At her home of three years in Los Angeles, Natasha Khan and her boyfriend are having a particularly unusual lockdown, because she is six-and-half-months pregnant. “Going through all this on our own is a bit sad,” she says. “But weirdly, it’s a bit of nesting time, anyway. It’s been good to bed down.” She’s also been loving the “incredible colours” of spring blooming all around: the jasmine, tropical plants and orange poppies on the mountains.
At home, she’s been listening to more classical music while meditating, and had “quiet moments” listening to Nick Cave’s Ghosteen and Bob Dylan’s new songs. Occasional car trips for essentials have been soundtracked by optimistic songs, however. Pulled from every stage of her life, these have made the most difference to her during lockdown, she explains: “Music has always been a healer for me. I mean, if I’m feeling sad and shitty, I put Madonna on, and instantly I get a rush! In this chaotic, confusing and monotonous time, optimistic songs have this incredible ability to change your chemistry.”
The intro always makes me cry – in a good way – because Nina’s such a badass.
Hearts on Fire
After a really down day earlier this week, my boyfriend and I put this on, and within 30 seconds we were both dancing in the kitchen.
This is a great Australian duo. It begins quite mellow, but then the beats kick in.
The King of Wishful Thinking
My family always play this at parties, and I love the optimistic sentiment in the chorus, especially at the moment!
The Coffee Cola Song
Such a sweet, light song that doesn’t take itself seriously.
Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush
Don’t Give Up
My musical parents. The hope in it shines.
Life’s What You Make It
I love the bassline, and the slow-burning piano build. Its lyrics remind us to be hopeful about what’s important in our lives.
Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now
Another classic hopeful 80s singalong. It’s all romantic and Technicolor.
The Gap Band
A favourite of mine when I DJ and such a great love song.
This has a great 80s/90s Springsteen vibe, great for dusty, psychedelic American roads.
The Brothers Johnson
Pure, sexy optimistic disco.
Love at First Sight
Kylie’s pure optimism, isn’t she?E ven given all that she’s been through.
Dancing in Heaven
This plays in the dance contest in the 80s Sarah Jessica Parker film Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, which me and my sisters loved as kids.
My parents played this all the time in the car back then, too, and we’d all sing along.
The Goonies “R” Good Enough
Just thinking of the Goonies setting off on their bikes makes me all hopeful!
For someone who’s usually on stage in flamboyant costumes under bright lights, it’s oddly charming to find Neil Tennant in lockdown in the Kent countryside. “I’m walking on remote roads most days, doing a lot of reading, enjoying watching spring happen,” he emails from his rural post. Pet Shop Boys have had to postpone the UK leg of their Dreamworld: Greatest Hits tour, so this spring has mainly involved them wandering into their past, releasing reissues of 1988 art film It Couldn’t Happen Here and Chris Heath’s brilliant 1990 book about them, Literally.
Always a classical music fan, Tennant has gravitated towards the genre while on lockdown. For him, these songs help conjure up a Romantic feeling about nature, in the 19th-century sense: “Music has always had the power to summon up a landscape in your imagination and also to soundtrack your daily reality,” he writes. Much of this playlist is also inspired by folk music, which he’s always loved. His first band in the mid-1970s, Dust, were inspired by the Incredible String Band.
A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Requiem for the Static King
Its slow string chords often soundtrack my isolation.
The Firebird Suite: Lullaby (performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi)
“We are in a forest…” The traditional Russian folk inspiration behind “the Firebird” seemed thrillingly exotic to pre-first world war audiences.
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Concerto for Oboe and Strings: Rondo Pastorale (performed by Celia Nicklin, Academy of St Martin the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner) Vaughan Williams wrote this during the second world war – the premiere was cancelled because of bombing in London.
Rani’s solo piano works have an atmospheric sense of space, and none of the banality of some “contemporary classical” piano music.
“Fallen leaves…” The key track on his first album, with an outstanding and economical string arrangement by Hammer Films composer Harry Robertson.
Fra Holbergs Tid (performed by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner)
This – a country dance originally written for piano and later arranged for string orchestra – is bracingly fresh.
Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams: II. Summer Shimmers across the Glass of Green Ponds (performed by the Lark Quartet)
I think the title says it all!
In a Landscape (performed by Stephen Drury)
A homage to Erik Satie written to accompany dance: a delicate piano piece.
String Quartet “Phantasy” (performed by David Worswick, Oliver Coates, Simon Hewitt Jones and Tom Hankey)
She devoted much of her life to promoting the work of her father, Gustav, but Imogen was a talented composer in her own right, with a very English voice.
Mother Nature’s Son
I love how Paul McCartney said “I’d always loved nature”, when he was asked about the composition of this song.
When Almonds Blossomed (performed by Khatia Buniatishvili)
Kancheli wrote music for many Soviet-era Georgian films with a lightness of touch.
