The Road Not Taken. It's a compelling image. Do the paths meet up again further down the line or are we committed to walk one line forever? Can we ever go back to the road we scorned or is that possibility lost to us forever? Perhaps the most interesting facet of this conundrum is we're inevitably following a path worn by countless travellers before us and yet we've no signposts telling us which way to turn. The decision is fresh to each of us who must make it and maybe each path is as rich with possibility as the other. But we still wish we could have seen what lay down that other track.
Belle & Sebastian sing a melancholy song about young tragedy and what might have been. It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career tells the story of not one set of lost opportunities but two. It's hard to see who to weep for in this tale, the young man in his prime cut down by a stroke or the woman who gave up what she could have had to care for him. It's a cruel joke but a beautiful song.
A Good Job With Prospects is a song of it's time – it certainly couldn't be written today: “work until you're 60/ then you'll be freed”, a wide-open choice of jobs to pick from and prospects for progression. It's hard to listen to today without at least a little envy creeping in. These are options that seem out of reach for too many these days, but it's still worth remembering that these opportunities did once present themselves. It's the career equivalent of spoiled for choice and you can only imagine the possibilities.
But maybe these chances being lost is for the better. Ed Robertson had similar options, but in the end took his chances, gambled and won. If you live the life of the rock star it's not really surprising that gap years planting trees and dossing around Europe means Never is Enough for you.
The Beach Boys probably sum up one aspect of this topic perfectly. God Only Knows truly sums up how difficult it is to perceive what would happen if things went differently. A beautiful love song that speaks of the despair to be felt after a break-up yet accepts there are some things we can't know. The Wilsons et al are just convinced that whatever lies afterwards can't live up to what they had.
By contrast, Glasvegas makes the point that it's up to you how to deal with rejection. Daddy's Gone portrays what they could have had if his father hadn't walked out but doesn't wallow in self-pity. James Allan sings that it won't be him living alone and lonely, looking back on what might have been. In a remarkably defiant song he chooses not to be the victim but convinces himself he's going to come out best in this choice he didn't make.
In his recommendation for this song, reader barbryn said he'd had this topic in mind too. In my favourite nomination of the week Anna tells the story of a child who might have been. Seen through the eyes of her would-be parent she could have been anything and represented the best thing about children – their limitless potential. Starting off as a catchy, if somewhat twee, pop song it delivers a gut-punch shift which still makes me tingle when I listen to it (and I've done a lot of listening to it by this point). In three minutes Swedish band Hello Saferide fully flesh out a character and then snatches her away, leaving the listener feeling cheated.
Like the previous song, Paul Kelly makes a child disappear (though thankfully only to make the story fit better into the structure of the song) when he sings of how his Aunt Judy met his uncle-to-be in the South of Germany. It's the might-not-have-beens like this which are so poignant. The idea that everything we know and have is based on the most random aspects of chance is scary. Fortunately Judy slept in that day.
Released in a cover album of censored, blacklisted or otherwise silenced songs from around the world, Moddi's cover of Kate Bush's Army Dreamers hits exactly the right notes in this topic. Detailing the return of a young soldier's body from war it speaks powerfully of the chances he had never had, the opportunities made available to others but never to him and most strikingly of all the fact that there are now no new possibilities for him. For lack of an education and money his options were always curtailed and now they've been closed for ever.
The next two songs really need to be talked about together. The last few weeks have shown how far away from gender equality we really are and these both come illustrate different aspects of the imbalance that still exists. The Steeldrivers said life wouldn't have turned out this way If It Hadn't Been For Love. The narrator says she wouldn't be dead and he wouldn't be behind bars if he hadn't loved her. He says it's love to blame. Personally it looks more like a nasty, jealous possessiveness that led to this set of circumstances. To blame it on love really does take some double-think and twisted logic.
While Beyoncé's complaints seem more trivial it still exposes the double-standards that apply. If I Were a Boy relates what she could get away with if a 50-50 chance had gone the other way. The reversal is powerful and illustrates how behaviour from one group is accepted and expected in a way it never would be for the other. It was released in 2008 but it would be as relevant if it were released today, and sadly, I can't see it getting less poignant in the near future.
Ending the playlist on a refreshing positive. It takes a brave man to tell his wife that she's easily replaced but Tim Minchin pulls it off with aplomb in his hilarious If I Didn't Have You. An analytical mind can be the death of love, especially if it calls into the idea of soul-mates and brings you to the conclusion that really their love is a story of circumstance rather than destiny. Delivered with a perfectly honed awkwardness, it sends up the all too common idealistic love songs whilst still being endearingly sweet.
Actual A-list Playlist:
Bruce Hornsby and the Range – The Road Not Taken
Belle & Sebastian – It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career
The Actress – Good Job With Prospects
Barenaked Ladies – Never is Enough
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows
Glasvegas – Daddy's Gone
Hello Saferide - Anna
Paul Kelly – South of Germany
Moddi – Army Dreamers
The Steeldrivers – If It Hadn't Been for Love
Beyoncé – If I Were a Boy
Tim Minchin – If I Didn't Have You
Alternative route A-list? It's the B-list Playlist:
Flight of the Conchords – Robots
Pulp – Disco 2000
Kate Miller-Heidke – Caught in the Crowd
The Call – It Could Have Been Me
Willie Nelson – There Goes a Man
Judy Garland – The Man That Got Away
Dusty Springfield – If You Go Away
John Lennon – Imagine
Gene Pitney - Angelica
Counting Crows – A Long December
Olu Dara – Bubba (If Only)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – The Best of Everything
Guru's Wildcard Pick:
Tyla J Pallas – If Only
The tenth track from what is arguably his greatest solo album, Nocturnal Nomads. Rich, bluesy rock at it's best. He has somewhat grandiose ideas of what life would be like if they were together, but who can say that he's wrong?
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Would, could or should? Songs about alternative outcomes. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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