By day he's the manager of football's Queens Park Rangers, by night he sings in a rock band: These are the 10 albums that changed the life of Gareth Ainsworth

Gareth Ainsworth in leather jacket and shades
(Image credit: Al Stuart)

When he was playing football for Wimbledon in the late 1990s, Gareth Ainsworth’s Crazy Gang team-mates came up with a nickname for him: Wild Thing.

“We were playing golf, and I was useless,” says Ainsworth. “Honestly, I was a danger to everything and everyone – people, windows. As I was playing, all I could hear in the background were some of the boys singing this riff and then bursting into Wild Thing by The Troggs. The whole club got behind it - when I scored for Wimbledon, they’d play Wild Thing through the PA.”

The nickname suits Ainsworth, who currently manages Championship side QPR and is probably the only footballer-turned-manager in history who can quote Jim Morrison and has a Sex Pistol’s number on his phone. When he’s not shouting from the dugout in a track suit, he moonlights as the singer in the rock band The Cold Blooded Hearts, who recently released their debut album, The Cold Light Of Day

The Cold Blooded Hearts group shot

The Cold Blooded Hearts (Image credit: Al Stuart)

“Music was always there,” he says. “My mum was a singer, a Brenda Lee/Dusty Springfield type who used to play the bingo halls in the north west, and even got a contract with EMI.”

In his teens, Ainsworth balanced his burgeoning football career with a sideline as a singer in various bands. “It was mainly covers – Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols, a bit of Duran Duran. We’d sometimes do a couple of three-chord songs of our own.”

As Ainsworth became increasingly in-demand as a footballer, he parked his musical ambitions if not his love of rock. At a time when most footballers were bang into pop or R&B, his love of Guns N’ Roses and The Who set him apart.

“In a crazy way, it enabled me to be a good footballer,” he says. “I felt different on the pitch, I felt like I was unique. That’s what the music does to you.”

After stints at Wimbledon, Preston North End, Walsall and Cardiff City, he moved to back to London to play for QPR. At the same time, he picked up the microphone again, joining the band Dog Chewed The Handle. His audition consisted of singing The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks and Molly’s Chambers by Kings Of Leon. 

“I didn’t tell them for a few weeks that I was a footballer,” he says. “I used to get off football early on a Saturday to get to the gig. When it came out, they didn’t give a shit.”

When QPR won promotion to the first division in 2003/2004, he took over the jukebox in the changing room. “AC/DC played a huge part in that,” he laughs.

Since he switched from playing to management, the pre-game soundtrack has changed. “These days, I’ve totally lost control of the jukebox before any game – I’ve no idea what they play. But I have kept hold of the last song. The moment they run out of the dressing room, I play Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. Once they hear that bassline, the boys know they’re in work mode.”

The Cold Blooded Hearts’ debut album – produced by Yes keyboard player Geoff Downes – wears Ainsworth‘s influences proudly: straight down the line 80s hard rock with a side order of late 60s/early 70s classic rock.

“When people ask, ‘Are you a footballer who thinks he can play music or a musician who got good at football?’, I always say I think I’m the latter. I love being up there and singing my heart out as much as I ever when I was playing.”

Unlike most fulltime musicians, Ainsworth has actually prepped a list of the albums that influenced him. “You’ve got to be organised,” he says. “It’s the manager in me.”


The Who – Tommy (1969)

“My dad was a massive rock’n’roll fan – he’d seen Hendrix in Blackpool in the 70s, and he was a big Who fan as well so I heard them growing up. Pinball Wizard was the song that stuck out for me, which was on Tommy. Tommy was something else. I’d never heard anything like it, or seen a film like it – it was this mad operatic thing. But it had some really strange stuff on there – Tommy’s Holiday Camp, Fiddle About… it’s pretty close to the mark. And Roger Daltrey, what a singer. He doesn’t get the same credit as your Robert Plants or Chris Cornells, but he deserves to right in there. Some of the notes he hits are incredible.

“It was through Tommy that I got into all their other stuff: Won’t Get Fooled Again, I Can See For Miles, all the great songs. One of the best gigs I ever saw was The Who at the Kentish Town Forum in London [formerly the Town And Country Club] years ago. It was a really small venue for them, and seeing these songs I’d been listening to since I was a kid up close was something else. The only negative aspect was that someone came on and said, ‘Please stop smoking in the front row, because it affects Roger’s voice.’ I thought, ‘That‘s not very rock’n’roll.’ But it was still an incredible gig.”

Def Leppard - Hysteria (1987)

Hysteria got me through my teenage years. The production on that album is unbelievable – the drums, the beats the sounds… it was electro-rock. Everybody had a Technics stereo back then, so you’d whack it up and get deafened by these booming beats. Even the ballads were OK. You’d be listening to Love Bites and Hysteria itself, and thinking, ‘Actually, I don’t mind this.’

“I’m really lucky in that football has meant I’ve met a few people who I might not have otherwise met. Joe Elliott’s a big football fan, and I’ve got to know him over the years. He sorted me out two tickets for one of the shows on their US tour a while ago – it was them, Mötley Crüe, Joan Jett, Poison. We were five rows from the front in this sold-out stadium with 80,000 people in it. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Those 80s hair bands were brilliant.’

Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)

“There are moments when you hear about a record and there’s so much anticipation around it, and that was Appetite For Destruction for me. I knew Sweet Child O’ Mine and maybe Paradise City, cos they’d put them out as singles, but I went down to a record shop called Reidy’s in Blackburn and bought the album. 

I put the needle down, there’s all this crackling, and then Welcome To The Jungle comes on – that riff, and then Axl coming in, it just blew me away. It was an absolute watershed moment for me. That song on its own made me think, ‘This is my favourite band.’ I was Guns N’ Roses mad for the next few years. Me and the rest of the world.”

The Doors – The Doors (1967)

“I started listening to them when I was 17 or 18 years old, and this album was such a big deal to me. The way Jim Morrison sings and delivers the lyrics were unique - he had such an edge. He gave a brilliant quote: ‘I’m interested in chaos and disorder, things that seem to have no meaning.’ People want chaos and excitement, and he delivered on that during his short lifetime.

“When the Oliver Stone movie [The Doors] came out, saw the film, it made me want to go and get the book No One Gets Out Of Here Alive, and I became even more of a Jim Morrison obsessive. I started trying to sing like him and perform like him. I took it the whole way – I had the leather trousers and the white shirts, I’ve got some Morrison beads on right now. I’m laughing, but that stuff makes a lifetime impact.”

The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (1990)

“This was kind of my entry into blues rock and southern rock. People talk about Hard To Handle or She Talks To Angels, but I love Twice As Hard, the second – when that opening riff comes out, wow. I saw Kelly Jones from the Stereophonics play it once with them, and it was just brilliant.

“I know they had quite an up-and-down relationship and they fell out loads, but they were just unbelievable on this record. Those early albums are all brilliant, but they’ve done some great albums since. There’s an album called Croweolgy, where they just strip back every song. If you’re into your acoustic stuff, that‘s a fantastic album.”

Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks (1977)

“I started getting into the Pistols in the 1990s, when I started reading about them. My brother was into the Dead Kennedys and some of the American punk bands, but it was the Pistols for me. The bollocks they must have had to sing about what they were singing about at that time - these guys were just ripped apart by the newspapers, but they influenced so many artists to get going. When you listen to Never Mind The Bollocks, it sounds like it was recorded yesterday, not in the 70s. 

“I exchanged numbers with [original Pistols bassist] Glen Matlock once upon a time. He’s a big QPR fan, so when I got the job, he texted me to say, ‘Congratulations, fucking awesome.’ I might be the only football manager to get a text off a Sex Pistol.”

Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet (1986)

“It’s another of those albums that go me through the 80s. If it was tough at school or I’d split up with a girlfriend I’d stick the music on and blow the shit out of the stereo system and instantly feel better. Livin’ On A Prayer, You Give Love A Bad Name, Wanted Dead Or Alive – they had so much energy.

“I’ve got to say now that I was a Bon Jovi fan for that one album. I could maybe cope with one or two songs from [follow-up record] New Jersey, but after that they sort of lost it for me. Cheesy romantic ballads? Nah, not for me. Slippery When Wet was their best album by an absolute mile. Did I ever have a Bon Jovi perm? No, I didn‘t go that far.”

WASP - Live… In The Raw (1987)

“I got it from a guy at school named Chris. He knew I was into Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses. I remember him bringing it in on vinyl and saying, ‘I hear you like your rock music, listen to this.’ We were the secret rockers at school, so it was like this sneaky meeting. I stuck it on and Welcome To The Electric Circus came on, Blind In Texas, Wild Child – it was this amazing sound, kind of raw. They were real performers, and that energy came through.”

Faster Pussycat – Faster Pussycat (1987)

“I remember reading an article at the time that said Guns N’ Roses were scaring the shit out of bands like Poison, but Faster Pussycat were the only ones who could keep up with them. I thought, ‘I thought, ‘I’ve got to listen to this band.’

“That first album, what a great record. Cathouse, Bathroom Wall, Babylon, Don’t Change That Song, City Has No Heart – it’s a proper LA rock record. At a different time, they would have been massive, but your Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crües and Skid Rows got all the attention. I used to play for Cardiff City, and one day they were playing in Cardiff. So we finished the game we were playing and went down there and saw the last couple of songs.”

Aerosmith - Permanent Vacation (1987)

“That’s another moment in time for me. A mate of mine had a black Volkswagen Beetle, and we drove all the way from the north-west down to the south to go to some festival – it might have been Glastonbury, I can’t remember - and we listened to that album on repeat. It had this cheekiness to it, which was perfect.

“For me, Aerosmith are one of the greatest bands of all time. Steven Tyler’s voice is just something else - I find it hard to believe that some of the modern singers will ever be remembered in the way that people like him or Axl Rose or Chris Cornell will be remembered.”

The Cold Blooded Hearts’ The Cold Light Of Day is out now on Cherry Red.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.