In 1996, at an age when no one should be making life-changing decisions, I packed my bags and moved from the USA to the UK. It had been a longtime dream to live there and surprisingly easy to trick a Brit into marrying me. Thus it was so, until 2011 when I returned to the states.
My obsession with the land of tea bags and dysfunctional royalty began in the 1980s with the arrival on our fair shores of their New Romantics. Posters of Duran Duran, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and ABC served as bedroom wallpaper and from there it was only a matter of time before I discovered The Smiths, The Cure, Tears for Fears and countless others.
I didn't care for America's offerings, thank you very much. What was the point of Madonna or Van Halen when you could have men in makeup with cute accents and kicky synths, being emo before anyone knew what emo was? It wasn't long before I was venturing into far-flung corners of the city to find newsstands selling Smash Hits, the iconic UK-based pop music magazine, pouring over its pages and wondering whether Tower Records had the new Sigue Sigue Sputnick cassette in stock.
So when I finally landed in great Great Britain, I immediately immersed myself in the music. Finally, I was listening to the fabled sounds of BBC Radio 1 and Top of the Pops was on my telly every Friday night. And even now, there are songs that bring back memories of my first few years there - trying to settle in, assimilate and make the place my home.
Stranger in Moscow - Michael Jackson
Not long after arriving in England, I moved from a grim, northern, industrial town to a grim, northern, seaside town. Usually a hotbed of activity during the summer months, this was the winter and it was cold and abandoned. Still waiting for my visa to work and battling some serious homesickness, I spent most days wandering around the empty streets and deserted beach, trying to fit into this strange, new home. Even going into a shop made me self-conscious as I knew as soon as I spoke, my accent would pick me out as a foreigner - something uncommon in those parts.
Jackson's song had recently been released and would often play in my head during these long, rambling walks under grey skies, through incessant drizzly rain. The music's melancholy lyrics of loneliness and isolation ("how does it feel when you're alone and you're cold inside") narrated my inner feelings, while the sparse beauty of the song's melody echoed the bleak splendor of the 12th century castle ruins whose grounds I'd often find myself traversing.
2 Become 1 - The Spice Girls
In the UK, having the number one song on the charts at Christmas is a huge deal. It's the time of the year with the biggest sales and the country holds it collective breath until it's officially announced. This song was the first of three consecutive Christmas number ones for The Spice Girls and the first Christmas number one of my 15 years there.
By this time, I was starting to appreciate my new home - I was calling fries 'chips', putting vinegar on them and loving the history of my surroundings (living a few blocks from a building where Dickens gave readings of his books was pretty damn cool).
This song, an undeniably great pop ballad, was the soundtrack to a month that found me starting to feel more of a part of life around me. I was learning to love the opportunity I had living abroad and feeling excited about all the new experiences it offered. Hearing this song now brings back the distinct memory of sitting on the couch in my stamp-sized flat, watching the video for this little slice of pop perfection on Christmas Top of the Pops and beginning to feel truly happy with where I was.
Three Lions '96 - Baddiel & Skinner feat. Lightning Seeds
You're not a true resident of the British Isles until you've immersed yourself in the football (soccer) culture. Baddiel and Skinner - comedians and football fanatics - teamed up with the Lightning Seeds to record this paean to English football. It was the team's official anthem for that year's European Championships and was subsequently rolled out for every other big England game over the years to come.
This was the song that truly made me feel like I belonged - I learned the words, the history it referred to and sang it with the crowds at the pub during big England games. Nothing brings a nation together like sporting pride and as long as you were cheering for the home team, it didn't matter where you were born.
A second version, with different lyrics, was released a couple of years later, but this remains my favorite of the two and still occasionally gets played on my laptop when I'm missing England. My feelings of homesickness are now for Blighty and my struggle today is to find my place back the country where I was born.