Izzy Bizu – I Don’t Want Love, by the Antlers (2011)

Izzy Bizu Press portrait

When I was 17, I took a trip to Paris with my first boyfriend, and he put this song on his stereo. It was quite ironic, because the song’s all “I don’t want to love and I don’t want to fall” – but you are falling. We were sitting on the balcony, smoking and chilling, looking at the streetlights, and at that moment, as we gazed into each other’s eyes, I guess we fell in love. It sounds cheesy, I know. The lyrics are actually quite dark – “Keep your prison locked up and I will leave my gun at home / I don’t want love” – but the chorus and the trippy guitars were quite passionate. That’s what we were drawn to.

James Blunt – Fall at Your Feet, by Crowded House (1991)

James Blunt

I was 17 when I first heard this. I bought the Woodface album and would learn the songs to play to friends. Fall at Your Feet is amazing – I’d pull the guitar out and play it to my first girlfriend. It was something of a success story. She was hugely impressed: it’s a phenomenal song. Neil Finn is an inspiration for any songwriter. In fact, I did a cover of it.

Shirley Collins – My Dearest Dear (traditional folk song)

Shirley Collins

This is a folk song from North Carolina, collected in 1916 in the southern Appalachians by Cecil Sharp. I had moved from Hastings to London in 1954 so I could start looking in the library at Cecil Sharp House, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and learn more folk songs to sing.

One of the first I learned was My Dearest Dear, a beautiful song with such romantic words. Around this time, I fell in love with [US folklorist] Alan Lomax after I met him at a party thrown by Ewan MacColl. He was 20 years older than me. I’d heard him on the radio talking about his American collection, and when I saw him at the party I fell in love on the spot. I think it was because I loved the music so much. He was also this great big Texan with shaggy dark hair and big shoulders – he reminded me of an American bison, my favourite animal.

Later, I moved in with him. When he went back to America I thought that was the end of the whole thing, but after a few months he wrote me a letter asking me to join him on a recording trip in the deep south, so I caught a ship and joined him. We discovered the great blues singer Mississippi Fred McDowell, and some of the music we collected was used in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

We were together for four years, after which things went a bit awry. But I always end my shows with My Dearest Dear – it always reminds me of Alan. The first words are: “My dearest dear / The time draws me / When you and I must part / And no one knows the inner grief / Of my poor aching heart.” The audience is often in tears – blokes as well as women.

Wilko Johnson – Here Comes the Night, by Them (1965)

Wilko Johnson

Many years ago I was walking down the road in Canvey Island, Essex, and there was this girl I was taking out for the first time. This song was popular then, so to keep up my courage I started singing it. Anyway, she became my girlfriend and we were together for 40 years, until her death in 2004 from cancer. This song reminds me of her, even though it’s a terrible song of teenage heartbreak and love betrayed. For me it was more like, “The love of my life is coming,” because her name was Irene Knight. So I’m walking along singing, “Here comes the Knight” – meaning, “Here comes the big one.” And that’s what happened. She was mine all my life. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to now, but it’s such a great song.

Mø – Glory Box, by Portishead (1994)

MØ  or Karen Marie Ørsted

My first real boyfriend broke up with me, and the song that was my falling in love and breakup song was Glory Box. I was 17, in high school, a bit of a punk, into activism – I gave my parents lots to worry about!

I have a very strong image of me sitting in my childhood bedroom, with the lights all dimmed, listening to this on my ghetto blaster. I remember that I was super, super sad, but at the same time I felt empowered. I was growing up and becoming a woman, and I could handle this breakup. But really, I was devastated.

Barry Adamson – The More I See You, by Chris Montez (1966)

Barry Adamson

This takes me back to that golden period between nine and 11 or 12 when you had about 300 crushes on people. I’ve got this new EP coming out – Love Sick Dick – that harks back to that period. On the sleeve there’s a beautiful tapestry of a skeleton carrying a bunch of flowers and a letter, and I can imagine myself back then gliding into school with the flowers and the letter, trying to woo my intended.

There’s a darker, almost stalkerish quality to the lyric towards the end: “My arms won’t free you / My heart won’t try.” The other day I got a message on Facebook from a woman saying, “Do you remember me from school?” She was the friend of Julie, the girl I had the biggest crush on. It was unrequited, of course – that’s been a theme throughout my life.

Mike Oldfield – Wonderful Land, by the Shadows (1962)

Mike Oldfield at his home near Bristol, Britain - 11 May 2007Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX/John Lawrence (760277g) Mike Oldfield Mike Oldfield at his home near Bristol, Britain - 11 May 2007

My first love was Liz Taylor. Not that Liz Taylor – this one was from Reading. I was about nine and Wonderful Land had just come out. I thought it was the most wonderful thing ever. I wanted to play the guitar like Hank Marvin. One day, I was on the roundabout in a little playground with my friend when these two girls came in to play on the swings. One of them suggested going for a walk. So we went for a walk in the rain and, as we stood under a horse chestnut tree, I had my first kiss. It was so sweet and innocent.

