A playlist for 2015

As a way of commemorating 2015 for my daughter, I’m putting a ‘time capsule’ together for her; a box of items that represent the year in which she was born. Music was something that I felt was crucial to this, so I put together a playlist of my favourite songs from the past year. Sadly though, so far it is just that – a playlist. It’s not something physical that I can put in a box for her to be able to play and listen to when she’s old enough to understand. It’s times like this I miss being able to make a genuine mix-tape, but then the format of the cassette tape is now something that most people won’t be able to physically play anymore, and going forward it’s likely to become completely obsolete. CDs are following close behind, and perhaps in time soon, too, will memory sticks. 

Currently, my best bet in giving my daughter a physical compilation of music I’ve made for her is to put it on a memory stick and keep my fingers crossed that she’ll still be able to access the files at any time she wishes well into the future. In reality though, who knows what format people will be listening to music to in 20+ years time. It’s not unrealistic to think that the playlist of music from her birth year won’t always be accessible to her in the years to come, and that makes me feel quite sad. 

The way we listen to music has evolved so much from the past century that it can become hard to hang on to some of the albums and compilations that have been the most important to us, unless we constantly stay on our toes and continually update it and upload it to our new devices. At the moment I listen to most music on Spotify, which I admit somewhat guiltily as it’s music I don’t actually own, detaching me further from making that emotional connection to the album and the artist. Having the music in a physical format allows you to make more of that real connection to music – by physically having to go out and purchase an album, you have to go through a certain thought process in deciding to buy it, something that you don’t have to do when you’re casually listening to music on Spotify. In investing more money in an album, you’re therefore invested in listening to it – really listening to it; playing it over and over, sitting down and giving it your proper attention, and turning it into part of the soundtrack that formed a certain part of your life. 

I’m concerned that this is an experience that my daughter might not have growing up, and that perhaps the music that I’ve compiled for her – something that I’m hoping will be important and precious to both of us – might not be something that she can actually keep hold of, and that would be tragic. 

I hope as the music industry marches forwards, that we can become more connected to it, instead of more disconnected, and that we’re again able to treasure the music that we love instead of only accessing it somewhere out there in the ether. 

Follow, Richie Havens

Follow was written by Jerry Merrick for Richie Havens, which appeared on Havens' 1967 release, Mixed Bag. I first heard it watching one of my favourite films Hideous Kinky, in which it was used as part of the soundtrack. 

Havens does real justice to the poetic and beautiful lyrics of Follow with his buttery, soulful voice. His voice has a soothing quality that is somehow wonderfully comforting, and emotionally compelling. If anyone could sing from the soul, he could, and I can't imagine anyone else making this song more beautiful than he does.

There's a gentleness to Follow, both in terms of the lyrics and the thoughtful way in which it's sung, that I find incredibly moving. 

Let the river rock you like a cradle
Climb to the treetops, child, if you’re able
Let your hands tie a knot across the table.
Come and touch the things you cannot feel.
And close your fingertips and fly where I can’t hold you
Let the sun-rain fall and let the dewy clouds enfold you
And maybe you can sing to me the words I just told you,
If all the things you feel ain’t what they seem.
And don’t mind me 'cos I ain't nothin' but a dream.

The mocking bird sings each different song
Each song has wings - they won’t stay long.
Do those who hear think he's doing wrong?
While the church bell tolls its one-note song
And the school bell is tinkling to the throng.
Come here where your ears cannot hear.
And close your eyes, child, and listen to what I’ll tell you
Follow in the darkest night the sounds that may impel you
And the song that I am singing may disturb or serve to quell you
If all the sounds you hear ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ‘cos I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

The rising smell of fresh-cut grass,
Smothered cities choke and yell with fuming gas;
I hold some grapes up to the sun
And their flavour breaks upon my tongue.
With eager tongues we taste our strife
And fill our lungs with seas of life.
Come taste and smell the waters of our time.
And close your lips, child, so softly I might kiss you,
Let your flower perfume out and let the winds caress you.
As I walk on through the garden, I am hoping I don’t miss you
If all the things you taste ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ‘cos I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

