting, so Led Zeppelin are back on in the conservatory. I can hear it while I’m having my lunch. Not wishing to appear ignorant by asking about it again, I use Shazam to find out more. The track is Boogie Stu and the album, I learn, is Physical Graffiti. So we are on 1975, the year of my birth.

Listening to a curated list of “best albums” in chronological order (although there have been a lot of gaps for me, as I can’t really hear the conservatory stereo from my desk in the front room) has been really interesting. We’re experiencing what is essentially an evolution of western music. Hearing the relatively simple jazz and blues ideas diversify and mutate into so many strands and genres… it’s fascinating, really.

And listening to stuff from the 50s onwards, in a timeline, makes me think about how my parents listened to stuff. What kind of exposure to music did they have as children? The first album in the 1001 list is Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours; my dad would have been about nine, my mum seven. Would they have heard it at the time? Which of these 60s tunes were played at their teenage parties? Were they aware of these albums as they met each other? As they married and had children?

As we move into the late 70s over the next few weeks, I’m wondering how many albums I’ll recognise from my own childhood. Songs In The Key Of Life, Rumours and Out Of The Blue are the ones that spring to mind. Or will I recognise more of the older stuff from hearing it over the last few years? I’m very grateful that my parents passed on a love of music – the record player in the living room was well used – but they didn’t like everything. (“David Bowie? Ugh, no,” said my mum recently. “He was just weird!”) So I’m equally grateful that I’ve married a man with super-broad tastes, who can fill in my musical gaps.


YouTube again, but this isn’t proper music. Or is it? The background music on this ad is stock; it’s probably tagged with words like “happy” and “innovative”.

I pop in to see Daz again. It sounds like a classical piano album – apparently this is Keith Jarrett. Daz explains that it’s an improvised concert where jazz pianist Keith had been given a really crap piano, and so had to play most of it in the middle register. It’s pleasant enough, but I’m not bowled over. I imagine you probably had to be there.

My friend Vicki texts me from Cambodia. She’s spent the day on the bamboo railway there. I google it to see what she’s talking about and watch most of a “Journeyman Pictures” video about the railway, which has a bluesy electric guitar and harmonica soundtrack.  American blues on an Australian documentary about a Cambodian railway? It fits, despite its apparent incongruity. Must be the shuffling “railroad” feel that it’s got. I Shazam it (it’s not credited on the video): it’s a song called Ridin’ In The Moonlight, from a 1985 album called Deep Blues by Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters.


I’ve been in the study all day so I go into the back garden for some sunshine. In the conservatory, Daz is playing Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic. I’m surprised firstly at how early this is (1976) and then by how little of this I’ve actually heard before. Walk This Way sounds weird – because I’m so used to the Run DMC version, of course – and I hadn’t realised that he sings all the “Walk This Way”s in the chorus on that top octave note.

Aerosmith is interrupted only by a 40 minute episode of Pointless. I guess if I’m going to count songs in my head and stock music on YouTube videos for Harkive, then TV themes should definitely count as well.


We go for dinner at the Karczma.  The music coming from the speakers there is, naturally, Polish. It’s a male vocalist with a traditional-sounding band. We’ve no idea who’s singing, or what it’s about, but it’s recorded live and the audience is positively squealing with joy.


The only other music I hear before bed comes from more TV themes. Dexter,  Newsnight and a “BBC Alive with Music” proms trailer.

I go to bed sad about my personal Harkive experience. I suppose I’m disappointed that this snapshot shows… well, nothing. I didn’t listen to anything that I’d chosen for myself. And I didn’t play any music – we didn’t have a Moselele rehearsal… I didn’t even do any piano practice.

I used to be passionate about music! I think I’ve got lazy. I should really fix that.


You can read Daz’s Harkive story here

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