While it may be difficult to conjure up words of comfort during these uncertain times, music can graciously fill this void. It is a language spoken in universal emotions, and its unique ability to heal seems limitless. In that spirit, Modern In Denver is launching the HOMEBODY Series, which features playlists curated for specific rooms in your home.
For our third week, our HOMEBODY series is on the move with a peripatetic playlist to listen to while walking around your neighborhood. Soundtracking a walk depends on everything from your location, to the weather and the psychological geography of your mindset and mood. Lyrics, beat, melody and rhythm evoke memories, put us in the here-and-now, and hopefully inspire us for a better tomorrow. Clarke Reader, music critic and cultural columnist with Colorado Community Media newspapers and admin of The Ambassador, an arts and music website, selected these songs to get you walking and help put some groove in your strut. Enjoy!
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The name of the game when walking is propulsion. The reason for the walk – whether it be for exercise, to remind yourself of the world outside, or to give something a good mulling over – is almost irrelevant. You need tunes with drive, with push. Tunes that will (even on a subconscious level) encourage you to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And this track from legendary soul/jazz/R&B/protest singer Nina Simone does one better – it makes you strut.
The only song that comes close to pushing the listener into motion on such a relentless level is the Bee Gees’ immortal earworm “Staying Alive,” but there’s something about the horns on “Feeling Good” that make every step feel like you’re causing a miniature earthquake. You can’t help but feel your hips and shoulders start to swing a little as the song goes on, and pity the person who tries to interrupt as the song (and the listener) finds its groove. The unadorned lift in Simone’s voice that begins and ends the song provides just the wings necessary to carry you around the next bend. With style.
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There’s a kind of sing-along rock music that doesn’t require the listener to know the words. All you need is your hands in the air and the ability to shout “ohohohhhhhoh” at the top of your lungs. Think about the catchiest work of previous torchbearers like Springsteen, The Replacements and early Foo Fighters, and you have the euphoric rock Brian King and David Prowse make as Japandroids.
Arguably the catchiest song on the duo’s third full-length, “North East South West” is a classic rock travel song, all about the thrill of life on the road. Especially since nearly all our travel options are currently limited, King’s litany of stops serve as a checklist of places to visit when we can take to the highways again. But it’s Prowse’s chugging drum work, which hits like the best sounding train you’ve ever heard, that makes it a top-notch pairing for a spin around the neighborhood. And that bridge, which demands you sing along on a primal level? Pure sonic pick-me-up.
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Allow California’s Anderson .Paak to welcome you from his pulpit to the First Church of Boom Baptists United Fellowship of Free Nationals. He knows why you’ve come, for while people like you and I were “riffing and mumbling ’bout, what they could do,” .Paak was “cooking gumbo, whipping the voodoo,” “in the jungle running with Zulus” and “looking past the struggle while life was moving so fast.” He’s seen all of this coming, and you just need to trust him and step in the water.
Who could refuse, especially with a low end as funky as the pulse that drives this song along? It’s nearly impossible to not bounce your shoulders along as .Paak’s crisp, quicksilver delivery hopscotches between singing and rapping. The one-man angelic chorus of BJ the Chicago Kid’s vocals are the feather-light icing on this absolute musical treat.
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Perhaps a little on the nose, but a stylistic mashup as classic as this cut from Paul Simon’s seminal “Graceland” is too fitting to ignore. The vocal work of South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo has continuously sounded better and better over the 30-plus years since the album was released (particularly in that transcendent introduction), matched perfectly by Simon’s shimmering instrumentation.The song features a bounce that creates its own walking rhythm, and there’s almost nothing a horn line as jubilant as the one featured here can’t cure. Even these walking blues.
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There’s a technique called walking meditation that allows the walker to focus on the physical activity of their body and use that focus as a pathway to peace and calm. There’s an equally soothing, meditative rhythm and repetitiveness to perhaps the loveliest song created by Kentucky’s alt-rock road warriors, My Morning Jacket. The railroad shuffle of the drums carries along the delicate acoustic guitar and lilting steel guitar simultaneously, creating a sonic warm blanket to wrap yourself in. And singer JIm James – he of the best falsetto in modern rock – turns his philosophical meanderings into a comforting response to the vagaries of modern life. An accompaniment for seekers of all stripes, and walking speeds.
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Pop music’s most elusive master has rarely sounded as effortlessly flirty as he does on this highlight from his instant-classic “Channel Orange.” The pulsing heart of the song is extracted from Nelly Furtado’s “Say It Right,” but Ocean gives it a bump that turns the track into a sly ode to a jetsetting woman helping her dealer move product. As is always the case when it comes to Ocean, his voice is the star of the show, running the gamut from initial elation to longing and weariness. But rarely has such a theme been treated to such a groove. It’s easy to see why his subject was swept away – the listener is as well.
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There’s something immediately comforting about the keyboard tones used by the English electronic duo Groove Armada on this soul-drenched standout. Or maybe it’s due to the implicit wisdom of the vocals from legendary singer Richie Havens. The ideal middle ground between neo-soul and classic R&B, this is a song for when making your way home. Maybe you found what you’re looking for on your walk, maybe not. Either way, let Havens provide you with some warm, honey-soaked comfort – “Seems to me, can’t turn back the hands of time.” Find freedom in that fact.
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The most immersively enchanting of the Brothers Gallagher’s word pastiches, “Champagne Supernova,” is all sonic lift and elation. Whatever meaning you find in lyrics like “Wake up the dawn and ask her why/A dreamer dreams she never dies” and “But you and I, we live and die/The world’s still spinning ’round, we don’t know why,” the power of the music is undeniable. Guitar solos spill over and crash into each other while the groove builds, crashes and builds again – and yet, the cumulative effect is overwhelming beauty. The song makes everything feel grand, epic and romantic, which is an unassailabley great way to feel while you’re doing anything. It’s honestly a miracle in music form, and will make you feel like you’re walking just a few inches above the ground.