Why walk when you can fly? For Mary Chapin Carpenter, and for plenty of others over the centuries, walking seems mundane and toilsome; earthbound, we trudge awkwardly towards our destination with aching feet instead of soaring effortlessly above the world. For the lovers of technology, walking seems slow, uncomfortable and unnecessary, wasting time and energy and exposing us to the elements when we could be hurtling along at exhilarating speed, cocooned in our silver machines.
But for us walkers, all that misses the point. Walking isn’t about getting from A to B as fast as possible; it’s about being in the moment, feeling the changing texture of the ground beneath your feet, and revelling in the sights and sounds around you rather than having them flash by in a blur. It’s the only way to experience a city, as the Fatback Band recognise – and the only way to get to know the countryside and the wilderness. Yes, it does take an effort, and there are songs that make no bones about it; Greg Brown sets a fierce pace to get across the mountain before the cloud comes down, and Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids make their way through a bustling crowd, sometimes pushed back or sideways by the sheer weight of people. But even here, you can feel the pleasure of putting one foot in front of the other, of making your way.
Take your time, advises Willie Dixon, to the accompaniment of a steady walking rhythm, beaten out with shoes; what’s the rush? Edward Vesala conjures up the particular joy of walking in winter, keeping yourself warm with the effort of taking each step through the snow, exhilarated by the chill of the air.
Walking doesn’t need to involve a destination; it’s an end in itself, as well as a means of burning off energy and getting the creative juices going – and, like dancing, it’s also a way of presenting ourselves to others, of communicating presence and attitude. You can tell by the way I use my walk: as The Diamonds recognise, even our personal style of strolling across the floor can project style, confidence, and a touch of menace. I could have filled this playlist with music that echoes different sorts of walk and encourages the listener to walk this way, from skanking with Jah Screechy to strutting with The Meters, via any amount of mooching, stalking, striding and shuffling. It’s about display, being the cock of the catwalk – and of course humans can barely compete with the swing and swagger of a tomcat or the slink of a queen, as the Stray Cats know very well.
What animal walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening? the Sphinx asked Oedipus. Yes, human life is defined by our different modes of perambulation – while watching everything that’s going on around us, and keeping our hands free, just in case. Astor Piazzolla walks through the city at night, passing crowded bars and quiet alleyways, sometimes pausing or dawdling and sometimes picking up the pace, while in Vladimir Cosma’s music from the film Diva, two young people walk slowly through the deserted Jardin des Tuileries early in the morning – with no destination in mind, just walking together.
Ambulatory A-List Playlist:
Fatback Band – Njia Walk (Street Walk)
Greg Brown – Two Little Feet
Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids – Tinoge Ya Ta’a Ba, Parts 1 and 2
Willie Dixon – Walking the Blues
Edward Vesala – Lumi
Jah Screechy – Walk and Skank
The Diamonds, The Stroll
The Meters, Cissy Strut
Stray Cats, Stray Cat Strut
Astor Piazzolla, Buenos Aires Hora Cero
Vladimir Cosma, Promenade Sentimentale
Backpacking B-List Playlist:
Ennio Morricone – ‘The Final Duel’, from Once Upon A Time In The West
The Staple Singers – I’ll Take You There
Lou Donaldson – Blues Walk
Prince – Strollin’
Digable Planets – Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)
Beat Street – Beat Street Strut
Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – Walk Like A Man
Rufus Thomas – Walking the Dog
Massive Attack – Daydreaming
Horace Silver Quintet – Strollin’
Right Said Fred – I’m Too Sexy
Thelonious Monk – Crepuscle with Nellie (evening promenade)
Guru’s Wildcard Pick:
So many songs I could have chosen, evoking different styles and occasions of walking, that were inexplicably not nominated. As a chronic insomniac, in Fever Ray’s Keep The Streets Empty For Me I hear the echo of my footsteps in a deserted street, misty and drizzly, in the early hours, trying to walk myself into exhaustion and in the meantime enjoying the solitude…
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Strident in song: music that expresses the movement and feeling of walking. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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