(From The Guardian UK daily, 16 September 2005.)
Readers Recommend Songs About Change
by Dorian Lynskey
Recently, the Guardian's Culture Vulture blog asked readers to recommend songs that dealt with the theme of change. At the time of writing, there are 438 responses, including: an essay on folk legend Phil Ochs; an animated discussion of the Wombles; a brief squabble over John Lennon's Imagine (I'm with the haters); a couple of good jokes (Turning Japanese - very droll); one person regarded the whole exercise as "a bit of a silly idea" (thanks for that, Andrew, do come again); and 414 different recommendations, ranging from Doris Day to Throbbing Gristle.
There were songs about every possible variety of change: political, social, cultural, emotional, seasonal, chemical, physical and the kind you get given in shops. The idea is not to find the "best" songs, because "best" is boring and invariably involves reaffirming the excellence of the Beatles, Radiohead et al for the thousandth time. It's to create a thematically coherent 10-song playlist each week with a mix of genres, eras and moods. Some songs you'll already know; some, hopefully, you won't, and will be tempted to discover. Think of it as trying to burn a CD with 400 other people, only with fewer rows and insults than that would normally entail. Explaining your suggestions will help. To the people who wrote, "Need I say more?": yes, you do.
Some of the more oft-cited songs that didn't make the cut this time were The Times They Are a-Changin' (too predictable), Wind of Change by the Scorpions (I'm saving it for a lean week when we have to resort to choosing tracks with whistling) and Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road, which is ghastly, gusty nonsense about cars and gee-tars.
And so to the final 10. Only a fool would dispute the greatness of Nina Simone's Feeling Good ("it's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me") but I also have a soft spot for Muse's version, because Matt Bellamy's shrill hysteria is such a departure from Simone's resonant optimism; he sounds like a supervillain anticipating world conquest. Change by Killing Joke is goth-funk sturm und drang; released in the same year but a world away, Diana Ross's disco celebration, I'm Coming Out, is happiness itself.
Several votes for the Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season), which was written by Pete Seeger as a veiled critique of the Vietnam war, and so segues nicely into the Clash's insurrectionist racket, White Riot. Then the Who rain on the parade by suggesting revolution changes nothing: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Their rendition at Live8 provided the fiercest, most questioning moment of the day.
Next we have three songs reflecting on changes in circumstance. On Things Done Changed, the Notorious BIG surveys his crack-torn Brooklyn neighbourhood and gives the hip-hop cliche "back in the day" a poignant spin. Pulp's Something Changed contemplates the chance epiphanies on which life pivots. And St Etienne's Teenage Winter is a Londoner's lament for fading youth: "Aussie bar staff playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers" is a scenario only marginally less chilling than BIG's marauding crack dealers.
The final choice is also the most frequently nominated. Sam Cooke's Dylan-inspired, lump-in-the-throat protest song mourns both racial intolerance in Louisiana and his infant son's fatal drowning. No wonder it was played by displaced New Orleans DJ Nick Spitzer during his first post-Katrina radio show. Heard with that in mind, it brings you to your knees.
This week's top 10
1 Feeling Good Muse
2 Change Killing Joke
3 I'm Coming Out Diana Ross
4 Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season) The Byrds
5 White Riot The Clash
6 Won't Get Fooled Again The Who
7 Things Done Changed Notorious BIG
8 Something Changed Pulp
9 Teenage Winter St Etienne
10 A Change Is Gonna Come Sam Cooke