1. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – Bob Dylan
A fun fact for y’all: Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right is my favourite song ever… and whyever not. It’s got beautiful fingerpicked acoustic guitar; a warm ‘60s mix that glows with soft tape hiss; mournful harmonica; a heart-stopping lyric. In it, Dylan (pictured; who apparently wrote the song for Suze Rotolo on one of her European excursions) laments a late relationship – specifically, the little, day to day things that didn’t quite transpire as one might’ve hoped. The thrust of his message is oddly reassuring – an out-stretched hand refusing change, for all too little too late. Dylan’s metaphors are perfect (“the dark side of the road”, “a light I never knowed”) and his emotional handling of the political folk formula is stirring – transcendently so. All together, I make it to be about the most measured goodbye in all of popular music – a farewell to last the ages. I avoid getting connected like this to music normally, but I will come out in honesty here and say it’s also a song that really spoke to me once; a song that got me asking if there wasn’t something better round the bend… which there was. The chords may be simple – maybe even the sentiment too… but if nothing else, Don’t Think Twice… is the sound of a sad nail being hit squarely and firmly on its complicated head. I absolutely, reverently, utterly love it.
2. Of All the Things We’ve Made – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Another melancholy number to perfectly straddle politics of the world and heart, Of All the Things We’ve Made can be found at the crushingly beautiful apex on OMD’s paranoid fourth LP, Dazzle Ships. Coming as it does, at the close of a record imbued with geopolitical terror, schizophrenic radio broadcasts and hyperactive Cold War tension, Andy McClusky and Paul Humphreys cleverly combine a chillingly sad melody with one, endlessly repeated guitar chord, jangling sadly away like dashed hopes against brickwork. The lyric befits the simplicity of the arrangement; asking what’s gone wrong – where and why, when it felt like progress all along – or if not progress, function at least. Cooing sweetly from a suddenly appearing abyss of frightening disappointment, …All the Things… really chokes me. It’s gentle, naïve shock perfectly describes the apparently failed mathematics of a good intention overturned; it’s the sound, to me, of the innocent happening upon sadness.
3. No Name #4 – Elliott Smith
It’s taken all my editorial strength not to let Elliott Smith occupy every one of the sixty-nine slots in this column. His brand of melancholy is something else – relatable and yet devastatingly terrible (whatever the illusion). No Name #4 is a great example of this. The buoyant, picked rhythm, groaning with melody, carries a somewhat bouncy Smith through the story of a girl escaping her abusive past – the first line in this major-key bob-along being, “for a change she got out / before he hurt her bad.” Smith goes on to describe a host of pretty things his character takes along with her – some of them, namely childhood drawings, are shown to Smith, when the two evidently meet. A conversational tone is set by the songwriting here – one that pokes curiously at the fucked-up tensions materialising in close relationships. Love turned violent; evaporating trust; (in the end) amnesia. As ever, Smith’s music is gorgeous; the incredibly busy arrangement, softly produced on cassette, hums with lo-fi interference, adding to the terrible tangibility of this whole affair. His voice, too, is ephemerally sweet – like wounded wind.