Readers recommend playlist: songs about purple

This week, reader severin creates a playlist from your suggestions – including songs by Jimi Hendrix, MIA and Marc Almond

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

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an elephant in the room, a large purple elephant. You read the topic – songs about purple – and two songs immediately came to mind. Sadly one of them, Purple Rain by Prince, has already been listed for a previous topic – eccentric songs – so wasn’t eligible. The other one, of course, is by Jimi Hendrix.

The YouTube playlist.

Purple Haze – which does make this list – was the second Jimi Hendrix Experience single after their version of Hey Joe. I was nine in 1967, when Hendrix and his band appeared on Top of the Pops, and I would like to tell you that it changed my taste in music forever. But in fact, I agreed with my mother, who said the trio were “dirty hippies” and what they were playing “hardly even counted as music”, and went straight back to listening to the Tremeloes and the Monkees.

Deep Purple (the band) sadly never recorded the song of the same name. Many other acts did, though, and several of them were nominated over the last few days. I’ve picked the version by Artie Shaw, featuring Helen Forrest on vocals, which swings along like a dream, even though the one by Nino Tempo and April Stevens had a bigger hit.

Speaking of Deep Purple (the band) – their erstwhile lead singer Ian Gillan recorded a song about a Purple Sky. This one speeds along like the devil’s at its heels: “Purple sky gets me high!” Absolutely blistering.

The Civil Wars are known for their beautifully crafted songs and the interaction between their voices. So it’s a bit of a surprise to include an instrumental they recorded. Of the instrumentals nominated last week, none were as beautiful as The Violet Hour. As a matter of fact, we had nominations for three songs with that title – all, I am guessing, named after the 2003 Broadway play by Richard Greenberg. The play concerns future possibilities, choices and possibly the supernatural. This spine-chilling tune seems perfect for such a theme.

Purple, violet and now lilac. A Lilac Angel, in fact. The German band Neu! recorded this [as Lila Engel] in 1973. The phrase “ahead of its time” is rather overused, but does seems appropriate here; as someone once said about Pere Ubu, they sounded post-punk before there was a punk to be post.The Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan is joined next by an all-star cast: Emmylou Harris, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and a young Rufus Wainwright (son of Kate). Wild Mountain Thyme is also sometimes called The Purple Heather. It was either written, or (more likely) was a traditional song collected, by Francis McPeake in the 1950s, and there are many recorded versions. This one is sublime.

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,” the Jenny Joseph poem goes. And why not Start Wearing Purple, as Gogol Bordello implore? “All your sanity and wits, they will vanish, I promise, it’s just a matter of time.” I didn’t know this, erm, boisterous band until another of their songs was listed for the disbelief RR topic in December. I’m glad I do now.

Now Lavender … the scent, the flower and the colour, and once a code word to describe gay men. Marc Almond namechecks Tab Hunter, Dirk Bogarde and others. Some hiding behind a straight façade, some behind a disarming camp and theatricality. “He’s got a touch of lavender.”

“Sitting in the silent twilight, the purple half-light of the twilight”. I’ve picked the original version of Purple by Crustation. Once again, three versions of the same title were nominated. This time all the same song and artist but three different mixes. All good in their own ways, of course, but this one seemed perfect to me.

We have included violet, so its next door neighbour, indigo, should get a mention. Mood Indigo has been recorded by a number of artists. A version appears on Frank Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours collection. The phrase was even used as the English language title of a Michel Gondry film, L’ecume de jours (“the froth/ foam of days”). It describes a mood beyond feeling blue and was written by Duke Ellington and Barney Bigard with words by Irving Mills. So let’s go for the version by Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra with a vocal by Ivie Anderson: “You ain’t been blue/‘til you’ve had that mood indigo.”

There’s no colour in the title of the next one. Just repeated references to a “purple haze” which was where we began. MIA’s Galang is just the invigorating wake-up call we need after encouraging such melancholy.

And finally, again simply with the word Purple, Skin provides the finale to this list of purple prose and sounds. With one of her own favourites and a perennial live highlight, I’ll give the Skunk Anansie vocalist the last words on the topic: “Purple washes over me/Seeping through my open seams/I’m stained all over ... ”

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 (GMT) on Thursday 9 March. You then have until 11pm on Monday 13 March to submit nominations.

Here’s a reminder of some of the guidelines for Readers recommend:

  • If you have a good theme idea, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist from readers’ suggestions and write a blog about it, please email
  • There is a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.
  • Many RR regulars also congregate at the ’Spill blog.


Stephen Males

The GuardianTramp

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