All the Top Five Lists from High Fidelity
- Alex Johnston
- 13 April 2015
The List celebrates the many lists of High Fidelity, published twenty years ago this week
'Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?'
Nick Hornby's debut novel High Fidelity was published 20 years ago this week, and Stephen Frears' equally-beloved movie adaptation was released 15 years ago last month. The book was an immediate success, but the film lingered in development until the studio cast John Cusack in the lead role of lovelorn record-store owner Rob Gordon and brought in his scriptwriting partners Steve Pink and DV DeVincentis on the strength of their collaboration on the gloriously dark 1997 assassin-in-love story Grosse Point Blank.
The book is set in London and the film in Chicago, but they both tell the same tale. Thirtysomething Rob has broken up with long-term girlfriend Laura on account of his failure to become more mature. Can he grow out of his obsessive music-nerdery, learn from his mistakes and become worthy of her?
The film is beloved for many reasons, including Bruce Springsteen's droll cameo as Rob's spirit guide; Joelle Carter as Rob's ex, Penny, whose explosion of rage at the way he misremembers their break-up is one of the film's most poignant moments, and leads to one of its funniest lines; Jack Black, swaggering into movie immortality as Rob's exuberantly obnoxious employee Barry; and Tim Robbins' wonderfully sleazy turn as Laura's new man, 'that f***ing Ian guy'. But the glue that holds it together is Cusack's gloomy charm as Rob, and his chemistry with co-star Iben Hjejle.
Rob and his co-workers' way of bringing some sort of order to a chaotic world is to make lists of everything, and in celebration of that, here are the lists of High Fidelity:
1. Rob's desert island, all time, top five most memorable breakups
- Alison Ashworth (Ashmore in the movie)
- Penny Hardwick
- Jackie Allen (Alden in the movie)
- Charlie Nicholson
- Sarah Kendrew
Rob subsequently amends this list, replacing Jackie with Laura, admitting that Jackie was only in there 'to bump you out of position, Laura.'
2. Penny Hardwick's top five recording artists
- Carly Simon
- Carole King
- James Taylor
- Cat Stevens
- Elton John
3. Barry's 'top five musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the 80s and 90s'
Barry never actually lists these, but you can be sure that 'I Just Call To Say I Love You' would be on it.
4. Rob's top five favourite books
- Cash by Johnny Cash;
- Snow Crash by Neil Stevenson;
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig;
- The Trouser Press Guides to Rock
- and 'I don't know, probably something by Kurt Vonnegut.'
5. Rob's top five favourite films
- Blade Runner;
- Cool Hand Luke;
- 'the first two Godfathers, which we'll count as one';
- Taxi Driver;
- The Shining.
6. Your top five worst things that you have done to your partner, even if – especially if – your partner doesn't know about them
'Pencils down. Okay, so who's the asshole now?'
7. Top five things Rob misses about Laura
- Her sense of humour ('very dry, but it can also be warm and forgiving');
- character ('loyal and honest');
- her smell and the way she tastes;
- how she walks around;
- the way she rubs her feet together when she can't get to sleep.
8. Barry and Dick's top five songs about death, 'a Laura's Dad tribute list'
- 'Leader of the Pack', the Shangri-Las;
- 'Dead Man's Curve', Jan & Dean;
- 'Tell Laura I Love Her', Ray Peterson;
- 'One Step Beyond', Madness;
- 'Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald', Gordon Lightfoot.
Barry briefly included 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' by the Rolling Stones but then ruled it out because of its appearance in The Big Chill.
9. Rob's top five side one, track ones
- 'Janie Jones', The Clash;
- 'White Light / White Heat', Velvet Underground;
- 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', Nirvana;
- 'Let's Get It On', Marvin Gaye;
- 'Radiation Ruling the Nation', Massive Attack.
10. Rob's top five angry songs about women
Rob never finishes this list: 'You kind of have to start with Elvis Costello, but where?'
11. Songs Rob would like to have sung at his funeral
- 'Many Rivers to Cross', Jimmy Cliff;
- 'Angel', Aretha Franklin;
- 'and I've always had this fantasy that some beautiful, tearful woman would insist on "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" by Gladys Knight. But who would that woman be?'
12. Rob's top five dream jobs ('Hey, that's private!')
- Journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, 1976–1979;
- producer for Atlantic Records, 1964–1971;
- any kind of musician ('besides classical or rap');
- film director ('any kind except German or silent');
13. Rob's desert island top five
- 'Sin City', Flying Burrito Brothers;
- 'New Rose', The Damned;
- 'Hit It and Quit It', Funkadelic;
- 'Shipbuilding', Elvis Costello;
- 'Mystery Train', Elvis Presley;
- 'Spaced Cowboy', Sly and the Family Stone.
Which is actually six, but Rob finds this list almost impossible to complete, and subsequently asks if he can change it.
High Fidelity is available to watch on Amazon.