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Occasionally we all need a hand making the right musical choice for the right life moment. Sometimes you can plan, prepare and be poised when the moment arrives. Sometimes it can be urgent – say for example when a certain someone is at hand, literally, but your hands are clammy or shaky, or your mind is plain blank, with everything depending on making the right call.

Music is needed, so who do you turn to?

Well, 13 years ago the readers of Metro, in the Sydney Morning Herald, and a few of its writers, pooled thoughts, offered ideas and came up with some surefire ways to hit the appropriate note. Or die trying.

Would these selections still figure in first choices today? Can time, taste or infamy alter preferences? In one instance here, does a man-child who may or may not have favoured, as The Knack once put it, the touch of the younger kind, have a leave pass from the cancelled corner?

Take your positions boys and girls, the music is about to start.




Michael Jackson - Off The Wall

There is no party except maybe the Christian Democrats, which wouldn’t kick off when this is slipped on (I believe the Rev Fred is more partial to Jay-Z’s Black Album). There’s irresistible dance, there’s cheese, there’s tears and there’s more than a few giggles when those tears appear.

Sure there’s something to be said for either The Beatles Red (1962-66) compilation or the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks (’64-71) set, and I defy anyone not to move out of their pool chair when the first B-52 album is played, but watch the room simultaneously squeal with Jackson as Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough steps up a gear.



Underworld - Dubnobasswithmyheadman

Do you want sex or sensuousness? In one corner there’s Howlin’ Wolf, either his self-titled 1962 album or The Genuine Article compilation, or Sons And Daughters’ This Gift – both up for it and dirty. In the other corner it could be Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On or Kate Bush’s The Sensual World – both lubricious.

There was a surprising but convincing call for Mogwai for those slow builds and big peaks and of course if you’re up for some long time/good time tantric business you may be willing to go the full hour with the Neck’s Sex. But Underworld have rhythm, length, groove and several peaks. Hmm.



Dusty Springfield - Dusty In Memphis

You could follow it with Jeff Buckley’s Grace, maybe Elbow’s Build A Rocket Boy and seriously consider Richard Hawley’s Cole’s Corner, all have that mix of emotion and gentleness and sensuality.

However, waking up to Dusty Springfield puts an extra glow on whatever happened the night before and smooths the path to more.



Fela Kuti – Zombie

Facing a bomb site which has only just survived a party full of too much dancing, drinking, drugging and possibly shagging, you need something to get you moving and keep you up.

Disco is a favourite for some (Kool and the Gang said one friend who wasn’t even born then), a sustained burst of Living End or Nirvana said another, while there are outstanding arguments for Aretha Franklin, either Lady Soul or This Girl’s In Love With You. And more than a few plumped for the trippier strains of MGMT.

But you can’t go wrong with the rhythms, the insistent drive and the energy generated by Fela Kuti and Africa 70.



Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run

Midnight Oil’s Head Injuries makes even city driving go faster, Radiohead’s Ok Computer fills in the miles on the endless drive north and Miles Davis’ ‘Round Midnight can keep you calm even when stuck on the Eastern Distributor.

But when you want to escape and “get out while we’re young”, when you think every highway is a route out of a deadend job or a life going nowhere, or when you just want to crank it up and sing stupidly inside your car, it seems you can’t go past Bruce.



The National – High Violet

Do you want to wallow in your sorrow or blast yourself out of it? If you are a wallower then you might sink into some Cure, as Faith will do the none-grimmer trick, or Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago for some shared loss. And there’s always the beautiful lonely despair of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon.

If you are a blaster then you can make it loud (Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound works), or make it joyful (“Sufjan Stevens will always bring me out of my funk,” says one Metro reader) or make it danceable (The Presets’ Apocalypso might challenge Prince’s Dirty Mind).

But if you don’t have Joni Mitchell’s Blue handy, the National’s High Violet provides both a chance to wallow and a way to dig yourself out of the mire. Two for the price of one.



LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver

Who wants to work out to the trash-heavy commercial radio fodder or the mindless thumping of anonymous club tunes your average gym offers? You’ve probably made your own playlist but Sound Of Silver is a one-stop-shop with songs that build as your heart rate builds, songs that pound the floor as you pump harder and songs that keep your brain active even as you sweat profusely.



Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours

No one knows just how bad you feel. You just know no one has ever suffered like this before. But maybe Frank Sinatra comes close to understanding.

“In the wee small hours of the morning/While the whole wide world is fast asleep/You lie awake thinking of the girl/And never even think of counting sheep/While the whole wide world has learned its lesson/She'd be yours if only she would call/In the wee small hours of the morning/That’s the time you miss her most of all.”



Dexter Gordon - The Complete Blue Note Sixties Sessions

Back in the ‘90s you couldn’t have an inner city dinner without Portishead’s inappropriate though otherwise great Dummy playing (would you like gloom with that entree?). In the first decade of this century some deluded types thought it best to play something soporific like Jack Johnson or James Blunt (please wake me when dessert is served).

But for class, sophistication, mood setting and not too much intrusion on heated discussions, Dexter Gordon’s six-disc box set is the five course (plus port) meal.



Holly Throsby - See!

You’re tempted to play the Datsuns or maybe Cee-Lo Green, because hey, the kids already sing F... You and you can’t take any more Hi-bleeding-5. But it’s possible to go some kid-friendly music which doesn’t insult your intelligence or, well, just plain suck.

"See! is a total delight,” says one reader with two young children. “I have seen many children, and adults, dancing freely to the music. Even when the album is not playing, children let loose with raucous versions of Fish & Mice or Diamonds Are So Shiny.”



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