‘I’m working through 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’: readers’ WFH playlists

·8 min read
<span>Photograph: Ian Dickson/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Ian Dickson/Rex/Shutterstock

‘I do almost all my best work to Bach’

If I need to concentrate on something really thorny, I go for Bach every time. It seems to allow my brain to work at a high level and I do almost all my best work to Bach. András Schiff or Angela Hewitt playing keyboard works, and Hilary Hahn on violin. Beethoven’s late quartets and Schubert lieder are good for deep thought. If I’m just doing low-level stuff, then Radio Paradise is my go-to – it’s a commercial-free internet station, which I like because it mixes a lot of stuff I know from my younger days with music that I’m less familiar with. Edward Collier, software developer, Cheltenham

‘This instrumental arrangement doesn’t require any headbanging’

I found a wonderful classical/instrumental arrangement of the prog metal band Killswitch Engage’s albums on YouTube, called Chillswitch Engage. (See what they did there?) It’s rousing and inspiring, and I’m able to have it on in the background without it providing a distraction. And it doesn’t require any headbanging, unlike the originals. Theo, copywriter, Bristol

‘Every album on my playlist has its own special meaning’

I started making a playlist of (what I consider to be) “classic albums” towards the beginning of lockdown, in April 2020. I listen to it most days. So far, it’s 247 hours of music (that’s 3,213 songs). I love that every album I’ve chosen has its own special meaning: nostalgia for a chapter of my life, an artist that influenced my career as a musician, or a song that reminds me of friends and family. John Garden, former session musician and trainee psychotherapist, Bedford

‘Once you’re used to the strangeness, it’s ideal for filtering out background noise’

When working, I nearly always put on an internet radio station called Shirley & Spinoza, which plays obscure, quirky and exotic music, interspersed with film soundtracks, sound effects, atmospherics and vintage advertisements. The sounds do not require the listener’s attention, but it is ideal for filtering out unwanted background noise. Once you’re used to the strangeness of the sounds, it is well suited for listening to for very long stretches. I have been tuning in to this station since at least 2003; it’s run by a guy in China called Fausto, who is quite friendly. (If you email him, he emails back.) There is no Shirley or Spinoza, though. Jos, software application builder, the Netherlands

‘Watching live sets helps ward off some of the loneliness’

I love finding live sets on YouTube. My go-tos are Muse, Kings of Leon, Green Day, Coldplay and Mumford & Sons. All the Kennedy Center Honors performances are online as well, Paul McCartney and Led Zeppelin being my personal highlights, as well as a lot of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sets. In my previous job, I would spend months abroad, working from hotel rooms, and the crowds’ interaction with the bands would ward off some of the loneliness that could creep in when spending a day all in one room – much like working from home during lockdown. Charlie, marketing manager, Nottingham

‘I’m working my way through 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’

I’m working my way, chronologically, through the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Bar the classics (Zeppelin, Sabbath, Hendrix etc), my musical taste didn’t really go back beyond the 90s, but this has put me on to people I’d not heard or not given the chance before. I’m 185 albums in (just hit 1970) and highlights so far include Louis Prima, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Fred Neil and the Pretty Things. Also, the Beatles were pretty good. Brendan Flanagan, operations team leader, Bristol

‘My playlist started as a yoga soundtrack, so it’s very calming’

I have a collection of yoga playlists that I was drawn to when I started working from home. The tracks are almost entirely instrumental, from neoclassical to lo-fi electronica/techno: think Four Tet, Nils Frahm and John Roberts. The playlist is now more than 12 hours long. Because it started as a yoga soundtrack, it’s very calming. I hesitate to use the term “background” music, but it’s not interactive. There are no big climaxes or rhythmic complexities, so it’s relaxing. Dom, Lewisham

‘Donna Summer gets me pumped for the day ahead’

I made myself an epic playlist full of empowering, feminist musicians to get me pumped for the day ahead. It’s always on repeat, from Dolly Parton to Bones UK; Leikla 47 to Katy Perry. Right now, it’s Donna Summer’s She Works Hard for the Money that’s making me the happiest. Listening to her, I feel strong, fierce and as if I can take on anything. Disco’s never dead. Ryan Johnson, senior administrator, Edinburgh

