The first single I bought
I used to get a pound pocket money and buy a Milkybar – the chunky one, not the flat one – a can of D&G ginger beer and a copy of the Beano. Then my older sister [novelist Zadie Smith] started spending hers at a record shop on Willesden High Road in north London, where you could get seven-inch singles for 99p. I bought She Makes My Day by Robert Palmer, but I don’t remember why.
The song I inexplicably know every lyric to
My dad was obsessed with Bob Dylan so I’m very familiar with pretty much all of his work from the 60s. I’ve learned the lyrics by osmosis. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue was played at my dad’s funeral, so whenever it pops up on my shuffle, it’s always a bit of a moment.
The song I do at karaoke
The last time, I did End of a Century by Blur, over-excited after a few beers. It has all that mid-90s Blur cheekiness with a sideways glance at British culture, with big, long notes you can belt out in your best mockney Damon Albarn.
The last song I streamed
You don’t really get rap groups any more, but I haven’t heard anything as powerful and crashing as when Never Freestyle by Coast Contra randomly popped up on my Instagram.
The song I can’t help singing
Harry Styles’ first solo attempts were trying to be something he wasn’t. Now he’s come into his own, so I challenge anybody not to enjoy As It Was as a pop-rock-indie crossover. It’s two minutes of bouncy and joyous perfection.
The best song to play at a party
Let’s Dance by David Bowie is so infectious that if you put it on at any party, it’s impossible not to dance. It’s so celebratory – a timeless, brilliant song.
The song I want played at my funeral
In My Life by the Beatles summarises so nicely the importance of the people in your life that are close to you, in that deceptively simple Lennon and McCartney way that it almost sounds like a nursery rhyme. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time and I won’t let anyone tell me differently.
The song I pretend to hate that I secretly like
My two daughters are both huge Taylor Swift fans and force it on in the car. I’ve denied it for years, but gradually I’ve thought: “She really can write.” Blank Space feels like a throwback to her country days.
The song I tell people is my favourite
Someday by the Strokes is my favourite song of all time. It evokes the memories of the headiest days of youth, with that mix of nostalgia, urgency and lyrics like poetry.
The song that is my actual favourite
Love Is a Losing Game by Amy Winehouse says everything about life, love and loss. She sings with the spirit of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. And the tragedy … humans are a bit rubbish, man. We make mistakes, we don’t get it right. There’s great room for growth if you are self-aware enough to realise you’ve got something wrong.
Ben Bailey Smith features in Jane Austen’s Persuasion on Netflix, and Star Wars: Andor this August.
July 18, 2022 at 11:44AM As told to Rich Pelley