Playlist: Music for writing

James Mackay 24 October 2017

Most people who know me know that I love to write, but I’m often easily distracted. My solution to this has always been to listen to podcasts, or to put on some of the 200+ songs from my “Writing Music” playlist. My taste is all over the place and there’s no particular theme tying the songs together, but the collection as a whole is intended to help me concentrate on writing. The songs all make me happy or inspire me, and many of their lyrics could very well be stories in themselves.

So, in no particular order, these are some of my favourite songs to listen to whenever I’m writing:

Riot – Childish Gambino

“Riot” is a song from the album Awaken, My Love!, one which saw Childish Gambino abandon the pop-rap stylings of his past work in favour of a more funkadelic sound. “Riot” is short, just over two minutes long, but packs a punch nonetheless; it’s reminiscent of a certain era of funk (think Sly and the Family Stone), all twanging guitars and visceral background screams. In the chorus, Gambino shouts, “Everyone, get down baby!”, a line with a sense of ambiguity that I’ve always loved. What could simply be a trope of classic funk, a line encouraging people to dance, could just as easily be a warning, a desperate cry from one rioter to another.

Sweet Life – Frank Ocean

“Sweet Life” sees Frank singing about the effects of excessive wealth, about how it makes people oblivious to anything outside of their blissful bubble. I like this song because it’s smooth and relaxing, telling a story while maintaining a summery vibe. Franks sings about the sweet life with a mocking scepticism, questioning those sheltered from the grim realities of the world.

The Arch of the Sim – Mark Mothersbaugh

I’m not sure whether it’s the nostalgia of hearing music from the games I spent most of my childhood playing, but I find that listening to soundtracks from The Sims makes for a pleasant writing experience. “The Arch of the Sim” is one of my favourite songs from The Sims 2 score – it helps me when writing simply because it’s cheerful, upbeat and a little bit silly, sounding like it could be straight out of a cartoon.

Common Sense – J HUS

This is the opening song from J HUS’ second album, which was released earlier this year. I love the joyous, celebratory nature of it, epitomised by the booming trumpet which appears towards the end of the song’s old school hip-hop instrumental. Much like “Did You See” from the same album, it’s empowering; a song about adjusting from a low income background to the life of expensive cars, women and haters that often comes with newfound success.

Halo – Cage the Elephant

From their album Melophobia, “Halo” is a toe-tapping song by my favourite band, its sultry sound appropriate to lyrics about temptation and the resistance thereof. The song seems like it’s about a spiralling relationship, but according to lead singer Matt Shultz, it isn’t really, in fact more to do with the regrets that follow a fall from grace.

LOVE. – Kendrick Lamar feat. Zacari

This is a genuinely lovely song from Kendrick’s most recent album, DAMN. It’s very soft, combining Zacari’s gentle vocals and Kendrick’s earnest rapping with questions about unconditional love. I like that it’s kind of poetic – undeniably romantic at the very least, making me want to close my eyes and sway along to the beat.

Abraham, Martin and John – Marvin Gaye

This song is important to me because it reminds me of mornings in my dad’s car spent crooning, out of tune, to his “Best of Marvin Gaye” cassette on the drive to school. It’s calming in spite of its melancholic, political undertones.

Words Don’t Come So Easily – Lower Than Atlantis

This song starts off slowly and quietly, but soon builds to a thumping, triumphant chorus. I like it because it’s relatable; we’ve all experienced the mental struggle of being lost for words at an inconvenient moment, or during an intense conversation. Lead singer Mike Duce’s frustration becomes increasingly tangible as the song progresses, especially towards the end of the song as the chorus and bridge blend together. It makes me want to scream, but I love it all the same.

Give these songs a listen and see if any are to your taste – if you’d like any more recommendations, feel free to check out my actual playlist on Spotify here.