Musical Interlude

He tells a sad story, but the refrain is one to live by:

I’ve been binging Waits while I revise the current tome/albatross.  Something in the rhythm (and the tone) seems to drive the work at a good pace.

Got any songs that make you calm or content, even if a close listen to the lyrics paints a different story?

You may consider this a euphonic open thread.

63 replies
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    Peter says:

    Man, I *wish* I could listen to music when I write/edit. When I painted, I had music or radio on all the time. But language and music seem to require the same part of my brain, so I can’t multitask like in the good old days.

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    Lavocat says:

    “Atom Heart Mother Suite” or any live Floyd

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    Morfydd says:

    “Pretty Hate Machine” and “The Hurting” take me from unhappy through homicidal/suicidal out to the other side of peaceful, but I probably couldn’t do work to it. Besides cleaning – that works well.

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    Betty Cracker says:

    @Peter: Ditto, but for me, that only applies to music that contains lyrics, and only if I’m the one who chose to listen to it. It’s weird because I can tune out all sorts of background noise that includes words, usually even TV if someone else is watching, music someone else turned on, or conversations in another room. But if I turn the radio or playlist on, my concentration goes right out the window.

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    rikyrah says:

    Are we going to get a new Political Open Thread? Stuff is going down in courtrooms in Manhattan this morning.

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    Gin & Tonic says:

    Not a “song,” but Bach’s Mass in B-minor is a staple for when I really need to calm down and concentrate.

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    Bruuuuce says:

    Peter Gabriel, “Wallflower”. Soothing sound, disturbing words.

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    MattF says:

    If I’m engaged by a song, or generally any piece of music, it pretty much takes over my brain. It’s just earworms, all the way down.

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    AliceBlue says:

    Three Dog Night, “Out in the Country”.

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    NotMax says:

    Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition.

    Shostakovich, Symphony #9.

    Soundtrack to On the Twentieth Century.

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    Tom Levenson says:

    @Peter: I can revise to popular music w. lyrics. I compose to classical. Lots of Handel and Bach.

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    West of the Rockies says:

    Electronic space ambient (Steve Roach, John Serrie, et al) if I’m by myself and the speakers are close. In the coffee house where I write, it’s whatever they’re playing. The music isn’t overwhelming and the speakers are some distance removed, so I can not get too wrapped up in it.

    I don’t want someone else’s words and story in my head when trying to compose my own.

    At last, I cannot take Waits’ voice. It’s like Sherrod Brown’s. Makes me keep clearing my own throat to dislodge the gravel and cigarettes and whiskey. YMMV.

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    Thistle313 says:

    Cosign on the Tom Waits. I can listen to certain artists/albums while writing because I know them so well that I can tune out the lyrics if necessary. So Tom Waits, David Bromberg, Joni Mitchell. Yes, I am old. LOL

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    I’m absolutely in the same boat. I’ve mostly stopped listening to music because it destroys my concentration.

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    Kattails says:

    Classical for me. Morten Lauridsen, Les Chansons des Roses; or this one His setting of a James Agee poem. I’ve wanted to make note of it as an accompaniment to some of Billinglendale’s gorgeous photos.
    Vaughan Williams “the Lark Ascending” is so lyrical and always good for when I’m starting a design set and need to concentrate.

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    Another Scott says:

    There’s a bunch of Depeche Mode songs that kinda/sorta fit in this category:

    Blasphemous Rumors
    Enjoy the Silence
    Personal Jesus


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    narya says:

    Springsteen: Promised Land (all of Darkness, really, but especially that)
    Dead: The Wheel, Ripple

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    JimV says:

    Oh, hell no. I’m glad somebody likes Waits, though. To each his own.

    Mine is Blues. For example, the Junior Wells version of “Mystery Train”, or the Butterfield Band version. It turns out Wikipedia and I have a major disagreement on what the lyrics are and mean. I sing it as,

    Train, train, going down the track,
    It’s got my gal, and it won’t be bringing her back

    The train she rides is sixteen coaches long,
    And that long, black train, has got my gal and gone

    and so on. Wikipedia says the singer is on the train as the song is sung, and I guess some do sing it that way, and also that the biggest mystery is why the song is called “Mystery Train”. Well, I’m here to clear that up:

    On the back of one of my vinyl Chess albums it said something like this:

    “It runs from Maryland through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and on back. It started up in World War One, and has been running off and on ever since.”

    So it’s a coffin train. It’s painted black and only travels at night, so most people have never seen it, but when a train whistle sounds, late at night, they say, “There goes the mystery train.”