Later, I did my own version of the song. And I almost met the other Liz Taylor. This was when I was going through my hermit period, around 1975, when I was living in Herefordshire. I got a telegram inviting me to come and join her and Richard Burton on their yacht in Antibes. And you know what? I turned it down. I was afraid. I had no confidence and didn’t like travelling. I’ve regretted it ever since.

Skin from Skunk Anansie – Getting Away With It, by Electronic (1991)

Titanic 3D - World Premiere - Inside ArrivalsLONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 27: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME. MANDATORY CREDIT PHOTO BY DAVE M. BENETT/GETTY IMAGES REQUIRED) Skin from Skunk Anansie arrives at the World Premiere of ‘Titanic 3D’ at the Royal Albert Hall on March 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)

I was on the floor, dancing with someone I was in a relationship with, and I suddenly realised this song summed up my situation completely: “However I look, it’s plain to see / I love you more than you love me.” I was about 21, it was a Friday night, and it was like a bolt of lightning to my very core. You know what it’s like being in love at that age. You don’t have any control. You give everything. It’s only after that first love you think: “I’m never doing that again.” The relationship lasted about another six months. One night, I went out to the Fridge in Brixton to lick my wounds and I had a very revealing outfit on, so I thought: “I’m just going to run home really fast.” As I got to my front door, some guy jumped on me and I screamed. I ran in and there she was with somebody else – she’d been seeing someone behind my back. I just packed my stuff and left. I covered the song on my solo album.

Nikolai Fraiture of the Strokes and Summer Moon – The Waiting, by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1981)

Nikolai Fraiture

In my day, the way you professed your love to a girl was playing her a mixtape. I was at in junior high in New York, and we’d have lunch on the benches in Central Park. And I had a mixtape with David Bowie and the Velvet Underground – and this song by Tom Petty. Specifically, the second verse – “Well yeah, I might have chased a couple of women around / All it ever got me was down / Then there were those that made me feel good / But never as good as I feel right now” – with the minor chords and the music. It really reminds me of that time, and the girl who became my girlfriend.

Alex Paterson of the Orb – Hong Kong Garden, by Siouxsie and the Banshees (1978)

Alex Paterson of pop group The Orb.

It was February 1978. I’d just turned 18 and was at a Siouxsie and the Banshees gig at the Greyhound in Croydon. I was a punk and got smacked round the mouth by a teddy boy. I landed between this girl’s legs, and she helped me put my earrings back into my lugholes. Then I met her again on the 68 bus home and snogged her. That was that, really. Until about nine years ago, when we got back together – we’ve been together ever since. There’s a Mills & Boon story in there. The song is all about Chislehurst, in south-east London. I used to go to art school there – the same one that Bowie went to – and the song was meant to be about a Chinese restaurant on Chislehurst High Street. It brings back a sea of memories.

Sharleen Spiteri of Texas – You’re So Vain, by Carly Simon (1972)

Singer/songwriter Sharleen Spiteri

There was a boy who lived down the street from my gran and grandad in Glasgow when I was seven. His name was Andrew and he was about 13. My sister and I tied him to a lamppost because she thought: “That way you can keep him where you want.” But it didn’t work. This song was constantly on the radio. I’m very clear about its meaning now, but back then I thought it was about being invisible to someone.

I was just a little girl – I wasn’t even on his radar. It came to a head when my cousin ran me over with his bike. My mum took me to the hospital and my lip was gigantic, with gravel in it. As I was coming up the road I remember seeing Andrew going the other way, with me trying to hide my lip. He was like: “Are you OK?” I was dazzled.

Conor Maynard – The Other Side, by Jason Derulo (2013)

Conor Maynard

It was only four years ago that I fell properly in love. This became our song. I even bought her a Build-a-Bear where you pressed the paw and it sang it! I was 20. I’d gone to a club where she was working as a firebreather and doing aerial hoops – a dancer, basically. Obviously, she caught my attention, and we started talking, and I guess it was the thrill of the chase. We were together for two and a half years. A year and a half ago I was on my laptop and this song came on. I had to run over to my laptop, close it and have a cold shower. In the corner crying, that kind of thing.

Andy Bell of Erasure – Careless Whisper, by George Michael (1984)

Andy Bell, singer from Erasure. photographed at his home in London on 16/02/15.

I’d just moved to London from Peterborough and my first real crush was a one-night stand. I met him at the nightclub Heaven. His name was Juan and he was from Puerto Rico. I was so shy, but I always had to make the first move on someone. This time, though, the guy came up to me, which made a change. We went back to the house I was living in, in Holloway, a gay cooperative, a real house of mad people. We had a great time and I didn’t really think anything of it after he went back to Puerto Rico.

