Richard John Parfitt’s Stray Dogs is a dark and funny coming-of-age road trip novel.
Jon Langford wrote of the book:
“Richard John Parfitt has been writing taut, tense, economical rock songs since he lived in the same block of flats as my grandmother in Croesyceiliog South Wales. His band the 60ft Dolls ruled the roost in my hometown back then. Now he writes taut, tense, economical, prose and this novel is as fierce, catchy and full of hooks as any of his brilliant songs.”
There’s a picture of me sitting in the driving seat of the family Ford aged fourteen – too young to drive but clutching the steering wheel while looking out of the side window with a big grin on my face. I used to sit in that car and listen to the radio, tuning those silver dials and dreaming about driving somewhere faraway.
A lot of the songs mentioned in Stray Dogs appear because someone turns on the car radio or puts a tape in the cassette player. Other songs included on this playlist are ones that inspired my imagination and so helped me shape the characters and story.
Here they are in sequential order.
I watched a lot of French movies while writing this novella and [track 1] is from the Jules et Jim soundtrack. Dubbed the ‘Mozart of cinema’, Georges Delerue composed for both Godard and Truffaut, and Vacancies perfectly sets up the opening scene in Stray Dogs. It’s just so innocent and free spirited.
Rocket to Russia was the first punk rock album I owned and seemed to be played at just about every basement party as well as the school canteen. Whenever I hear The Ramones, Sheena is a Punk Rocker [track 2], it takes me back to late ’78, and for that reason I include it here.
Jeffrey Lee Pierce from The Gun Club has one of the greatest off kilter vocal styles in rock. Every time I hear him sing I remember what being a juvenile felt like. The Fire of Love was an album I played while writing Stray Dogs, and Jack on Fire [track 3] has an otherworldliness that to my mind, disorientates and heightens the senses in much the same way as does the poetry of William Blake.
Spotify has a lot of spoken word poetry available to stream, so I have included The Road Not Taken [track 4], read by the poet Robert Frost. There’s something incredibly intimate about hearing a literary work in the poet’s own voice. Anyone who reads Stray Dogs will realise the significance of The Road Not Taken, as the theme recurs throughout the novel, and starts when Turner gets into a disagreement with his teacher about the meaning of a poem.
Stevie Nicks has all the flair of a white Welsh witch even when she’s not singing Rhiannon, and when our band of outsiders leave the city and head for the provinces, Millboy turns on the car radio and the sound of the greatest soft rock song of all time, Dreams [track 5], places the story at a certain time and introduces a ‘crystal vision’ that stays with them for the duration of the trip.
When they get to the Neon D one of the Devil’s Children puts a coin in the jukebox and ZZ Top’s La Grange [track 6] starts up. That fat John Lee Hooker riff quickly clears a space in the diner for a mighty brawl. If you’re going to have a fistfight with a biker I can’t think of a better song.
After they leave the Neon D, Frankie searches for a cassette tape and finds a ballad that in many ways foreshadows the chain of events that follow. The song isn’t named in the story but it’s Riders on the Storm [track 7] by The Doors.The line ‘Into this world we’re thrown’ is a perfectly phrased reading of what’s about to happen to them.
There is something deliciously sinister about the Teddy Bears’ Picnic [track 8], and when Turner & Co. go down in the woods to eat al fresco, I found the playful nature of this lyric lightened the mood before things start to get mean again.
I always think of Frankie Lee as a young Blondie fan. Not least because early in the story she buys a leather jacket, cuts her hair and bleaches it to look like Debbie Harry. At one point Frankie turns on the car radio and Union City Blue [track 9] is playing and they all start singing along: ‘What are we gonna do?’ Meanwhile Clem Burke’s motoric drumming just drives the story along.
Movies like Taxi Driver and Pretty Baby capture the creepy media fixation with teenage nymphets that was around back in the mid to late ‘70s. I made a playlist of titty bar tracks that included glam stomper Hot Child in the City and Bad Girl, but the one that worked best was the dispassionate and distant The Model / Das Model [track 10] by Kraftwerk. ‘For beauty we will pay’.
The power of song choice is that it can tell you a lot about a person. Toward the end of the book, Turner hitches a ride with a trucker who shares his smokes and love of music. In this case You’re Looking at Country [track 11] by Loretta Lynn. The trucker doesn’t have to say anything, we just need to know the brand of his cigarette, his beer, and which radio station he listens to, and we probably know as much about him as his wife.
When looking for a vocal to communicate sweet melancholy and heartbreak, look no further than Karen Carpenter singing Yesterday Once More [track 12]. The last song referenced in the book and the last one on the playlist:
‘When I was young I’d listen to the radio.’
Richard John Parfitt is a writer, musician and academic. Born and living in south Wales, he spent two years as a teenager not going to school in Toronto, Canada. In the mid 1990s he was founder member of rock group 60ft Dolls, scoring a top 40 album and a number of hits. The group played with well-known bands like Oasis, Dinosaur Jr, and the Sex Pistols. As a songwriter and musician, he has worked for many high-profile artists including Dido, Duffy and McAlmont & Butler. As a writer, he was shortlisted for the New Welsh Review Rheidol Prize. He has also had work published in Planet: The Welsh Internationalist, The Conversation, and Wales Arts Review, The Portland Review and Red Pepper.