Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Saint Etienne by Paul Kelly
Nine Songs
Saint Etienne

Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell on the songs that have inspired them collectively and individually.

06 October 2017, 09:00 | Words by Ed Nash

Whilst two of Saint Etienne were friends since their infancy, their third member, singer Sarah Cracknell says their collective cultural tastes as they were growing up in different parts of the country were identical.

“Along with my husband, Bob, Pete and I led parallel lives to a degree. Obviously Bob and Pete grew up together, but meanwhile in Windsor I was listening to very much the same things, watching the same things and buying the same things, it’s funny isn’t it?”

As a result they share a love for the pivotal songs that the others have chosen, from Vini Reilly’s work with The Durutti Column to the classic country of Glen Campbell and the dance music grandeur of Donna Summer. The songs they’ve chosen reflect their catholic tastes and as Bob Stanley puts it, “If I had to sit down and write down every song that had been an influence or an inspiration it would probably take me six months, but these songs are all important.”

“Lips That Would Kiss” by The Durutti Column

​Stanley: “I bought The Return of The Durutti Column when it came out, it wasn’t the one with the sandpaper cover, although I’ve got that one since. I was obsessed with that album.

“I was talking to Sarah recently, she and Mick Bund, who was her old flatmate who died recently, used to play it all the time as well, we’d never had that conversation before. Sarah and Mick wrote ‘Marble Lions’ on Tiger Bay and I can definitely hear a Vini Reilly influence on that.

“It’s a very mysterious record and I still don’t know much about Vini Reilly, the effects he was using on his guitar were very new to me and Martin Hannett’s production is incredible, it's so three-dimensional it sounds like there’s some weird quadrophonic thing going on. I presume that was because he was obsessed with Dub and I’m guessing now that Vini Reilly was a fan of Roy Harper, John Martyn and Echoplex, but when I was fifteen I had no idea, it was a completely brand new sound to me.

"Martin Hannett’s production on this is so spacious, I don’t know how he did it, how he made a record sound that three-dimensional, it’s beautifully played and produced. If I think about producers who’ve influenced us I’d go with Brian Wilson, Joe Meek, the original Detroit Techno guys, but Martin Hannett was the first person I came across where the production was so important it was unavoidable.

"For me and the people around that time he had the same impact as Phil Spector. He doesn’t get enough credit for what he did with Joy Division, they wouldn’t have been remotely the same group without his production. ‘Lips That Would Kiss’ in particular gave him a licence to really go to town with a dubby production and putting layer upon layer of guitar on it.

“The drum programme is really bizarre, it’s by Eric Random, who I don’t know anything about, but me and Pete liked his name. We did a fanclub record of random outtakes and as a tribute we called it ‘Eric Random’, he’s probably completely unaware of that, if he’s still with us.

“It reminds me of 1980, 1981, when I was sat in my bedroom and meant to be doing homework but I was listening to The Durutti Column instead. When my Dad was growing up he was obsessed with The Shadows and it’s a generational thing I guess, I was listening to solo guitar things twenty years later.”

“Need Your Love” by The Metallics

​Stanley:​ “The story I’d heard with The Metallics was that this middle-aged bloke had written this song, wanted to record it and he found a bunch of teenagers. He was a short, bald bloke who wasn’t charismatic at all and he was fifteen years older than everyone else in the band.

“The reason I picked this was because I’ve been listening to a lot of Doo-wop recently, because of the Twin Peaks re-runs. I love Doo-wop and around So Tough we were listening to a lot of Doo-wop, it was the echoes, reverbs and the production on those records, ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ by The Flamingos would be another one.

"‘Need Your Love’ just sounds so DIY, it’s incredible, when people say something sounds like it was recorded shed, this literally sounds like it was recorded in a shed. I love falsetto vocals, I’ve always been a fan of anyone who does falsetto, Eddie Holman, Del Shannon, Lou Christie, The Temptations.

“It has that complete air of mystery that the best Doo-wop records have. It sounds like it was recorded by people who were almost certainly never going to make another record, a complete one-off that was recorded in an hour and then ends up sounding like something from a David Lynch soundtrack.

“I think I got it on an Ace compilation, one of the The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll CDs about ten or fifteen years ago and it just blew me away. I’m pretty certain it was the only record they ever made, the whole thing was a very happy accident and it sounds extremely atmospheric. Atmospheres’ on records are as important to me as much as melodies are and the best Doo-wop always has that air of mystery, that holding your breath, darkness of the evening atmosphere.”

