WRITING PLAYLISTS

I’ve had several exchanges with folks on the twitterverse and interwebs lately about their writing playlist.  I’ve come to the conclusion that music, and what kind of music, helps me write.

Old Blue Eyes Is A Muse
Old Blue Eyes Is A Muse

The most important thing about a writing playlist is that it should be something I’m familiar with.  If my mind is focusing on the music or the lyrics, then my mind is not engaged in the work of writing.  That is why streaming music or listening to NPR doesn’t work for me when writing.  It has to be older stuff I’ve heard a million times.  So here goes some of my writing playlists.

Dialogue (generic)–Something instrumental.  For generic dialogue I don’t need words in my mind as I’m trying to find out what my characters are saying to each other.  I don’t want my characters quoting George Jones or Jimi Hendrix.  Classical is okay, but so too is blues and jazz.  Green Onions by Booker T. & The M.G.’s is excellent to just loop over and over until the scene is written.  Yo-Yo Ma is great for this too.

Dialogue (intense/arguing)–Church hymns.  I don’t know why, but something about church music makes me think about arguing.  Let the reader understand.

Dialogue (internal)–When I am thinking about what another person is thinking there is only one authority:   Johnny Cash.

Theological Themes--Pastor Butch Gregory stories always have theological themes, and for that I need to listen to Rich Mullins.

Dream Sequences/Flashbacks–Norah Jones, because she just sounds so dreamy.

Crime/Violence–I’ve got a playlist I call “War/Spy” that has a heavy dose of Talking Heads, James Bond theme songs, Blondie, U2, Hall and Oates, and Mumford and Sons.  I know that doesn’t make a lot of since genre wise, but it does to me.

Fight Scenes–Guns-N-Roses.  It is important to know where you are.  You’re in the jungle baby.

Travel Scenes–I’ve found that my characters seem to always be traveling somewhere, and when they do, Led Zeppelin Rambles along.

Plot Development–Frank Sinatra.  I’ve got him under my skin.

Romantic Scenes–I don’t put a lot of romance in my books, but when I do, I prefer Cole Porter.

Techno–While writing sci-fi, sometimes I need to describe technological things which may or may not be real, but which are technological.  There are two groups that help me with this.  One is R.E.M.  I mean, Michael Stipe may actually be a character from a sci-fi novel.  The other is ZZ Top.  In my universe(s), all megalomaniac evil scientists wear cheap sunglasses.

Michael Stipe, SCI-FI
Michael Stipe, SCI-FI

When In Doubt–Sometimes you don’t know what is going to flow out of the fingertips, and when that happens I hit an 80s mix.  Duran Duran always gets the creative reflex going.

There are a lot of other artists and genre’s I listen to, but these are the ones that most often find their way into my ear bud while writing.  I’d be interested to know what you listen to when you write.

images from therecordingrevolution.com and aleim.com

SOME FUN MUSIC FOR YOUR SPRING BREAK

Like many families, mine is enjoying spring break.  That means two things.  One, I will probably not post another blog again this week.  Two, I’m listening to some fun music.  Here are my top “fun” songs.  By fun songs, I don’t mean they are the best songs or even my favorite songs.  I simply mean that they are songs that, when I hear them, they tend to instantly put me in a good mood.  I’d be interested to know what some of your “fun” songs are.

STRAIT OUT COOL
STRAIT OUT COOL

1.  Green Onions–Booker T. and the M.G.’s:  Without much doubt this is the coolest song every recorded.

2.  Life During Wartime–Talking Heads:  I would have titled this the “Spy Song” because it is so spy-like.  Would have made a great theme song for a James Bond film.  I don’t think they meant it as a fun song, but it surely is.

3.  99 Luft Balloons–Nena:  Whether it is in German or English I don’t really know what this song is all about except that it has Captain Kirk in it and they say it is an anti-nuclear protest song.  It might be nostalgia but this song reminds me of the 80’s.  Good times.

