Readers recommend playlist: songs about cheating

A reader picks a playlist from your suggestions taking in duplicitous lovers and sporting indiscretions – Fela Kuti, Squeeze and the Clash all make the cut

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from your suggestions after last week’s callout. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly Readers Recommend series works at the end of the piece.

We start the playlist with Wild Man Fischer, who tells it like it is in Don’t Be a Singer; advice I’d give to any youngster. Be a bus driver, a chartered accountant, a fairground attendant, anything. You’ll end up hating your mates, stuck in a bus with them until even their breathing keeps you furiously awake ... and, as Fischer sings: “All you’ll ever meet are cheaters and liars.”

I was in a bar some years ago and a chap produced a guitar. He started playing this next song, Hank WilliamsYour Cheatin’ Heart. I say ‘playing’, but I soon noticed he wasn’t forming proper chords and the guitar was way out of tune. But once he started singing Williams’s wonderful song everybody joined in – no-one could tell that he was faking it. Full marks to a brilliant cheat; absolute genius.

My son, a gifted guitarist, told me Glenn Tilbrook wrote the chords for Squeeze’s Tempted when he was 13. Unfortunately I’ve no way of checking that, but I have tried to play the tune and it is extraordinarily complex for a pop song, so fair play if it’s true. On first listen, the lyrics, written by Chris Difford in an airport taxi, are deceptive. A closer study soon reveals that athough it appears the cheater has been dumped, he has actually been slung out of his home by his righteous woman and is preparing to travel to the object of his indiscretion.

The YouTube playlist.

Frankie Lee Sims tells us in Lucy Mae Blues how he has a different woman for every night of the week. Now this may seem like a bloke’s dream, but I can testify otherwise. A couple is a team, and you can be there to help each other. I’ve known quite a few men like the one in Frankie’s song, and they’ve all ended up alone and lonely. “Yes officer, peace and love, and happiness. Yes, happiness.” Fela Kuti sings in Expensive Shit, recalling an episode in which he reckons he cheated the cheating police, who he said tried to frame him, by eating the joint they’d planted on him.

Next, cheating in sport. Some years ago my mother, 80 at the time, phoned me and said, “Roger Daltrey’s on the telly. Have you got it on?” What finer accolade could there be? The story is, in 1919 “Shoeless” Joe Jackson took a bribe and threw a World Series baseball game. Murray Head wrote the song, but Daltrey’s version of Say It Ain’t So, Joe catches him in his pomp. There’s Moony gurning on the drums, the Ox on the four-string, and the ill-fated Jimmy McCulloch on guitar. I used to think Daltrey was lucky to sing Pete Townshend’s songs, now I know it works both ways.

Oh man, I love music. You can mess around all day with it and be happy. In fact, I mess with every song I play, except my own – they’re sacrosanct. What are the Clash doing here with the Rulers’ Wrong ’Em Boyo?

Wrong 'em Boyo - The Rulers

Perhaps more famously covered by The Clash, who appear to have a bit of a thing about cheats and cheating?

It’s not even the Rulers’ song, exactly. It’s a record of a 19th-century killing that’s been covered and messed with by virtually everyone. For a murder song, the Clash have made it quite .. erm ... “joyous”.

I’ve never cheated at sport. Except for that headbutt in the third round. Oh, and that goal I claimed when the ball went though the side netting into the back of the net. And when I shoved a fella over in a bike race. And when I aimed the cricket ball at the batsman’s head. But, apart from those minor transgressions, I couldn’t countenance cheating at sport ... Half Man Half Biscuit’s The Referee’s Alphabet might help you stick to the rules too, if you’re into football.

Curtis Mayfield, eh? What a guy, what a tragedy, we were cheated by slack workmanship. There’s not much to say about the ImpressionsYou’ve Been Cheatin’ except that it sounds like Northern Soul before there was Northern Soul. I just wanna dance and listen to that voice.

Frankie and Johnny really is a sad song. No jokes on this one. Jimmie Rodgers nails it and makes this list, though it’s been recorded by dozens of popular singers. It’s a true story of a very young man, only 17, whose cheated-on lover shoots him dead. The real-life Frankie was acquitted of murder and lived until the 1950s. The song seems to have struck a nerve in the popular psyche, resonating through pop history like a nursery rhyme.

The Everly BrothersWhen Will I Be Loved is a cracking song, full of teenage angst – we’ve all been there. I wanted girls to love me just so they could chuck me and I could go and find another one. Floyd Cramer plays piano and Chet Atkins plays guitar. I’ll settle for that.

Did you ever wonder why the DublinersSeven Drunken Nights, which closes our list, contains only five drunken nights? I’d tell you, but I fear the Guardian might not allow it ... Anyway, as BeltwayBandit says in the comments recommending: “The cheating wife hoodwinks her husband even further by passing off the evidence of her infidelity with a series of increasingly bizarre excuses that only a total pisshead could fall for.”

Not all songs appear on the Spotify playlist as some are unavailable on the service.

New theme: how to join in

The new theme will be announced at 8pm (GMT) on Thursday 2 February. You have until 11pm on Monday 6 February 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.


George Boyland

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about being lost
A reader finds a way through your suggestions, meeting Chet Baker, the Clash and Eric Clapton along the way

Samantha Birchard

28, Jun, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: your songs about deserts
Tinariwen, Robert Plant, Brand New Heavies and Big Country are among the artists making this week’s reader-curated list

Scott Blair

12, Jul, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: your songs about pride
A reader stands tall and listens to your suggestions on the theme – but will songs from the Ramones, Taylor Swift and Jimmy Cliff come before a fall?


19, Oct, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about clocks and watches
Scott Walker, Slowdive, Smokey Robinson and Della Reese are among the artists spinning this week’s clockwise playlist

Stephen Males

29, Mar, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about feminism
Our reader picks the best of your nominations on the theme – from sarcastic punks and accidental celebrations to a war on the glass ceiling

George Boyland

21, Apr, 2016 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about New Orleans
Sounds of the city dominate a playlist celebrating its resilience, including tracks from the Hot 8 Brass Band and Ben Harper

George Boyland

24, May, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about pragmatism
Among artists picked for seeing things as they are come Run DMC, Van Morrison, Nina Simone and Beyoncé

Samantha Birchard

03, May, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about loneliness
Among the artists feeling alone this week are the Pixies, Al Green, Jimi Hendrix and the Who

George Boyland

05, Apr, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about family
The Cranberries, Kate Bush and Talking Heads offer up songs about their nearest and dearest in this week’s selection

Gary Willis

17, May, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about kings
A regal list this week includes songs from Richard Thompson, Gilbert and Sullivan, Boy George and the Proclaimers

Chaz Cozens

21, Jun, 2018 @11:00 AM