Laura Barnett: My Spotify Playlist for The Versions of Us

Laura Barnett: My Spotify Playlist for The Versions of Us


Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet

This smooth, slinky number, with its tricksy beat and infectious saxophone melody, is the record chosen by Eva’s editor, Frank, for a spot of after-dinner dancing at Eva and Jim’s Gipsy Hill house in 1962.

This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie

What else might Jim expect to hear in a basement dive bar in Greenwich Village in 1963 than Woody Guthrie? With its plain, unvarnished message about nationhood and freedom, this song has proved an audible influence on just about every American folk musician since the 1940s.

Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones

This gorgeous, yearning song has – as I see it, anyway – so much to say about love enduring through the years, despite all life’s difficulties and disappointments. Released in 1971, it’s on the turntable at Anton’s thirtieth birthday party when Eva and Jim dance together in the garden.

Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me by Elton John

Eva and Jim have just returned to the Greek island where they spent their honeymoon when they hear this track wafting out from a harbourside bar. It was a huge hit in the mid-seventies, and perhaps a subtle indicator, here, of Jim’s state of mind.

Burning Down the House by Talking Heads

Recalling his first kiss with Bella, Jim remembers that she’d put on a CD – ‘something loud, jarring’. This is the track Bella played: suggestive both of the age gap between them – Bella a twenty-something conceptual artist with a love of new-wave; Jim a married man in middle age, the best of his own work behind him – and of the explosive effect she will have on Jim’s life.

Harvest Moon by Neil Young

This song is playing at Anton’s sixtieth birthday party in 2001, as Eva and Carl Friedlander dance together for the first time ‘in a way she will find entirely unexpected’. Written when Young was in his forties, it evokes (for me, anyway) a romance that may no longer be in the first flush of youth, but is still achingly true.

Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven

Beethoven’s sonata – the inspiration for a novella by Tolstoy, about an unfaithful musician and her jealous husband – begins with a plangent refrain for solo violin. Jakob’s recording of this piece is played in all three versions of Anton’s funeral. Here, unlike in the Tolstoy, it stands as a hymn to love and loss.

Hearts and Bones by Paul Simon

I’ve long been captivated by the exquisite lyrics to this song, about a couple – possibly Simon and his former partner, Carrie Fisher – on a road trip to New Mexico, gradually coming to terms with the fact that the reality of love can’t live up to their high ideals. It seems fitting that Eva should think of this song in considering her marriage to Jim, and all it has meant to her.

This Is Us by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris

This song doesn’t actually appear in The Versions of Us, but I have used an extract from it as an epigraph, as I feel it fits really well with my intentions for the novel. From All the Roadrunning, Knopfler and Harris’s gorgeous 2006 album of duets, it’s a novel-in-miniature about a couple looking back over their marriage, and all the moments, both ordinary and extraordinary – falling in love; having children; watching them grow up – that have defined their shared lives.


An Die Musik by Schubert, sung by Felicity Lott

‘After the speeches, Miriam Edelstein sings a Schubert lied, accompanied by Jakob on piano. Privately, Judith Katz considers this a little de trop…’ This is the song Miriam sings at Eva and David’s wedding in 1960: a paean to music, so central to Miriam and Jakob’s lives – and, naturally, something they wish to pass on to Eva.

So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad) by the Everly Brothers

In their hotel room on their wedding night, David Katz puts on an Everly Brothers record. This is the song they dance to: a lovely, slow track, shot through with the Everly Brothers’ characteristic close harmonies – but one that hints at the fact that Eva and David’s marriage may not be entirely easy.

Jingle Bells by Ella Fitzgerald

I defy anyone to hear the reindeer-swift rhythms of Ella’s brilliant version of Jingle Bells and not want to dance. So it proves at Eva and David’s Christmas / Hanukah party in December 1962: even the heavily pregnant Eva is persuaded to get to her feet, while a young actress named Juliet Franks watches her intently from across the room.

Summer in the City by the Lovin’ Spoonful

It’s not summer when Jim first meets Helena in Version Two, but it is in a city: Bristol, at an art exhibition in a disused warehouse. They go upstairs for food, where the record player – with this track on it – is turned up so loud that they can’t hear each other speak; Jim can only watch Helena’s face as she eats.

Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones

Anton’s thirtieth birthday party in 1971 appears in all three versions of Eva and Jim’s story, and we hear a different Rolling Stones song each time. In this version, Jim stands alone, smoking, watching Eva and Ted dance together to Sympathy for the Devil.

Première Gymnopédie by Erik Satie, performed by Alexandre Tharaud

I used to play this haunting, deceptively simple piece on the piano as a child. Eva’s daughter Sarah plays it – much better than I ever did, I’m sure – at the Edelsteins’ house in Highgate on Christmas Day 1975. A few months later, called home from Paris by her mother’s illness, Eva realises how tired and withdrawn Miriam had seemed that day.

