Readers recommend playlist: songs about clouds

Some blue-sky thinking leads a reader to include the Rolling Stones, Broadcast, Bill Nelson, Love and Gene Kelly on this week’s list

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.

Without precipitation from the clouds of this week’s theme we wouldn’t be here, but in the Indian subcontinent, where we head for our first song, people await the monsoon-thick shadows in the sky with particular emotion. Farmers sing ancient songs to bring fruitful rain and the sky is closely observed – a process brought to life in Ghanaan Ghanaan, Aamir Khan and AR Rahman’s song from the Bollywood film Lagaan.

Listen on YouTube.

Gene Kelly is also in celebratory mood in Singin’ in the Rain, which comes next: he’s “laughing at clouds” – despite apparently suffering with a 102F temperature when filming the scene. That’s a trouper.

Ray Charles and Howlin’ Wolf have been cited as major influences on George van den Broek. Those are big boots to fill. Tim Buckley springs to mind, too. This young shaver seems to have it all – he’s 18 years old and sings with the confidence of a young Van Morrison, smiles and glows, and writes lyrics like: “All this time I was just running around / I wasn’t looking but oh I found / A gap in the clouds.” His band is Yellow Days and this is Gap in the Clouds.

How do you follow a record like Satisfaction and its fallout? Suddenly you’re flying high and the people down below want more of the same; better if possible. Keith Richards was grimly aware of what was happening in 1965. His answer to the problem? Back to basics. Fiddle a bit with the riff of Louie Louie, slow it down, and leave the lyrics to Mick Jagger, who understood the Rolling Stones’ situation well enough to write about being on top of the world, yet still bugged by having people get too close. “Get Off of My Cloud,” he sings.

Bobby Womack – writer of It’s All Over Now, which the Stones covered – and a fabulous guitarist, takes the lead on Gorillaz’ Cloud of Unknowing. Womack, who died three years after this recording, sounds as raw, husky and controlled as ever.

In Broadcast’s Ominous Cloud, the late Trish Keenan is aware she has to face up to life’s difficulties, but that sometimes the urge to take flight can be overpowering. Yet, amid the sense of crushing calamity there is a giggle in her voice, as if she knows that even a slow boat can sail her away, leaving that sluggish cloud in her wake.

Ominous clouds, you say? Love’s melancholic Mushroom Clouds was just as relevant in the 60s as it is now. Arthur Lee sang: “We can love again / Only God knows when / Help us with our problems.” Mushroom clouds are man-made follies defying all logic and sense – something to be truly afraid of.

From macro to micro: Chron Gen’s Clouded Eyes is a sharp analysis of the workings of the mind of a young musician when the svengalis wheel out their well-worn promises. Deluded by guarantees of untold wealth and its trappings, their eyes cloud over, but, as yet, the narrator observes, all they’ve been offered is a ciggy. Our man tries to put the boy straight, though he knows he’s fighting a losing battle.

It has been said that the blues is just a good man feeling bad. If that’s so, then bring it on. Bob Wills’s Brain Cloudy Blues tells the tale of a man bamboozled by his emotions, his thinking clouded by desire and need. However, by some effort of will he pulls himself sideways and looks askance at his dilemma, then comes to a decision.

Our protagonist in Little Feat’s All That You Dream also has the blues. But he realises that there is always a silver lining, and that the ensuing rain can wash away his troubles. Like so many of our troubled souls, he finds the answer in travel.

Now a lament for a father. June Tabor’s Cloud Factory is about a father whose dreams took the form of clouds. They gathered at his feet and clung to his clothes. And all the while his wife mocked. He never did gather those clouds into something malleable, but he taught his child to sing, and when she sings the dream is real.

With a tiny nod towards Albatross, Bill Nelson’s Beyond These Clouds the Sweetest Dream carries us into the stratosphere. His guitar evokes a sensation of tactility, as if we could reach down and grab a handful of the white candy floss that makes up the atmospheric skyscape below us. Like clouds, his guitar shapes the air.

Further dreams float from the Staples Singers in their Uncloudy Day. They sang of freedom, hope and emancipation, of equality and a levelling of society. One day the skies would be clear, they sang, and it seemed to happen, but then there was a sea change and their two steps forward suddenly became three steps back.

New theme: how to join in

The new theme will be announced at 8pm (BST) on Thursday 26 October. You have until 11pm on Monday 30 October to submit nominations.

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


George Boyland

The GuardianTramp

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