As a child, summer holidays did seem to go on forever and not always in a good way. The best part was early evening, when the air cooled and the light took on that glorious golden quality, turning beaches and campsites into paradise. My wife and I were recently on the French Atlantic coast and, after dodging the oppressive daytime heat, we emerged to drive through pine-shrouded Pays Basque houses, listening to The Smile’s album A Light for Attracting Attention. This features the track Free in The Knowledge, which is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. It’s a grand statement, but I stand by it. So much so, that I’m doubling down and making a list of The Most Beautiful Songs in the World. Your list will be different to mine. Hell, my list will probably change by next week. But here’s ten impeccable tracks to soothe your summer stress or add another pillowy layer to your beachside bliss.

Working in a Goldmine – Aztec Camera. In the early ’80s Roddy Frame was synonymous with indie: jangly guitars, bittersweet lyrics, Scottish – triple check. But by 1987, he was the only remaining member of the band and wanted to go in a more soulful direction. A mournful verse transforms into a yearning and funky chorus that his idols Luther Vandross and Anita Baker would have been proud of.

Misguided Angel – Cowboy Junkies. I defy anyone not to sit utterly still for the full duration of this track. It was recorded in a church and does have a certain sacred air. I’ll never forget listening to The Trinity Session album in a skanky post-uni flatshare in Putney, my friend Max and I in awe of that quavering mandolin and Margo Timmins’ effortlessly emotive vocal.

Heaven Must Have Sent You – The Elgins. The genius of Motown songwriters such as Holland-Dozier-Holland was how they managed to hit the feet and the heart at the same time. The sweet melody and gushed harmonies of the backing singers roll repeatedly over you until the joyous sobs start coming. Hallelujah, I love it so.

Day is Done – Nick Drake. One of music’s great tragedies is how Nick Drake never got to bask in the adoration of his fans. An all-too-brief life dogged by shyness and depression, it’s only posthumously that Drake devotees grew in their thousands, maybe millions, across the world. This is a haunting and magical beauty of a track.

Nobody Does it Better – Carly Simon. A Bond theme? Really? Yes, you just need to listen without imagining Roger Moore’s suntanned smirk (though who could resist him?). Wait for the build-up. Listen to those strings, the ’70s disco arrangement and Carly’s powerful East Coast twang absolutely SLAY the climax. Baby baby, dahhhhhling, you’re the beeeeeeest.

Where Are We Now? – David Bowie. I keep coming back to this track from Bowie’s second last album. When it came out in that charmed period (before we knew he was unwell), I was a bit lukewarm. But now I think it’s a fantastic work, and Where Are We Now? is its pinnacle. Taking us on a reminiscing tour of Berlin, you can almost hear Bowie’s weary sigh as he sings. And the finale, “As long as there’s sun… as long as there’s rain… as long as there’s fire… as long as there’s me… as long as there’s you” is almost impossible to listen to without dissolving into tears. We miss you, David.

Escape – Dark Tropics. Ugh, enough old people’s music. What about something from this millennium? Dark Tropics have a dreamy Americana sound that recalls Lana del Rey, but they’re actually from Belfast. And there’s only two of them, singer Rio McGuinness-McCay and multi-instrumentalist Gerard Sands. The band are part of an incredibly exciting Irish music scene and Escape lures you into their darkly cinematic world.

Find the River – R.E.M. I only saw Michael Stipe and co once, in the cavernous Wembley Arena, summer 1989. And they absolutely filled it to the rafters. I remember being stunned by their musicianship, which they milked by swapping instruments halfway through and nonchalantly carrying on. But I’m sad it was before Automatic for the People came out, as I would love to see them perform this song. The chorus gives me spine tingles, possibly the greatest vocal performance and harmonising I’ve ever heard.

Song to the Siren – This Mortal Coil. All of which brings me to the most beautiful song written in the English language. Yes, I appreciate Tim Buckley’s original, but the 1980s musical collective led by Ivo Watts-Russell gave us the definitive version. Sung by Elizabeth Fraser alongside Robin Guthrie, her Cocteau Twins bandmate; it’s ethereal, otherworldly perfection.

Madame George – Van Morrison. Astral Weeks was released a month after I was born and is my most beloved album. Combining jazz and folk and arcane poetic storytelling, this is religious music for atheists. I don’t even know half the lyrics – and I never want to know them. Just listen to that circular guitar opening and let yourself get sucked into a transcendent state of bliss with groovy Van. Happy and peaceful summer holidays, everyone.

Will Stubbs is a screenwriter and TV commercials writer. Music is his first love

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Arts & Culture, August 2022, Music

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