The sun and moon both are right,
And we’ll see them soon through days of night
But now silver leaves on mirrors bring delight.
And the colours of your eyes are fiery bright,
While darkness blinds the skies with all its light.
Come see where your eyes cannot see.
And close your eyes, child, and look at what I’ll show you;
Let your mind go reeling out and let the breezes blow you,
Then maybe, when we meet, suddenly I will know you.
If all the things you see ain't what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ‘cos I ain’t nothin’ but a dream .
And you can follow; And you can follow; follow…

The Suburbs, covered by Mr Little Jeans

I have to listen to a song numerous times before I really appreciate and fall in love with the lyrics, but The Suburbs by Arcade Fire stood out pretty much straight away. There's something intensely nostalgic and even tactile about them that really appeals to me. It talks of the passage of time, and memories of growing up. As I prepare to have my daughter it feels more potent to me now than when I first heard it. 

Although the original is Arcade Fire, I adore the cover by Mr Little Jeans, with its slow pace and seductive bass it complements the nostalgia of the lyrics perfectly, giving it a wonderful melancholy that means I always have to just stop everything I'm doing to pause and listen to this song. 

My friend, who lives in LA, introduced me to it while we were on a road trip to Kathmandu, travelling from Tibet. It was oddly perfect to listen to while twisting down the winding and treacherous roads, where all the sound and bustle of the surrounding landscape and activity momentarily paused, drowned out by this music, like nectar trickling down the headphones. 

In the suburbs I
I learned to drive
And you told me we'd never survive
Grab your mother's keys we're leaving

You always seemed so sure
That one day we'd be fighting
In a suburban war
Your part of town against mine
I saw you standing on the opposite shore
But by the time the first bombs fell
We were already bored
We were already, already bored

Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling
Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling again

Kids wanna be so hard
But in my dreams we're still screamin' and runnin' through the yard
And all of the walls that they built in the seventies finally fall
And all of the houses they build in the seventies finally fall
Meant nothin' at all
Meant nothin' at all
It meant nothin

Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling
Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling and into the night

So can you understand
Why I want a daughter while I'm still young?
I wanna hold her hand
And show her some beauty
Before this damage is done

But if it's too much to ask, it's too much to ask
Then send me a son

Under the overpass
In the parking lot we're still waiting
It's already passed
So move your feet from hot pavement and into the grass
Cause it's already passed
It's already, already passed!

Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling
Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling again

I'm movin' past the feeling
I'm movin' past the feeling

In my dreams we're still screamin'
We're still screamin'
We're still screamin'

Rooster, Alice in Chains

There are some select Alice in Chains songs that I have a particular respect for; they're the ones you can unfailingly hear real emotion behind, something that I feel is all too rare in so much music today. Rooster is the most profound for me. It was written by Jerry Cantrell who wrote it for his father, Jerry Cantrell Sr, whose nickname was Rooster and served in the Vietnam War. 

This was taken from a 1992 interview of Cantrell speaking to Guitar for the Practicing Magazine, and it was in response to the question, "Do you feel you communicate with (your father) with this song?" This is his response:

"He's heard this song. He's only seen us play once, and I played this song for him when we were in this club opening for Iggy Pop. I'll never forget it. He was standing in the back and he heard all the words and stuff. Of course, I was never in Vietnam and he won't talk about it, but when I wrote this it felt right...like these were things he might have felt or thought. And I remember when we played it he was back by the soundboard and I could see him. He was back there with his big gray Stetson and his cowboy boots — he's a total Oklahoma man — and at the end, he took his hat off and just held it in the air. And he was crying the whole time. This song means a lot to me. A lot."

