Lately I’ve been watching HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and at this moment I don’t believe there is anything cooler than seeing Enoch “Nucky” Thompson unload the magazine of a Tommy gun into a grandfather clock, turn and explain to the Irish Cause that he wants whiskey for guns, and then slide a Lucky Strike in between his lips and slowly take a drag. Like most shows on HBO, it involves swearing, nudity, and drug use–the good stuff–but what separates it from most of the other shows currently on the network, is that its components also include cigarettes in every scene and an awesome soundtrack. With jazz music and cigarettes being an integral part of American culture during the early twentieth century, it got me to thinking of the current relationship between the two: are people thinking of particular songs while they’re smoking, and are there songs that are making people thinking of lighting up?
While a good portion of scenes from Boardwalk show the characters reveling with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of bourbon in the other, all while some hot-jazz is being played from the bandstand at a night club, I view the combination of cigarettes and music from a sentimental perspective. I picture relaxing in a dim club, with the blue haze of smoke lingering in front of my eyes, as a trumpeter leads his group slowly through a tune.This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t smoke to upbeat music, but a ballad definitely invites smoking and gives the listener more room to do so. Listening to the quick, convoluted improvisation of someone like John Coltrane in songs such as “Countdown,” one can become lost within the sheets of sound emanating from the speakers, and later find that his or her cigarette has burned down to their fingers. However, Coltrane knew when it was dirty-nasty time, and more often than not he played sentimental tunes, like “I’m Old Fashioned.”
But regardless of who plays what in whatever style, I like to sit in bed a lot, and when I sit in bed I enjoy listening to music, and the type of music that satisfies my taste for when I’m sitting in the dark are medium to slow-tempo ballads–ones that can potentially get down and dirty. These songs often make me feel like going to the nearest corner store, buying a pack of cigarettes, and smoking them all in one sitting.
From these medium to slow-tempo ballads, here’s what I believe would make a good list of top songs to sit in bed and smoke cigarettes to:
1. “For All We Know” by the Nat King Cole Trio
2. “‘Round Midnight” by the (first) Miles Davis Quintet
3. “Bethena” by Scott Joplin
4. “I’ll See You In My Dreams” by Cliff Edwards
5. “Just a Gigolo” by Thelonious Monk
I’d be interested in knowing some other people’s choices for which songs make them want to light up a bogie, in any musical style. Comment your thoughts.