4.  Money For Nothing–Dire Straits:  You know you love it.  One of the best guitar licks ever.

5.  Shiny Happy People–R.E.M.:  Not my favorite R.E.M. song by a long shot, but how can you not hear this song and not be incredibly happy almost instantly.

6.  Margaritaville–Jimmy Buffet:  Quite possibly the greatest beach song ever recorded.  It was made for spring break.

7.  Superstition–Stevie Wonder:  Funky and awesome with Bible quotes all wrapped in.  How can you not love this song.

8.  Linus and Lucy (AKA The Charlie Brown Song)–Vince Guaraldi Trio:  Jazzy fun music that should most definitely be in your playlist for spring break.  Just thinking about listening to it improves my mood.

9.  Taking Care of Business–Bachman Tuner Overdrive:  “If you ever get annoyed, look at me I’m self-employed, I love to work at nothing all day.”  Yeah, that’s pretty much what we want our spring breaks to be like, right?

10. Fly Me To The Moon–Frank Sinatra:  If we lived another 1000 generations, there will never be another musician as cool as Frank Sinatra.  It would make your entire spring break infinitely better to spend an afternoon digging all of his music, but I only list this one here because, it is probably the coolest of the cool.

Here are some honorable mentions: Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen) , Hound Dog (Elvis) , London Calling (The Clash), Eminence Front (The Who), Peaches (Presidents of the USA)

So those are my fun songs.  What are yours?

I am very interested to know what are your coolest songs, those songs that you just think are fun.  Maybe not your favorite, but songs that make you happy, songs that make you smile.  What are they?

RADIO STOP SIGNS

This morning on the way to work I was flipping through the radio.  I landed on a song that made me stop and listen.  I’d never heard the song before, so it must be new.  Once I got to the office I checked the playlist of the station and discovered the singer.  I sadly discovered the lyrics were rather blasphemous on the playlist widget, but the female singer was so strong it made me stop and listen.

This made me think about what other singers make me stop and listen, regardless of whatever else I’m doing.  So I made a list.  Of course, the list excludes both my wife—the best singer ever, and U2’s Bono.  Everyone knows that U2 is my all-time fave, so it is wrong to put them on the list.

So, here is the list of 5 who come to mind, but it is not a complete list.  Everything is fluid.

  • Natalie Merchant—There is just something ethereal about her voice.  Maybe I’m just showing my Gen-X street cred, but I think her voice is one of the iconic sounds of the last 20 years, whether she’s with the Maniacs or not.

 

  • Jim Morrison—Yeah, I know he was demon possessed but his voice is just odd.  Whenever I hear a Jim Morrison song I have to stop and listen.  Listening to him sing is like rubber-necking at a car crash on the freeway.

 

  • ZZ Top—Not only do these men have the best Texas-Rock and Roll sound ever, but their beards are legendary.  La Grange still gets a lot of airtime, and I have to listen.  I have to listen because I’ve driven through La Grange, Texas more times than I can remember.  I know that the song is about ill repute, but I still have to listen.

 

  • Mick Jagger—I list Jagger, and not the Rolling Stones because to me, Jagger is the power behind that thing.  Keith Richards, I think, actually died in 1987.  Today he is only a digital reanimation brought to us by Dreamworks.  Jagger’s voice, with its arrogant britishness says, “Stop what you’re doing and listen.”  Gimme Shelter  is not the greatest song ever, but it has to be in the top 10.

 

  • Frank Sinatra—Old Blue Eyes has the purest vocals, rivaled only by Nat King Cole.  But Frank is better because he did more.  I think I have every single song he ever sung.  Not only is his voice amazing, he was the king of cool.  I’d like to be the Frank Sinatra of preachers, so now I have to find a way to do all my ministry from Vegas.  Okay, maybe not.

 

Some of you will notice some missing personas.  Led Zeppelin, for one.  I love Led, but Robert Plant on vocals was always a negative, not a positive.  The guitar riffs are what made them.  John Fogerty almost made the list, but I decided that I can skip him over on the radio dial.  What interested me was how these distinctive singers all seem so much more amazing in the backdrop of what passes for music right now.  We are in a music drought with all the vanilla copy-cats.