Readers recommend playlist: songs about volume

Turning it up this week we have Tom Waits, Oasis and AC/DC – balanced out by some more subdued fare from Jim Reeves

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

It was an inviolable principle this week that to warrant inclusion in the playlist a song had to be focused on reflecting the subtleties of “volume” rather than simply ratcheting it up. What are principles these days however, if not disposable? So to begin, we have the Oasis cover of Cum On Feel the Noize which does justice to the mighty but already zedded Slade original.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

A more nuanced approach now, with a rockabilly number that neatly encapsulates the physical effects of experiencing a live performance featuring proper amplification: “Those big bass notes / Thunder in my chest / Mmm, stuck in my throat / Pulling me down” At least I think that’s what it’s all about. You’d possibly need to ask Imelda May whether I’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick with Johnny’s Got a Boom Boom.

There were a number of nominations proposing that excessive volume was an effective means of annoying one’s neighbours. Some indicated a guilty conscience on the part of former members of garage bands who experienced the domestic friction home rehearsals can cause, but overall the song that nailed the subject was one by the Toy Dolls that roundly rejected any feelings of remorse. Sod the Neighbours, they exclaim – quickly and distortedly.

Lateral thinking was also much in evidence in your recommendations, and my “less obvious” section kicks off with One Man Guy by Loudon Wainwright III. I don’t know if the song is an affirmation of self-reliance, an acknowledgement of isolation or something else entirely, but the lines “These three cubic feet / Of bone and blood and meat / Are what I love and know” could have been written just for the topic, so it makes the cut.

Liquid-specific volumes next. There were excellent proposals for songs mentioning spoonfuls; various gallon-sized containers; big hats; and even bushels and pecks. For its comprehensive approach, however, I couldn’t see past the Irish Rovers, who cram references to barrels, half-barrels, gallons, half-gallons, pints, half-pints, gills, half-gills, quarter-gills, and nipperkins into The Barley Mow.

Another perspective from the Church: “They have pages / They take ages / To read and to learn / They’re heavy to carry.” Volumes. Succinct and very much on message.

Tom Waits, meanwhile, in Step Right Up, has a lengthy list of items that he’s looking to sell, at what appear to be bulk discount rates: “How do we do it? / How do we do it?/ Volume, volume, turn up the volume.” That’s a line virtually echoed by Van Morrison in Caravan, albeit with a more traditional interpretation given that he is exhorting the turning up of the radio. Or “rah-dio” to be more accurate. Reader dave56 nominated the song, but a mention in dispatches goes to hiddendepths, who provided the link to what is indeed a “stonking live version from The Last Waltz”.

Most of the songs put forward had the volume on an upward course, but occasionally a different approach is required, particularly if, like Jim Reeves, you’re intent on a quiet telephone conversation with your beloved. In that case (a) the jukebox has to be turned way down low, and (b) the third wheel in the relationship has to be warned off: He’ll Have to Go.

There’s really only one place for the noise level to go after that, which inevitably results in the Sound of Silence. Reaction to this cover version by Disturbed may vary, but by the time singer David Draiman gets to people bowing and praying he’s imbuing a song on the subject of silence with remarkable raw power and volume. And if that’s your preferred listening mode then Warren Zevon’s ironic/scathing/cynical take on the Southern lifestyle choice in Play It All Night Long might also find favour: “Sweet Home Alabama / Play that dead band’s song / Turn that music up full blast / Play it all night long.”

Approaching the final selection and reviewing things thus far, I notice with some consternation that it’s populated almost entirely by male artists. Maybe the topic lends itself to folk that insist on being heard of course, but it didn’t feel right to leave things quite so unbalanced. Accordingly we finish with a celebratory anthem which significantly increases the volume of female representation – even if not by artist – on this week’s list. It’s AC/DC and Whole Lotta Rosie.

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Scott Blair

The GuardianTramp

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