Readers recommend playlist: songs about chaos

Chaos and confusion reign this week, with Bob Dylan, the Temptations, Devo and Philip Glass all making this week’s reader-curated playlist

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 series works at the end of the piece.

Chaos: where all is potential, yet still unformed. In this state of flux inchoate ideas meld and cleave, never quite becoming. Joseph Haydn’s Die Vorstellung des Chaos (loosely the “representation of chaos”) which comes first on today’s list, hovers between Heaven and Earth, snaking between the spiritual and the corporeal, in a realm where temporality remains the vaguest of dreams.

It’s hard to believe the Temptations’ Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today) was released 47 years ago – this could be a contemporary song. Humans have lower genetic diversity than almost any other animal, yet race is the issue which kickstarts this tirade against life and its expectations in late 20th-century America.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

The cuttlefish cleverly communicates via skin colour, skin texture, posture and other forms of “language”. So do humans; we blush, fold arms, plant our feet, bare our teeth, bristle, clench our fists or open our palms: being wordless doesn’t have to mean chaotic or confused – though Led Zeppelin know there’s sometimes room for Communication Breakdown.

What about that Bob Dylan fellow? Dr Doom, or what? All that Hard Rain and Watchtowers and stuff. Allegory and metaphor. Did he ever write about the facts of life in a way that most people can understand? Well, yes. His Political World is a compilation of the challenges we all face when dealing with adversity, corrupt and faceless bureaucracy, elected criminals, vindictive prosecution and more.

Political? Not the Undertones – arguably Northern Ireland’s finest “pop’n’roll” band. They sang about teenage angst and kicks, cousins and girlfriends. But not politics. And yet, something always seeps through, like the damp from next door on a cold winter’s morning. There was a violent conflict in progress, and Life’s Too Easy illustrates how love and happiness can be taken away at any moment by an act of random violence.

Fire, water, phone, police; all on strike. What’s gone bad this morning won’t come good this evening, so the Ethiopians reflect wisely in Everything Crash. It’s like the winter of discontent, except you can dance to it.

When prospects look as bad as they do in 2017 – you know, global warming, seemingly impending war, terrorism, corporate greed, that man in the White House – you might as well say “sod it all”, take the money, and shoot off to France to make unintelligible racket and drink lots of wine. As per the Wankys’ Noise Disorder and Chaos.

Devo’s Jocko Homo claims that we are now a new type of human, Pinheadus devolvus. Looking around, the question is begged, “Have we devolved?” Was there once a golden age when humanity reached perfection, and from there it’s all been downhill?

The second world war was chaotic, despite the nostalgia. Norman Mailer’s publisher for his debut novel The Naked and the Dead was all for depictions of violence of every stripe, but couldn’t allow the word “feck”. Poor Norman, how everyone laughed at the replacement printed instead – which the Fugs named themselves after. Their CIA Man covers “covert” operations becoming overt – when the agency wasn’t “influencing’ foreign elections, they were mining other countries’ harbours or rolling exploding cigars for leaders who disagreed with them. Kings of chaos, they want their crown.

Kettled, beaten, gassed and arrested, anti-war demonstrators at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention took up the chant: “The whole world is watching.” Chicago’s Someday (August 29, 1968) begins with a prologue recording of the demonstrators and becomes a song about the fear and terror induced by rioting police. The tune is fairly jaunty, but the lyrics are a stripped to the bone depiction of that night’s chaos.

Philip Glass sountracked Koyaanisqatsi, a film depicting the modern world (of 1982) in various, mostly unedifying, poses. Koyaanisqatsi is a compound word from the Hopi language – and there are several possible interpretations, one of which is “life in turmoil”. We are shown images of man’s past in the form of rock art, then cities, their peoples, their ruins, their ruined. In the final scene this track, Prophecies, plays over, we watch the descent of an exploded rocket, falling seemingly endlessly back to earth.

Still in 1982 (what a year for fear), the chorus of Fun Boy Three’s The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum) almost anticipates the Hopi chants of the previous track. But there is something about the lyrics that are almost beyond desperate. This song feels like it is slipping into quicksand, the artists knowing that to struggle would only hasten the inevitable.

“Who are the ones that we kept in charge?”, asks Tom Waits in God’s Away On Business. Then answers himself: “Killers, thieves and lawyers.” The ship is sinking, we are told, as he cries for “The poor, the lame, the blind.” Modern parallels abound.

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

New theme: how to join in

The new theme will be announced at 8pm (BST) on Thursday 13 July. You have until 11pm on Monday 17 July to submit nominations.

Here is a reminder of some of the guidelines for readers recommend:


George Boyland

The GuardianTramp

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