Soundtrack Of My Life: James Acaster

Stand-up genius and podcaster extraordinaire

The song which I wish I’d written

‘God Save The Queen’

“If I’d written any song which meant a lot to me then I think it would probably stop meaning a lot to me. I don’t sit around watching my own stand-up comedy, for example. If I wrote the [British] national anthem I’d get a real kick out of the fact that everyone’s always got to sing it at the Olympics, sporting events and stuff like that. Whoever did write that original national anthem was probably having a bit of a laugh because the lyrics are absolutely mad. I’d really have a laugh if I’d written that, and knew that everyone was singing it really seriously putting their hand on their heart thinking about God and The Queen. It’d really amuse me.”

The first song I remember hearing

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Patty and Mildred J. Hill [disputed] – ‘Happy Birthday’

“This is going to sound like another smart-arse answer but I can’t remember hearing a song before I heard ‘Happy Birthday’. That’s my honest answer. That’s the song I remember hearing at people’s parties when I was really young.”

The first album I owned

PJ & Duncan – ‘Psyche’

“I thought ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble’ was the best song in the world at the time, so I wanted to own that album very much. I remember, even at that age, being disappointed by the album. I wanted the whole album to be like ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble’ and it really wasn’t. I thought ‘this could be better’. Even though I had no concept of albums and how good an album could be I knew that this was not a good album.”

The first gig I went to

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Bush and Cyclefly, Cambridge Corn Exchange, 1997

“I had heard ‘Swallowed’ on the TV or the radio and thought it was brilliant. ‘Razorblade Suitcase’ – that was one of the earliest albums I relentlessly listened to. I’ve still got a huge soft spot for it. I liked both of those bands so I was very excited about the gig. At the time it was the best night of my life. I crowd-surfed during Cyclefly, which was a big deal. My friend Stephen came with me and insisted that I had to. He’d been to one gig before and so I thought he was an old hand. I went home and wrote about how mind-blowing every single second of it was. Kerrang! Or Metal Hammer reviewed the gig and in the side panel there were little interviews with the audience and there was one guy who said it was better than he thought it would be. I remember being like ‘what is this guy’s problem?! Why is he going to a gig when he doesn’t expect it to be that good? What the fuck is the matter with him?’ I can still see his face in my head.”

The song that I can no longer listen to

The Proclaimers – ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’

“I’m completely repelled by it. I really hate it. I hate any song that British people have embraced just to mindlessly sing whenever it comes on in public. And to think they’re being funny by singing it especially really annoys me. There are a lot of songs where I just do not believe that people like this song as much as they make out they do. It’s like this mob mentality of ‘we all like this song!’ but you can’t all like this song. It’s not a good song. Nothing against The Proclaimers, I’m sure they’re lovely lads, but I just can’t do it.”

The song that changed my life

Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

“It’s the song which made me look at music in a different way and broaden my mind. It made me realise it wasn’t about what was popular. It was about what I genuinely liked and connected with. I was about 13 and I remember watching a Top 100 Albums Of All Time TV show. ‘Nevermind’ was in the top five or ten. I was just baffled by it. It sounded like a mess to me. Later on my friend played me the album, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is the first track and suddenly it wasn’t noise anymore. The energy behind it. You felt like you were listening to real people. Until that point, I’d just listened to pop stars and it had all been very nicely manufactured and packaged for me. Suddenly I realised this is an actual person, opening up and unloading and getting across how they were feeling. It completely changed how I saw music and how I listened to music – things that I previously thought were horrible to listen to were suddenly the most melodic catchy songs I’d ever heard. Nirvana are still one of my favourite bands ever because I’m generally obsessed with any artists who manage to be alternative and also be accessible.”

The song I would like played at my funeral

Eric Bachmann – ‘Belong To You’

“I got really into the music of 2016 and was obsessed with it and have a lot of albums from that year, and one of the albums I bought was ‘Eric Bachmann’ by Eric Bachmann. It’s just an Americana album which I wouldn’t usually love that much but the whole album is beautifully catchy. The first song is called ‘Belong To You’. I was listening to it the other day – other people must do this – but sometimes you hear a really emotional song and I imagine it being played at my funeral and you think ‘ahh yeah, this’ll get everyone crying. They’ll be so upset. It’ll be great’.”

The song I do at karaoke

The Police – ‘Everything Little Thing She Does Is Magic’

“Singing in public is one of my biggest fears but once when I was about 18, I had a near death experience in a car crash. After that, for a while, I went through a stage of really trying to live life and kick off some kind of bucket list. I did a skydive, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I did my first stand-up gig around then. One evening I drove to a karaoke night nearby because I was terrified of doing karaoke. I went there on my own, none of my friends there to support me, and I signed up. At the time, I was really heavily into The Police and it was the only Police song they had. Upon reflection it’s such a bleak song to go and sing on my own in front of a bunch of people who didn’t know me when I couldn’t sing and was terrified. They didn’t end up calling me up because the guy kept on just getting his mates up. So it was really weird, me sitting in a pub all nervous all night. Nish Kumar, friend and comic, loves how tragic that would have been. Once, when we went to a karaoke night together, he made me do it. I’d had enough to drink to sing it.”

One album I wouldn’t get sick of in self-isolation

Kendrick Lamar – ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’

“I like dense albums with a lot going on. Every time you listen to it you’ll find something new. The arrangements are amazing, his lyrics, his socio-political commentary, and the themes… just throughout. All that stuff. I still feel like I’ve got a lot to discover with that album. It would take someone a very long time to drain that album of all of its novelty or all of its appeal. I don’t think I could ever go, ‘ok, I’m done with that now’.”

James Acaster’s ‘Perfect Sounds’ podcast launches on BBC Sounds soon

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