Readers recommend playlist: songs about opposites

A reader picks a list from your nominations, with tracks by Billie Holiday, Tracey Thorn and Pink Floyd all making the cut

Below is this week’s playlist – the theme and tunes picked by a reader from the comments on last week’s callout. Thanks for your suggestions. Read more about the format of the weekly Readers recommend series at the end of the piece.

The album containing our first song was called Lady in Satin, and maybe that’s what the lush strings were intended to convey, but there is actually more beat-up denim in the voice – a raspy fragility that persuades a listener Billie Holiday has seen opposing sides of the love she describes in But Beautiful.

The YouTube playlist.

There were lots of duet nominations, and this was my favourite: Poison and Wine by Civil Wars, containing the lyric: “I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back.” Such an authentic expression of the confusing mix of attraction and antipathy in many relationships.

I appreciated the many recommendations of songs where the contrast comes from a simple shift of perspective rather than a change in circumstances, and here’s Elvis Presley, finally noticing that the girl who walks like an angel is actually The Devil in Disguise. John Lennon famously called this song Elvis’s “Bing Crosby moment”. Fair enough. But the alternation between the stagey voice and the rockabilly growl help get it on to this playlist.

In Hormones, Tracey Thorn narrates a drama playing out between two women, a mother and daughter, at opposite ends of the hormonal spectrum. This one had me crying in the kitchen sink.

Cardo o Ceniza, translated as Thistle or Ash, was written by legendary Peruvian singer-songwriter Chabuca Granda, and is performed here by Silvana Kane. As reader nilpferd points out, the opposites in this song are entirely within the imagination of the older woman, as she fantasises about a younger man: the thistle represents the prickle of sexual desire and the ash the pleasure of consummation.

Natalie Merchant’s song Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience again requires a shift of perspective for the opposites to appear. The process takes the whole song, then entails considerable goosebumps at the end.

Reader bllckchps, who recommended Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here noted the inexactitude of the opposing phrases. Some were exact (heaven/hell), some close (smile/veil), some farther apart (hero/ghost). But that creates aural interest, it was felt, as half-rhymes do in a poem.

I also notice the contrast between the two guitars: the first one crackling through the airwaves, distant, fading out; the second one up close and clear. Disorienting and consoling at the same time. You’re not here. But I wish you were.

Jethro Tull gives a verse to the thin man, who, he suggests, will have better luck with the ladies, and a verse to the Fat Man, who can roll down the mountain faster. Both good sport, I guess, with lots of jingly, high-pitched instruments in the background. And that drumming! A gold medal for Clive Bunker.

More good sport from Avril Lavigne in Sk8er Boi, her celebration of the boy in baggy pants who couldn’t win the snobbish heart of his high school’s princess, but went on to rock and roll superstardom.

The Waterboys, in The Whole of the Moon, sing:

I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered I guessed I tried
You just knew
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon

We’ve all got that friend.

Shades of Gray is another song about innocence and experience, and, fittingly, was on the first album where the Monkees took over production control of their own material and foregrounded their own voices.

A quiet closer from Willie Nelson, who, with an extended guitar introduction and in his own inimitable vocal style (with more beat-up denim, so we’ve come full circle) essentially talks to himself, and, I suspect, lies to himself, in I Never Cared for You.

New theme

The theme for next week’s playlist will be announced at 8pm (UK time) on Thursday 25 August. You have until 11pm on Monday 28 August to make nominations.

Here’s a reminder of some of the guidelines for RR:

  • If you have a good theme idea, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist from readers’ suggestions and write a blog about it, please email
  • There’s a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.
  • Many RR regulars also congregate at the ’Spill blog.


Sheila Deane

The GuardianTramp

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