I am Gary and I’m 1/5th of Nelson Savage, in fact the shortest 5th. Actually – can fractions be short/tall?
Anyway – I am the singer in the band, still adjusting to not being able to hide behind a guitar whilst playing live.
We have all been writing songs and playing live in various guises for many years, and came together end of last year to fuse a wide variety of influences (90’s indie/punk being the major one probably) into an unholy racket which culminated in released an E.P/Mini-album/ in April 2019 – simply called “Nelson Savage”. Available on all good and evil internet sites.
I’m also a married father of two, procrastinating between real life and trying to help write heavy pop songs. I can only speak for myself with the choices below, but that’s the beauty of being in a band – everyone could and would pick three different ones!
Here are the three that spun me round and have really changed my life in even a small way.
Radiohead – The Bends
In 1994, ‘Eurodance’ was everywhere. Grunge had come – and largely went – hip hop was pretty much passing me by and everything in the middle was getting remixed at a solid 180bpm.
My tape collection (yes, tape) was my dad’s ‘’Singles taped March 1986’’ compilation tape, my ‘’Top Gun’’ soundtrack compilation and a bootleg taped copy of “Dookie”
But, in 1995 I borrowed a copy of The Bends– and a Sony Discman – off a friend primarily because I had heard ‘High & Dry’’ on the radio. On first listen I skipped straight past ‘’Planet Telex’’ and ‘’The Bends’’ – stopped on ‘’High and Dry’’ then skipped right through to ‘’Street Spirit (Fade Out)’’ which was another single I had previously heard.
This is how thirteen year old me listened to music, loads of compilations, skipping tracks to only hit the singles.
Then on second listen, I put it on all the way through. A brave move given the lasting power of Discman batteries at the time! And of course you had to sit still and actually listen, to avoid skipping the cd – which actually helped.
This time when Jonny’s guitar hit on the intro to ‘’The Bends’’ was huge. I would practice singing the entirety of ‘’High and Dry’’ as the missing harmony to every vocal. ‘’Fake Plastic Trees’’ destroyed me at the time and still does when it peaks on ‘’I can’t help the feeling, I could blow through the ceiling, if I just turned and run’’. The sheer balls to not end on that crescendo, but continue for another minute and have the song almost restart was huge. The fact that the vocals were famously recorded in one take after seeing Jeff Buckley live just adds to its genuine delivery.
After the third listen, it was ‘’Black Star’’, ‘’Sulk’’, ‘’My Iron Lung’’ – the whole album was filled with hits. It changed me from listening to just the singles – the Big hit, the second anthem and then the ‘quiet’ third song – which seemed to be the staple release strategy at the time. Even ‘’Bones’’, which sounds like the most ‘’Pablo Honey’’ of the tracks and ‘’Nice Dream’’ are better than most hits off other albums of the time.
The strings, the organs, the layered guitars, the hidden backing vocals – the sheer emotion in the vocals – I still go back now and find something else each time.
It taught me to actually listen to records and not just singles, find the backing harmonies – or make them up – and to always keep new batteries handy for the Discman.
The Postal Service – Give Up
In 2005, I was working in Virgin Megastores in Edinburgh (alongside Pete – another ‘Nelson Savage’ fifth – albeit a taller one), and we had frankly the biggest jukebox you could imagine. Every CD available to buy was in that store – and we all took it in turns(ish) to choose what music would play throughout the day. It was very Empire Records, although everyone was worse looking.
I chucked on a Sub Pop sampler one day which amongst others had The Thermals, The Shins and a remix of ‘’The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’’ by the Postal Service. I had no clue who they were, but the remix starts with a sub-pulse almost Fischerspooner drone over a harp before the lyrics dig in. This was different. Once the sampler had finished, I found the original album and chucked it on – then preceded to buy it at the end of my shift that day.
10 tracks of electronic music mixed with strings and dual vocals, sent and tweaked through the post between Jimmy and Ben – hence the name. All the music seemed layered, sequenced, urgent – but the lyrics seemed so simple yet descriptive. On ‘’Such Great Heights’’ there was the romance of ‘’I am thinking it’s a sign, that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they perfectly align’’ There’s a hopefulness in the lyrics – even while singing about JFK being shot. On ‘’Nothing Better’’ , the most call and response duet on the record, both Ben and Jenny Lewis take turns to give their view.
The impression that they aren’t completely broken, just badly bruised, added a glimmer of hope that anything was still possible.
I had just started writing and recording more songs about this time – still by myself – and this album brought in a shade of using lo-fi drums and synth parts to add colour and flavour to guitar parts. Seeing the small aspects of memories – the taste, the heat, the tiny movements and being able to add that to flesh out a story really stuck with me.
The fact they only ever released one album never bothered me. I genuinely don’t think they could better it – so why bother?
Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight
Quite simply, my favourite record. A record I have given to so many different people when it was first out – friends and family with VERY different tastes, living in different parts of the world. And it’s the only record that pretty much all of them came back and said that they adored.
It is universal, romantic, hilarious, stunning, heartbreakingly, heart-mending, simple yet utterly complex all in one. And that is just the lyrical content.
I had found ‘’It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’’ randomly on a playlist– a charmingly honest song about how Christmas seemingly can absolve almost everything – but only for just one day.
Immediately I found the video for ‘’Head Rolls Off’’ – these guys looked like me, they had the same accent as me, the song was genius. Album bought.
At first, tracks like ‘’Modern Leper’’, ‘’I Feel Better’’ and ‘’Fast blood’’ didn’t get me immediately. It took a few listens before I got the overall feeling of chapters of a relationship already run its course. Then from that it was press play, enjoy for 48:00 minutes, then press play and repeat all over again.
It’s just that ‘’Keep Yourself Warm’’, ‘’Head Rolls Off’’ and ‘’Poke’’ to name a few were so horrifically superb and catchy. The lyrics were – and still are – hilarious and devastating in equal measure. The haunting layers of music drag you into their world so much that whether you want to or not, you are going to be standing there watching this chapter of the story play out.
This isn’t just a background record for reading, or studying. The songs are all-encompassing. Scott, and Grant and Billy just got it – whatever it was.
It completely changed again how I wrote songs. It inspired me to try and address that it’s ok to not be ok, and to channel some of this into a three minute pop song could help make sense of it all.
The fact that ‘ make tiny changes to earth’ has become part of the zeitgeist – a motto for the slightly bruised – says it all. We all have a role to play, and even the smallest gift can change everything. And what a gift this record was.
With this album, I felt I understood my own relationships, my own emotions better, and what is more life changing than that.
Nelson Savage are an indie/pop punk band from Edinburgh, Scotland. You can hear their music on their Bandcamp page.