Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Songs that saved your life... 

BBC 6 Music's poll of 'songs that saved your life' reveals that The Smiths' I Know It's Over is the song that has most saved its listeners' lives. I'm not exactly surprised, given that the title of the poll is a Smiths reference, which arguably made a Smiths-y outcome inevitable. This song, from the greatest album ever The Queen Is Dead was for a very long time my favourite Smiths song, but I can honestly say that it more often led me on the path to self-destruction than saved me from it. I can't say that lyrics like 'Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head' are the most obvious thing to pull people back from the brink.

But there's a strong case for songs like this helping people precisely because they allow us to wallow in our depression and feel that someone else does understand. That's a cheesy thing to say, because not all of us are crying out for someone to understand us, but I Know It's Over, as one respondent said, does often feel like 'a giant pair of arms coming out of the speakers to hug me'. Morrissey, throughout his career, has been the lyricist par excellence for creating a feeling of sympathy, without ever allowing the listener to become too self-indulgent. So even in the depths of despair, we're invited to mock ourselves a little, with lyrics like 'If you're so very entertaining, then why are you on your own tonight?' with the response 'I know, 'cause tonight is just like every other night'. An exemplary song from his solo career is November Spawned A Monster, which is much harsher than most - 'Sleep on and dream of love, because it's the closest you will get to love' - but still manages to have sympathy with its subject.

The other songs in the poll could be categorised corresponding to the types of people who listen to them, whether terminal manic depressives like me, people who look to music in crises or people who just want something fun to get them out of a funk every once in a while. So in the first category would be I Know It's Over, The Cure's Pictures of You, Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart, Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb and perhaps Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees. As with I Know It's Over, all these other songs arguably envelope the listener in a wall of sound to fit the mood, allowing thoughts and feelings to be focussed in sound rather than inside. None of them are telling the listener to get over it and have some fun. I'll come clean now and say that all of them are prominent in my music collection, and so it's interesting that they are also more prominent than most in the 6Music poll - perhaps it's a self-selecting audience, and obscure music obsessives are all just social inadequates...

The second sort of song/listener would include things like REM's Everybody Hurts. They have cross-over appeal, and nobody would just say you were being a miserablist for listening to them, but at the same time they serve a similar purpose to the previous category, while at the same time allowing that these things do pass and everyone has problems sometimes. It's the sort of thing a permanent depressive in an irritable mood could get disgusted with, but most people find touching and powerful.

Lastly, there are the bouncy songs, which are really annoying. Bowling For Soup, The Darkness and The Beatles are among the artists listed here. The songs all just cloy at you and grate on your nerves if you're really down, saying 'Come on! Stop being a misery guts and get on with life!' If anyone suggested one of these songs to me as a way to get out of depression, I'd probably punch them. I mean, dammit, it's like they want us to be happy!

(Cheers to Constant Reader for passing on the link)

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