Readers recommend playlist: songs about pragmatism

Among artists picked for seeing things as they are come Run DMC, Van Morrison, Nina Simone and Beyoncé

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.

War, infidelity, flat tyres – the musicians in this week’s playlist will put up with a lot to keep life running smoothly. Pragmatism can be painful, or it can be an effective strategy, depending on your perspective.

For Nina Simone, in Don’t Smoke in Bed, pragmatism is a bit of both. Simone sings a melancholic, tender goodbye to her “good old sleepyhead”, but her parting advice is blunt and unsentimental: don’t look for her and “don’t smoke in bed”.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

How’s about a more upbeat take? Don Covay may have faced romantic disappointment, but he cheerfully decided that It’s Better to Have (And Don’t Need). Meanwhile, in Don’t Look Back, Van Morrison (with his early band Them) is wistful about the past but concludes, pragmatically: “Stop dreaming / And live on in the future.”

In the jazz standard Comes Love, Billie Holiday has sensible solutions for almost every situation, but when love arrives, the only pragmatic response is to acquiesce. Singing almost 50 years later, Prince, with the song Kiss, is less concerned with conventional romance. He just wants your extra time “and your … kiss”.

Beyoncé is cynical but also resolute on Freedom, from her album Lemonade: “I’m a wave through your shallow love / Tell the deep I’m new.” No obstacles are insurmountable for her merciless pragmatism.

And pragmatism is, of course, about much more than romance. Run DMC’s It’s Like That tells us “Love won’t buy you clothes” and that worries such as bills, violence, and homelessness demand a cool, collected head. Alton Ellis and the Flames’ Cry Tough echoes the message, asking: “How can a man be tough tougher than the world?” The pragmatic answer is that he can’t.

XTC seems to agree that there can be strength in resignation, but we’re left with a sense of nagging disillusion in Making Plans for Nigel. How will Nigel’s well-laid plans really unfold?

We have the benefit of hindsight when listening to Public Service Broadcasting’s If War Should Come. In it, a second world war voiceover advises “Don’t be alarmed / Keep a good heart / Whatever happens / Britain is a nation prepared” – which, while all true, sounds a little too easy.

True pragmatism tells us that nothing in this life is easy. But if our playlist is to be believed, the glass is half empty – and that’s OK.

Not all songs appear on the YouTube and Spotify lists as some are unavailable on these services.

New theme: how to join in

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Samantha Birchard

The GuardianTramp

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