Readers recommend playlist: your songs about songwriting

This week a playlist of songs where musicians look inwards at the process and outwards at their songwriting heroes – from Bryan Wilson to Bob Dylan

Below is this week’s playlist – the theme and tunes picked by a reader from the comments after 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.

It is the poet’s task to tell our dreams, says Hans Sachs, the wise cobbler in Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. But that’s a daunting, almost supernatural task – one that can take a personal toll.

That understanding is behind the first of our list, Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies’ song about Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson. That, along with the uncomfortable recognition that his late-night trip to downtown Toronto to check out Sam the Record Man probably makes him a kindred spirit:

Call it impulsive
Call it compulsive
Call it insane

The YouTube playlist

In Judy and the Dream of Horses, Belle and Sebastian sympathize with a young woman who has written “the saddest song” about a powerful dream that is out of reach of her reality.

Not everything is what it seems. Maria Taylor insists that what she has written is not a love song, but what about the Song Beneath the Song? Might the face be a more loving expression than the mask?

Songwriters who work with bands often have the benefit of other talented musicians to flesh out the skeletons of their compositions, then they get to see their ideas come to life and start dancing for an audience. That’s one of the things Frank Turner celebrates in I Still Believe.

Other songwriters might bemoan the interpersonal issues with bands, managers, and record companies that cripple their creativity. Lawrence, of Felt, gives a respectful nod in Bob Dylan’s direction, but also a one-finger salute for his own slacker band mate in Ballad of the Band:

Where were you when I wanted to work
You’re still in bed
You’re a total jerk

There were a lot of songs nominated this week where the songwriter evokes a lost song, a perfect song that existed in the mind, for which the actual composition feels like a poor substitute. Bill Withers’ songs seem to come “as leaves to the tree” (as Dylan Thomas would say) so it’s moving that he says in Sometimes a Song:

Sometimes a song is something
That you never forget
But you keep on thinking
You ain’t wrote that song yet

Lewis Watson writes a song that’s actually an elegy for the heady early days of a romantic and musical collaboration, nostalgic now for Songs That We Wrote When We Were Drunk.

I particularly liked the sentiments and musicality of Josh Ritter’s The Bone of Song. Such intimate strumming I think I can feel his fingerprints. And I love the idea that a song sometimes doesn’t just belong to the songwriter, but becomes a communal entity.

Nigerian-American poet Iyeoka Okoawo treats song as a much-needed social force, blending her poetry, voice, activism and vision in Revolution. And, as reader SpotTheWhopper notes in recommending Raw Spitt’s Songs to Sing, this is a need that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon:

“Charlie Whitehead and his song choices, equality, change, peoples struggles, songs of protest. Spot any patterns here between his era and our modern world? Nothing changes. Rinse and repeat.”

I’ll sing about a generation, I’ll help it to be
I’ll sing about equality for everyone
I’ll sing about a war, completely unjust
I’ll sing about a nation the world would no longer trust

“Wash your hands in dreams and lightning” is the advice Paul Simon gives to wannabe songwriters in Song About the Moon. There it is again: that feeling songwriting requires you to enter your own crazy, supernatural, danger zones. For many, meeting the demons there proved too much. But for some the exploration was worth it, and they returned with a song we came to think of as our own.

Let’s end where we began, with Ben Heppner’s gift to us: The “Prize Song” – from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Note: not all songs appear on the Spotify playlist as some are unavailable on the service.

New theme

The theme for next week’s playlist will be announced at 8pm (UK time) on 20 October. You have until 11pm on 24 October to submit 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 is 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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