Ain't found a way to kill me yet
Eyes burn with stinging sweat
Seems every path leads me to nowhere
Wife and kids, household pet
Army green was no safe bet
The bullets scream to me from somewhere

Here they come to snuff the rooster, oh yeah
Yeah, here come the rooster, yeah
You know he ain't gonna die
No, no, no, you know he ain't gonna die

Here they come to snuff the rooster, oh yeah
Yeah, here come the rooster, yeah
You know he ain't gonna die
No, no, no, you know he ain't gonna die

Walkin' tall machine gun man
They spit on me in my home land
Gloria sent me pictures of my boy
Got my pills 'gainst mosquito death
My buddy's breathin' his dyin' breath
Oh God, please won't you help me make it through?

Here they come to snuff the rooster, oh yeah
Yeah, here come the rooster, yeah
You know he ain't gonna die
No, no, no you know he ain't gonna die

In the Pines

There are few songs that well and truly stand the test of time. In the Pines is also known as Black Girl, or perhaps is best known as Where Did You Sleep Last Night made famous by Nirvana. But its origins date back much further. 

Going back to at least the 1870s the song is thought to have originated in the deep south, or specifically the southern Appalachian Mountains. Since that time the song has been passed on through generations as an oral tradition. It seems that the lyrics have changed a number of times, perhaps in a way similar to Chinese whispers, but throughout the different versions that have been produced through time, its general meaning has remained the same. 

The first known commercial version of the song was recorded by Dock Walsh in 1926, and since then numerous artists (a full list can be found on Wikipedia) have recorded different versions of the songs. In fact, an article in the New York Times from 1994 reports that Judith McCulloh, a student who researched the song for her dissertation in 1970, found a total of 160 different versions of the song. The better known artists to have recorded them have been Lead Belly, Nirvana, and Dolly Parton. 

All versions of the song refer to a murdered man, girl, or woman (frequently the person is described to have been decapitated, and the body never found), and the pines, where the sun doesn’t shine and the wind blows cold. The pines themselves depict a lonely and hopeless place, where a girl has been forced to go due to unfortunate circumstances. 

There’s a tragic, eerie quality to the song, which feels more profound when thinking back to its roots and origins. That the author of the song is unknown imbues ‘In the Pines’ with a sense of mystery, and adds to its haunting nature. 

An interesting article about the song in the New York Times (entitled A Simple Song That Lives Beyond Time) said something that particularly resonated with me: 

“Why does a song like ‘In the Pines’ endure and permutate so insistently? The answer may be that its essence is not a specific story or even a music style but the kind of intensely dark emotion that, as is the case with much in American music, survives longer in popular memory than does treacly sentiment.”

The song has certainly endured, and continues to do so. When speaking of the song, Dolly Parton says that the song was passed down through many generations of her family. “I don’t ever remember not hearing it and not singing it,” she says.

Yet oral traditions are dying out. The way in which we pass on stories to our children is changing. Stories and songs passed down by parents and grandparents to younger generations was traditionally an oral history, sung or spoken. Stories were then succeeded by literature in the form of books, and then by TV and movies. Oral tradition was carried on for longer in songs, before it was succeeded by records, cassette tapes, CDs, and now in an even less tangible, digital form on iPods, laptops and such. 

But In the Pines is still around today, and I find there is something quite magical about that. Something has struck a chord in popular culture that has allowed this old song to stand the test of time. Perhaps it’s that ‘dark emotion’; the simple yet effective melody that, when combined with the tragic lyrics, carries a real sense sadness and hopelessness. When you listen to it, no matter who it is sung by, you’re still able to feel that enduring emotion, and to catch a glimpse of another place and time long ago, and we’re able to relate that place and time even today.

Here’s Lead Belly’s version:

Black girl, black girl, don’t lie to me.
Tell me, where did you sleep last night?
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shine.
I shivered the whole night through. 

Black girl, black girl, where will you go?
I’m going where the cold wind blows.
In the pines, in the pines,
Where the sun never shine.
I’ll shiver the whole night through. 


My husband was a railroad man,
Killed a mile and a half from here.
His head was found in a drivers wheel
And his body hasn’t never been found.

Black girl, black girl, where will you go?
I’m going where the cold wind blows. 
You caused me to weep and you caused me to mourn
You caused me to leave my home.

