I listen to a playlist of 2,000-plus songs when I work. A mix of punk, hip-hop, EDM, jazz, whatever. It keeps me company and provides opportunities to sing along and also: dance breaks. These are the new additions I made to the playlist in May of 2015, when I started writing The Underground Railroad
1. "Where Eagles Dare" by the Misfits
Now that I'm middle-aged and out of the loop, I google things like "best hardcore songs" in the hope of finding some gap in my tastes. The Misfits' "Where Eagles Dare" came up. Thirty years ago, my sister had Walk Among Us
on vinyl, but I was resistant to its charms. Older and wiser, I understand the Danzig now. See if you can find the fast version!
2. "Astro Zombies" by the Misfits
A lot of early Misfits song titles are inspired by old B-movies, which were my Popeye's spinach when I was a kid. "Who'd I do this for / Hey — me or you?" is of course a question central to all artistic production.
3. "Roadrunner" by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
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Similarly, I never got Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers when I was a kid. Now I like the way they bridge '60s garage, Velvet Underground dissonance, and alt-rock lyrical malaise. First appearance of a Stop 'n' Shop in a song?
4. "Judy Is a Punk" by the Ramones
The movie Rock 'n' Roll High School
was a sacred text in my household. Clint Howard! Paul Bartel! Mary Woronov! But I never owned a copy of their first record. So I saved my "Judy Is a Punk" rapture until I needed it.
5. "Beat on the Brat" by the Ramones
Sure, beat on the brat. What else to do with a brat like that?
6. "The Champ" by the Mohawks
For years, I tried to find the origin of this sample that was used in tons of late '80s/early '90s hip-hop — Son of Bazerk's "Change the Style," "Eric B. Is President," etc. Was it a deep James Brown cut? I finally used one of those sample ID sites: studio band the Mohawks.
7. "Dead Format" by Blanck Mass
I would open a day of writing with Blanck Mass's "Dead Format." It's chaos, then at the 34-second mark a bit of running through the woods, and then at 1:24 your pursuers are catching up. I don't know what's happening at 1:57!
8. "Scud Books" by Hudson Mohawke
After a good day's work, put on "Scud Books." It's an electronic version of the Rocky
÷ ÷ ÷
is the New York Times
bestselling author of The Noble Hustle
, Zone One
, Sag Harbor
, The Intuitionist
, John Henry Days
, Apex Hides the Hurt
, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York
. The Underground Railroad
is his most recent novel. A Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City.