Lockdown might be “over” in the UK – insomuch as the Government seems to have washed their hands of responsibility for it – but there are a lot of people still trying to reduce their contact with the outside world, in circumstances where they can’t control potential contact or transmission.
That, of course, is continuing the isolation for many such people, and thus is not going to be dealing with issues of acute loneliness that some might be feeling. This consideration – and hearing the first song in this week’s list just a week or two ago – got me thinking about this subject. Perhaps unsurprisingly there are an awful lot of songs about loneliness – both of themselves and of others – and thus there was a rich seam of great songs to pick up on from it. There were 146 song suggested, of which just eight had been used before. 129 unique songs were suggested, by 79 people – thanks again to everyone who gets involved.
I should add – moving to the coast, and away from the bulk of our friends, has at least so far not made us lonely down here, far from it in fact. We’ve had various friends visit across the summer, we’ve been back to London a few times, and we’ve found things to keep us busy. Loneliness has, interestingly, been far from my mind at least.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
Failure’s epic masterpiece Fantastic Planet is often described as a space-rock album – both in sonic and lyrical terms – but a surprising amount of the album is rooted on earth. Particularly the most uptempo song, Pillowhead. Just over two minutes long, it packs a lot in. Ken Andrews is lonely, that much is clear from the song. But he has ways of dealing with this: sleeping alone at night, hugging his pillow tightly, realising that at least his pillow won’t let him down, tear his life apart or make a dismal existence even worse. The triumph, though? Making such a dark, lonely existence sound so fucking joyous (honestly, this song is a live highlight every single time).
/Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret remains a much-loved album for a good reason – not only was it transformative in terms of synthpop, in helping to resurrect Northern Soul, and also putting Soho on the map again – but it also very much tapped into the isolation and difficulty of youthful life in the big city. The cascade of synths and tinny beats of Bedsitter, though, is perhaps the most important moment. Marc Almond is coming down from an epic night out, stuck in a lonely bedsit with little else to do, no money (they spent it all going out), and no real hope.
Fuck, I’ve been there. I think it was most of my Uni life in particular, as socialising was always around a drink, going out, clubbing, music, and then it all felt rather empty, and terribly, terribly lonely at the end of it. Sometimes I think it’s a little remarkable that I got out of the other side of that.
/Alone Again Or
Originally written and released by Love in the late sixties, it has also been covered by the Damned along the way, but I have to admit that I prefer this surprisingly jaunty take on it by Calexico. That brighter nature to it perhaps is down to the song being about being perfectly happy with the lonely state, as if that was seen as a better option than with dealing with yet more of the other’s shit (not coming home, staying well away). So they choose loneliness, rather than more unhappiness.
One of the sprawling epics that peppers the still-extraordinary Siamese Dream, this song perhaps best explains the situation Billy Corgan had found himself in during the creation of this album. They’d only released one album previously (Gish), and were already splintering at the seams, with Corgan ending up famously recording pretty much all of this album himself (with Jimmy Chamberlain on drums, of course). This song drips with sadness, and loneliness, and for the first half of the song, is barely there – gently strummed guitars and Corgan’s hushed vocals, as he wallows in his isolation. Then, out of nowhere, the song explodes into the kind of soaring epic that only the Pumpkins of their peers were ever able to nail (every single time), complete with the most over-the-top guitar solo you’ll hear from the time. Maybe loneliness suited Corgan, and pushed him to ever-greater heights.
/Central Park East
/The Light In You
I’ve been following this band for thirty years, and my love for them has never wavered – like many other long-time fans. So when this album was released, and they did an in-store at Rough Trade East, it was more than a little heartbreaking to hear Jonathan Donahue suggesting that they had considered whether to release a new album, thinking that no-one would remember them. A band as unique as this? They sell themselves short.
Anyway, the crowning glory of that album, The Light In You, was this song, which brought the band back from upstate New York, into Manhattan, and nighttime Central Park, as Jonathan Donahue takes a lonely walk through the iconic park, hearing the sounds of life, love and revelry all around him, while he feels completely alone, as if it could never possibly involve him.
/Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
/Exile on Coldharbour Lane
Yes, I know this was originally by the masterful John Prine (who died last year), but I came to this song thanks to the sublime version by the acid house-country collective Alabama 3. Somehow, they add another depth, another level to this song, as the protagonist muses on what has happened to their partner or friend. Something has changed, but they can’t put their finger on it, as they add two and two to make five around all of the actions and changes that they are seeing. As a result, a couple – or two friends – steadily drift apart, wondering what went wrong and leaving them both lonelier than ever.
/Another Night In
Strangelove were one of those bands who never quite “made it” in the alternative frenzy of the nineties, despite famous friends (they were close to both the Manics and Suede), a great many support slots and some fabulous songs. But then, you hear songs like this one, and you realise that all was really not well with Patrick Duff. His struggles with drink and drugs were sadly all-too public – later interviews in the nineties with him rather focussed on it – and this song pretty much spells out the wreckage of his life away from music, grim living conditions, everything fucked, and a general feeling that he was desperately lonely if he wasn’t on the stage.
What I didn’t know, until reading up just recently, was their connection to fellow Bristol artist David Francolini (ex-Leviatation, and more importantly for this site, Dark Star), who was an early member of this band and appears to have “discovered” singer Patrick Duff in the first place.
/The Old Maid In The Garrett
As was pointed out by Karen in the suggestion thread, this is one of those folk songs that has endured over many years (and indeed has apparently been amended, changed and adapted along the way by a great many artists). This version is from folk legends Steeleye Span. The old maid in the song is one who has reached middle-age, and lives in the “garrett” (an old word for attic), jealously watching women much younger than her be married off and find apparent happiness, something that she’s never seen, and thus remains lonely in her existence upstairs. In a hilarious twist, though, she turns her back on the idea of a later-life existence with a husband, instead choosing to live out her days with her pet parrot!
/Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely
/Candy Apple Grey
Perhaps one of the best-known songs by this band who deserve to be far better-known than they ever were to the mainstream – without their trailblazing, grunge would have been very different – this song, like many of the best songs by them – blasts past at a hundred miles an hour, as Grant Hart seethes as the failures of his past. Here, it’s not him that’s lonely, it’s the other party, and he protests that he doesn’t care about them, he doesn’t want to know that they are lonely, and he’s not going to pick up the phone. I can’t help but feel that he is protesting too much here, and deep down, he really does care, but it’s too late.
/Ever So Lonely
Monsoon is a perhaps mostly-forgotten project by Indian-English singer Sheila Chandra, whose clash of styles was perhaps a little ahead of its time. Indian instrumentation and sounds weave through a dreampop-esque song, that feels like a song that doesn’t want you to dig too deep, and to understand more of the loneliness within. It certainly doesn’t feel like it was released as far back as 1982. Interestingly, too, one listen to this, and now I see where the equally obscure Dollshead got their inspiration for their track New Creation from – there’s definitely some similiarities here…