‘I’ve broadened my once-narrow listening habits’

I tend to choose a genre a day to explore. I have discovered so much good music in this way and broadened my once-narrow listening habits. There’s been Iranian ambient music, doom metal, vaporwave, nature sound recordings and more. One of the few positives of the pandemic is that it feels as if I have expanded my knowledge and not just used music for background noise. This has also contributed to the listening/music review parties I have online with friends in the evenings. Sam, civil servant, Derbyshire

‘I listen to the soundtrack from The Witcher 3’

The nature of my job does not allow for listening to music, as most of the time I am engaged in phone calls or video conferences. However, when I am tasked with admin work, I put my headphones on and listen to the soundtrack from the game The Witcher 3. This music brings peace to the mind and reminds me of playing the game. It calms me down without interrupting the tasks on which I am working. Tom Prokopowicz, major incident manager, Nuneaton

‘The tempo is slow, but not so slow as to make me feel lethargic’

I’ve been listening to instrumental jazz for the most part, old and new. The classic Journey in Satchidananda by Alice Coltrane has been a particular favourite, and Zebra by Arp has also featured heavily. The tempo is slow, keeping me calm, but not so slow as to make me feel lethargic. I make sure the playlist is free from lyrics, as singing tends to break my concentration. If I’m feeling a bit jazzed out, a piano sonata by Erik Satie works nicely, too. Sebastian Morrell, engineering geologist, Staffordshire

‘It’s like dipping in and out of different worlds’

I listen to politics and economics podcasts some days; other days I go for music albums: lots of 80s US hardcore, alt-rock and modern prog. Other times, I have David Bowie or Queen days, starting from the beginning and just going through their discography. Some days, it’s a seven-hour (or more) playlist of anime themes: Joe Hisaishi, Kevin Penkin, Yoko Kanno, all sorts. It’s like dipping in and out of different and colourful worlds, full of explorers, witches, monsters and cyberpunk agents; it’s just fun. Much of my choice depends on whether I’m on the drawing board, painting on a Mac or writing scripts, which take more concentration. Ultimately, it’s about getting lost in the rhythm of working, forgetting myself and being absorbed. Luke, artist, Wales

Blackpink &#x002026; upbeat and fun.
Blackpink … upbeat and fun. Photograph: AP

‘Listening to upbeat, fun music while working lifts my spirit’

I listen to BTS and Blackpink, and sometimes put on French music. Being cooped up at home almost 24/7 can be frustrating, and this has affected my productivity. But listening to upbeat and fun music while working lifts my spirit. Even if I don’t even understand 90% of the lyrics, their music helps keep my anxieties at bay. BTS and Blackpink have kept me company during these challenging months, and I know they will continue to be part of my work routine. Karen Joy Alcober, development worker, the Philippines

‘There’s something peaceful about mid-90s and 00s music’

Two songs that I’ve been listening to are Santeria by Sublime and Part of the Process by Morcheeba. There’s something really peaceful about mid-90s and 00s music, particularly with the indie or alternative genre. It really helps me to focus and gives me a sense of nostalgia for my youth. With more modern music, I particularly like some of the more recent work of Jack Harlow and SG Lewis. There are studies that show this kind of music helps to relax the mind and, at a low decibel range, can really help with concentration. Jonny Garwood, student, Hertfordshire

Laura Marling &#x002026; a replacement for female colleagues?
Laura Marling … a replacement for female colleagues? Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

‘I enjoy getting washed away by sound’

When I was in the office, I used to listen through headphones to comedy podcasts (which I had to keep pausing to prevent me from laughing out loud). Now that I’m at home and able to chuckle away unimpeded, I find myself drawn to the melodic sounds of female singers instead: the Unthanks, Laura Marling, Kathryn Williams, Sophie Hunger. Perhaps it’s a replacement for my many female colleagues, whom I miss hugely. I enjoy getting washed away by sound, and I am known to hum along in a pained way. My husband frequently shouts up the stairs to ask if I’m OK, or to politely point out that he’s in a meeting. Kate Firth, editor/web tester, Skipton

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