“Skyliner” by Charlie Barnet

​Stanley:​ “I wrote a book called Yeah Yeah Yeah about the modern pop era up to the year 2000. My new book is about the first 78’s and the first recorded popular music up to the ‘50s, so I’ve been listening to a lot of music I was pretty unfamiliar with. I think the best big band jazz and swing from the 30s’ and 40s’ is just the most uplifting music and the most American music.

“I woke up the other day and I was listening to the Today program on Radio 4, it was John Humphries being miserable as usual basically. I went into the other room and put ‘Skyliner’ on and that was one of the reasons I picked it, it’s so incredibly joyous, I can’t think of anything that makes you want to start the day more and make things happen.

“It was recorded near the end of the war and it’s the sound of America having basically saved the world, which it had at that point, along with the Russian army I suppose, looking forward to peacetime, to the future and thinking of the decades ahead and that’s nothing to be sniffed at. To make a record that sounds that forward looking, futuristic and optimistic is really something. It’s just fantastic.

“People still play Glen Miller records and are familiar with that stuff but this song in particular really sums up that optimism for me. Finding music from this period that I’d never heard before has been really exciting, it means I’m out of the loop on a lot of new stuff but I know a lot more about crooners.

“I first heard ‘Skyliner’ a couple of years ago, I bought a Charlie Barnet album which had a really great cover, it was 50p in a charity shop. These records aren’t expensive, if you want to go and find them they’re always going to be in charity shops and they’re always going to have really authoritative sleeve notes!”

“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris

Wiggs: “I don’t know if I heard the Richard Harris or the Donna Summer version of ‘Macarthur Park’ first. There’s something about the words that stuck in my head, ‘the cake being left out on the rain’ line seems so bizarre, it’s such an image.

“Richard Harris’s version used to be on the radio a lot, as he was an actor there was something slightly nuts about the whole thing. It was quite extreme, with the high-pitched notes and it doesn’t sound like many other things, but it was setting the seeds of the elements in music that you liked and tried to aspire to.

“It also captured that period of time of being a child at twelve and thirteen, it transports you off to somewhere else. Around that time I was into Adam and the Ants and Madness, a strange mixture of things. Then when I was fifteen I got into early Electro, Hip-Hop and more Electronic stuff and I was listening to lots of 60s’ music. Bob was a great discoverer of things, I used to go to his house and he’d play things to me, we’d discover things together and listen to all sorts of stuff, but ‘Macarthur Park’ was one of those songs that was always around.

“I didn’t know the connection with who wrote it, because I loved Glen Campbell. We used to play him in the car when I was young and ‘Wichita Lineman’ is one of my favourite songs of all time. As you get older you join the dots, like ‘Ah, he wrote ‘Macarthur Park’ and ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ as well.’ They’re amazingly well written songs and there’s something about the lyrics, listening to them is like watching films almost.

“All of those songs inspired me, Sarah and Bob. I often want to try and write songs like that, with unusual structures and lyrics that capture a movie in your head.”

“Johnny Remember Me” by John Leyton

Wiggs: “This is going back even further into the depths of my memory. Again, it’s one of those songs where you piece things together later, learning about Joe Meek and stuff, that didn’t come until I was in my 20s’. I listened to it again recently, I was doing a Joe Meek tribute track for a cassette only release for a Joe Meek exhibition in New York.

“This used to be played on Junior Choice, a kids’ radio programme, it came out in 1961 but they were still playing it and in my mind it links weirdly into Benny Hill’s song ‘Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)’ which was slightly melancholy, when I was a child I thought that was quite a sad song. There’s something about this song too, it’s melancholy and it’s quite ethereal and spooky with the woman’s voice.

“It links to the fact that both my sets of grandparents lived on the same road, we used to distinguish them by the toys they had at their houses. One set of Grandparents was called ‘Thunderbird Nana and Granddad’, because they had a Thunderbirds water pistol and the others were called ‘Submarine Nana and Granddad’, because they had a Yellow Submarine model that we used to play with.

“This song reminds me of the Submarine grandparents, because they had this massive poster of a cowboy in the kitchen. I used to stare at that poster and it would make me think of a story. This song was an early dawning, there was something about it that stood out and it was the melancholy side and the production. Even though I didn’t know what that was at the time, it was the dawning of an interest in the textures of songs.”