Mull of Kintyre by Wings

Not, strictly speaking, a Christmas song, this was, nonetheless, a Christmas number one in 1977, when we hear it playing in the Old Neptune pub, close to Helena and Jim’s cottage in Cornwall. Helena and Jim, however, are at home with Dylan, making gingerbread.

Tangled Up in Blue by Bob Dylan

Probably my favourite Dylan song, this traces the story of a couple drawn together and apart by circumstance: even when she is far away, the woman’s red hair still lingers in the man’s mind. Eva’s hair may not be red, but the resonances are there, I hope, when Jim slides Blood on the Tracks – the superb 1975 album that this song kicks off – into his cassette player while working on his triptych, The Versions of Us.

Catch the Wind by Donovan

I performed this hippie anthem in a school talent contest, in my one and only live appearance on acoustic guitar (I soon switched to bass, which had fewer strings to worry about). My rendition didn’t go down as well as Sarah Katz’s does at her school concert in Paris; but neither, as I recall, was I quite as nervous as she is.

Adagio in E for Violin and Orchestra by Mozart, performed by Anne-Sofie Mutter

Ted Simpson loves Mozart, so on their return from hospital in Rome following his first stroke, Eva reaches for a Mozart cassette to ‘lighten the mood’. But even Mozart can’t undercut Eva’s anxiety for Ted, and for Sarah, now living an unhappy, chaotic life as a rock musician in Paris.

Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones

Anton Edelstein isn’t the only Stones fan in The Versions of Us: for his fiftieth birthday party, held – in this version – at his recently-acquired modernist house on a Cornish cliff top, Jim has a band ‘strumming out Rolling Stones covers until four a.m.’

Ruby by Kaiser Chiefs

On a trip to Italy to visit his grandmother, Eva, Sarah’s son Pierre is – like most teenagers in the noughties – more interested in his iPod earbuds than in his surroundings. This song is playing on Pierre’s iPod as Eva drives them from Ciampino airport to her house in Bracciano, north of Rome.

Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven

See above.

This Is Us by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris

See above.


Come Fly With Me by Frank Sinatra

Who doesn’t love Sinatra’s exuberant 1958 classic, about slipping away in search of freedom and fun? Well, anyone, perhaps, who is woken by it playing at full volume at three in the morning – as happens to Jim when he is back living with his mother, Vivian, in her Bristol flat.

You Go To My Head by Stan Getz

I don’t name the Stan Getz number performed by the jazz band as Jim arrives at the Algonquin party in 1963, but this – understated, romantic, insistent – is the track I could hear playing in my head as I wrote the scene.

Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin

At a party at Richard Salles’s house, Jim notices a woman ‘standing by the fireplace in a green dress, her flame-red hair loose across her shoulders’. He goes over to talk to her, but they have to shout to be heard over a Led Zeppelin record – this one. Her name, of course, is Helena.

Let’s Spend the Night Together by the Rolling Stones

In the third version of Anton’s birthday party, it’s this Stones track that’s playing as Eva and Jim spar – each unsure of the other’s feelings, though perhaps this song offers an indication – in the garden.

Aladdin Sane by David Bowie

On his daughter Rebecca’s fourteenth birthday, David Katz breaks his promise to fly home from Los Angeles to see her. To make up for it, Eva prepares a dinner party for Rebecca and her friends, and buys her this record by her idol, David Bowie, as a gift.

Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple

After Harvey Blumenfeld’s New Year’s party in Los Angeles in 1977, David drives Eva home in his red Aston Martin. As they drive, they finally have the conversation they probably should have had many years before. An open-top car passes them on the freeway, with this bombastic seventies classic blaring from the stereo.

You Do Something to Me by Paul Weller

This gorgeous, unashamedly romantic song has been a slow-dance staple at weddings and parties since the mid-nineties, when Weller included it on his album Stanley Road. And, sure enough, the band at Anton’s sixtieth birthday party in 2001 have it on their set-list: Eva and Jim can hear the song drifting up from the boat’s ballroom as they talk on the upper deck.

Got My Mojo Working by Muddy Waters

To celebrate Jim’s seventieth birthday, Penelope and Gerald host a picnic on the beach beside their house in Cornwall. This foot-stomping slice of Delta blues – with an encouraging sentiment, perhaps, for a man no longer in his prime – is one of the tracks playing on Gerald’s iPod.

Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan

Jim is, as we know by now, a big Dylan fan, and this song – one of Jim’s favourites, I suspect – is also on Gerald’s iPod playlist for the picnic.

Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven

See above.

This Is Us by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris

See above.

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