So, you’re picking up one of your favorite literary figures (poetry or prose, living or dead) from the airport before taking them to dinner and conducting an interview. You’re a huge fan and you’re super excited about the assignment, but also a bit nervous. Relax. The main thing you need to be concerned with is having a kickass playlist going on the tape deck when you roll up to the terminal and I’m here to help. I offer no guarantees, but with some deductive reasoning, digital crate digging, and intuition I think we can manage something that leaves everyone comfortable, happy, and bobbing their heads.
Below is a 12 track set that I think should get you from the airport and back again with some stops in between. You can play it in sequence, but it will work on mix-mode as well (this might even be better). The important thing is to have it already playing when you pick them up and to not discuss it at all unless they bring it up first. Basically, play it cool and act like you’ve been there before. I can in no way guarantee that they’ll actually dig this, but I have my hopes. Worst case scenario, just have NPR locked in as station preset 1 in case things get desperate. Best of luck!
Your passenger this week is none other than Adam Smith the Scottish philosopher and academic, widely recognized as the father of modern economics. Smith was a noted lecturer and considered himself primarily a moral philosopher but his name is indelibly linked to The Wealth of Nations, an econ text that’s been praised or dismissed (or both) by just about every school & faction of economics since it was written. Buckle up! Let’s talk about $$$$$$$.
1. The Clash – Magnificent Seven He’s your guest & passenger so you probably don’t want to get right up in Smith’s face with an outright critique of the worst of capitalism’s excesses and degradations. If you’re going to do it all I say at least throw a mean groove and some Joe Strummer proto-rap vocals in the mix.
2. Devo – Going Under OK, I’ll admit I’m putting this in here largely because I’ve always wanted to live out this particular scene of conspicuous consumption & night driving from the Heart of Darkness episode of Miami Vice with a fellow passenger…and I would be honored to have Smith by my side here (though he’d likely consider the gold chains and Ferrari to be excessive). Devo’s intentions were different, but in context you can consider the title to refer to mountain of debt you’ll be dealing with if trying to maintain this lifestyle with a writer/professor’s income.
3. Big Country – In A Big Country You’re driving Scottish-born Smith along our endless highways on his very 1st visit to America. You really can’t afford to not include this, the biggest track by the hottest Scottish group of the 80s. It’s always been a mystery to me why Big Country never broke bigger in the states. This was a top 10 here and both this and their next album were smashes in the UK. Vagaries of the market I guess… Notice how they get their guitars to sound a lot like bagpipes? Smith will, and it’ll be appreciated.
4. Freeez – I.O.U. Cash is, intrinsically, a debt. Who knows exactly why we as a society decided to print elaborate designs & pictures of dead people on our individual IOU slips, but why ask questions when you can rock your body to this? As good as when Double K was working it into his set in Beat Street.
5. The Thamesmen (Spinal Tap) – Gimme Some Money The genius of Spinal Tap is that no matter how much they ratchet up the spoof factor, no matter how outrageous or winking the lyrics become, their tunes are always as catchy as anything they’re poking fun at. Here, with their sights set on early R&B/Skiffle-era Beatles jams they deliver a homage to the noble & acquisitive drive for capital that free markets so gloriously foster. Smith would be proud. And don’t lie: you laugh every time you hear the “bad checks” line.
6. Tracy Chapman – Fast Car If you haven’t sat in the back seat on a late summer night’s cruise while shouting this word-for-word with friends then you’ve lived a woefully diminished existence up until now. The good news is that it’s never too late, act now! Hear it once and you’ll never forget the guitar riff, hear it a hundred times and be filled with sorrow over the existence of embedded poverty cycles.
7. Easy Star All-Stars – Money Want to feel better about not having any of the titular item? Easy. Just dim the lights, follow the audio-instructions included at the beginning of the track, and let this dub cover of Pink Floyd’s classic ride. You’ll be OK. A lot’s changed in the 224 years that Smith has been gone. Roll up the windows and get ready to blow his mind.
8. Wiley – Numbers in Action RIP Michael Jackson. 5 years gone and I am DEFINITELY still a fan, so Wiley and I have that in common. But aside from the repeated professions of his persistent fandom for the Moonwalker this tune makes the list for being a fantastic deep-bass driving song with a healthy respect for diversification among one’s hard currency holdings (he emphasizes dollars and pounds, but I’d also suggest acquiring some yuan & rubles in the current market).
9. Calloway – I Wanna Be Rich As a true child of the 80s, born under the sign of Reagan, tthe chorus to this song was one of the first chunks of pop music that I ever committed to memory. “I want money/lots and lots of money/I want the pie in the sky…I wanna be RICH!” I knew these words before I knew the Pledge of Allegiance or my own phone number. God Bless America.
10. RuPaul – Supermodel Labour was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased. (The Wealth of Nations Chapter V.) It’s quite clear that both Smith and RuPaul share the same reverence for the value of labor. Whether you’re laying the foundations for a robust national economy with reliable growth that provides for the needs of its citizens or you’re striving to be the baddest diva to strut the runway: You Better Work!!!
11. James Brown – Living In America Smith dropped The Wealth of Nations in 1776, ushering in an economic revolution just as America was beginning her own transformation an ocean away. 209 years later Rocky Balboabeat the crap out of 9-foot-tall Ivan Drago in Drago’s home country, thus asserting the primacy of free-market capitalism over the Soviet planned economy. It was a beautiful thing. There is however no triumph without sacrifice, and The Godfather of Soul’s performance of this song in the movie precedes one of the most heartbreaking defeats in sports cinema: The death of Apollo Creed, American hero.
12. Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M. Any playlist for the foundational theorist of modern capitalism would be a fraud without this track that both affirms his assertions about the power of the market while exposing its brutal realities. It’s the little things (the every-other-bar flourish on the iconic piano sample, the effortless invention of the titular slang, the otherworldly string washes in the background) that served to make this one a hip-hop classic. Smith was a popular lecturer who had astronomical, moral, & historical academic pursuits in addition to his work on political economy, but he would no doubt have to accept the cold hard late capitalist assertion that “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”.