Life in Lockdown: Homeward Bound

Welcome to The Head’s weekly blog. Each week Mr Neil Smith will be writing a blog post for you to enjoy. This week’s theme is music.

Over the course of the next few weeks, when most members of the School are going about their business remotely, it will be important for everyone to think about ways in which they can maintain links with each other beyond the tyranny of the ‘ping’ every time a message comes through via whatever social media platform is this week’s fave.

It is also a time, however, when we all have an opportunity to try to expand our cultural horizons and try something different, whether it be a new author, journal or magazine, TV show, instrument (!), or musical artist.

Attempting to blend both the need to maintain a common purpose and the opportunity to develop a broader palette I will endeavour to curate a new playlist for the perusal and enjoyment of all each week. I can’t promise that you will like all (or any?) of the songs, but you will not lose anything beyond 4 minutes of your time listening without prejudice and experimenting with artists and styles of music that you would not otherwise listen to.

This week’s playlist features the following songs:

‘Left To My Own Devices’ by Pet Shop Boys

Possibly my favourite song by one of my favourite groups. A massively over the top Trevor Horn production creates a glorious piece of house-influenced pop with the perfect blend of laconic verse and ultra-catchy chorus.

Che Guevera and Debussy to a disco beat.

‘Need Your Love’ by Tennis

Partially included to represent something from 2020, this track has a great mix of time signatures, tempos and melodies. Like something that Carole King (and why not try her debut album, Tapestry, while you are it) would put out if she wasn’t 78 years old.

‘Band On the Run’ by Wings

What do you do when you leave The Beatles? If you’re Paul McCartney you go on to make some of the great albums of the next 30 years as well. The title of the track of his 1973 classic album shows off his talent for musical invention, lyrical inanity and having probably the greatest ear for melody of anyone in history. It’s easy to criticise Macca’s post-Beatles output, but please do not do so in earshot of my office.

‘Road to Nowhere’ by Talking Heads

Early in my teaching career I had the bright idea of getting the choir of my House to sing this in the annual House choir competition. Absolute, unmitigated disaster. On every level. This may not be Talking Heads’ best song, but it is better than 93.45% of songs by any other band.

‘Shake It Off’ by Taylor Swift

With much of the planet in the grip of a pandemic, the title of this slice of Swift meant it was too easy to include in the first playlist. And…it is one of the best pop songs of this, or any other, millennium. 

‘Release Me’ by The Like

There might be something of a retro feel to this track by LA daughters of new wave rock royalty; which testifies to the universal appeal of good music no matter its vintage. (And that there are not actually that many ways to write a cracking pop song.)

‘America’ by Simon and Garfunkel

Since first hearing this track I have developed a deep suspicion of everyone I meet on public transport. Listen to the lyrics and you will too. Paul Simon wrote all of his duo’s output, but it is Art Garfunkel who gets the credit as the main vocalist of the pair. America, however, is a fine example of the delicacy and emotion which Simon can also get across when he gets the chance to sing his own songs. 

‘Tainted Love’ by Gloria Jones

Most people’s exposure to this track has come via the incredible cover of it by synth duo Soft Cell, and not via the original version by Northern Soul legend, Gloria Jones. A stomping floor-filler, it also works surprisingly well on acoustic guitar (perhaps something for week 37 of self-isolation…) One for pop trivia fans: what is Ms Jones’ link to one of the 1970s’ major entertainment tragedies?

‘Yes’ by McAlmont and Butler

There is a remarkable number of great songwriters who are History graduates: Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys); Paddy MacAloon (Prefab Sprout); Neil Sm and Bernard Butler is another who put his study of the past to good use. This was his first hit song after leaving Suede, and it is an absolute belter.  His partner in this duo (yes, another one) brings a vocal range and power which takes Butler’s musical vision to a different level.

‘Everything I wanted’ by Billie Eilish

So, practising what I preach, I ventured into musical territory which I had hitherto not explored. I also know that this weekly playlist needs to include something more contemporary, if only to encourage those with slightly older tastes to sample what is hugely popular at the moment. I assume most people reading this know far more about Billie Eilish than I do, and I guess I don’t need to tell you she has performed the theme for the new James Bond movie, set in a busy cafe: ‘No Time to Fry’.

‘Carolina’ by Harry Styles

I have never heard of Harry Styles but believe he was once part of a short-lived boyband. He seems like a nice chap and I hope he can carve out a career in the music business.

‘Boomerang’ by Lucy Schwartz

Anyone who has seen ‘Shrek’ will recognise Lucy Schwartz’s voice, as she sang one of that film’s most poignant songs, ‘Darling I Do’. ‘Boomerang’ has a different feel, but has the same memorable sound. It is also featured in the final episode of TV comedy, Arrested Development.

‘Lost in Music’ by Sister Sledge

I’m not sure that there are many guitarists who can claim to have developed a sound as distinctive as Nile Rodgers. Whether it be directing Chic, writing for Sister Sledge, or co-writing Let’s Dance with David Bowie he leaves a musical imprint which is unmistakably his. Sister Sledge had other hits, but this is their finest.