Readers recommend playlist: songs about being trapped

Nina Simone, Warren Zevon and Corb Lund are among the artists stuck in various states of mire for this week’s reader-curated playlist

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

Sometimes, to extricate oneself from a sticky situation, it’s necessary to grasp the nettle and press boldly on without fear of let or hindrance. Accordingly, let me say from the outset that I don’t think there’s enough of the extended Cyrus family in the Marconium. While disappointingly there were no Miley or Billy Ray tracks nominated this week, young Noah Cyrus flew the flag – nailing the topic concisely with our opener: I’m Stuck. It’s a bit of an earworm, so, fittingly, should be stuck in your head all day.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

The more I thought about the selection process, the less sure I was whether “prison song” suggestions (although welcome) really fitted the bill – the punishment element somehow led away from the intention of the topic. I did however like the guided tour offered by the Afghan Whigs in What Jail Is Like; and the pent-up tension in the lyric was on the money:

I’ll warn you, if cornered, I’ll scratch my way out of the pen
Wired, an animal
The claustrophobia begins.

A more positive take on non-physical incarceration appears in Trapped by Love from Manu Chao:

When you come I feelin’ better
Sky is blue you say forever
Ooh, ooh, I’ve been trapped by love.

Our narrator must be proper keen on the object of their affection, as the “I’ve been trapped by love” refrain is repeated at some considerable length until the second half of the song allows for what is (perhaps euphemistically) described as a “rendezvous”.

From matters emotional to matters mechanical. As it happens, my car breathed its last a few days ago, so I’ve had unreliable transport arrangements on my mind. Imagine, therefore, the chord that the suggestion of Indianapolis by Bottle Rockets struck:

Can’t go west
Can’t go east
I’m stuck in Indianapolis with a fuel pump that’s deceased.

Although the many and various vehicles in Corb Lund’s countrified Canadian neighbourliness parable Truck Got Stuck are in good working order, ground conditions are nonetheless creating problems:

The Chev got stuck and the Ford got stuck
But the Chev unstuck when the Dodge showed up
But the Dodge got stuck in the tractor rut
Which eventually pulled out the Ford.

A change in tone, pace and attempted mode of travel next. Ice under the keel traps the Baltic Ice-Breaker in an atmospheric offering from Bel Canto. A freezing demise awaited the unfortunate crew – surely a singularly unpleasant way to meet one’s end. Although it’s all relative. Reader MelRoy shares the tale in nominating Timothy by the Buoys:

“When this record came out the label didn’t know what the song was about until it was already in the Top 10. Then, when it became clear the subject was some trapped miners – and one who mysteriously disappeared – it was banned, of course becoming it was more popular than ever.”

It’s a vivid, even cinematic song. Which leads us gently towards I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free by Nina Simone.

It’s a common lament for people to feel trapped at work, and Traffic Experiment paint a compelling picture in Once More With Feeling:

Confined within these four walls I plan my great escape ...
And day after day you want me to do this once more ... with feeling...
Eat Work Sleep.

Next, two selections made purely on the strength of their topic-appropriate use of idioms. Ella Fitzgerald is Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; while following a Havana-based gambling-related poor choice, Warren Zevon is stuck between a rock and a hard place in Lawyers, Guns and Money.

To round things off, and in one of those odd instances of symmetry that RR can sometimes provide, among the multi-nominated songs this week was Nowhere to Run by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. It was always going to make my A list, but I was trying to justify it with a “choosing to remain trapped in a relationship” angle. As it turned out, before I got stuck on that questionable approach, I came across a Guardian interview with its co-writer Lamont Dozier from August 2015 in which he was asked how he came up with the song. I’ll leave you on this rather solemn passage:

“There were riots at the time in Detroit in the 1960s. I remember meeting a little kid who was on his way to Vietnam. He was frightened. Oh God, he must have been about 19. His friends asked if I would throw a party for him at my house before he was shipped out. We had the party, but he was very solemn, just sitting with his girlfriend. He had a premonition that he wouldn’t be coming back. I told him to be positive, but he was adamant. I found myself thinking about how he was feeling trapped – nowhere to run. Sure enough, two months later they shipped his body back. I think he stepped on a landmine. Nineteen years old.”

New theme: how to join in

The new theme will be announced at 8pm (BST) on Thursday 20 July. You have until 11pm on Monday 24 July to submit nominations.

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


Scott Blair

The GuardianTramp

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