This article is part of our ongoing series 'Lockdown Listening' in which our writers share what they've been listening to during the London Coronavirus lockdown(s).
To listen to our writers' songs, follow and listen to our Spotify playlist.
This is little more than a glorified list of music that has, at various high and low points, defined my lockdown.
1. Black Sabbath- Planet Caravan (2012 Remastered)
People tend to remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about impactful moments in history. The Grenfell Tower fire, the US election… the first national lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic. I was listening to this song, and so I have chosen it as the inaugural track of my lockdown soundtrack. It was the first time I’d heard it, and while I knew very little about the band, this track took me just as quietly and unexpectedly as the radio broadcast announcing the lockdown news that morning. A reflective groove permeates the piece, creating a trance-like atmosphere that’s very distinct to the abrasive, decidedly heavy sounds of the rest of the album.
2. Odetta- Hit or Miss (Live)
To snap me out of that initial trance, I needed something infectiously positive. Odetta is often referred to as the “voice of the Civil Rights Movement”, and even though this song is not a protest song, its affirmative power is undeniable. This is a live recording from a club in Stockholm, and I much prefer it to the slightly more “coolly” produced studio album version- there’s a confidence in her animated growls that challenges you not to laugh.
3. Aretha Franklin- How I Got Over
As the lockdown progressed, I noticed the function of my listening shift from exploration and discovery to familiar and reliable comforts. I first heard the track ‘How I Got Over’ shushed inside Curzon Bloomsbury, watching the 2018 concert film ‘Amazing Grace’. The film features Aretha Franklin recording her 1972 live album of the same name, accompanied by her friend Reverend James Cleveland and his Southern California Community Choir, in the church where her father was pastor. Something about this familiarity between soloist, choir and space made the concert feel all the more special, so much so that it became the highest-selling live gospel album of all time. I can’t really call myself religious in any capacity, but the pure joy that this album and many other recordings of spiritual music exude is so universal that I think everyone can take something from it.
4. Miles Davis- I Wants To Stay Here (aka I Loves You Porgy)
The next track was recommended to me by a friend who’s music taste I desperately aspire to. It is based on the song ‘I Loves You Porgy’ from George Gershwin’s opera ‘Porgy and Bess’, and while the opera is bound up in controversy around the representation of black stereotypes, Bess' lines in the song seem to add a very real complexity to her character. In this instrumental version, Miles Davis adds more layers still, albeit through harmony and discord rather than words.
5. Olivier Messiaen- Quartet for the End of Time, VIII. "Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus"
In difficult times, we’ve got to allow ourselves a little bit of melancholy. The history of this piece is almost unbelievable; written for the only four instruments available to them, it was premiered by musicians in a German prisoner of war camp in the summer of 1941. The pianist was the composer himself, Olivier Messiaen, who was already known as one of the major composers of the 20th century. It epitomises the extraordinary efforts of musicians carrying on in adversity, which makes it all the more relevant to live musicians in this pandemic. The violin makes a slow ascent to the acutely extreme in both pitch and tension that is almost unbearable, creating a cathartic release at the end.
6. Frank Ocean- Godspeed
Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ is the defining album of any Frank fan’s summer of 2016, and so I found ‘Godspeed’ becoming my go to track for a dose of pre-pandemic nostalgia. It actually overlaps two devoted fanbases of which I’m guilty, as James Blake produced, arranged and played piano on the track. This is evident from the very start of the song, with an introduction panned perfectly for late-night listening on headphones. In a way it harks back to Aretha’s ‘Amazing Grace’, with gospel-style organ and backing vocals. Think what you may, I think it’s pretty perfect.
7. Idris Muhammad- Could Heaven Ever Be Like This
Finally, we all need a bit of a boogie now and then, especially when we can’t go out. Let the legendary beats of Idris Muhammad get your two hips moving.
If you, like me, have turned to music to escape the monotony, I hope you’ll make your own list. It’s quite therapeutic, and we all need something while we wait for the vaccine.
Angela Lochmueller, February 2021
Other articles in the 'Lockdown Listening' series:
Go to this Spotify playlist to listen to all the songs mentioned throughout the series!