Beautiful Songs You Should Know

April 24, 2011

In response to the song of the same name, one of the more pleasant frequently asked questions from the Schoolyard Ghosts promotional interviews was, “What are the beautiful songs we should know?”

Each time the question was asked, I gave a different answer. Each time, I believed that my choices were the right ones.

The song itself was written in New York in the sun-kissed Summer of 2006 and was conceived as an abstract way of attempting to capture the excitement of the beginning of a relationship. Those moments when love takes you by surprise and leaves you vulnerable and breathless. At that time, it seems to me that the lover is often desperate for the loved to fully understand everything about their previous experiences and the things that truly move them. The song was also an attempt by a miserable git of long-standing to create something optimistic that was neither trite nor nauseating.

For me, Marianne de Chastelaine’s cello playing on the piece was inspired and the recording location (Jeffrey Sapara’s compact Manhattan apartment) was the perfect environment for the song to evolve within. Of the two released versions, the languid Memories Of Machines version is perhaps closest to the spirit of the piece as it was originally written.


As of Friday 22nd April 2011, these are the beautiful songs I think you should know:

Crosby, Stills & Nash / Miles Davis – Guinevere  (1969) / (1970)

Two very different versions of an exquisite David Crosby melody. The first, CSN, version is full of impossibly rich vocal harmonies, delicately picked guitar and sneaky time shifts, while the second is hypnotically compelling slow music that evokes elements of In A Silent Way.

Donovan – Lord Of The Reedy River (1968)

A song covered by Kate Bush, Steven Wilson and Bowness/Chilvers, this is an enigmatic Wyrd Folk miniature that gracefully sits on the border between shimmering beauty and discordant strangeness.

Randy Newman – Old Man On The Farm (1977)

With few words, Newman often manages to conjure whole lives that usually exist well outside of the realm of the average ‘Rock’ song.

This depiction of a lonely old farmer singing songs for the ghosts of his youth is amongst his best.

David Bowie – Letter To Hermione (1969)

An atypically open and warm account of a former love, Letter To Hermione possesses a fragility rare in Bowie’s phenomenal output.

Rickie Lee Jones – On Saturday Afternoons In 1963 (1978)

The sound of sweet nostalgia.

Pink Floyd – A Pillow Of Winds (1971)

A lovely example of Pink Floyd’s lesser known ability to create haunting folk-tinged ballads, this could just as easily be The Crying Song, Granchester Meadows, Green Is The Colour, Us And Them, If, The Narrow Way, Goodbye Cruel Sky or Cirrus Minor.

Kate Bush – A Coral Room (2005)

An exquisite ‘grief song’.

Beach Boys – Surf’s Up (1971)

A sophisticated mini-epic with imponderable lyrics and deathlessly engaging vocal harmonies.

Joni Mitchell – Edith And The Kingpin (1975)

The melody and arrangement are so seductive that they often take my mind off the lyric’s rock hard centre (a tale of power and its abuse).

10 Judee Sill – The Donor (1973)

A deliciously dense multi-part ballad. Karen Carpenter singing Surf’s Up during Midnight Mass?

A few more iPod playlists afore I go:

Tim Buckley – Song To the Siren (1968 Monkees Show version)

Jane Siberry – The Taxi Ride (1985)

Tim Hardin – Misty Roses (1966)

Brian Eno – Julie With (1977)

John Cale – The Soul Of Carmen Miranda (1989)

Judee Sill – The Kiss (1973)

Nico – Eulogy To Lenny Bruce (1968)

Sol Seppy – Enter One (2006)

Flaming Lips – Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell (2001)

Simon And Garfunkel – April, Come She Will (1966)

Linda Perhacs – Hey, Who Really Cares (1970)

Joy Division – Atmosphere (1980)

The Blue Nile – Let’s Go Out Tonight (1989)

The Beatles – She’s Leaving Home (1967)

Nick Drake – River Man (1969)

Roy Harper – Another Day (1971)

Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman (1968)

John Martyn – Spencer The Rover (1974)

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit (1939)

Talk Talk – It’s Getting Late In The Evening (1986)

and countless more, of course……