The following songs are autumn themed – either by name, by lyrics or both – and they make a great playlist for fall. Each song has been chosen because a) it’s an excellent song and b) it’s seasonally apropos. As an aside, selected lyrics from each tune can be used to construct the story of a lonely guy who is reflecting on his life. Maybe he’s on a porch in Twin Peaks. Perhaps there’s a dog beside him and he’s holding a glass of bourbon and eating a donut. Regardless, he is delivering his (think Bogey in Casablanca) rant as the temperatures dip and the leaves begin to fall – you’ll find this mishmash on the bottom. Without further delay, in no particular order, here’s are 14 songs about autumn to fall in love with this fall.
Ryan Adams song, “Nuclear,” is the lead track on Demolition – an album of misfit tracks he released in 2002. “Nuclear” kicks off with the line “This is where the summer ends” and RA delivers it with some earnestness that sets the tone for a diverse, interesting album of orphaned tracks.
Frank Sinatra’s album, September of My Years, opens with a reflective song called “The September of My Years.” In the first line he sings, “One day you turn around and it’s summer. Next day you turn around and it’s fall. And the springs and the winters of a lifetime… whatever happened to them all?” Ol’ Blue Eyes tells a great story in “The September of My Years” and it’s a great song to listen to this time of year.
The Ben Folds Five song “Don’t Change Your Plans” takes place is fall. How do I know that? He sings, “The leaves are falling back east. And that’s where I’m gonna stay.” He could be talking about hurricane season but that wouldn’t fit the romantic and heart breaking sentiment of a really good song.
In Death Cab for Cutie’s “Photobooth” Ben Gibbard recalls a relationship with a gal who didn’t reciprocate his love. If you’ve ever been young you’ll probably relate to at least part of this song – one of the good ones from their Barsuk days. Gibbard sings, “And as the summers ending, the cold air will rush your hard heart away. You were so condescending as the alcohol drained the days.” It’s another sad song. There’s a trend developing.
Listening to the Beach Boys sing “Summer’s Gone” is like hearing them deliver their own eulogy. The song isn’t exactly about temperature shifts and falling leaves. Rather, “summer” is the Beach Boys and “gone” is the good old days. Listening to Brian Wilson sing the lyrics, “Summer’s gone. It’s finally sinking in. One day begins, another ends. I live them all and back again.” is hard to hear but hell, we all get old.
The Kinks deliver a classic with “Autumn Almanac.” It includes more than a few references to the season. Here’s one: “Breeze blows leaves of a musty-colored yellow. So I sweep them in my sack. Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac.” And another, “Friday evenings, people get together. Hiding from the weather, tea and toasted buttered currant buns can’t compensate for lack of sun because the summer’s all gone.” It’s a good one to put on the stereo right after you put on your favorite sweater.
The Big Star song, “September Gurls,” isn’t about the season but it’s a great song so it’s on the list. The September gurl in the song is someone Chilton must have had the hots for and the December boy he refers to is probably himself – he was born in December. He sings, “September gurls do so much. I was your butch and you were touched. December boys got it bad.” If Chilton had it bad, the rest of us have it good because the December boy, Chilton, knocked this pop song out of the park.
Oh, Yo La Tengo, how you slay us with your weird vocals and pacifying melodies. The song, “Autumn Sweater,” is a tip of the cap to a favorite part of fall – the sweaters. He sings, “We could slip away. Wouldn’t that be better? Me with nothing to say and you in your autumn sweater.” It’s a pretty solid jam about a real solid topic – the autumn sweater.
In “Pale September” Fiona Apple’s voice blows wistfully as only Fiona Apple’s voice can. After a few listens I’m not sure if the song is about a relationship with another person or the relationship she has with her own heart – a heart that went cold one fall. The line that gives it a spot on the list is, “The autumn days swung soft around me like cotton on my skin.” It’s vintage Fiona off her first studio album, Tidal.
The White Stripes make the list with “Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground.” Even if the rest of the song doesn’t reference fall, the visual given by the title and opening line does: “Dead leaves and the dirty ground when I know you’re not around.” It’s a good tune and the earth (in the Midwest anyway) is dirty and filled with dead leaves this time of year so yeah, Jack White, I get it.
James Taylor (the original JT) provides us with a typical JT offering with “September Grass.” Taylor is a good storyteller and from the opening he gets into it: “Well, the sun’s not so hot in the sky today and you know I can see summertime slipping on away.” Throughout the song he sings about the seasonal shifts while pleading with a woman to lay with him in some September grass. Sweet baby James! You rascal!
Willie Nelson’s “September Song” is a lovely song about the fall of ones life. The song is four and a half minutes long but all of the lyrics are here: “Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December. But the days grow short when you reach September. When the autumn weather turns leaves to flame. One hasn’t got time for the waiting game. Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few September, November. And these precious days I’ll spend with you.” It’s a nicely comprised track found in the middle of the album, Stardust, and worth a listen.
The Replacement’s Paul Westerberg did a soundtrack for an animated film called, Open Season. The song, “Love You in The Fall,” appears on that album and the lyrics that get it on our list are, “When crimson leaves appear, it’s only days ‘til autumn’s here.” It’s a different sound than the ‘Mats but it’s still a good song – one they played at their Midway Stadium concert in St Paul.
The song, “First Air of Autumn,” by the Drive By Truckers expresses a few memorable autumn sentiments: Mike Cooley opens with, “First air of autumn up your nose.” And the guitars are strummed to the end where he sings, “Like eyes that once could cut through candle power on autumn nights, first air of autumn leaves me numb.” It’s a good song from a unique band.
Here we are at the end and, as promised, here is the mash up of some lyrics, from every song on the list, to create the sad story of a lonely guy. Note: To create cohesion I added 28 words.
“One day you turn around and it’s summer. Next day you turn around and it’s fall”— “the autumn days swung soft around me like cotton on my skin.” Because “when the crimson leaves appear. It’s only days ‘til autumn’s here.” And I know, “This is where the summer ends.” He continued, “Summer’s gone. Summer’s gone away. Gone away with yesterday.” “And as the summer’s ending, the cold air will rush your hard heart away.” Damn! “September gurls do so much. I was your butch and you were touched.” Now it’s “Dead leaves and the dirty ground when I know you’re not around.” “This December boys got it bad.” I told her, “We could slip away. Wouldn’t that be better? Me with nothing to say and you in your autumn sweater.” But she said, “Don’t change your plans for me. I won’t move to L.A. The leaves are falling back east and that’s where I’m gonna stay.” But she lied. “…The sun’s not so hot in the sky today and you know I can see summertime slipping on away.” And now, “Friday evenings, people get together. Hiding from the weather, tea and toasted buttered currant buns can’t compensate for lack of sun because the summer’s all gone.” And it dawns on me, “When the autumn weather turns leaves to flame one hasn’t got time for the waiting game” and “like eyes that once could cut through candle power on autumn nights, first air of autumn leaves me numb.” She left me numb.