Lateralus, Tool

I think it’s rare when you find yourself particularly moved or impressed by lyrics. There are just a handful of songs that really stand out to me in terms of the thought and consideration that have gone into the lyrics to tie them so perfectly to the music. 

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about for a number of weeks now (I like to procrastinate), and so I decided to write a series of blog posts about songs with fantastic lyrics that really stand out to me, and I’m going to begin with Tool’s Lateralus. 

And what an incredible track it is. With a slow and steady build (with a drum beat that emulates a heart beat at first), it breaks after about a minute into a series of powerful riffs that pull you through the ensuing eight minutes in an all-encompassing spiral of sound.

This is a song that you shouldn’t take for granted. Every detail has been carefully considered and tied together. This song is a real piece of craftsmanship. 

Lateralus is based around the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144), which is a mathematical sequence that appears naturally in biology to create spiral shapes, such as an uncurling fern, the arrangement of a pine cone, or the intricate pattern in the head of a sunflower

This sequence has been fully incorporated into the song; in the first verse, the syllables are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 5, 13, 13, 8, 5, 3 (see lyrics below). The sequence gets to half way in the verse before ‘spiralling’ back on itself to return to the beginning, before unfurling again. 

The time signatures in the chorus change from 9/8 to 8/8 to 7/8 (987 is the 16th number of the Fibonacci sequence), which also symbolises a spiral. 

The spiral is omnipresent in Lateralus. It’s mentioned explicitly at the end of the song, (“To swing on the spiral,” and “Spiral out”) as well as having the spiral literally written into the very foundations of the music. 

It’s all very clever, and better still it’s a really great track even if you didn’t know anything behind the song.

As for the lyrics themselves, they’re very ‘cosmic’. It might even be considered pretentious if everything else about this track wasn’t so damned cool. What’s it about? My interpretation (and I think the obvious one) is that it’s about ‘unfolding’ yourself and opening up to all the possibilities that are available to you in life and embracing them. Keenan’s singing about relying on impulse and intuition, feeling connected to the world, and letting life take you on whatever journey fate brings. But really, it’s open to the listener’s interpretation. 

Tool aren’t on Spotify, but you can listen to Lateralus via YouTube, or better still, just buy the album (also entitled Lateralus).

Black (1)
then (1)
white are (2)
All I see (3)
In my infancy (5)
Red and yellow then came to be (8)
Reaching out to me (5)
Lets me see. (3)
There is (2)
So (1)
Much (1)
More and (2)
Beckons me (3)
To look through to these (5)
Infinite possibilities. (8)
As below so above and beyond I imagine (13)
Drawn beyond the lines of reason (8)
Push the envelope. (5)
Watch it bend. (3)

Over thinking
Over analysing
Separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition
Missing opportunities and I must
Feed my will to feel my moment
Drawing way outside the lines.

White are
All I see
In my infancy.
Red and yellow then came to be
Reaching out to me
Lets me see
There is
More and
Beckons me
To look through to these
Infinite possibilities.

As below so above and beyond I imagine
Drawn outside the lines of reason.
Push the envelope.
Watch it bend.

Over thinking
Over analysing
Separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition leaving
All these opportunities behind.
Feed my will to feel this moment
Urging me to cross the line
Reaching out to embrace the random
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come. 

I embrace my desire to
Feel the rhythm
To feel connected
Enough to step aside and
Weep like a willow
To feel inspired
To fathom the power
To witness the beauty
To bathe in the fountain
To swing on the spiral
To swing on the spiral
To swing on the spiral
Of our divinity and
Still be a human. 

With my feet upon the ground I lose myself
Between the sounds
And open wide to suck it in
I feel it move across my skin.
I’m reaching up and reaching out
I’m reaching for the random or
Whatever will bewilder me, whatever will bewilder me
And following our will and wind
We may just go where no one’s been
We’ll ride the spiral to the end
And may just go where no one’s been. 

Spiral out.
Keep going...