If I have gifted anything to our son it’s a true respect for music. This classical, contemporary, poppy, all-consuming, proper love affair with the subject is a fairly standard thing to pass on to a child, maybe, but I am loving the way he uses it, and how his usage echoes my own at the same age of 14.
It’s all about close contact: music is cranked up in the car, and it’s on while he’s working. There’s music on the bus, on the train, in the kitchen, in his head, in the bathroom. Lyrics are everywhere, in everything, and there’s a crucial need to stop the clock at any given time to search for a track, look up the words. Best of all, he’s already found in music that vital medicinal quality that a good song can have for the soul after a very bad day. Once he asked Alexa for ‘sad songs’ and she found him a whole channel dedicated to the subject. That cheered him right up.
My own sad mix was an outstanding compilation that really should have been turned into a proper album and sold at HMV. Recently I stumbled across Hazel O’Connor’s Will You? and all those songs popped up again, the ones I played on repeat from c.1983 onwards, any time I felt down. At some point I stopped sobbing (as Chrissie Hynde once instructed) and tucked the tape into a shoebox full of half-torn photos and poetic scraps but it’s still there, faded title spelling out ‘SAD MIX’, as if the scrawled playlist hadn’t already given the game away.
The songs have a synaeshetic quality for me now, wafting out:
• The Mary Quant White Shimmer lipstick we all wore at weekends
• The Anais Anais bottle gifted from Mum to sister, sneakily spritzed when I got the chance
• Body Shop’s floral White Musk, applied behind the ears of every girl in town
• Patchouli joss sticks from Queens Crescent Market constantly on the go in my pale pink bedroom, coiling smoke towards the ceiling as reedy chords plucked out minor notes.
And if sadness is a colour it’s the little red ON light of my beloved Sony Walkman, tucked under the pillow, feeding ballads through sponge headphones, making tears roll down my nose as I sobbed myself to heartbroken sleep in the dark.
I think this is the full list. These days I can only manage about five before I have to switch to something happy. If I can get the boy to unplug himself for five minutes I might show it to him, and tell him that although it’s pretty rough right now, it’s great that he gets lost in music like I did, because I know it will get him through the night.
• Will You? – Hazel O’Connor
• Shipbuilding – Elvis Costello
• Fools In Love – Joe Jackson
• Killing Me Softly – Roberta Flack
• Romeo & Juliet – Dire Straits
• Hard To Say I’m Sorry – Chicago
• Every Breath You Take – The Police
• Perfect Day – Lou Reed
• Willow – Joan Armatrading
• Empty Chairs – Don McLean
• It Makes No Difference – The Band
• Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel
• I Want You – Elvis Costello
• Wasted Time – The Eagles
• Lord Franklin – John Renbourne
• Help Me Make It Through The Night – Gladys Knight
Here, have a tissue. And a happy track. You’re welcome.
NB In the 90s, the saddest song of all time came out (written and released by Prince some years before). It’s one of those tunes where the opening chords alone are enough to punch a hole through your heart. It echoed my very real break-up, the first line eerily mirroring the exact timings of events as they occured. I still can’t speak when it sneaks its way onto the radio, so I’ll mute it while you listen.