So here are a number of songs I’ve chosen for MAGNET. I relate to music as it relates to my life. I can only give my experience. I have chosen tracks that I believe have inspired me on my new record, Kidsticks, whether by osmosis or through intention. And a couple that I’m listening to right now just because they rule. —Beth Orton
The Slits, “Typical Girls” from: Cut
I remember listening to “Heard It Through The Grapevine” and “Typical Girls” at my friend Antonia’s house. I was probably 10, and she was a little older. I remember staring at the sleeve of Cut, fascinated and wondering what swamp they’d crawled out of, let alone what world. Me and my friends had these role models in women like the Slits who were not of the one-size-fits-all ideal. They were signposts along the way. I grew up around lots of punks when I was little. The Slits were punk and ska and some reggae thrown in, which was perfect for me.
Talking Heads, “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” from: Speaking In Tongues
Another band of my childhood. Lots of us aspired to their vision. I knew “Naive Melody” but was reintroduced to it a few years back by Tom Rowlands in a new light. It’s a total gem of a track. When I started making Kidsticks, this song was a kind of flag for me marking the way. I would think of it and make an approximation in the direction of what it feels like, its lightness and depth and how it builds and the subtle catharsis it creates. The turn of phrases and nonsensical sense it makes. Where it sits energetically in me when I hear it. How happy I feel from the moment it comes in to the moment it ends and how that stays in room just at the thought of it.
Curtis Mayfield, “Here But I’m Gone” from: New World Order
When I first heard this track, I’d always known it. Like it had always existed. It touches me. Had no idea he sung this after he was paralyzed, that he sang from his bed, line by line, because it exhausted him to do otherwise. I was most naturally drawn to going out dancing for hours on end to soul and funk from around 14. I found Aretha Franklin around the same time and Marvin Gaye (who I actually discovered first through the Slits). This was where I could truly lose myself and find a real place to feel free. When I dance to Curtis Mayfield or listen to him, I feel empowered and alive. When I listen to “Here But I’m Gone,” I’m connected to my fallibility and the fragility of all of us living by a thread. How things change so quickly when your health goes. I don’t find it a downer, though. I feel grateful, and I feel moved.
David Bowie, “Oh! You Pretty Things” from: Hunky Dory
Sitting in the back of my dad’s car on a Sunday and David Bowie would come on, and it would be a secret rebellion. He was more subversive than anything in lots of ways. Your mum and dad liked him, but he was really singing for us kids and expanded our minds into worlds beyond. There hasn’t been a period of my life that he hasn’t been an important part of. My fondest memories of many a night out or in are set to his music. I will always remember me and my best friend Carole putting on makeup to him before we went out and laying in a drunken heap at his feet on our return home. He built us up and softened our landing. What gets me now, since his death—a death that came as such a shock—is what an incredible lyricist he was, as ridiculous as that may sound. We can all sing along at the tops of our voices to his songs, driven by the force and genius of his words and how they make us feel, but since hearing him in the light of his passing, they have taken a new depth of meaning. I suppose that’s what makes a great artist: the ability to morph with the listener’s circumstance. It amazes me what he got past us that was right under our noses all along.
Joni Mitchell, “Amelia” from: Hejira
Joni Mitchell changed my life. I remember the beautiful boy who brought Blue to my room. We smoked weed and kissed and stuff. Once he slept, I lay still and watched the patterns the moon and the pretty net curtain made on the walls. We were in the box bedroom of the shared flat I was living in. I was 17 and trying to go to college and make good but was already about to flunk. I had a wooden portable record player I’d taken from home. He left me the record in the morning as a gift, or as a loan, but he never got it back. And the next day, I lay in a haze as Joni’s stories of love and honesty gave way to all the mysteries life might hold. The sunlight’s shadow now making imperceptible changes on the wall as the day turned in my hand. I listened to Blue over and over again. I had never heard music so beautiful and so sad in all my life. Maybe I felt true love for the first time listening to her sing. I fell in love with all that life might be. It was a moment of pure hope. It took me a long time to move beyond Blue. Eventually, I moved backward and forward through all her releases and learned to love them all. I still sometimes sing along to Blue from start to finish on long car journeys, I try not to do so with other people present, but I can think of one occasion the family had to grin and bear it! I know every breath by heart. She’s the most extraordinary songwriter and singer and visionary producer of sounds. The years have now turned her over and over in my consciousness, and I’ve never heard her the same way twice. I have chosen “Amelia,” as I’m listening to Heijira a lot right now. Listening with all my experience and inexperience and amazed now as much by her musicianship as her use of language, her poetry. Now I listen to her and look back on all the mysteries that have unfolded and fallen away. I listen as a musician who has tried to climb inside what I heard that night back when I was 17. I listen now as someone content to be who I am and not strive to be someone else. I will always be true to what she has inspired in me, though. I thought she held a purity I would never own. Before I’d even lost my innocence, I had lost being pure. Now I understand that Joni Mitchell was perfectly human all along.
