There are four songs mentioned in Black Chalk, so all of those make this playlist. But only four? I needed more for a playlist. So I set some rules. The Oxford portion of the novel is set in 1990-91, so I’ve picked a song for each of my main characters. But the song has to have been released before mid ’91, when the Oxford portion ends. I’ve also picked songs for the New York portion of the book, which takes place in May and June of 2005. However, I haven’t restricted myself to music released by or before that time. Is this cheating? Perhaps, and if so, sorry. But I really, really wanted ‘Many Shades of Black’ to make the list.
You can listen the whole thing* on Spotify here, or click on links below for videos.
*The Raconteurs aren’t available on Spotify, so you’ll have to add them on yourself if you own the track. Sorry.
BLACK CHALK, THE SOUNDTRACK
1. Everything In Its Right Place — Radiohead [New York section] 2. Everything Happens To Me — Chet Baker [Chad’s favourite] 3. I Wanna Be Adored — The Stone Roses [Oxford section] 4. Nelson Mandela — The Specials [Jolyon’s favourite] 5. New York, New York — Frank Sinatra [Oxford section] 6. Bigmouth Strikes Again — The Smiths [Jack’s favourite] 7. Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead — The Munchkins [Oxford section] 8. Every Day Is Like Sunday — Morrissey [Oxford section] 9. Hey Jude — The Beatles [Emilia’s favourite] 10. Can’t Stand Me Now — The Libertines [New York section] 11. Love Will Tear Us Apart — Joy Division [Dee’s favourite] 12. The Ace of Spades — Motorhead [Oxford section] 13. Step On – Happy Mondays [Mark’s favourite] 14. Many Shades of Black — The Raconteurs [New York section]
EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE – RADIOHEAD
Everything about this track, from the mood to the lyrics, seem to make it the right song to open my soundtrack. What else could be more appropriate for a hermit who uses a system of mnemonics to keep his life on course?
EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME – CHET BAKER
Chet Baker is mention in Black Chalk – Chad imagines it as the sort of romantic music that would be playing while making declarations of love. Chad likes the song for the lines ‘I fell in love just once, and then it had to be with you.
Everything happens to me.’ Although perhaps it should be said that, when it comes to love, the part of the song that really makes most sense to Chad is a series of meaningless sounds – the part where Chet scats.
I WANNA BE ADORED – THE STONE ROSES
The eponymous album ‘The Stone Roses’ came out in 1989 and although it only reached number 9 in the UK album charts, its reputation gradually built. Nowadays it’s considered one of the greatest British albums of all time. And in 1990 it was enormously popular on turntables in university bedrooms everywhere. It’s mentioned in Black Chalk as playing in the background as the friends gather in Jolyon’s room. It seems to me that the title speaks to several of the characters in that room.
NELSON MANDELA – THE SPECIALS
This song, which came out in 1984, was a protest song demanding the release of Nelson Mandela. Although he was freed in 1990, the college which I went to in Oxford (Wadham) continued a long-standing tradition of playing the song at the end of every college disco (which are called ‘bops’ in Oxford). I believe the tradition continues to this day. Anyway, this seems like an appropriate choice for Jolyon, with his strong belief in justice.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FRANK SINATRA
This song is mentioned in Black Chalk. It is played in the college bar on the day of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation from office, after Chad points out that it is Thanksgiving that day. “They hoisted Chad onto their shoulders. Everyone sang and everyone lifted their glasses to him as he was paraded around, kicking his legs to the beat.”
BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN – THE SMITHS
I cannot overstate the enormous popularity of The Smiths among students in 1990 (and many others years, of course). And what better choice for the character of Jack, someone who likes to offer up his outspoken opinions via humorous remarks, than this track?
DING DONG! THE WITCH IS DEAD – THE MUNCHKINS
Another song mentioned in the book. When Margaret Thatcher leaves office, a party is thrown in Jolyon’s room and Dee puts this song on the record player over and over again. Obviously, after Margaret Thatcher’s death there was a great deal of controversy when this song went racing up the UK singles chart. I have no idea whether anyone will believe me, but I promise I wrote this scene, incorporating this song, several years before this happened.
EVERY DAY IS LIKE SUNDAY – MORRISSEY
The fourth song mention in Black Chalk. Another track put on by Dee, this time to herald the opening of the Game, which is to be played on Sundays. I was hesitant about including a Morrissey track when there was already a song by The Smiths on my soundtrack, but in truth, I probably could have filled up the entire list with music by Morrissey and The Smiths. (There are some very apt lyrics in ‘You’ve Got Everything Now’, ‘Suedehead’, ‘The Girl Least Likely To’ and ‘The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get’… and probably plenty more besides.)
HEY JUDE – THE BEATLES
I thought long and hard about Emilia’s song. I thought I should choose something contemporary to 1990, but in the end I decided that Hey Jude transcends its era. People will still be playing and singing along to this song in hundreds of years. When I was at college, it didn’t matter what sort of music you liked, if Hey Jude came on at a party or in the college bar, everyone would stop what they were doing, link arms and sing along. And nothing would please Emilia more than to see everyone together and everyone happy. So contemporary be damned. THIS is Emilia’s favourite song, for the experience of human kinship.
CAN’T STAND ME NOW – THE LIBERTINES
An exultant song about male friendship, verging on love, that collapses into hatred. Do I need to say any more? (Oh, and I am inexpressibly in love with this song.)
LOVE WILL TEAR US APART – JOY DIVISION
There were many songs I could have chosen for Dee. As a student she would have loved contemporary music by The Smiths, Morrissey, The Cure, Nirvana, Tom Waits… and yet I chose for her a song that was eleven years old at the beginning of the Oxford sections of Black Chalk. My excuse is several-fold. Joy Division were still enormously popular among students in 1990. People might have liked New Order, but anyone in their right mind worshipped Joy Division. And so, a song written by a musical genius, who took his own life, about love tearing a relationship apart…? I had to go with it.
THE ACE OF SPADES – MOTORHEAD
I find it unlikely that anyone is reading this if they haven’t finished Black Chalk. (And even then!) But so as not to ruin anything I won’t say exactly why this song is in there. Suffice to say, the card mentioned plays an important role in the plot. And the sheer screaming loudness of this track seems very much appropriate for the moment at which said card is mentioned.
STEP ON – HAPPY MONDAYS
The Happy Mondays were like the less acclaimed (but perhaps more broadly loved) brother to The Stone Roses. Very appropriate to 1990. I feel like I also could have chosen ‘Loose Fit’ for Mark, a sleepy drug-haze of a song about reefers. I chose this one, however, because the lyrics (see them here, for example) feel appropriate to the relationship between Mark and Jolyon.
MANY SHADES OF BLACK – THE RACONTEURS
The lyrics to this song (see them here, for example) seem likely to be aimed at the end of a love affair. However, they could work equally for the end of a friendship. And “many shades of black” feels like a wonderfully evocative phrase with which to end this soundtrack list.