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My Soundtrack: Norah Jones

She grew up listening to Aretha, but still has a soft spot for Skid Row.

While Norah Jones‘ new album, Day Breaks, features a selected whos-who guestlist of jazz greats, her formative influences come from far further afield. We recently caught up with Jones for her own curated playlist of songs that have shaped her life and music.

All words below by Norah Jones.

The Song That Reminds Me of Growing Up

Skid Row “I Remember You”, 1989
“I just remember being in sixth grade and liking this guy named Jimi Valvo. He listened to heavy metal so I tried to listen to it too, but all I could really get into were power ballads, so I made a mixtape of them instead. I definitely get a wave of nostalgia when I hear this song.”

My Sunday Morning Song

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds “Breathless”, 2004
“When I lived in L.A. for a few months while making my last record, I danced around the sunny kitchen and made many a breakfast taco to that song. It makes me melancholy and happy all at the same time.”

The Song That Makes Me Want to Air Drum

Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, 1991
“When I first got the Nevermind album I’ll never forget, I went on a trip to visit my aunt and uncle. And I had my Walkman and I had headphones and I would lay in their spare bedroom listening to that album and just going nuts air drumming in the dark. I really did. I freaked out. It was the first time I really noticed the drums and thought about them being in existence. Especially on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.”

The Song That Makes Me Cry

Jeff Buckley “Hallelujah”, 1994
“I don’t think I’ve cried in a long time from a song. But when I was young probably many, many songs! I used to listen to [Buckley’s] version of ‘Hallelujah’ on repeat back in high school. The first time I heard it I think I was in 10th grade and they had his record on display [at the store], and I remember being confused ’cause it’s called Grace and it had the songs ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Corpus Christi Carol’. And I remember actually listening to it and really liking it and asking the clerk, ‘Is this some kind of Christian artist or something? ‘Cause that’s not what I was really going for.’ [Laughs] And he’s like, ‘Uh, no, weirdo.’ So I bought it and I obsessed on it, it was my favourite record.”

The Hardest Song To Play Live

Norah Jones “Rosie’s Lullaby”, 2007
“It’s a song from my third album, that I wrote on the beach in Australia. It’s actually not a difficult song at all, but it’s at its best when played super slow, so it’s always a challenge to keep it slow enough without keeling over while also having enough energy. When it hits the sweet spot it’s amazing.”

The Song That’s Guaranteed To Get Me on the Dancefloor

Solomon Burke “Home In Your Heart”, 1959
“I had a girls’ night in with my best friend when we were both trying to not drink for a while, so we cooked and drank kombucha. This song got us dancing in the living room. Next thing we knew, hours had passed and we were all sweaty and laughing about our dance party for two.”

The Song I Wish I Wrote

Willie Nelson “Permanently Lonely”, 1969
“It’s a crazy song. It’s so heavy and the chords are beautiful and very hard to learn. It’s complex yet it sounds very simple, ’cause it’s a great song. The first time I got to meet Willie was the first time I got to sing with him. I was opening up for him at the Fillmore in San Francisco for four nights. And on the second night the guitar player asked if I wanted to come and sing a song with him, and this is before my first album came out, so nobody knew me. I was super excited and of course I wanted to sing a song with him, but I hadn’t met him yet, and was that going to be weird? [Laughs] What am I going to do, just step onstage? I’ve never met the man! But he said, ‘No no, he’ll introduce [you]’, and we did a Kris Kristofferson song, ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’. He just sang the first line and looked at me to sing the second line and I just fell right in, and it was great.”

The Song That Reminds Me of Touring

Wilco “Jesus, Etc.”, 2002
“I remember when that album [Yankee Hotel Foxtrot] came out, getting really obsessed with it and really enjoying having it on my iPod out on the road. Eventually I learned this song, and have covered it on many tours with a few different bands. It’s such a cool song and recording. Definitely one of the best in the last 20 years.”

The Song I’d Like To Cover

Jimi Hendrix “Hey Baby”, 1970
“Today I got an itch to cover ‘Hey Baby’. I’m not a master of the guitar, but I think it would sound rad on the Hammond B3 organ. I usually want to play music when I hear Hendrix. He just has that effect, he’s untouchable.”

The Song That Made Me Want To Be a Singer

Aretha Franklin “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, 1967
“I grew up listening to Aretha Franklin and I think that made me want to sing. Just singing along with her records and doing the harmony parts, I loved it. My mum was a big fan, she was always playing good music. With Aretha, we’d clean the house to that, vacuum, whatever, Saturdays.”

From issue #780 (November 2016), available now.