8 tracks ► songs for Gatsby


►  Hope floats. This playlist is an extension of an assignment given to my American literature class to come up with songs to go along with F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s classic work The Great Gatsby.

The more anachronistic, the better, in keeping with the timbre of the soundtrack to the 2013 film. In keeping with the text itself, many of the picks have roots in the jazzy, blues-based music of the 1920s, and, as an evolution of the edgy, free-wheeling sound of that era, could perhaps be part of musical make-up that would typify a Gatsby of today.

►  A countdown, old sport. In chronological order of the events of the book. Oh, and there are actually twelve tracks instead of the usual eight.

12  •  Yellow • Coldplay   ►   Because, really, where Gatsby is concerned, it’s all yellow.

11  •  Ain’t No Sunshine • Bill Withers   ►   Gatsby’s general outlook on life without Daisy is not so sunny.

10  •  Time Is On My Side • the Rolling Stones   ►   Gatsby’s (delusional?) mantra.

9  •  I Ain’t the Same • Alabama Shakes   ►   No, you ain’t gonna find Jay Gatz ’cause he ain’t who he used to be.

8  • Bright Lights • Gary Clark, Jr.   ►   This song works in part like a backstory to many of the characters: the idea of city life “going to their heads”—that is, getting an inflated sense of self or becoming somewhat intoxicated by an environment and/or its people—could explain some of the characters’ careless behavior and supercilious attitudes.

A repeated line in the song mentions knowing the name of the song’s narrator. Making a name for himself is one of Gatsby’s motivating factors—indeed, he literally makes a name for himself, and that name is Gatsby. This name change also brings to mind the line of this song that recounts how the narrator goes upstairs as one person “but comes down somebody else.”

Lastly, this song mentions drinking, which is clearly a favorite pastime of the book’s characters, particularly drinking to “fill up what is hollow,” as the song says. And the hollowness of the characters, their lifestyles, their relationships, and maybe even life itself (Fitzgerald was a modernist, after all) is kind of a major idea that Fitzgerald wants to suggest throughout the book.

7  •  Gold on the Ceiling • the Black Keys   ►   This song may encapsulate Gatsby’s view of the people who came by the dozens to his house, parking five-cars-deep to party like it’s 1925. The guests came seeking something from Gatsby—but that self-serving mentality might have been okay with Gatsby since Nick tells us that Gatsby doesn’t feel comfortable unless people do take something from him.

Between the color (gold) and the height (ceiling), this song brings to mind the gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover mentioned in the book’s opening epigram. And, as we have previously established, with Gatsby, it’s all yellow. Unless, of course, it’s gold. Which is really still yellow. Sort of.

6  •  Are You Gonna Be My Girl? • Jet   ►   When you get down to brass tacks, this is the question that both Tom and Gatbsy put to Daisy. You know, after a lot of posturing and drinking and driving back and forth across town.

5  •  Pink • Aerosmith   ►   Because that suit.

4  •  Crosstown Traffic • Jimi Hendrix   ►   Spoiler alert: The lyrics to this song are an extended metaphor about a hit-and-run automobile accident. Except in the book the accident is not a metaphor.

(I mean, sure, an argument could be made about the metaphorical implications of the accident and its relationship to the American Dream, but an accident is still a part of the actual events of the narrative.)

3  •  Hey Joe • Jimi Hendrix   ►   Another spoiler alert, especially if the title was “Hey George” and if George had actually shot his wife and not other people. But still, the idea of vigilante murder as retribution for infidelity is a common thread.

 2  •  In Time • the Black Keys   ►   Similar in tone to the conversation that Daisy and Tom likely had the night before skipping town: “You’ve got a worried mind…You don’t know what to do / I don’t know where to start…One thing I know is we’ve got to go.”

 1  •  (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay • Otis Redding   ►   A front-row seat to the green light flickering across the water, illuminating those boats that beat on “against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” *   


  • quoted from Fitzgerald’s masterful closing sentence of the novel


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