Music I’m currently writing to

Well, not exactly. I don’t – as in, I emphatically can’t – write directly to music (I also don’t smoke or take recreational drugs, which, on reflection, adds up to quite a big fly in the ointment of my teenage dreams of being a staff music journalist…) But I listen to a lot before and after writing, particularly when writing fiction. Since I spent last week at a writing retreat doing just that (proper, over-excited-review-type blog and photos to come tomorrow…) here are some of the songs keeping me going through the novel I’m currently working on (with YouTube links where I could find them. They’re all on Spotify too).

  • Le Tigre – Deceptagon Classic riot-grrl anthem. If this doesn’t give you energy nothing in the world will. Good for running as well as writing. [NB: It’s very sweary…]
  • Martha Wainwright – Jesus and Mary For when you’re left holding the shitty end of the stick. If you’re in that kind of mood, also check out the similarly-sentimented but more tender A Sorta Fairytale by Tori Amos – probably in my all-time top 5/10/whatever.
  • Tanita Tikaram – Good Tradition Tanita was big in the late 80s/early 90s for about three minutes and this song sounds a bit like Kirsty MacColl, which is a Very Good Thing. She’s also approximately the second good thing ever to come out of Basingstoke.
  • Kirsty MacColl – They Don’t Know and A New England These songs make me want to dissolve into a ball of teary snot. Really selling this, aren’t I? No, really, go and listen to them immediately. Else I’ll sing They Don’t Know at you and shout “Baby!” at the wrong moment and then where will you be….
  • Rod Stewart – Maggie May An anthem to the fact that being screwed around by lovers your own age behaving accordingly is one thing, but it’s the ones old enough to know better that really sting. This is one of those classic singles I grew up with that spoke to me later on. I don’t care that he looks like a walking fried breakfast; there’s something brilliant about the sense of youthful heartbreak and of time lost to something futile in his raw, strained vocals and killer lines: “The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age, but that don’t worry me nothing, to me you’re everything…” and “All you did was wreck my bed, and in the morning kick me in the head…” 
  • Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love I added Born To Run to my running playlist a few weeks ago off the back of a chat with a new bud I met serendipitously on Twitter and ended up marathoning his greatest hits like, well, like a boss (boom). If “When the lights go out it’s just the three of us – just you and me and all that stuff we’re so scared of” doesn’t sum up your relationships, either you’re lying or I want your brain. Dancing In The Dark deserves an honourable mention for the line: “I’m dying for some action, I’m sick of sitting around here trying to write this book…” 
  • Ladyhakwe – Anxiety There’s barely a Ladyhawke song in existence that isn’t brilliant, but this nails what it’s like to suffer from anxiety and look for something or someone that helps you out of it.
  • Shakespeare’s Sister – Goodbye Cruel World I once posted the video of this on Facebook and got an “Are you OK?” message from someone who killed himself a while later. Which in a dark way is sort of funny. It’s not actually a very depressing song at all – good honest pop from the era of good honest pop.
  • Mario Basanov – Slip Away Sounds like he’s part of that cosmic disco thing that was going on the last time I read NME. I first heard him in a cafe near St Pauls Cathedral I dived into at 5pm to finish the last of an article after chucking-out time at the Guildhall Library, if you’re interested.
  • The House of Love – Shake and Crawl Album track by a largely forgotten band, with a barrel of emotional associations.  One of my social media accounts is named after it –  about two people have ever recognised that and about two have ever asked.
  • Cat Power – Manhattan Dinner party cliche I know but I love her voice and would love to see her live, where I’m sure she’s as good as Bat For Lashes, who I have seen. Her cover of Ramblin’ Man – Rambling (Wo)man – is sex on a plate, also. 
  • Deep Purple – Strange Kind Of Woman Makes me smile for a couple of reasons. One being the memory of someone turning to me and saying: “You’re a funny old bird…!” I’m not arguing with that…
  • Fiona Apple – Sleep To Dream When I was at school Fiona Apple was the singer you were meant to be into if you were a girl who read books beyond your English syllabus and didn’t fancy anyone from Five or The Backstreet Boys. I dismissed her thinking she’d sound like everyone I’d ever heard already. Among the many things I was wrong about age 16, that was one. Her contralto vocals are great, as is the chorus: “This mind this body and this voice cannot be stifled by your deviant ways. So don’t come around, I’ve got my own hell to raise.”
  • Tupac and Dr. Dre – California Love Hip-hop had a few decent years in the mid-90s. This, Blackstreet’s No Diggity, Mark Morrison’s Return of the Mack, bits of SWV/En Vogue and a couple of other singles, are basically the .1% of hip-hop/R&B I like. It’s the hooks. And hell, when you’re writing about grim things, a rap about California sun breaks up the doom a bit.
  • Joanna MacGregor – Moondog I don’t know nearly enough classical music. If you don’t either, or you want something new, start with Joanna. She is in the large pile of ‘artists I meant to check out as a teenager, but didn’t manage to scrape together the money and recently discovered on Spotify for free – hooray!’ 
  • Abraham – Blue For The Most Remember that Dido/Zero 7 vibe everything had circa 2001? Rueful voice and trip-hop beat? This is that, but rawer, better because you haven’t heard it in the changing room at Next 800 times.
  • Goldfrapp – Head First I know everyone hated the album it’s from but frankly this song reminds me of the first genuinely pleasant time I got cheeky * so ‘everyone’ can bugger off (* um, because it was the first upbeat song I could think of in the morning, not because of the title, although, yup, it works that way as well. Ahem. NEXT…
  • Helen Watson – Too Bad I’m A Millionaire Because I have an acute sense of irony, clearly (you’ve probably never heard of Helen. And you should have – she’s a brilliant folk-jazz singer)
  • Amy Winehouse – Back To Black. The song and the whole album I was very early to Amy, courtesy of being on student-media arts desks when her record company were pushing her very first singles (ten years ago – eeek!), but didn’t feel able to relate to her songs until I was older, even though we were the same age. I started listening to this album properly a couple of years ago for Reasons when I was first researching the book, and hearing the opening lines of Back to Black properly for the first time was like being hit with a wrecking ball. Her gift is in being direct where most of us would only dare be euphemistic or allegorical. I don’t actually listen to the song when I’m in a writing flow; if I did that I’d get nothing done whatsoever. But as I’ve spent much of the last two years listening to it and getting nothing done whatsoever, and am now trying to write my way back out of the hole, it sort of feels as though it belongs here. I was so into the album at one point that I named one of my cats Amy after her and sang my own, rather sacrilegious, cover version of Wake Up Alone. 
  • Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer But of course. This was playing at the end-of-year bop shortly after I picked up my undergrad degree result by voicemail from one of my tutors, who very kindly gave me the heads-up before the lists were officially published because I was legitimately concerned I mightn’t have done well and he wanted to reassure (NB: Nothing seedy, he was happily married and old enough to be my ancestor; just one of life’s good eggs…). It just reminds me of being very happy indeed.

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