Readers recommend playlist: your songs about adversity

No struggle for suggestions this week – Ray Charles, Ben Harper and Tracy Chapman are among those on a playlist that helps us through the tough times

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

Adversity comes in many forms. Sometimes it seems self-inflicted, at other times it’s a result of injustice or inequality, and every now and then it might even be imagined.

The struggle faced by addicts is one only those who’ve been there can fully understand. People on the outside looking in are probably best off just listening and trying to empathise. Talk Talk’s I Believe in You, which starts this week’s list, might help us do that. Who or what does Mark Hollis believe in? Whatever it is, that belief is the the key to overcoming adversity here.

The list on YouTube.

Warren Zevon isn’t having too good a time either with My Shit’s Fucked Up, after a startlingly direct diagnosis from his doctor. Temptation, it seems, is one thing that leads to adversity: whether it’s failing to resist the bad stuff or a tendency to dive headlong into a harmful relationship, we need to be strong to hold out. Ben Harper is clear enough about this as he faces Another Lonely Day:

But I’d rather walk alone
Than chase you around
I’d rather fall myself
Than let you drag me on down

The loneliness and despair faced by a woman forced into a backstreet abortion is said to be the inspiration for Laura Nyro’s Gibsom Street. Poverty and exploitation lead to adversity in a time-honoured pattern.

Being broke is no fun and makes life a lot harder than it need be. All the Money I Had Is Gone is tinged with a resentment and a feeling that “they’re gonna pay for this”. The lines “All the greedy hands / That live around this land / They’ll be wiped away come judgment day” seem to place the blame for the Deep Dark Woods’ predicament elsewhere. In Busted, on the other hand Ray Charles is determined to do something about it. The list of problems he faces is endless (and perfectly delivered) but he’s convinced he’ll make a living somehow.

Press gangs used to scour the ports of England looking for victims to man the ships of the navy and it is the misery they left in their wake the Unthanks explore in Here’s the Tender Coming.

The hardship faced by the black slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries is evoked by Marlena Shaw in Woman of the Ghetto. Things are scarcely better for her generation: “How do you raise your kids in a ghetto? / Do you feed one child and starve another?”

A mother facing that type of adversity needs to be strong – very strong. She’ll draw her inspiration from The Love of the Common People, as Nicky Thomas tells us. Meanwhile, the worst thing about this particular type of adversity is that those who suffer are invisible. They are ignored, brushed under the carpet and left to rot. As Tracy Chapman says in Subcity:

People say it doesn’t exist
‘Cause no one would like to admit
That there is a city underground
Where people live everyday
Off the waste and decay
Off the discards of their fellow man

So what to do when you feel ignored? Well the Jarrow marchers had an idea. Let’s walk to London – then they’ll have to listen to us. Alan Price’s Jarrow Song, an upbeat tale of a Geordie boy going down to let those southerners know just how grim it is up north, belies the misery and hardship that inspired the tale. Problem is, Geordie boy, it may well be grim up north, but things aren’t much better on the Streets of London – just ask Ralph McTell!

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 (BST) on Thursday 14 September. You have until 11pm on Monday 18 September to submit nominations.

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


Andrew Morrissey

The GuardianTramp

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