Growing up, Chris Cheney had a vibrant family life with no shortage of great music.
His parents loved Rod Stewart, Meat Loaf, Neil Diamond and the Bee Gees.
I’ve always thought about songs very visually. So when Mum and Dad were playing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, it was like watching a movie.Chris Cheney
Perhaps tellingly, his dad drove trucks in the '50s and was a ‘bit of a greaser’ and mum was a huge Elvis fan. They never pushed it that kind of music and culture onto him though, which leaves him slightly puzzled as to why he gravitated so heavily toward the rock'n'roll of the 50s.
He recalls seeing Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly on TV and being fascinated with the '50s look in movies like Grease. He’d go to his friend Errol’s house and listen to more Elvis, deepening his love of the music of the era.
He developed an interest in the guitar and the guitar playing on those records was so phenomenal, which only drew him to the music more.
"I couldn’t care less about Nirvana and Guns N' Roses after that," he says. "I just felt that the rock'n'roll I was listening to was the real rebellious rock'n'roll. That was the original kind of punk rock.
So I felt a connection with that, especially because no one else liked it. I didn’t feel like the odd one out – I sort of did but in a good way – for me it was like, 'why isn’t everyone listening to this stuff? This is the best music ever!'"
But the song that’s left the strongest imprint on him doesn’t come from that era. It comes from Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. He remembers his parents spinning that record on their turntable repeatedly.
"I’ve always thought about songs very visually, so when Mum and Dad were playing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, it’s like watching a movie," he says.
"I can picture all the characters. Something like 'Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding', as a kid I can remember hearing that and it was like from another galaxy, because of the synthesizers and it's really haunting and it breaks into this incredible jammy rock song."
Recognising the scope and the ambition of this epic Elton John song but also the ease with which it unfolds has been a huge inspiration for Chris.
"Being able to write something that seems like it just flows… His chord changes and structures are quite tricky but they don’t sound it; they’re just beautiful songs. And when you put the lyrics on top, it should just feel like you’re telling a story, the listener shouldn’t have to concentrate.
"I mean it’s busy and there’s a lot going on, but you could strip all that away and just have the piano chords and the vocal and it would work a treat. That’s the gauge on any song. You should be able to sit with an acoustic guitar or piano and just thump it out. It should have all the emotion and right parts there and then and then you sprinkle everything else on top and hopefully not stuff it up."
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Chris Cheney on Don't Look Back.