Songs act like signposts in your life, sticking out and flagging up a particular time or person or memory. This is particularly prevalent with the sad stuff. Maybe it’s because in times of sadness we seek solace in the music that reflects how we are feeling, whether it be to escape, contextualise, or (more likely) wallow. That or I’m just an emotional fuckwit.
The Slow Show- The National
An intensely personal song, indelibly linked with a tumultuous, complicated and ultimately failed relationship that, one way or another, has defined a life (mine) for the last few years.
A trundling, drowsy lament to being a tipsy div desperate to get home to his missus, it’s two songs in one. The second is a repeated refrain: “you know I dreamed about you before I saw you/I missed you for 29 years.” Those lines still kill me every time, and though much of that is wrapped up in the crushing demise of the relationship with the girl I thought I was going to marry, it’s also because it’s full of hope: the weary type of hope that forces dipshits like yours truly to blame salty eyes on errant dust. I don’t believe in fate or any of that bollocks, but I do believe that there are certain people who have the ability to make another person genuinely happy, and that if you have the fortune of meeting them it’s the closest thing to fate you can encounter. This tune sums that up perfectly for me.
Louis Armstrong- What A Wonderful World
I was 16 or 17, and furiously uncomfortable around too many family members at my Grandad’s funeral. I remember being surprised that no-one was crying, that everyone seemed, for wont of better word, happy. It disconcerted me, it didn’t make sense, I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting smiling faces and slaps on the back.
The coffin was at the front and after the vicar said his bit and just before they chucked it in that horrible oven they played ‘What A Wonderful World’. People were milling around and my uncle Rog walked up to the coffin. In many ways Rog was the closest to my Grandad and we all knew his passing would affect him most. He had kept it together ridiculously well until then, making jokes and cutting jibes, as is his style. He put both hands on the coffin and looked down at it solemnly, breathing slowly; as he did so, he flashed purple and violently jolted into tears, spluttering them onto the coffin like raindrops. His grief flicked something in me. I followed suit, and ran outside as quickly as possible for fear of showcasing a bit of my soul to those that I’d previously kept it well hidden from. As I fell out the door my brother grabbed me, crying on my shoulder. I looked around and everyone was doing the same, and even though it was desperately sad that we wouldn’t see that man again, it was fitting that in his death he’d managed to smash down the barriers that still manage to divide families.
Tom Waits- Martha
Written when he was only 24, this song, told in the first person from the viewpoint of an old man calling an ex he hasn’t seen for 40 years to tell her he’s never stopped loving her, showcases Waits’s freakish songwriting abilities better than any.
The idea that you can spend a lifetime wallowing in unrequited love is almost unbearably sad, but the manner of the delivery from Waits shows that life goes on regardless, that it needn’t stop you forging a happy life even if internally you’re bedevilled by what-ifs, and that you should count yourself fortunate to have at least had the chance to feel that way in the first place.
I love everything about Yeasayer, but for me they will always be defined by the line out of ‘Ambling Alp’:”the world can be unfair place at times/ But your lows will have their compliment of highs.”
More than any song in this relentlessly self-indulgent list, it has associations with one specific moment; me and my missus had broken up the day before I was going to Truck festival, and there was some discussion on whether I would go. I did, and in the car there I was in a total daze, outwardly okay but inside feeling like the strands of my life were unravelling. My mate Rupert had this on a mix CD. It had always been a favourite tune of ours and he knew more than most what I’d been going through; he’s a loud motherfucker at the best of times, but as this line played out he shouted it out and slapped me round the head. It made me realise that I didn’t have to sit around being an interminably miserable bastard, listening to The National five times a day.
Laura- Bat For Lashes
A melancholy gem telling the story of hero worship and the loneliness that can stem from total love, it doesn’t get much more affecting than Bat (aka Natasha Khan) crooning “you’re the train that crashed my heart/You’re the glitter in the dark/ Oh Laura, you’re more than a superstar.”
I was at Bestival last year and had gone to watch Bat by myself. It was a great gig and everything, but when she dropped this halfway through the set I swear she put a whole field in stasis. I’d made friends with a little group next to me; I’d been totally transfixed by Khan as she sang it, but towards the end I looked to my side and one of the girls was in floods of tears. I put my arm round her and asked if she was okay, and she said she was. She’d never heard the song before. After the gig a fella proposed to his fiancée on the stage’s big screen, which I thought was a bit corny and naff. Then I heard screams and cheering about 20 feet from me and walked over. Turned out it was the couple, who were surrounded by a 100 or so people taking pictures, and he was spinning her round and round and round. In that moment the couple seemed to represent all that was good and possible in the world. I bounced back to my tent.