Alethia & Donna, “Uptown Top Ranking” from: Uptown Top Ranking
This is my mantra. I was trying for them a couple of times on Kidsticks. It’s only an approximation for the feeling they give me, that sweet vocal over dub/ska/reggae beats. Not that “Uptown Top Ranking” is actually an example of that particularly. This track always makes me feel better. It reminds me of who I want to be, a little reminder of why I make music and how I want to live. It reminds me what’s important. Strictly roots, earthed. As long as music connects with me on a soul level, I don’t give a crap what genre it makes itself known as, though. I was super excited when Shahzad Ismaily added bass to “Flesh And Blood” on Kidsticks. He did it at my house onto my laptop, and it created an effect with what was already recorded that dubbed the track out, especially on the end. That’s why I left that long outro. I adore it. I would love to get a proper dub remix made of this song.
Japan, “Nightporter” from: Gentlemen Take Polaroids
My brother Adam was a massive fan of Japan, and he and I shared a room. I didn’t like everything my brother liked, but he did have good taste and we shared some very definite choices in music, and Japan was one of them. I feel like Japan influenced elements of Kidsticks. I didn’t notice the influence immediately. Sounds Andy (Hung) put to what I was playing on keyboard combined and had us following leads I didn’t see coming as we were jumping around the room laughing or beside ourselves just excited with what we were creating. It wasn’t until I was writing the songs that I realized the clear connection I was making with parts of my musical history that had never got the chance to have a place in the music I made before. I could access the years of my life that weren’t built around a love of all things folk. I’ve come full circle and am making music that allows all of who I know myself to be to exist, and it’s a great relief. I’ve chosen “Nightporter,” as it reminds me of the beautiful moment Dustin O’Halloran added the sublimely beautiful piano to the end of the track “Corduroy Legs” on my record. It was one of my most beloved moments of recording the album.
Erykah Badu, “Hello” from: But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape
Loved Erykah Badu from the moment I heard “On & On” from Baduizm. Her voice, the beats, her words. Effortlessly beautiful. She has only gotten more interesting as an artist as the years pass. I’ve always felt she was my secret, totally unaware that she’s actually a Grammy-winning, multi-platinum-selling artist. I loved her message and her humor and depth. I still do, and it’s gone deeper still. Her voice gets stronger with the years. I like how she carries herself. How she’s stayed healthy and alive and vital. She’s someone I look up to in an industry that trashes many a woman’s spirit. She has held her dignity, and she seems like a lovely mum to her kids. I lost her after the first couple of records due to no fault of her own. She came back round to me with the song “Window Seat” and the album New Amerykah Part Two. Since then, I’ve not lost her again, and with “Hello,” she’s got me again hook, line and sinker. It’s a timeless duet between her and Andre 3000, equivalent to some classic of old. Her voice sounds incredible, and his rap is heartbreaking and naughty. When they sing together, it’s heaven.
The Internet, “Under Control” from: Ego Death
Love this track! I feel stronger when I listen to this and infinitely happy. When I first heard it, have to admit I made assumptions and judgments. I stereotypically assumed it sounded so good it must be some girl perfectly placed in some bloke’s vision, manufactured into being. Then I found out that Syd Tha Kyd sings but is also the producer of her music. The more I listen, the better it gets. She sings like she’s speaking, and it’s superpersonal and relatable. She’s a legend. She seems to have an early hip-hop ethos to her style, which I like, too. I heard this after my record was made, but it’s a new inspiration for sure.