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#sowhoknew: Which songs sum up your working life?

What songs define your ‘9 to 5’? Are you more ‘Whistle while you Work‘ or are you simply ‘Working for the Weekend‘? I’ve been a ‘Slave to the Wage‘ for 30 years now and my career has been defined by many songs in that time, so I’ve decided to select the top four tunes which have provided a musical soundtrack to significant aspects of my working life and I have also highlighted the reasons why these songs are so redolent:

Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi

I joined J Walter Thompson in Manchester in June 1987 as a naive curly haired Psychology graduate with high hopes of resurrecting my then defunct band (the highly underrated ‘Interstate 4’) and also to make my way out of media planning to carve out a career as a copywriter in the creative department. And, of course, neither of these plans ever came to fruition. Anyway, to marry up my musical pretensions with my new found calling in media, I used my solitary party piece at social functions – a blistering karaoke version of ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ by New Jersey pop rockers Bon Jovi. In all honesty, I wasn’t exactly the best singer but what I lacked in vocal talent I more than made up for with unbridled enthusiasm and the inebriated advertising folk who frequented the White Lion pub on a Friday night certainly seemed to appreciate my wholehearted commitment. After a few months of regular performances (I kid you not) I even used to get people requesting me to sing it. And, what’s more, some people I have reconnected with recently on LinkedIn and/or Facebook still recall it too. Heady halcyon days. Once upon a time, not so long ago…

Dancing in the Moonlight – Toploader

Fast forward just over a decade and we are gonna party like it’s 1999 in London at the Roundhouse for a Capital Radio bash. I was surrounded by colleagues and friends from around the industry but I only had eyes for my girlfriend Justine. She was working for another ad agency at the time and had been invited to the same function (which, incidentally, I was thrilled about). That was until she got a little over exuberant with the free flow champagne and combined it with ‘throwing a few shapes’ on the dance floor. Add to that equation a total lack of food and the net result was almost inevitable. You’ve probably guessed by now that she was (ahem) a little bit worse for wear and I decided to take her outside for some fresh air. And with the full moon shining bright into that dark December night, I gently held her hair whilst she violently vomited in the gutter to the rhythmic beat of Toploader pulsing away in the background. And as she sobbed and apologised in almost equal measure, for some bizarre reason, at that precise moment I just knew that I wanted to marry her. And a little over a year later, I did. The first song at our wedding? Ah you know… we get it almost every night, when the moon is big and bright, it’s a supernatural delight, everybody’s dancing in the moonlight…

What’s Your Flava? – Craig David

In 2002 I had made my first foray abroad to work for Initiative in Paris as the strategy director for Unilever. My French was rubbish (and still is) but I had lessons with my wife every single week. In fairness it did help a little (I wasn’t too bad at ordering in restaurants) but in the Boardroom? Not so much. At the time the internet was still in it’s infancy and any kind of home access was severely limited. The TV options were also pretty thin. We could get BBC1 and BBC2. And that was it. So we resorted to listening to music more often, particularly the French station NRJ which focused on chart music.

We often had the same station broadcasting in the office. On fairly heavy rotation at the time was the Craig David hit ‘What’s Your Flava’. Which frankly I thought was crap. But NRJ played it so often you simply couldn’t escape and it eventually invaded my brain. Even now, over 15 years later, every time I hear that number I can visualise my desk and my old boss Stephane Bodier choosing from his 3 packs of cigarettes – would it be a classic Marlboro Red (because he liked them the most), a Marlboro Light (which he said were for “his health”) or a Marlboro Menthol (which he said he used to “clear his palate”). Tell me, what’s your flava?

Rock of Ages – Def Leppard

Now I know that this song is from the 80’s but its significance for me lies in a ‘live’ version of the track from 2012. A good mate of mine, Benjamin Harries, was working at TBWA Denver at the time and I was travelling to New York on a business trip. I hadn’t seen him for a while so I suggested we meet up in the Big Apple as Van Halen were playing whilst I was in town. Then just a few weeks before the gig it was cancelled. I searched around for some NY alternatives but there wasn’t anything else on. So, I cast the net a little further and discovered that the Holy Trinity that is Def Leppard, Poison and Lita Ford were playing a gig on the same Saturday night. Result! Apart from one slight wrinkle. It wasn’t in New York. It was in Omaha. Nebraska. Undaunted I floated the idea past Ben. Unsurprisingly he thought I was off my proverbial rocker. But equally unsurprisingly for Ben, he was ‘all in’…

“I remember being at Denver airport and I bumped into a work colleague who asked me where I was going. I said “Oh I’m off to meet my old work pal Steve from England who now lives in Singapore and we are going watch to Def Leppard in Omaha Nebraska”. I realised how surreal it all sounded the second it came out of my mouth. I’ve since realised that music, friendship and work are all inextricably linked. Steve could have asked me to go and see KISS in Cape Town and I still would have gone.”

Now there’s an idea Ben. Never been to South Africa.

Anyway we booked the tickets, rearranged our flights, hired a Mustang (just Rollin’ in My 5.0) and connected for one of the best gigs that I (we) have ever witnessed. 60,000 crazy drunk Nebraskans and 2 starry eyed Brits rocking out at a U.S Enormodrome to 5 blokes from Sheffield. It’s better to burn out… than fade away!

As a quick sidebar, I had the good fortune to meet Rick Savage (the bassist for Def Leppard) a few months ago in the BA Lounge at Heathrow Airport and in the midst of our conversation I recounted this very story to him. His response? “Are you both f*****g mental?!” Well I suppose we must be because Ben and I have also done a few more gigs over the years (Bon Jovi in Boston, Motley Crue in New York etc.) but there will never be another Omaha. That said, I see that Skid Row are touring the U.S soon and I’ve never been to Gary, Indiana…

So there you have it, the four ‘Tracks of My Career’. Not necessarily a comprehensive list and some might say that my festive version of ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ has to be seen to be believed and as such should have been included. Best forgotten in my opinion.

I feel the need to add that these are not my favourite songs. However they are the ones that are most evocative of the people that I have worked with, the times I have spent with them and the places that my job has taken me to. And that’s the beauty of music I suppose – it provides us all with precious moments of poignancy. I remember each and every one of these tracks so vividly that every time I hear them I am immediately transported back to that exact moment in time and they never fail to either make me smile or bring a tear to my eye.

So what tunes stand out for you from your own work experiences? What are the tracks of YOUR career? Is there a particular song that encapsulates a monumental moment in your job journey? A melody that you recall with fondness or maybe one you absolutely detest? As ever I’d love to hear your comments / suggestions…

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.
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