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Regrets, I’ve had a few

Songs are seldom more potent than when dealing with regret. Laura Barton picks her favourites

Laura Barton | May/June 2013

PEGGY LEE Is That All There Is?
For all the defiant set of Lee’s jaw as she recounts the great non-events of her life (fires and circuses and love among them), there’s something in the gait of this songthe lurching piano staggering beneath the world-weary exhalation of her deliverythat suggests a weight of regret.

TOM WAITS Martha
A long-distance telephone call, and a conversation that should have been held 40 years earlier, make for one of Waits’s most wistful tracks. The caller, "Tom Frost", pines for those "days of roses, poetry and prose" that he once shared with Martha, the keenness of his yearning amplified by the passage of time and by remorse for his youthful mistakes.

SWANS Blind
The slow, dour drone perfected by Michael Gira’s American post-punk band makes for a perfect lament of self-reproach and misgiving. From the lofty vantage-point of age, the narrator looks back over the follies of his youth, when he was "self-deluded, confident and blind".

JONI MITCHELL Big Yellow Taxi
The brilliance of Mitchell’s 1970 hit lies in the gulf between the chirrup of its presentation and the sombreness of its subject. Mitchell’s blousy guitar, exaggerated voices and that final, giddy laugh only accentuate the foolhardiness of paving paradise and putting up a parking lot.

OTIS REDDING Just One More Day
No one captures the desperation of regret quite so well as Otis, and here he’s begging a lost lover for one more chance to prove his devotion. "Darling, let me have another day," he implores, "And I can be anything that you want me to be, now." The regret lies not so much in the lyrics as the delivery and the implication: a chance squandered, a fervent wish to return to the past.

LAURA MARLING Blackberry Stone
Quiet and contained, Marling’s song of grief seems almost to curl in on its own introspection before finding an unexpectedly joyous resolution. The regret seems to lie in the farewell, in the recognition of unassailably differing views of lifeone buried in a dark bitterness, the other delighted at the sweetness of the stone.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN The River
Impeccably crafted, deceptively simple, the title track from a classic double album is the story of a shotgun wedding and a young man finding his dreams strangled by the commitment of marriage, fatherhood and a dead-end job. And all the while he longs for the freedom of those early days, when happiness meant little more than driving and green fields and "her body tan and wet down at the reservoir".

THE SHIVERS More
On their 2011 album "More", this Brooklyn duo detailed the slow dissolution of a relationship, from despondency to defiance and, finally, to this heartbreaker: a melancholy lilt that gives way to a churning near-frenzy of piano and brass, and with it a recognition of all that went wrong, the mistakes made, the chances blown, and the love that still lingers.

All songs on iTunes

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