Readers recommend playlist: songs about clocks and watches

Scott Walker, Slowdive, Smokey Robinson and Della Reese are among the artists spinning this week’s clockwise playlist

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.

A watch, for someone my age at least, feels like a part of the body that just ought to be there – leaving the house without it is impossible. Checking the time is a habit. If I have forgotten it, I’ll keep looking pointlessly at the empty expanse of wrist. Ensuring everything is in place, then, let’s begin our journey.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

She’s gone, and all [Samuel John] Lightnin’ Hopkins has left is Just a Wristwatch on My Arm. No money, but he knows what time it is and how much has passed. “I’ll just wait until your money comes home,” he says. A story of true romance. Or the true blues at least.

Aussie rockers Wolfmother use a Sundial as a metaphor for the passage of time. Given enough of it, according to them, the ordinary can come to seem extraordinary. Or the strangeness of the ordinary can be revealed. Heavy rock began as an interpretation of the electric blues, and you can still hear the influence, but there’s little of the laid-back or the melancholy here. Some have drawn comparisons to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

Far, far away from this sound and fury sits Nataly Dawn. Like Lightnin’, she’s Counting Down the seconds and minutes. And whatever the clock tells her it’s time to do, that’s OK. She’ll let the time pass “until I’m with you”. She doesn’t say anything about his money either. That’s more like it. Beautifully written, beautifully sung. What more could you want?

“Each watch I smash apart, just adding to my power”. Steady on. We like our watches in these parts. Mind you, this Dukes of Stratosphear song, 25 O’Clock, is here partly by popular acclaim, nominated several times, with one poster even saying they would be “amazed if the Dukes don’t make the list”. But the song, with its slightly ‘Floydian intro, did worm its way into my affections.

Ah, Nick Drake. How could I not list his lovely At the Chime of the City Clock? It’s good to be reminded of this eternally young man’s immense talent. A boy from the country, loose in the city where even the chime of the clock seems different. “In the light of a city square / Find out the face that’s fair / Keep it by your side / When the light of the city falls / You fly to the city walls / Take off with your bride.”

I said when opening the topic that songs with the sound of clocks as well as clockwise lyrics would be in the running. The next offering, Trellisaze by Slowdive, is devoid of lyrics and as abstract and dreamlike as anything they have recorded. An old-fashioned ticking of a pendulum-driven grandfather clock, some wordless vocals and a hypnotic sound that draws the listener into a world that seems – dare I say it – timeless.

We need a wake-up call and can count on Della Reese to provide (a rather unusual) one, by way of her Clock That’s Got No Hands. Della insists that’s what she needs. This is another song about a lover who has departed. In this take on the theme, Della’s not going to count any seconds or stare at any wristwatch. A clock without hands and a calendar without any days so she doesn’t have to know how long he’s been gone.

We’ve had our clocks and our watches and a sundial. But Scott Walker is occupied with the speaking clock – the version I remember from my childhood. A woman I was convinced was called Tim, because that’s what you had to dial back when telephones had letters as well as numbers. I never had the kinds of thoughts about the Time Operator Walker expresses here, mind. And if I’d known that he had, well I’d have challenged the bounder to a duel.

Over to France for La Pendule by Ina-Ich. I’m relying on an online translation of the lyrics to justify its inclusion. That and the fact that it sounds so compelling. It begins, charmingly, with chimes but soon turns rather dark – in a good way.

There’s nothing dark about a classic Smokey Robinson song. Lyrically inventive and vocally ethereal. The perfect voice for soothing the troubled soul and lyrics from a man once called America’s “greatest living poet”. Where’s Smokey’s Nobel prize? That’s what I’d like to know.

And so to Pink Floyd. No, not the song about the axe. This one: Time. “Ticking away / The moments that make up a dull day” and all that. The original was nominated, but I have to go for the Easy All Stars take on the theme. Another, more dubwise version by the same crew was nominated quite late in the day and caused something of a dilemma, but this won out in the end. The whole Dub Side of the Moon album is a prime example of something that just shouldn’t work, but does. A remarkable achievement.

And finally, how come I had never heard of Krista Detor before? Nobody tells me anything. Our finale is a song performed by the lady from Indiana with Karine Polwart, Emily Smith and Rachael McShane.

Somewhere bells are ringing, somewhere someone’s marrying
Or a casket someone’s carrying – a crowd somewhere is gathering
Somewhere a bell is marking what is passing and sublime
Like the clock of the world keeping perfect holy time

Written to celebrate Darwin Day and appearing on the Darwin Song Project album, it seems to me to be a simply beautiful way to end this week’s clockwise list. I hope you think so too.

New theme: how to join in

The next theme will be announced at 8pm (GMT) on Thursday 29 March. You will have until 11pm on Monday 2 April to submit nominations.

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


Stephen Males

The GuardianTramp

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