    That’s my story, anyway.

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    Amir Khalid says:

    Gerry and The Pacemakers, Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey.

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    R-Jud says:

    @Tom Levenson: I compose to classical piano. I currently have Glenn Gould playing the Two- and Three-Part Inventions on repeat. Frequently I’ll be writing late at night, hear a strange man’s voice in the room and have an instant of worry before it clicks that I’m just hearing Gould vocalising on the recording.

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    Tenar Arha says:

    I’ve been taking advantage more of my library’s hoopla subscription, so I’ve been listening to a lot of albums. However, the two most re-borrowed in the past six months or so is Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You, Maggie Rogers’ Heard It In A Past Life.

    Today’s listen: Banks’ III

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    Raven says:

    @Amir Khalid: Have you seen the TAMI show?

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    Tom Levenson says:

    @R-Jud: Gould is a great muse, and that recording is the bees knees. And yeah — I know what you mean. I listened to Keith Jarrett as my writing soundtrack for a while, and every now and then his huffing and puffing would catch me ear and make me jump.

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    Peter says:

    @Betty Cracker: I can tune things out if I’m really in the zone and words are flowing. Otherwise, not so much.

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    Luthe says:


    (Now, I must do battle with Comcast to get Internet. Wish me luck)

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    Gravenstone says:

    No lyrics, just some calming guitar. ‘Sargasso Sea’ by Michael Lee Firkins has long been a song I use to soothe my mind when needed.

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    Luthe says:

    @Betty Cracker: My favorite form of classical is Renaissance Choir music. Beautiful choral voices, usually in Latin or Italian so I don’t have to be distracted by lyrics. There is some in English, but it’s typically so stylized it doesn’t matter.

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    Fair Economist says:

    If I’m trying to work or relax, I like ambient music. Streaming services are really good for this – for some reason a mix of pieces works better than playing through an album.

    For inspiration and entertainment, I usually prefer classical. My most favorite composers are Romantic to Late Romantic, but they’re all good, except serialists. Sometimes, especially when exercising, I like once-popular jazz, or various strains of jazz revival like electronic swing, POMO Jukebox, or Puppini Sisters. I used to fill that particular spot with pop music but my taste changed abruptly a few years back (roughly when the swing revival died; gotta love my timing).

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    BroD says:

    Hold on! Tom Waits sings words?! Who knew?

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    Sorry to be a buzzkill but as this is a music thread I want to note that the great South African musician Johnny Clegg died on Tuesday. First heard his music in the early ’80’s and was fortunate enough to see him twice at the Keswick Theatre north of Philly.
    Here’s a link to a youtube video of the Ndlovu Youth Choir singing the song he wrote for Nelson Mandela, Asimbonanga:

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    TXSwede says:

    I often forget that I need more Tom Waits.

    Thank you.

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    prostratedragon says:

    Like many here I can’t listen to much vocal music while trying to work, and usually go for instrumental, but here’s an exception:

    “River Man,” sung by Andy Bey

    Lizz Wright also has a nice version.

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    p.a. says:

    They’re on my ‘hot rotation’ anyway because they were the best rock n roll band ever but I’ve been binging on The Replacements since reading their bio, Trouble Boys. Unusual for the genre, a genuinely good book, and the subjects seem to have been honest. But they can hardly be called relaxing.

    Ana Vidovic on utube is uplifting.

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    eemom says:



    Absolutely. Kindest, most serene song in the history of music.

    Fun fact: Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics while drinking Retsina, the wine of my people.

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    artem1s says:

    I’ve pretty much been listening to the last few days. It’s oddly calming.

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    Miss Bianca says:

    I find when I have to get some writing/editing/irksome mental task tackled, an endless loop of either the Monkees or H.P. Lovecraft do the trick for me. No, not spoken word recordings of the author’s works – the 60’s-era acid rock/jazz combo from Chicago.

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    Miss Bianca says:

    @Subcommandante Yakbreath: Oh no – his “Scatterlings of Africa” album is still on my list of Perfect Pop Records, and was probably my real introduction to South African music. RIP.

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    @Miss Bianca: I like your description of Scatterlings as a Perfect Pop Record. I’ve been binging on youtube videos and listening to albums for the past couple of days. Good stuff.

