Mood Music: heading home for Christmas? Hazel Sheffield has a playlist for you, ranging from the States to the Pennines...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2013
SIMON AND GARFUNKEL HOMEWARD BOUND
A commemorative plaque marks the spot at Widnes station where, in 1965, Paul Simon is said to have written this love song to his girlfriend, Kathy Chitty, who was in London. In the quiet verses, Simon muses on the magazines and cigarettes that fill lonely hours on tour, but in the chorus he races home with a steam-train chug.
ARCADE FIRE WE USED TO WAIT
A piano ostinato runs mercilessly through this single from Arcade Fire’s third album, "The Suburbs". The album was Win Butler’s letter from his childhood home in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. In this song he describes waiting for a real letter, and makes it a crescendo of impatience for a portal to the world outside.
ST VINCENT CRUEL
St Vincent is Annie Clark, the disarmingly beautiful Oklahoma-born singer and guitarist who specialises in turning her internal battles into material. In the video for "Cruel", we see her nightmarish vision of suburbia as she is kidnapped by her own family and buried alive in their front yard. Not since Stepford have picket fences seemed so sinister.
RYAN ADAMS OH MY SWEET CAROLINA
In one of the most plaintive tracks on his debut album "Heartbreaker", Adams takes us with him as he roams America. We hear about Houston, Cleveland and Vegas, but they all pale beside his sweet Carolina. When Emmylou Harris shadows his vocal in the chorus to ask "What compels me to go?" the quietness of their questioning feels electric.
JONI MITCHELL CALIFORNIA
A more joyful American homecoming. After a tough break-up with Graham Nash at the end of 1969, Joni set off for Europe, only to discover that she could never stay. "It’s too old and cold and settled in its ways," she sings over the sunny jangle of an open-tuned guitar.
ARCTIC MONKEYS FAKE TALES OF SAN FRANCISCO
Before the Arctic Monkeys decamped to Joshua Tree to make stadium rock, they were just four scraggly boys from Sheffield capturing small-town pretentiousness in pithy northern lyrics. "You’re not from New York City," spits Alex Turner on one of the first tracks they ever wrote, "you’re from Rotherham." Hometown magic.
GIL SCOTT-HERON YOUR SOUL AND MINE
Terror bleeds through this poem, from Scott-Heron’s final album "I’m New Here" (2010). In its original incarnation as "The Vulture" in 1970, the words were sung, backed by a bluesy piano. Forty years on, the vulture that picked through the ghettos is inside Scott-Heron’s head.
BOB DYLAN LOVE MINUS ZERO/NO LIMIT
Bringing it all back to 1965. For the itinerant young Dylan, home was a person: Sara, his first wife. Three simple descending chords sit behind this ode to her. Its crowning lyric—"She knows there’s no success like failure, and that failure’s no success at all"—rings with the courage he found in someone who saw that he could never live up to the world’s demands.
All songs at iTunes.
Hazel Sheffield is the assistant editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. She lives in New York