Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
This week’s question comes from A.V. Club contributor Becca James:
I wake up to Peter Gabriel’s “I Have The Touch.” Every. Single. Day. So: What music do you wake up to in the morning? (Or wish you would wake up to?)
My fondness for waking up to Peter Gabriel’s “I Have The Touch” is due, in large part, to its ability to calmly exist alongside me as I get out of bed and start my day. I’ve always woken up easily, avoiding hitting the snooze button and instead jumping out of bed in a bit of a panic. (As a child, I lived in fear of being late or missing out, and the biggest temper tantrums I threw were the result of my mom letting me sleep in, because she felt I needed the rest. Not much has changed.) Gabriel subdues that panic and allows me to slowly make my way out from under the covers and enjoy an absolutely silent morning routine before punching things up a bit, getting me to a point where I can “shake those hands” and join the rest of the world as a functioning adult.
I am a complete sucker for a good hook or two, a guitar-driven rant, and an anthemic chorus. The overall effect is both irresistible and undefinable, but when a song is this grabby, I will listen to it over and over until I have pounded it straight into the ground. New Politics’ “Harlem” came out in 2013, but I am still not sick of its sing-song chorus, steadily increasing participatory vocals, and fierce razor-edge guitar buoyed by an irrepressible drum line. It’s the perfect three-minute morning interlude to fuel me for the hundreds of minutes that will follow. Even if I have to listen a few times before I even get out the door. And maybe on the train for good measure.
After a couple of ultimately futile attempts to wake up each morning to James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” (the horn blast at the beginning was just too harsh, as amusing as the whole thing was in concept) a few years back, I settled into what would be my clock-radio jam for the next several years: Jimmy Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want.” With its cheerful horns, upbeat reggae rhythm, and encouraging lyrics about achieving success after years of hard work, it was the perfect note on which to begin the day, even on cold winter days that felt more like Siberia than Jamaica. To this day, it induces a Pavlovian wakefulness in me every time I hear it. A few moves and a breakup (he kept the clock radio) put a stop to this particular morning tradition, but, talking about it now, I think I’ll bring it back.
My morning alarm is Keri Hilson’s unapologetic hotter-than-thou anthem “Pretty Girl Rock,” a fact that my A.V. Club editor and occasional film-festival roommate A.A. Dowd probably recalls with post-traumatic shudders. Like a lot of our colleagues, I have a fondness for this song because of its inspired (and affecting) use in David Michôd’s Australian post-apocalyptic flick The Rover. But the reason why I prefer to wake up to it is practical: The MP3 file was mixed at an unreasonably high volume, which means that it’s the single loudest and most obnoxious sound I can get out of my phone’s tinny internal speaker. (I am a very heavy sleeper.) The fact that the song addresses my own belief that I am more beautiful than everyone else is merely a bonus.
Kelsey J. Waite
Like many of you, I can’t wake up to music, either. I like to ease into the day, at least having a cup of coffee before I take on any kind of information, sonic or otherwise. But when I do break habit and put on music first thing, it’s something like early Billie Holiday. In particular, it’s the tender, playful renditions of standards like “Me, Myself And I” and “Easy Living” that diffuse how impossibly too-early everything feels and beckon me into the day with a smile on my face. Even more melancholy tunes like “Trav’lin’ Light” trigger a softness that reminds me to leave plenty of room for what the day might unfold.
This answer is a lie in twofold: First of all, I don’t like waking up to anything besides a darkened room, the soft patter of rain, and a hushed whisper of “It’s much too early—go back to sleep.” Secondly, since having kids, I only ever awake around 6 a.m. to the sound of one of my daughters yelling the exact opposite of that. But let’s keep this hypothetical theme going and pretend like I start each day to Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” which is what would play over the cheerful movie-montage version of my life as I leap out of bed, fresh and well-rested, eager to march downtown and seize the day. Yes, let’s just imagine that Mayfield’s smooth falsetto and motivational affirmations are how I greet each new morning rather than the sonar ping of my iPhone, before I stumble into the kitchen to accidentally pour milk on the counter, yet again, while catching up on the day’s depressing headlines. This is a happy game. I like this version. Thanks for the fun question.