Then, a few weeks later, I received this letter, in which he told me what a great time he’d had and dedicated the song Careless Whisper to me. I’d never really sat down and listened to the song properly so when I did, I got really teary, thinking of the guy. And every time Erasure played in Puerto Rico – probably about six times – I always wondered if he was still living there. It’s nice having romantic notions of somebody still being out there.

Mike Barson of Madness – Reason to Believe, by Rod Stewart (1971)

Mike Barson

I was about 16. I had this girlfriend and my best mate at the time started seeing her behind my back. She thrived on danger and blokes chasing her and one day she said: “Oh, I’ve just got to go and say goodbye to him.” And she came back three days later! He’d written her this love note with the lyrics to Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing, by Stevie Wonder – “Everybody needs a change / A chance to check out the new” – and I thought it was a bit poncey and pretentious. So I replied with a love note of my own, a rhetorical one, from the Rod Stewart song: “If I listened long enough to you / I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true / Knowing that you lied / Straight-faced, while I cried.” So I sent her that as a parting note and that was the end of my first love. My next girlfriend, Kirsten, inspired an early song: “My girl’s mad at me …”

Chris Difford of Squeeze – I Saw the Light, by Todd Rundgren (1972)


This would have been the first record I’d put on if I was bringing somebody back from the pub, rather than Black Sabbath, let’s say. Todd worked every time, with a box of chocolates and a joint. Something/Anything? had the longest side two of any album I had in my collection and that was enough for me to put it on the record deck, leaving me 29 minutes to make my approaches. I met Todd recently at a TV show. What impressed me was how big his hands were. They were like builders’ hands. I told him how important this song was for me, and another of his, We Gotta Get You a Woman.

Rod Argent of the Zombies – I Heard It Through the Grapevine, by Marvin Gaye (1968)

Rod Argent

I’d taken out lots of girls, but my wife was my first love. I was 22 and, just before the Zombies went to the Philippines for a big tour, I went to a party arranged by Molly Molloy, the dancer at our very first US show. Eventually, she moved over to England and formed a company and two of her lead dancers were Cathy Lawrence and Arlene Phillips. So they were at this party and I was completely smitten with Cathy. She had the most beautiful face I’d ever seen. I asked her out and I couldn’t believe it – she loved all the same music as me, from Muddy Waters to Motown, even the same jazz and classical. We were together for five years before we got married, and we’re still married and as in love as ever. I Heard It Through the Grapevine was our song. With so much craft and invention, it sums up everything that was fantastic about black music at the time.

Carol Decker of T’Pau – How Long, by Ace (1974)

Carol Decker

I always had a crush on somebody who was completely out of my league. When I was 17, I was living in Shropshire and there was a bloke called Julian, who was 21 and worked in the local travel agent. I thought he was gorgeous: he had dark skin, dark hair and always looked fantastically fit.

Anyway, there was a weekly disco at the local pub called the Star where everybody went. And I would worship him from afar, and he’d be very nice to me, but what I didn’t realise was he just thought I was a cute little girl, whereas I was in love. And we had this girl in our school a couple of years above me, she was just beautiful, her name was Jane – 5’8”, blonde.

And one day I was going to the Star to try to engage Julian in conversation and there they were smooching away to How Long by Ace. Ouch. And it was: “How long has this been going on?” I was just devastated, so much so that I went out and had my hair cut just like hers and bought some clothes just like hers. I was a bit Single White Female about it all, a bit bunny-boiler.

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze – Debora, by Tyrannosaurus Rex (1968)

Greenwich Summer Sessions 2011 photocall in Greenwich, London, Britain - 08 Mar 2011Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Fisher/REX (1294296c) Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze. Greenwich Summer Sessions 2011 photo.

I was 13 and, not coming from a fully functional home, was allowed to wander freely. As a consequence, I went to the 1971 Glastonbury festival and met a 22-year-old American woman called Debora, who I fell madly in love with. I hung out with her at the festival, and for three weeks afterwards, until she invited me to go round Europe with her: she was living in Notting Hill and picking up American Express payments from her parents every week. So I asked my mum, and she said, “No, Glenn, you’ve got to go to school!” So that was the end of that. At the time I was really infatuated with Tyrannosaurus Rex and so Debora – the song I used to play to her, and to myself – reminds me of that time when I fell uncontrollably in love with someone who was impossibly exotic. It was really something, none of which I regret. I’m fully aware of all the pitfalls of not being fully developed at 13, but it was still an amazing time and really nothing bad.

  • How about you? Share your stories and the songs that soundtracked your first crush in the comments


Interviews by Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp