A lockdown playlist, 60 songs to see you through, compiled by Tymon Smith

The editors of the JRB should’ve known better. They are well aware that I have a significant vinyl addiction and that, like many collectors of anything, the compilation of lists and selection of items can never be a simple one and must be complicated by self-set rules that must be strictly adhered to in order to prove the brilliant ingenuity of the compiler. 

What should have been a simple task has now turned into a three-day, stomach-churning, high-anxiety-inducing exercise that has sent me straight back to high school and that time I made that ‘Some songs I think are really cool that I thought you might also think are really cool’ mixtape for whatshername. 

I could have just chosen twelve tracks with clever punning and slyly ironic titles to evoke the various emotional ups and downs of the lockdown and the physical restrictions necessary to stop the virus that caused it, but my penchant for being a difficult, fussy, non-conformist idiot stopped that idea dead in its tracks. 

I could have made the list from songs that are only located somewhere in the overstuffed shelves holding my vinyl collection but that—thanks to my inherent laziness and failure to finally get around to organising the records in some sort of much needed, easy to navigate system—would have taken the duration of even the now-extended lockdown to accomplish.

So, after much neurotic internal debate, I decided to use only the records that I had disobediently treated myself to—in flagrant violation of a self-imposed and financially necessary state of exile from the record shops of the world—from December last year until just a few days before the lockdown was imposed on March 26. 

It may have helped that my period of disobedience closely mirrored the dates between the first reported Covid-19 infections in China and the start of the lockdown, thereby adding some sort of unforeseen portentous significance to their purchase: these are the most recent records I have purchased, but they may indeed be the very last records I will ever buy. 

It doesn’t help that these acquisitions reflect a certain spur-of-the-moment, now forgotten mood, or were motivated by a need to complete the collection of certain artists or genres, which means that the playlist has certain obvious and gaping holes as far as a totally adequate representation of the overall collection is concerned, but that is the price paid for the decision to restrict myself in this particular way. Bah humbug. 

With the golden overarching organisational principle taken care of, the rest of the rules for the compilation of what is now a sixty-song, 228 minute playlist are pretty much versions of those set down by Nick Hornby twenty-five years ago in the collector-bloke’s bible, High Fidelity

Rule #1: The playlist is a complete entity on its own, which is constructed for at least one initial, hopefully politely dedicated, listen—from beginning to end without skipping over any tracks, no matter the punishment on your ears or insult to your personal taste. Obviously, this rule is entirely dependent on trust and will inevitably be broken—even a virtual DJ can’t keep you captive by locking you in some sort of digital hell from which there is no escape until he says so … right? Go ahead, press ‘next’ and find out. I’m watching you. 

Rule #2: The compiler may not include multiple tracks by the same artist—basic but true, and a rule not meant to be broken except in instances where the compilation is one made up only of songs by the same artist. This is just one of those rules that must be accepted, without too much interrogation of its origins, like taking your hat off indoors or waving hello to your neighbours during the lockdown because even though you never acknowledge each other’s presence normally we’re now somehow all in this flattening the curve thing together whether we like it or not.

Rule #3: This is a Covid-19 specific rule; namely, while some tracks may indeed be silly wordplay references to aspects of the virus and the lockdown situation this is not a strict requirement for all songs and songs have been chosen for flow and mood above all else.  

Rule #4: THERE ARE NO RULES. IT’S MUSIC. ENJOY IT, HATE IT, WHATEVER, SEE IF I CARE! Like everyone I’ve a fair bit of time on my hands and plenty of time to get reacquainted with my record collection and thought you might like to hear some of the things I just added to it. I think these songs are really cool and I hope you’ll think they’re cool too. Enjoy, thanks for listening, and I’ll see on the other side of whatever the hell this is. 

All the tracks are here on this Spotify playlist and here, staring at me from the disorganised shelves they constantly threaten to tumble out of, but that’s my problem, not yours.

Just press play already. 

PS—If you can’t play the first track, Lenny Bruce’s ‘Bronchitis’, you can listen to it here. Same goes for Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Strange One’.

  • Tymon Smith is a member of The JRB Editorial Advisory Panel, and a freelance journalist who writes about the arts and South African history. Previously the literary editor of the Sunday Times, he is the recipient of a silver Standard Banks Arts Journalist of the Year Award for feature writing. He was the head researcher for the interactive DVD Between Life and Death: Stories from John Vorster Square, and is working on a book about the Johannesburg police station.

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