Lento (performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth)
A lyrical minimalist classic for orchestra.
Marry Waterson and David A Jaycock
Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love
A moving modern folk song inspired by the tragic tale about a young girl who dies before her marriage.
Clarinet Quintet: III. Notturno (performed by Linda Merrick and the Kreutzer Quartet)
An underrated composer from Newcastle, Josephs wrote many scores for film and TV and struggled to get taken seriously as a creative composer. Josephs’ chamber music is lovely and the clarinet sings plaintively here.
Come Away, Come Away Death(performed by John Carol Case and the New Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Vernon Handley)
A setting of a lovelorn text by Shakespeare, taking inspiration from folk music.
“It’s weird this, isn’t it? It’s just about getting through it.” Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods is isolating in Nottingham with his wife and two kids, aged eight and five. “It’s full on until their bedtime at 8pm, although we’ve given up on home schooling a bit. They watch a film and do something creative after it, like write a story about it, or draw a picture.” Williamson’s been fitting this around interviews for Sleaford Mods’ new compilation, All That Glue, out this month, and relaxing by listening to music very unlike his own.
In lockdown, Williamson has been responding to melancholy moods by returning to songs he enjoyed as a younger musician. “Gentle, acoustic stuff. I could never make that kind of music myself, though. I’m hopeless at being quiet in general. But it’s very dear to me, and life-affirming in a way.” Listening to these songs make him think about how to be a musician in a different way, he says, especially as in the past he’s had periods of only listening to music that was, as he puts it: “totally in your face. But that’s just stupid, isn’t it? You’ve got to look elsewhere for inspiration.”
We played a festival in Tasmania with her before lockdown, and she blew me away.
I wasn’t a big fan of hers before, but this reminded me you’ve got to give people another chance. This has got such a great melancholy production.
A new artist who’s done a couple of tracks with Blackmidi. Her voice is great and very peculiar.
End Is Nigh
A real-life, sad kitchen-sink drama.
This is really musically classy, about a man missing his woman, but with a sadness running right through it.
On the Beach
The lyrics connect to the times: “The world is turnin’ / I hope it don’t turn away.”
This is fuller and more colourful than her usual style, with great atmospheric production.
Flash and the Pan
Walking in the Rain
I love the sad, spoken-word mood of this late-70s track. Of all my playlist, I think we could get with doing something like this.
Boys (That I Dated In High School)
A brilliant attack on the male of the species, in a good way.
This has a great, melancholy groove. I don’t know what Baxter’s talking about half the time, but I don’t mind.
The title track of their 1997 album. it’s so moody and beautiful.
Little Bit of Rain
It sounds crappy to say so, but no one makes music this beautiful any more.
Edith and the Kingpin
From The Hissing of Summer Lawns, the only album of hers I’ve ever really got into.
Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge
Help Me Make It Through the Night (Live)
My partner suggested this, and it has to be this version, so this is for her. It’s wicked, so slow and sad.
Saving All My Love for You
I was obsessed with Whitney’s first and second albums and her voice last year. They’re so full of sadness if you listen close.
Mike Skinner moved to Highgate in London with his family – wife Claire, and children Amelia, 10, and George, eight – just as lockdown was happening. “Everything being new all the time had extra levels to it. It was weird. But it also made all those questions about how you want to live your life feel much more important.”
Skinner has found his music habits haven’t changed as much as he thought they would during lockdown. He still loves listening to club music, especially the bassline and garage into which he emerged as the Streets in the early 2000s. He’s also loved to dwell in songs that tell stories, that give him moments of contemplation. A lot of these are country songs, a genre he’s got increasingly into over the years. “I grew up thinking country was rubbish, but now it’s the closest music to rap for me. It’s about storytelling and detail in the same way. I heard Malcolm Gladwell on a podcast saying that rock is abstract, but country is specific. He’s right. It’s all the things I try to emulate.”
A Boy Named Sue
My favourite song of all time, with a great circular structure. It’s so tough, descriptive and strange, yet simple.
I love the way the story develops between these two men playing cards.
In the Ghetto
Another perfect circle of a song, in how the story moves.
Wine Women and Song
I love the way she berates the man in this song for spending “her last thin dime”.
Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down
I prefer the more pop side of country, but this is the best hungover, candid 70s outlaw stuff.
The Last Time I Saw Richard
The middle of this – how she details the time and the location of where she saw him – sounds like a rap song to me.
Tell Laura I Love Her
I love those early pop tragedy records for their tiny details that twist everything.
Gladys Knight & the Pips
Midnight Train to Georgia
The first song I played to both my children when they were born.
So Far Away
There are so many perfect songs on Tapestry, but this is the one that really gets me.
A Day in the Life
Two fantastic story songs stuck together that make a complete, psychedelic whole.
Half the World Away
A song that felt hidden when it first came out [as a B-side to 1994 single, Whatever], which shows how brilliant Noel is as a songwriter doing pathos.