I haven’t woken up to music in a long time, simply because I inevitably become annoyed with any track that serves as an alarm. For a while during my freshman year of college, I had Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched” in the rotation, and I ended up growing sick of one of my favorite songs. For that reason, I rely on a good old iPhone alarm now. Still, I sometimes miss the days of hearing Jenny Lewis’ vocals first thing. The tune wasn’t a particularly uplifting way to wake up, but did speak to a sort of begrudging perseverance with which one should meet the day.
Like Sean, I am woken up these days by a tiny human alarm clock that rarely goes off later than 6:30 a.m. (or, approximately an hour shy of the time I need to feel rested, no matter when I go to bed). In contemplating my hypothetical wake-up music, my mind drifted to Sleigh Bells, probably because I’ve been listening to its new record a bunch. As much as I’d like to think that I’d enjoy blasting awake to the sound of “Crown On The Ground” or “Demons,” I don’t think I could handle that kind of awesome aggression in reality. But the lovely chimes of “Rill Rill” seem like they could gently lift me into consciousness. I’ll get to work on teaching my daughter to sing it, I guess.
Because I leave weekday mornings to the news, and because I can’t go from sleep to “Are you ready to rock?!” in 60 seconds, music-filled mornings arrive on the weekends, with songs easing me into the day, rather than slapping me in the face. Sonny & The Sunsets’ Tomorrow Is Alright is perfect for such a vibe: laid-back yet uplifting, easygoing without being “easy listening.” I’ve played opener “Too Young To Burn” so many times on, yes, sunny Sunday mornings that I can’t hear it without seeing warm squares of window light on my apartment floor, even if I’m not home. The 2009 LP has a nice bit of strangeness, too: two-headed women, spaceships, and a little tune called “Death Cream.” With their rousing, whistling-infused “Chapters”; sing-along “Love Among Social Animals”; and chill and fun “Lovin’ On An Older Gal,” the Sunsets gain energy as the album ends, and so do I.
Ideally, I would awaken each morning to “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO. How’s that for an optimistic, encouraging start to the day? “Sun is shining in the sky / There ain’t a cloud in sight.” It’s like if the upbeat middle part of “A Day In The Life” went on for five minutes. I can just picture myself jumping out of bed, a smile on my face and a spring in my step, brushing my teeth to the rhythm of the song. I think what’s so appealing about “Mr. Blue Sky” is that it captures the kind of morning that I never seem to have but always hope to experience. In truth, when I used an alarm clock radio, I deliberately set it to a contemporary Christian station I hated so I would get out of bed faster to turn it off. But “Mr. Blue Sky” seems like a signpost leading to a brighter, happier, healthier lifestyle.
I’m notoriously bad at mornings, and I find that if I keep the same alarm song for too long, my body will somehow become immune and I’m almost guaranteed to sleep through it. So my strategy is to switch to a new bouncy pop song every few weeks so my brain never has a chance to develop a resistance. Recent favorites have included Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up And Dance,” the opening number to Hamilton, Chance The Rapper’s “Angels,” and Shakira’s Zootopia song “Try Everything.” But my latest song of choice is the girl-power anthem “Shout Out To My Ex” by the British pop group Little Mix. It’s catchy as hell, upbeat enough to make an effective alarm, and includes a slam against the sexual prowess of one of the members of One Direction, who used to be engaged to one of the members of Little Mix. Believe me when I say, there’s no more delightful way to start the day than with the shade-filled excesses of vindictive but lovable British pop stars.
