6 Songs by Nick Hornby

6 Songs by Nick Hornby

Do you know your desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups?

Rob does. He keeps a list, in fact. But Laura isn’t on it – even though she’s just become his latest ex. He’s got his life back, you see. He can just do what he wants when he wants: like listen to whatever music he likes, look up the girls that are on his list, and generally behaves as if Laura never mattered. But Rob finds he can’t move on. He’s stuck in a really deep groove – and it’s called Laura. Soon, he’s asking himself some big questions: about love, about life – and about why we choose to share ours with the people we do.

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6 Songs by Nick Hornby

I can remember listening to this song and loving it in 1975; I can remember listening to this song and loving it almost as much quite recently, a few months ago. (And, yes, I was in a car, although I probably wasn’t driving, and I certainly wasn’t driving down any turnpike or highway or freeway, and the wind wasn’t blowing through my hair, because I possess neither a convertible nor hair. It’s not that version of Springsteen.) So I’ve loved this song for a quarter of a century now, and I’ve heard it more than anything else, with the possible exception of… Who am I kidding? There are no other contenders. See, what I was going to do there was soften the blow, slip in something black and… or cool possibly ‘Let’s Get It On’, which I think is the best pop record ever made, and which would easily make it into my top 20 most-played songs list, but not at number 2. Number 2 – and I’m trying to be honest here – would probably be something like ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’ by The Clash, but it would be way, way behind. Let’s say I’ve played ‘Thunder Road’ 1,500 times (just over once a week for twenty-five years, which sounds about right, if one takes into account the repeat plays in the first couple of years); ‘(White Man)… would have clocked up something like 500 plays. In other words, there’s no real competition.

6 Songs by Nick Hornby

It’s weird to me how ‘Thunder Road’ has survived when so many other, arguably better songs – ‘Maggie May’, ‘Hey Jude’, ‘God Save The Queen’, ‘Stir It Up’, ‘So Tired of Being Alone’, ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ – have become less compelling as I’ve got older. It’s not as if I can’t see the flaws: ‘Thunder Road’ is overwrought, both lyrically (as Prefab Sprout pointed out, there’s more to life than cars and girls, and surely the word ‘redemption’ is to be avoided like the plague when you’re writing songs about redemption) and musically – after all, this four and three-quarter minutes provided Jim Steinman and Meatloaf with a whole career. It’s also po-faced, in a way that Springsteen himself isn’t, and if the doomed romanticism wasn’t corny in 1975, then it certainly is now.

But sometimes, very occasionally, songs and books and films and pictures express who you are, perfectly. And they don’t do this in words or images, necessarily; the connection is a lot less direct and more complicated than that…

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