“Passion (original mix)” by Gat Decor

​Wiggs: “I rediscovered this recently when I was doing some DJing. It’s from 1992 and it’s symbolic of when I started going to clubs properly. Saint Etienne started around 1990 and even though I was really into dance music, I didn’t really go to any clubs, we were a bit indie, I didn’t know anyone who went to them. Once the band had taken off and I had some money I’d end up going to a club once or twice every week.

“This song typified the kind of record that I loved at that period, at clubs like Kinky Disco and Love Ranch. It still sounds great today, it’s got all the elements I like, it’s really danceable, it sounds quite tough but it’s got the chords that would make you wave your hands in the air in the clubs.

“I was trying to think of a song that reminded me of that time in my life, the band was starting to take off and I was living the life of Riley really. It was a really mad period basically and this still stands up.”

“Champion, The Wonder Horse” by Frankie Lane

​Cracknell:​ “This was the first song I remember completely falling in love with and not being able to get enough of. I must have been really young when I heard it, I remember the programme to a degree, but I was obsessed with the theme tune, I think I got my Mum to record it for me and I played it over and over and over.

“It was the first song that really touched something in me. There’s something slightly ghostly and haunting about it, the vocal sound, all the reverb and echo. It’s hero music, the singing on the chorus is so strident and a bit melancholy, it makes me think of heroes and people being saved and rescued.

“It’s really weird with something you haven’t heard the like of before, you think it sounds really unique and new and that’s what this did for me. It’s cinematic and it made me feel like I was there in the Wild West, you could imagine the heat and the smell of it and what it would like to be in black and white.

“My husband and I worked out that we had parallel lives because we were born in the same year and whenever we talk about certain films, music or TV, he always says “I love that as well.” We had that conversation about ten years ago about ‘Champion, The Wonder Horse’ and we found it on YouTube and played it.

"That was probably the last time I heard it and prior to that I hadn’t listened to it since I was a kid. When I heard it again it completely transported me back to my sitting room when I was a child, I remember the sage green, slightly swirly carpet, my Dad’s reclining chair and my cat Sebastien.”

“I Feel Love” (Giorgio Moroder Extended Mix) by Donna Summer

Cracknell: “’I Feel Love’ is a mad song and it’s so rude. I can’t remember if I bought it or my Mum did, I reckon it might have been something that she bought. I’d never heard an extended mix of anything before this, there weren’t any around at that time in the charts in the UK.

“It was the first dance record that I’d ever gotten into and I used to play it a lot, again in the sitting room and I’d dance around to it, it was something that I felt compelled to wave my arms around to and shimmy about to in the sitting room.

“I think at the time I wasn’t fully aware of what the groaning and the sighing was about, I probably thought she was a little out of breath or something. I mentioned it to Pete the other day and I listened to it, I hadn’t listened to it for a few years and it is quite rude really isn’t it?

“It’s beautiful, the production on it is really great, it’s very smooth, very danceable and very late night.”

"Rock On" by David Essex

​Cracknell:​ “I grew up just outside Windsor and my Mum was an actress, she used to go to London a lot for auditions or dance classes and she’d take me along. She took me to see Godspell when I was little and David Essex was my first ever crush. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I felt desperate about him, it was this feeling of desperation where I had to know more about him or meet him or be with him. It was a proper infantile crush.

“When ‘Rock On’ came out I got the single, which I still have, and for Christmas I asked my Dad’s best friend to get me the album, but he bought me David Cassidy’s album instead, which was a bit of bummer.

“The production on it is quite mad, it’s got a unique sound that’s really out there, it was one of the most unusual things I’d ever heard, quite dark and sinister sounding. The next single was ‘Lamplight’ and again that was dark and sinister sounding, I’ve always been attracted to interesting production.

“Weirdly, we ended up doing a song with David Essex. I think Bob did it on purpose, he got in touch with him to see if he’d sing on Tales from Turnpike House. I ended up in the studio with him and I was just a mess. He had flu and he was working in the West End, I don’t think he was best pleased at having to come to some studio near Croydon.

“I had a baby who was normally the most idyllic, quiet baby but decided to be really fractious that day. I think David Essex probably thought ‘What is this? Some crazy cottage industry in this tiny studio in Coulsdon with someone with a screaming baby?’

“I was really embarrassed, I think at one point he tapped his watch as if to say ‘Come on.’ But he was lovely, very funny, polite and really nice. I was completely blown away and tongue-tied, I think Bob thought it was really funny.”

Home Counties and the Dive EP are out now on Heavenly
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