Last week, I asked you to submit a song that feels like fall. So many of you responded with such evocatively autumnal suggestions that it became quite a daunting task to whittle them down to a relatively compact and cohesive listening experience — but I somehow managed, and I have that playlist for you today.
Autumn, according to many of you, seems like a time of coexisting opposites. It’s about the warmth sought during the season’s first chill. It’s about endings and beginnings, deaths and rebirths, longtime traditions enlivened by new circumstances. Autumn’s signature cocktail is a strange brew of anticipation and nostalgia, like the new-school-year stress dreams that visit so many of us even when we’ve long (long) since graduated.
In a word — and one that aptly serves as the title of one of the songs on this playlist — it’s a season that signals change.
Your song submissions ranged across genres, generations and moods. But there were also quite a few consensus picks: the Kinks’ “Autumn Almanac,” Tom Rush’s version of “Urge for Going,” and Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” were among the most popular suggestions, and they all make appearances here. (What is it about fall and mandolin solos?) There were plenty of surprising selections too, from the likes of Slowdive, Sade and Warren Zevon.
Many thanks to anyone who submitted a song! It’s always such a joy to read your comments and to hear directly from the Amplifier community. As I said, it was difficult to choose from so many great selections, but I think this particular playlist captures something fundamental about the spirit of the season.
So throw on some flannel, grab a steaming mug of something and press play.
1. Vince Guaraldi: “The Great Pumpkin Waltz”
It doesn’t truly feel like autumn until my family watches Charlie Brown together. Now that I’m in high school it’s a bit harder to find a time where everyone is available, but we’ll make it work! — Caroline Didizian, Pennsylvania (Listen on YouTube)
2. Rod Stewart: “Maggie May”
Fall makes me think of change, melancholy, approaching the end. All encapsulated in Rod Stewart’s most famous song as his summer fling comes to an end and he has to “get on back to school.” The reflection in the song feels sad but not spiteful, final but fair. — Matt Zacek, Minnesota (Listen on YouTube)
3. The Kinks: “Autumn Almanac”
This one covers all the bases — brisk weather, falling leaves and fall colors, cozy times with your people, and the exacerbation of rheumatism. I mean, I’m guessing that the Brits weren’t doing the pumpkin-spice thing in the ’60s, but barring that, it’s pretty darned autumnal. — Sarah Engeler-Young, Location withheld (Listen on YouTube)
4. Lucinda Williams: “Fruits of My Labor”
Nature plays a game of roulette every fall. After months of growth, some trees turn crimson, some fade to muddy brown. Williams reveals that relationships face a similar moment of reckoning. “Lemon trees don’t make a sound, ’til branches bend and fruit falls to the ground,” she sings, alongside a drawling harmonica that is both warm and heartbreaking. — Alex Skidmore, San Francisco (Listen on YouTube)
5. Sade: “The Sweetest Gift”
I always remember how the writer Alan Hollinghurst called autumn “the time of year when the atmosphere streamed with unexpected hints and memories, and a paradoxical sense of renewal.” This is a song that feels wrapped in that same tug between acceptance of the past and a sense of protection over a quieter future. — Tiernan Bertrand-Essington, Los Angeles (Listen on YouTube)
6. Warren Zevon: “Tenderness on the Block”
I have three daughters and the youngest is still in college — but I associate fall with them going off to school and not needing my wife and I as much as they used to. Zevon captures how melancholy their leaving makes me feel. — John Peebles, Morris Township, N.J. (Listen on YouTube)
7. Big Thief: “Change”
Fall is a time of transition: the hectic energy of the summer slows, the weather cools, the school year begins. On “Change,” Adrianne Lenker mourns the end of a relationship and recognizes how challenging it can be to adapt to changing circumstances. But she ultimately asks the listener — and herself — to move forward and search for meaning in their new reality: “Would you walk forever in the light to never learn the secret of the quiet night?” — Trammell Saltzgaber, Brooklyn, N.Y. (Listen on YouTube)
8. Slowdive: “When the Sun Hits”
Most of their songs feel like fall to me, but this especially. This is evening walk music. — Zac Crain, Dallas (Listen on YouTube)
9. Led Zeppelin: “Ramble On”
I have a memory of driving back to Florida for the fall semester after spending a delightful summer working on Cape Hatteras, N.C. This song came on and the leaves were actually falling all around. It’s a specific moment from decades ago, and a vivid visual memory every time I hear this song. — Allison McCarthy, St. Petersburg, Fla. (Listen on YouTube)
10. Tom Rush: “Urge for Going”
Whenever the sky grows a chilly gray, I have to listen (repeatedly) to Tom Rush’s exquisite version of Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going.” The guitar alone sends chills creeping up the spine. Hunker up against the wind and enjoy. — Mick Carlon, Barnstable, Mass. (Listen on YouTube)
11. Nick Drake: “Time Has Told Me”
Of course, being Nick Drake, it is redolent of loss and fallen leaves and short days with rain and wind. Like all his work, it has a pastoral scent and a sense of English melancholy and peat fire. Devastatingly beautiful, as is the fall. — Paul Cameron Opperman, Location withheld (Listen on YouTube)
12. Eva Cassidy: “Autumn Leaves”
The ache in her voice as she evokes the melancholy that summer’s end brings never fails to make my breath catch. You can picture the leaves falling like tears. — Bonnie Holliday, Arrington, Va. (Listen on YouTube)
13. Billie Holiday: “Autumn in New York”
The warmth of Billie Holiday’s voice and the cool notes of Oscar Peterson’s piano put me in a smoky jazz club, away from the chill of the sunset. It’s a sense of transformation. Summer is ending, but what is beginning? — Janet Hartwell, Key West, Fla. (Listen on YouTube)
14. Nanci Griffith: “October Reasons”
The song begins, “I’m gonna open up the window and let in October,” as if October is a friend waiting to be greeted. It’s how I feel about fall: the cooler temperatures, the changing color of the leaves. It’s a friend I want to let in, and Nanci’s song encompasses this feeling. — David Sponheim, Minnetonka, Minn. (Listen on YouTube)
It’s late September and I really should be back at school,
The Amplifier Playlist
Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.
“Readers Pick the Ultimate Fall Playlist” track list
Track 1: Vince Guaraldi, “The Great Pumpkin Waltz”
Track 2: Rod Stewart, “Maggie May”
Track 3: The Kinks, “Autumn Almanac”
Track 4: Lucinda Williams, “Fruits of My Labor”
Track 5: Sade, “The Sweetest Gift”
Track 6: Warren Zevon, “Tenderness on the Block”
Track 7: Big Thief, “Change”
Track 8: Slowdive, “When the Sun Hits”
Track 9: Led Zeppelin, “Ramble On”
Track 10: Tom Rush, “Urge for Going”
Track 11: Nick Drake, “Time Has Told Me”
Track 12: Eva Cassidy, “Autumn Leaves”
Track 13: Billie Holiday, “Autumn in New York”
Track 14: Nanci Griffith, “October Reasons”
My own personal fall song is a pretty obvious choice: Neil Young’s “Harvest.” It’s right there in the title, sure, but there’s also something so oblique and stirring about the melody of this song and the imagery of its lyrics that continues to haunt me each time I listen. “Harvest” has, to me, that mixture of chill and warmth, of familiarity and strangeness, that make a great fall song. (Plus, you know, it’s literally called “Harvest.” From the album “Harvest.” What more can I say?)
Also, on this week’s Playlist, you can hear new music from Bad Bunny, boygenius, Sleater-Kinney, and more. Check it out here.