I derive a great sense of pleasure and joy from the music I listen to – a sentiment that I’m sure many others would relate to. Music can provide a certain sense of reassurance – it’s food for the soul, soothing when we’re feeling anxious, and brings to mind pleasant times gone by, and times yet to come. It can remind us that, despite the long winter nights and senses of dread that comes with doing a Hilary term from home, things will get better eventually – like a guiding light at the end of a long tunnel.
As someone who finds it hard to express her feelings and emotions through words, music really does provide a welcome form of expression; and considering the current situation of the world, has been something of a godsend since last March. I think I speak for many Oxford students when I say that I had no idea what was in store after the Christmas Vac – all of those fleeting goodbyes and calls of “see you in Hilary!” feel naïve looking back. Being thrown unexpectedly back into a national lockdown, without my uni friends or my djungelskog for company, these songs are the ones that have been taking me through our third instalment of uncertain times.
Fourth Rendez-Vous and London Kid – Jean-Michel Jarre
Fourth Rendez-Vous isn’t a well-known song today, nor was it a well-known song back in its original heyday of 1986, but this song has, for a long while, meant something to me that I can’t quite fathom or put into words. A song introduced to a four-year-old me on a summer’s day in 2006, it’s a melody that has inspired me on many occasions – with many often marvelling at the fact that I can find such a deep meaning from a song with no lyrics. It reminds me of a man who inspires me a great deal, and who taught me one of life’s most important lessons: that there are moments in life that really are worth living, and that all you’ve got to do is keep going until you get to them. The man himself may no longer be around to help me through the hard times, but he left me with the gift of a song that could, and one that’s helped me continually throughout the past ten months.
As well as a song that makes me feel like everything will be okay, it’s my go-to song when I’m stuck with writer’s block – I’m even listening to it now as I type!
In London Kid, I’ve found less meaning, but more of a conjunct melody that eloquently captures the vibrancy of the city I’ve long been in awe of. Written initially as part of a concert that was performed in London’s East End, the song expresses a warm sense of nostalgia and longing for an idealised form of London – it takes me back to standing in the middle of Oxford Street and watching the Christmas lights in 2019, to standing on Blackfriars Bridge while the world passes by, to being the first person on the underground at 6am on my way to yet another day of waiting tables and mashed-potato-based injuries. It reminds me of a city I’ve come to love over the past five years, and gives me hope that one day I’ll find myself running past St Martin-in-the-Fields on the way to a gallery date with friends again.
The song is hauntological through its inclusion of 60s guitar icon Hank Marvin on his Fender Strat, yet it’s still a song that reflects a modern London. I know that friends of mine will disagree with me, but I feel as though Jarre has really hit the nail on the head with this song; gentle, docile, undulating, it’s an evergreen song to match an evergreen city.
America (From “The Jazz Singer” soundtrack) – Neil Diamond
An artist perhaps more familiar than my previous pick, I’ve found a great deal of comfort from listening to this incredibly uplifting song. Despite featuring in a box office flop of a film, this song in particular was a big hit single in the States, epitomising Diamond’s reputation for powerful melodies, dynamic arrangements, and bombastic, carrying vocals. It’s both a rallying war-cry, and a song that you can’t just help but dance along to. After receiving a compilation album of Diamond’s Greatest Hits for Christmas, I’ve all too often found myself tapping along to this song on the steering wheel of my car, in a way that often culminates being eerily reminiscent of Howard and Amy’s carpool karaoke scene from The Big Bang Theory.
Diamond’s music harks back to the music tastes of my grandparents to whom I’m very close. Pre-COVID, I would normally drive up to Suffolk with my family to see them every few weeks – obviously, that soon became nigh-on impossible. Not seeing them in person or being able to hug them has really took a toll on me over the past year, but listening to their music and dancing along to their songs has helped me to stay “connected” to them in a way that no Zoom quiz or telephone call ever could. I especially love how the song centres around the future: of keeping going and hanging onto our dreams, of which mine is just being able to hug my grandparents before my 20th birthday later this year.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) – ABBA
A quintessentially Swedish song from ABBA’s catalogue of tunes that’s known for getting even the grumpiest of adults up on the dancefloor, it tells the tale of a lonely woman searching for romance – certainly something that Oxford students can relate to, based on the number of recent submissions to OxMatch. Just listening to the opening of this song is a valuable way of boosting your serotonin during the current winter darkness. This song embodies such an incredible, raw disco vibe with its substantial bass and use of synthesisers which saw it catapulted to the top of the charts across Europe.
For me, this brings back countless memories of walking through Stockholm on a summer’s evening, hearing the vibrant pop music pouring out of clubs, drinking beer straight from the bottle on Riddarholmskyrkan while lounging in the gorgeous light of a Nordic evening. It also makes me yearn for a Plush night (something which, as a Fresher, I have yet to experience), and it gives me great pleasure to imagine the utter scenes that would go down when this song is played again for the first time.
For a song with a very similar disco vibe, I would strongly recommend Summer Night City from ABBA’S back catalogue – also featured on Voulez-Vous.
Is This Love? – Alison Moyet
There’s a reason why this song clocked in as my most listened to song on my Spotify Wrapped of 2020. Opening with a gentle synth melody, and continuing in a refined yet simple manner, there’s something about Moyet’s voice that’s almost akin to receiving a warm, welcoming hug from an old friend. The song marks quite a substantial change from her days as frontwoman of Yazoo, although there are some semblances to her former hits, like Only You, which are reflected in this song thanks to her exuberant and velvety tone. The real crux of this song, however, comes when the chorus crescendos and launches into its grand exclamation. It makes you want to throw your arms out wide, and sing, so utterly rousing that it can fill you with enough motivation to tackle even the toughest of reading lists.
It still never makes me fail to dance down the hallway in our house, or the corridor in Somerville – much to the amusement, and confusion, of my family and flatmates respectively. It reminds me of the beginning of Michaelmas, when I would often be half-walking, half-dancing round Oxford as I tentatively explored the city – here I was, a teenager properly living away from home for the first time, relishing in newfound freedoms despite the developing state of the world. It felt, slightly, as though I was asking myself the titular question about the city I now found myself living in – is this love? Quite simply, yes. It’s a song that now reminds me of the joys of finally feeling free for the first time – of being able to express who I am in a city I love.
These are just a few of the songs that have been helping me get through this instalment of lockdown, and there have been many more that have made me smile, or tap my feet as I’ve waited for the kettle to boil for my daily cups of tea. Although defined as being little more than the arrangement of sounds to produce a composition, music is in fact far more than that; it’s a guide, a friend, and a way of transporting ourselves back to better memories when times get hard.
Cover photo: Charlotte Perry