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    Kattails says:

    @Luthe: Congrats on the lease!! Good luck with the internets.
    Got any recommendations for the Renaissance choir music? I’ve got Hildegard of Bingen, the Anonymous Four, some lute and viola da gamba. Some of it is so ethereal though, it takes “relax me” a bit too far…

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    kjazz says:

    When i’m feeling down, my go-to album is Pink Floyd The Wall. Works like a charm, and afterwards I feel better. Second on that list is The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance.

    When I gotta get some work done, it’s often Dark Side of the Moon. I used write my undergrad exams listening to it (my profs would let me bring in my portable CD player).

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    mad citizen says:

    I love Tom Waits, but not sure I could do any substantive work to his music. Driving to work this morning, I was thinking “I miss Tom Waits”. Hard to fault anyone for living their life, but I wish he was still an active act.

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    debbie says:

    “Come on down from your cross; we could use the wood’ is what I want to say to every self-martyred, now-feeling-regrets Trump voter. Right after I scream “Fuck You!” at them a million times.

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    debbie says:


    Agreed. It’s probably my number one favorite. Life stops whenever I hear it.

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    debbie says:


    But back to Tom Waits, every line he writes is a gem. “The only things you see are all that you lack.” Plus, great to sing along with if you can’t carry a tuen.

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    Just One More Canuck says:

    @narya: my daughter says that Ripple sounds like he’s singing about a sunny autumn day

    I get Jerry Garcia Band songs in my FB feed. His cover of Simple Twist of Fate is great

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    laura says:

    Oh yes to any and all Tom Waits- especially old ’55. In addition to John Prine and Billy Bragg, and Duff McKagan’s Tenderness

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    J R in WV says:


    I compose to classical piano. I currently have Glenn Gould playing the Two- and Three-Part Inventions on repeat.

    I got a bunch of Glenn Gould from the library a while ago. Love classical piano. After several close listenings, I decided I don’t care for his Obsessive-Compulsive need to repair his perceived errors in pacing, or whatever he thought was wrong with what was really probably a perfectly good rendition of whatever. Sorry to nit-pick.

    I drive to town once or twice a week to run errands. I’ve started listening to the Sirius-XM Spa channel, which is pretty restful and low stress music. It helps me be relaxed, as opposed to the news channels which make me maddened.

    I like a lot of the early Dead work, and Jerry Garcia’s work with David Grismon, a picker who lived near Garcia and who had a recording studio in his basement. So their neighborly noodling together was preserved for our enjoyment. Norah Jones, Sarah McLaughlin, Duke Ellington. Dr. John isn’t restful, but wow did he play that NOLA style>!

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    J R in WV says:




    Absolutely. Kindest, most serene song in the history of music.

    Fun fact: Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics while drinking Retsina, the wine of my people.@narya:


    Absolutely. Kindest, most serene song in the history of music.

    Fun fact: Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics while drinking Retsina, the wine of my people.

    Wow! For once we are in total agreement. And Uncle John’s Band, which is my other favorite from the Dead.

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    Inspectrix says:

    it’s also difficult for me to read or write while listening to vocalists. Lately I’ve been listening to Patty Griffin’s No Bad News as a way to give myself a motivational kick in the pants.
    The lyrics are so eerily prescient and now I can’t unsee sad-little-boy-in-chief in the song now.
    Don’t bring me bad news, no bad news
    I don’t need none of your bad news today
    You’re a sad little boy, anyone can see you’re just a sad little boy
    That’s why you’re carrying on that way
    Why don’t you burn it all down, burn your own house down, burn your own house down
    Try to kill your own disease
    And leave the rest of us, there’s a lot of us, leave the rest of us
    Who wanna live in peace to live in peace
    I’m gonna find me a man, love him so well, love him so strong, love him so slow
    We’re gonna go way beyond the walls of this fortress
    And we won’t be afraid, we won’t be afraid, and though the darkness may come our way
    We won’t be afraid to be alive anymore
    And we’ll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
    Till there are no strangers anymore
    Don’t bring me bad news, no bad news
    I don’t need none of your bad news today
    You can’t have my fear, I’ve got nothing to lose, can’t have my fear
    I’m not getting out of here alive anyway
    And I don’t need none of these things, I don’t need none of these things
    I’ve been handed
    And the bird of peace is flying over, she’s flying over and
    Coming in for a landing

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    Bonnie says:

    I love Tom Waits and his music. Thank you.

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    catatonia says:

    It’s probably been a decade or more since a day passed that I didn’t listen to Waits.
    “And when you’re blue, and you’ve lost all your dreams
    There ain’t nothing like a campfire, and a can of beans”

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