Five Playlists

Here’s a top tip for blogging: don’t commit to a schedule of two posts a week the day before you exchange contracts to move house. With the move happening later this week, here’s a short post on five playlists I’ve put together over the last few years with various themes, and the story of how each originated.

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I enjoy putting these together mainly to have good things to listen to in the car, but I also enjoy constructing them, challenging myself to find different pieces around a theme, creating a natural flow between different pieces and restricting myself to 20 songs, to create a coherent playlist. With music so on-demand these days, having set playlists, each listened to in sequence, brings back the more structured approach of an album – though by different people. I’ve also found it a great way of sharing music I like with my children, and seeing them get into songs I like – whilst also accommodating some of their tastes – has been a great pleasure.


I began putting the first of these playlists together just after the birth of my second child, when my son (then aged 4) and I spent a week or so driving once or twice a day to the hospital, about 45 minutes away. Looking for a way to pass the time without having to listen to nursery rhymes, I began to put together a playlist that would suit driving along (mainly) dual carriageways, be relatively upbeat to keep up our spirits, and that would appeal to both of us. A few iterations later, this was the result.

Driving contains a solid mix of upbeat, fast-tempoed pieces, from power ballads such as Summer of ’69 and Born to Run, Disney pieces such as Let it Go and choral works such as Christopher Tin’s incomparable openings to Civilization IV and VI, Baba Yetu and Sogno di Volare. So often did we listen to it during that first week, that I still, five years on, associate specific songs with particular stretches of road.


The next album – once we wanted a change from Driving – was the first centred around a theme. After an abortive attempt to centre it around travel, and not finding enough songs, this somehow morphed into a theme based on Resistance.

Resistance contains an eclectic but enjoyable mix from Les Miserables to Star Wars, The Greatest Showman to Idiana Jones, an the more real-world struggles of Jerusalem or Gold or Capercaillie’s Four Stone Walls.x. I particularly like the American themed section mid-playlist, which takes the listener on a historical journey from Sailing to Philadelphia, through Hamilton, to the more modern Downeaster Alexa and Born in the USA. Thunder Road and Take Me Home, Country Roads remain like erratic boulders left my the previous theme.

Love and Loathing

Having done a fairly obscure theme, the next compilation was centred on something more obvious: love. The question here was less finding enough songs – there are so many songs about love – but rather selecting between them.

Love and loathing is almost all about love; the loathing really only features in What is this Feeling, which I put in because I like it, and to make a good title. Strong emotion is the key to this compilation, with in many cases a sense of wistful yearning, from The Beautiful South’s One Last Love Song to The Mamas and Papas’ California Dreamin’. Some are more straightforwardly joyous though, including Top of the World and For the First Time in Forever(1).

The Tolkien Playlist

And now for something completely different. The Tolkien Playlist consists of pieces from Clamavi de Profundis (who set Tolkien’s original poems to music), Howard Shore’s brilliant film script and songs from the now obscure Lord of the Rings: The Musical, arranged in a chronological fashion to take the listener through, in turn, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and then (excerpts of) the Silmarillion. Listening to this really brought me to new appreciation of Tolkien’s poems and my son and I learned several by heart.

By far the longest of the playlists here, it weighs in at a little over three hours, making it great for lengthy car journeys.


The final of these five playlists were created when one of my children asked me to make a playlist that began with the Imperial March (aka Darth Vader’s theme). After some consideration, I decided to pivot from the previous theme of love to its opposite, and made a playlist centred on war.

War, after the sinister opening, switches to a triumphalist note, with a number of classic marches – Colonel Bogey, The Great Escape – as well as some less well known piece such as Clamavi’s ‘Lepanto’. The middle plumbs a greater variety, including Scottish bagpipes, Holst’s Mars and The Ride of the Valkyries. Then, in the final section, the playlist shifts tone to tell of the cost of war, with the theme from Schindler’s List, I Vow to Thee My Country and others featuring.

I hope you enjoy listening to some of these. I’m sure I’ll create more in the future and, if I do, I may post them here.

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(1) Why, after all, have a ballroom with no balls?

2 thoughts on “Five Playlists

  1. Only Anna’s part of For The First Time In Forever is joyous; Elsa’s is filled with trepidation. (And I’d hesitate to call even Anna’s part “straightforwardly” joyous: someone singing about how excited they are to have things we usually take for granted (like “actual real live people”) is poignant and bittersweet.)

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