Friday, 7 April 2017

My Top Ten Existential Songs (Volume 1)

I've been off work ill for most of the week, fighting a head-cold of volcanic proportions... or man-flu, if you prefer. Lying there in my sick bed, in between sleeping and watching Twin Peaks to prepare for the new series in May, I had some time to ponder the big questions of life. Why am I here? What use am I to anyone? Will Pulp ever get back together?

 Here are ten tunes that ponder similar existential quandaries...

10. Bob Dylan - Blowing In The Wind

Let's start with his Bobness, still as relevant today as he ever was...
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
 A song full of rhetorical questions... which always reminds me of Homer Simpson's response...

9. The Cure - Killing An Arab 

Robert Smith reads too much Albert Camus and ends up writing a song about The Stranger. Why did he do it?
I can turn
And walk away
Or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky
Staring at the sun
Whichever I chose
It amounts to the same
Absolutely nothing
8. George Harrison - What Is Life?

Can you think of anyone better suited to turn existentialism into a love song? 

The video, seemingly recorded after George's death in 2001, is really quite lovely.

7. Manic Street Preachers - Jackie Collins Existential Question Time

Oh, Mummy, what's a sex pistol?

6. Diana Ross - Do You Know Where You're Going To? (Theme From Mahogany)

Another one I remember vividly from my youth... though this was released in 1975. How many three year olds wonder where they're going to? (Beyond the toy shop?) I might have to ask my boy...
Do you know where you're going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to, do you know?
Do you get what you're hoping for?
When you look behind you there's no open door.
What are you hoping for, do you know?
5. Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees

Of course, there had to be Radiohead. Stick a pin in the Radiohead songbook and you'll burst an existential bubble every time. It wears me out.
But I can't help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run

And if I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted
All the time
All the time
4. Joni Mitchell - Both Sides, Now

It's not just clouds that Joni has been pondering...
I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
3. REM - Stand

Try this next week: consider your place in the universe. (Alternatively, consider how young Michael Stipe looks in this video.)
Stand in the place where you live
Now face north
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven't before

Now stand in the place where you work
Now face west
Think about the place where you live
Wonder why you haven't before
2. The Flaming Lips - Do You Realise?

OK, so along with Wichita Lineman and ThereIs A Light That Never Goes Out, I want this song playing at my funeral. I hope that's not too big an ask.
Do you realize that everyone you know
Someday will die?

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
1.Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime

I really struggled getting this week's Top Three into order; any one of them could have taken the top slot. But come on, you don't get much more existential than this... do you?
And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, 

"My God! What have I done?"

I called this post Volume 1 because I'm sure I've just scraped the surface of existential pop songs. Feel free to suggest some more big questions and I might do a volume 2 sometime...


  1. I recently had a stomach bug for a few days which wasn’t fun, hope you recover soon Rol.
    Both Sides, Now is a great song, they said in a Joni Mitchell doc I watched recently it's about childhood-adulthood.
    I want to throw Monty Python into the hat. Meaning of Life song is a classic about the big questions.

    1. Meaning Of Life - seconded
      (maybe with a side order of the Galaxy Song for added perspective)

    2. A definite contender for volume 2.

  2. I'm going for Flaming Lips "Do You Realise" too. That, and The The's "This Is The Day"
    The Jam "Going Underground" or Deep Purple "Burn" seemed too obvious.

    Continuing the Dylan theme, "Like A Rolling Stone" could also be a contender.

    1. Perhaps I should consider a Top Ten Funeral Songs...

  3. Satisfied Mind and An empty Bottle, a Broken Heart and You're Still on my Mind for me

    1. Blimey, that'll be a cheerful wake!

  4. Long time no comment but I always follow.
    I think Rigid Digit wrote it for me.....The The This is the Day, does it
    keep bringing the lists, we always enjoy and get educated

    1. Great to hear from you again, Giorgos. This Is The Day is a great song.

  5. Sorry you're not feeling well - Rubbish isn't it. Hope you feel a bit better soon.

    Although I've recently ousted him from my blog, Alfie did keep asking the question "What's It All About?" then turned into a song by Bacharach and David.

    1. Thanks, Alyson, it's always nice to get a little sympathy!

      Can't believe I didn't consider your former eponymous song... even though it's not my favourite, it deserved a mention.

  6. Howard Jones - What Is Love ? (crap song, but great question)

    The Chesterfields - Ask Johnny Dee (in which you seek info on what pop stars have for tea and the name of the girl who plays the tambourine, among many other things)

    New Order - Blue Monday (great philosophical question in the opening line)

    The Wonder Stuff - Who Wants To Be The Disco King? (possibly the greatest question ever asked by a non-dance band)


    1. At least you didn't suggest Haddway, JC.

      The Chesterfields is a recent discovery, thanks to Martin at New Amusements. I approve.

      Blue Monday is one of the few New Order songs I can stomach, so a possibility. (I realise admitting no love lost for NO is anathema in certain blogging circles, but I have to be true to myself.)

      The Wonder Stuff... got me thinking about a Top Ten Disco Songs Made By Indie Bands. Hmmm...

  7. Hope you're feeling much better now, Rol. Whisky and Lemsip.

    Love the theme of existentialism... would never have imagined Diana Ross to be in the list!
    Whenever I hear the word 'existentialism' I can't help but think of Crass, who were the first to introduce me to the word, and having spent a fair bit of time immersed in the anarcho-punk scene once long ago and a certain connection. So for something from the heavier end of the lyrical spectrum you could delve into them, but you'll probably feel thoroughly depressed at the end of it...

    Satre had an idea from the confusion of his brain
    Then there were a thousand more indulging in his pain
    Revelling in isolation and existential choice
    Can you truly be alone when you use anothers voice?
    Anothers lies, anothers truth
    Anothers doubt, anothers proof
    The idea born in someones mind
    Is nurtured by a thousand blind
    Anonymous beings, vacuous souls
    Do you fear the confusion, your lack of control?

    etc. etc.....!

    1. I cut and pasted... and I'm bugged now by the lack of apostrophes!

    2. Thanks, C. I recently acquired some Crass. Haven't been brave enough to listen to it yet.

  8. I hope you're being well looked after, Rol. Nasty, but one consolation is that it does give you the chance to loll around in bed listening to tunes and reading your fave books of the moment. (At least I hope so!)

    1. I managed the tunes but couldn't concentrate on reading anything. Typical - time to myself at last and I'm too ill to enjoy it!

  9. Bit late to the party on this one, but a late pitch for "What?" by Soft Cell...?

    Also, Once In A Lifetime is well used in the opening of the otherwise underwhelming Tom Hanks vehicle A Hologram For The King. To save you watching the film, it's also used (although less so) in the trailers.

    1. I'll happily take your Soft Cell suggestion Martin, but I'd thank you kindly not to invoke the name of the Terrible Horror, the Torturous Hobgoblin, the Tub of Hate round these parts. This is a Gump Free Zone.

  10. Also, "underwhelming"? In that case, it must be the best film he's ever made.

  11. Oh yes, had forgotten your dislike of Mr Hanks's films. No time even for The Green Mile?

  12. Your Decision by Alice in Chains. Great topic. Have you done Volume 2?

    1. Not yet, but I'll bear the AiC in mind when I do.

  13. Ned's Atomic Dustbin - Grey Cell Green


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