Joe having cruelly scooped up ELO for his morning routine, I’m forced to go a little more obscure for my own answer. Visionary animator Satoshi Kon’s final completed feature, Paprika, deals extensively with dreams, so I guess it’s only fitting that I’d take something from its ethereal soundtrack as my wake-up call of choice. And while the pompous bombast of “Parade” might be good for a laugh, I’ll go with “Nigeru Mono” (or “Meditational Field”), the music that accompanies the movie’s beautiful opening credit sequence. Initially quiet and reflective—fitting for a moonlit ride through a city’s waiting dreams—the song bursts into life as soon as the drums kick in, imbuing the sequence with the same gung-ho energy I want to attack every single morning with.
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya
I’m probably not alone here, but I can’t remember the last time I woke up without a song from Hamilton stuck in my head. I can’t remember the last time I took a shower without listening to Hamilton. My girlfriend and I go to sleep singing songs from Hamilton, and we wake up singing songs from Hamilton. With the new mixtape, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon. Apparently, my entire family is in this predicament: My mom and sister recently said they were going to make “My Shot” their alarm alert. I like something a little softer in the morning, though, and tend to go with “Dear Theodosia.”
Between the late hours I keep as a freelance writer and the early wake-up call required of my wife as a special-education assistant at a public high school, I don’t really have the luxury of a low-key announcement that it’s time to get up: If it’s not a full-on klaxon, then neither of us are getting our asses out of bed. In a perfect world, though, I’d be able to revisit the days of my youth, when I had a clock radio and woke up to the best pop tunes that the late ’70s had to offer. In fact, it’s because of that clock radio that I still can’t hear Little River Band’s “Reminiscing” without imagining it coming out of that tinny little speaker. Even now, it’d be a great memory to wake up to every morning.
I concur with Gwen’s assessment of that New Politics song; in fact, when it was a huge radio hit, I loved hearing that kind of pep first thing in the morning. In general, however, I am not a morning person and need to set an alarm clock to wake up, lest I accidentally sleep the day away. My preferred noise is the local all-purpose ’70s, ’80s and ’90s hits radio station (that would be 106.5 “The Lake”), which never fails to be playing a cheesy Night Ranger song or some synthpop hit I’ve heard a million times before. Although you’d think familiarity would make me continue slumbering, hearing a song I know inside and out actually seems to kickstart my brain activity.
The wake-up song is a thicket of tough considerations. Do I want to be jolted out of bed by some amped-up call to action, a rousing entreaty to adrenaline to get the blood pumping first thing in the morning? Or do I want a gentle nudge, something that slowly eases me back into consciousness, with a smile and an easygoing beat? Given that I so rarely know how much sleep I’m going to get any given night (my circadian rhythms were sadly murdered sometime last year, and they have yet to be reborn), I’ve started favoring music that splits the difference: Something that starts a little quieter, but building into a charging chorus. Right now, the best mid-tempo stomper for every uneven morning is Veruca Salt’s “The Gospel According To Saint Me.” It features a jangly guitar riff and gentle beat to begin, but then the distortion pedals kick into overdrive and the refrain pulls you into energetic mode, coaxing you into daytime coherence without being too aggressive about it.
When I was going through a hard time a little while back, I made a habit of starting off each morning by listening to Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love,” which some of y’all (and by “some of y’all” I mean “all of y’all”) might know as one of the standout tracks from the blockbuster soundtrack to Guardians Of The Galaxy. That mega-selling soundtrack was essentially a glorified Super Hits Of The 1970s compilation, but that somehow did not dim its cornball ’70s-era charm. I’m a big fan of the movie, so I have a very positive mental association between songs I love and a film I dig. “Come And Get Your Love” is so irresistible and catchy that it’s downright life-affirming. I somehow never got tired of listening to it every morning for a good two-, three-month span. Even now just thinking about it is putting a smile on my face. We live in some pretty scary times, so the 1970s can’t help but seem like a lost paradise by comparison. “Come And Get Your Love” captures that Day-Glo charm at its purest and most potent.