Ask 10 people what their favourite song is and the chances are that you will get 10 different answers.
Narrow that search down and ask people what their favourite song from the North East is and you might get a greater deal of agreement.
Ask 25 people with links to the North East music scene what are their favourite 10 songs from the region and the results will be 176 different tunes ranging from 19th century traditional songs to multi-million selling records by some of the world’s biggest superstars and then to songs barely a year old by up-and-coming young bands.
Over the last few weeks, The Journal has been garnering lists of favourite North East songs from musicians, writers, DJs, producers and promoters. Those choosing their favourite tunes have ranged in age from their twenties to their sixties and live in, or hail from, various parts of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and County Durham.
The rules for their lists were reasonably simple and wide-ranging: any songs with a connection to the North East, whether it was songs written by people from the North East, songs performed by North East acts (even groups with one North East member) or songs about the region.
Some came back with their lists almost immediately (the record being nine minutes). Others agonised, took weeks over it and even then couldn’t settle on a final 10.
“This was so difficult!” said Marie Nixon, currently a member of The Cornshed Sisters and formerly guitarist with much-loved Sunderland band Kenickie. (Both groups garnered nominations though not enough to make our final Top 20).
“But putting together this list really makes you realise what an incredible region for music we really are.
“And there’s no genre we can’t do - from classy 80’s pop with Prefab Sprout (still one of the universe’s finest bands) to the subtlest, brainiest take on glam in Roxy Music - a finer song than 2HB has never been written by anyone anywhere for my money.
“I’ve gone for a bit of a Sunderland bent with Field Music, Futureheads, Eurythmics and Pea Sea (whose album features all sorts of Sunderland luminaries).
“From the biggest selling artists of all time (Dire Straits and AC/DC) to lovely fellas you can see in a venue near you (Field Music’s Brewis brothers, or Ross and Jaff from the Futureheads at the great North Passion) my list’s got the lot.
“If you asked me to do this list again tomorrow it would be completely different, and that’s because when it comes to musical genius we’re spoilt for choice. I feel really lucky to be a small part of this amazing community of musical heroes.”
And after having counted the votes for the songs nominated by our 25 experts to compile what we hope is a reasonably authoritative Top 20 North East songs, a somewhat surprising choice topped our table.
Jimmy Nail is probably best known to most as an actor, though he was a member of Tyneside punk band The King Crabs before finding fame as Oz (and the immortal line “Sex is in its infancy in Gateshead”) in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
His career since then has mixed music and acting - think Spender, Ain’t No Doubt and Evita - and he is currently combining both as he takes the lead in Sting’s musical about shipbuilding on the Tyne, The Last Ship, which is scheduled to begin previews in Chicago in June before a Broadway opening in September.
But it is Nail’s own song about the Tyne – Big River – that garnered more votes than any other song on our list.
Released in 1995 and featuring fellow Geordie music legend Mark Knopfler on guitar, Big River is an unashamedly nostalgic elegy to the days when shipbuilding and other heavy industries were at their height on Tyneside.
If Big River is a slightly surprising Number One, it reflects the fact that many of the songs chosen were not just from the North East, but about it too. Others are consciously set in the North East (The Jarrow Song by Alan Price, Dire Straits’ Tunnel of Love) while some have become regional anthems in the way we have taken them up (Lindisfarne’s Run For Home, Mark Knopfler’s Local Hero).
Below Jimmy Nail in our table were many of the acts that might have been thought to get top spot, but whose votes were split between different songs. Lindisfarne alone had eight songs chosen while Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits had the same number between the group and solo singer. The Animals notched up six tracks, with Sting and The Police collectively clocking up five.
Although dominated by bands and artists with big back catalogues and histories to match, we’re sure the nods for the region’s 21st century crop of music makers will have pleased them greatly. Little Comets, Field Music, Frankie and the Heartstrings, Kathryn Williams, Lake Poets, Lulu James, Maximo Park, The Unthanks and Kenickie were all royally name-checked throughout.
There was even a nomination for Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble by PJ and Duncan, which goes to show that there’s no accounting for taste...
The top 20
1 Big River - Jimmy Nail
Equal parts lament and defiance in hymn to Tyneside’s industrial past
2 Run For Home - Lindisfarne
A hit on both sides of the Atlantic that Geordies will always hum as they cross the Tyne Bridge
3 We Gotta Get Outta This Place - The Animals
All the hopes, dreams and frustrations of being young burst out into a massive chorus
4 Romeo and Juliet - Dire Straits
Mark Knopfler’s tale of lost love inspired by a doomed romance
5 Virginia Plain - Roxy Music
More than 40 years old and it still sounds futuristic; looked like it was performed on Top of the Pops by a bunch of aliens
6 The House of the Rising Sun - The Animals
American blues tune played by Brits and getting to Number One in both countries: pop music is born
7 Back in Black - AC/DC
Diminutive Geordie screeches while Australians make a hell of a racket behind him: a rock classic
8 Sweet Dreams are Made of This - Eurythmics
Breakthrough hit for Sunderland-born Dave Stewart and musical partner Annie Lennox which was a Number One in America
9 Lady Eleanor - Lindisfarne
First released in 1970 and failed to chart; released again two years later and became a Top 10 hit
10 Fields of Gold - Sting
A reminder of Gordon Sumner’s gift for melody which has been covered by countless acts
11 Cars and Girls - Prefab Sprout
Typically lush and elegant melody from one of the UK’s most under-recognised songwriters
12 Local Hero - Mark Knopfler
Theme tune from a (great) film about Scotland, it has become a North East anthem from its links to St James’ Park and the Great North Run
13 Meet Me On The Corner - Lindisfarne
An early song from Lindisfarne bassist Rod Clements that showed the depth of songwriting talent in the group
14 Hounds of Love - The Futureheads
Kate Bush classic that sounds like lots of guitars being thrown down the stairs (and is all the better for it)
15 Roxanne - The Police
Breakthrough hit for The Police which was inspired by Sting’s stay at a hotel in Paris’ red light district
16 Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits
Written on a rainy day in Ipswich as Mark Knopfler watched a mediocre jazz band in a deserted pub
17 Winter Song - Lindisfarne
Never released as a single, but a fans’ favourite
18 Jarrow Song - Alan Price
Hymn to Price’s home town that got to Number Six in the charts in 1974
19 All Fall Down - Lindisfarne
One of the highlights from the generally disappointing 1972 album Dingly Dell
20 Nellie The Elephant - The Toy Dolls
Sunderland punk band taken on children’s favourite and produce 1982 novelty hit
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