This is every track and artist mentioned in LW, in order. (Unless I missed one, in which case do tell me.) I didn't select out, even when I would have preferred to, musically. As for the narrative, yes I've selected the music for particular messages and feelings. So, it isn’t so much a list of tunes from the period which I think are best. It’s the soundtrack of a particular world. Characters are listening to things according to who and where they are. If you were walking a particular route through this historical time and place, it might sound like this. The relationship between people is expressed here as a relationship between kinds of music. It's social realism in a playlist!
I’ve given some specific explanations for each track below.
If you want to listen while you read, here it is.
- Jackson Browne, “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate”
Well, this was poor planning. Turns out the first musical mention in Little Wrecks is when Charlie Ferguson takes the tape of The Pretender out of a deck and tosses under a car. I’m going to make a virtue out of happenstance and say that if you sit through this whole track (I chose the shortest one on the album, okay?) you’ll have a strong sense of what it felt like to be trapped in the seventies. I know, on TV it’s all funky wide collars, ridiculous cool cars and disco. But where I and everyone I knew lived it was soul-crushingly boring. We all felt we’d been born too late and missed the cool decade. Towards the end of the seventies, punk came along and saved us. This right here is what it saved us from.
- Led Zeppelin, “The Ocean”
Charlie throws The Pretender under a car so he can put this in the tape deck instead. Houses of the Holy is just the sort of thing Charlie would listen to.
- Bob Dylan, “Gates of Eden”
When I was growing up we had challenging, transformative experimental writing, in the form of popular lyrics. Here’s some. Listening to Dylan made me want to be a writer. Coolest part of the book production year (the year after the writing is done) for me was definitely securing permission to quote lyrics from this and the song at number 12. I got little documents that said, “Bob Dylan and Patti Smith are okay with you using this.” (For a fee, but I don’t mind the fee. I’m a writer; I get it.)
- Golden Earing, “Leather”
My brother Alex used to listen to this band. I needed something a biker chick would sing along to in the car. This seemed like a very Doris track to me. Listening back, I kind of like it.
- Thelonious Monk, “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are” (This should be the Brilliant Corners version. Favorite version starts at about 7:45 here.)
So Isabel is a bit pretentious, you might have noticed. She throws Monk’s name around. If you’ve read the Beats you’ll know that suburban white kids in the postwar era claimed cool by fetishizing be-bop culture. Kind of like suburban white kids do now with hip-hop. (Hi there, Miley!) If Isabel is like me, she wasn’t mature enough to appreciate the actual music until she was in her late twenties. Anyway, she mentions Monk, and this is my favorite Monk tune.
- Neil Young, “Cripple Creek Ferry”
Ruth is annoyed because her mother’s boyfriend Danny is playing this at the wrong time. It isn’t the right mood. Everybody’s older brothers and sisters and younger parents played Neil Young all the time. Bless Neil. He’s in so many of my earliest memories. Seems like someone re-mastered this at some point since I was five. Great quality.
- Billie Holiday, “Miss Brown to You”
Ruth thinks this would be a better thing to listen to in the warm spring twilight. Actually, she just mentions Billie Holiday, but this was on the Original Recordings where Holiday sings with the Benny Goodman orchestra that I got when I was thirteen. I fell in love with it then and played it all the time, so this has a special place in my heart. Pretty sure this is the first time I ever heard a woman sing about loving another woman, too.
- Bob Dylan, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”
Or, Ruth thinks, Danny should be playing this. Actually just “bluesy Dylan”, is what she thinks. This is my favorite Dylan track. In my I-get-invited-onto-Desert-Island-Discs fantasy, this definitely features, along with tracks 5 (the Brilliant Corners version) and 13. There is a Patti Smith, but not one of the ones here. And hey, also, no one ever notices what a great blues player Dylan is.
- Neil Young, “Southern Man”
Because Danny always leaves the turntable on repeat, After the Gold Rush starts over. By the time Ruth is done with what she’s doing (Can’t tell you what. Spoiler.) this is coming from the front window. So I guess we could pick holes in the message in these lyrics (racism is somewhere else, in that evil south land), but it was an anti-racist message loud and clear and we all heard it. Incidentally, you know when people go, “Sweet Home Alabama, I love that song. And what a cute movie!’” do they notice that verse that says “I hope Neil Young will remember, a southern man don’t need him around anyhow”? In other words, “Leave us white southerners alone and stop telling us not to be violent racists.” Just sayin’.
- Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”
Magdalene hears some kid in the pier playing this on an acoustic guitar. That is because literally everywhere in the Long Island suburbs you went on any given day in the late 70s, some kid was playing "Stairway to Heaven" on an acoustic guitar. That or “Freebird.” Notice the length of this track. Now imagine listening to it played by crappy amateurs, twenty times a day.
- Patti Smith, “Gloria”
Ruth and Isabel put this album on just as they get some upsetting news. So look, you’re a sexually dissident teenager who’s been force-fed episodes of The Brady Bunch for a decade and a half like you’re in Mike Pence’s favorite conversion camp. Also you reckon you’re a poet. Suddenly there is Patti Smith, appropriating heterosexual lyrics from the masculine position and vomiting out absolute genius while dressed like a boy. You don’t thank God. There is no god. But all at once, that’s just fine.
- Patti Smith, “Redondo Beach”
Then Patti Smith says, “I was in love with a girl. She died. It was sad. I loved her.” Okay, okay, you whippersnappers. Suicidal lesbians. I know, I know. Well, you can thank us that you're not as starved for representation as we were. You're welcome. Also, this is a great track. Incidentally, it’s thanks to the wonderful illustrator Sarah Creech that Patti Smith is here. I was saving her for the second Highbone novel, but Sarah changed my mind.
- Jimi Hendrix, “May This Be Love” (Hey, I like that segue!)
This got edited out of the scene containing the previous two tracks. It was in all the early drafts, though, so I’m including it here. In the same year I first heard Billie Holiday, Original Recordings, I also heard Are You Experienced? and Rastaman Vibrations and got introduced to the Dylan back catalogue. Everyone always says puberty is a bunch of hormones that suddenly hit you and change everything. For me, it was a bunch of music that hit me all at once and changed everything.