Listen to every song from the Pursuit of Love soundtrack
For decades now, period TV dramas and films have used modern soundtracks to give themselves a contemporary edge and command viewer attention. The latest example is The Pursuit of Love, Emily Mortimer’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s novel that has just launched on the BBC. In using music that is deliberately at odds with the period being depicted, Mortimer is hoping to lend universality to her themes.
Here is a track-by-track breakdown of The Pursuit of Love’s glam-rock stomps and incongruous ballads – and how each one weaves its magic. Warning: contains plot spoilers.
Blue, Red and Grey by The Who
During the opening titles of Episode One, we fly over the River Thames in south-west London on a blazing hot day. Albert Bridge and Battersea Power Station recede into the distance and we hover over a rooftop on plush Cheyne Walk. There, sunbathing with her French bulldog as the ukulele and horns of this light-as-air Who ditty drift around us, lies Linda Radlett, played by Lily James. “I like every minute of the day,” sings Pete Townshend. Carefree atmosphere established. It’s Made in Chelsea, 1940s-style.
Dandy in the Underworld by T. Rex
A staid coming-out ball for Linda’s sister at the Radlett family home, Alconleigh, is full of small, old and ugly men. Until, that is, Andrew Scott turns up as Lord Merlin, an artist, musician and aesthete who happens to live next door. His arrival is announced by the opening power chords of this T. Rex stomper. Merlin and his band of fashionable friends – a semi-dressed troupe of Pierrots and harlequins – dance in formation. It’s the perfect synergy of music and action as a burst of glam enters the scene.
Ceremony by New Order
Lord Merlin attempts to educate Linda in art, literature and music as this New Order classic plays in the background. By the end of the segment, she has become a woman and attends her own coming-out ball. It’s a clever and subtle use of the song. Although Ceremony was written by Joy Division prior to the 1980 death of singer Ian Curtis, it was released as the debut New Order single by his remaining bandmates after he died. The song therefore symbolises one era ending and another beginning, just like for Linda. The song also featured on Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette soundtrack.
Deceptacon by Le Tigre
This spiky punk song from 1999 by female New York trio Le Tigre plays as Linda and her cousin Fanny (Emily Beecham) steal Linda’s mother’s car and escape from Alconleigh to a lunch party in Oxford. They swerve around the road, smoke fags and scream at the joy of it all. The song captures that timeless sense of youthful rebellion and adventure perfectly. The party, hosted by Freddie Fox’s Tony Kroesig, is a disaster. As is often the way, the journey there is the best bit. But Linda ends up marrying the pompous Tony anyway.
Give My Love To London by Marianne Faithfull
The London Season starts and provincial Linda is introduced to high society. The use of this song by Marianne Faithfull is genius. We associate Faithfull with the Swinging London of the 1960s, an era of innocent hope and naïve idealism. Linda no doubt feels this too as a debutante. But Faithfull’s Union Jack is tattered: she recorded this song in 2014, her voice weathered and frayed. The song forebodingly ends with lines about the Thames “running bloody” and the Tower of London “tumbling down”. A warning to Linda?
Folk band at the Debs’ Ball
Eagle-eyed music fans may have spotted something of a supergroup performing at the ball at which Linda and Kroesig dance wildly. George Vjestica of Nick Cave’s The Bad Seeds plays guitar (he is also the music supervisor for the series and the man behind all these song choices). He is joined in the band by, among others, fellow Bad Seed Jim Sclavunos, The Pogues’ Spider Stacy and Nikolaj Torp Larsen, who played piano on Adele’s Oscar-winning Bond theme Skyfall.
Modern Girl by Sleater-Kinney
Episode One ends as Linda marries Kroesig, a decision she immediately regrets. The song we hear as the reception gets underway is Modern Girl by US rock band Sleater-Kinney. It starts acoustically with lyrics that seem to neatly sum up Linda: “Hunger makes me a modern girl” (which, incidentally, is also the name of bandmember Carrie Brownstein’s autobiography). However, it is a different, repeated refrain in the song that really captures Linda’s on-screen remorse. “My whole life was like a picture of a sunny day.” The past tense is crucial here. It’s a bittersweet moment.
Cissy Strut by The Meters
How better to open the second episode of The Pursuit of Love than with a funk instrumental from 1969? We start with a recap and see Linda’s bridesmaids walk down the aisle in almost perfect time to the lolloping riff of this classic. The song was also featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. The use of a funk song by New Orleans band The Meters might seem wildly incongruous in a very English historical piece, but that is precisely the point. It immediately bursts our period drama bubble in a cheeky and amusing way.
The ‘In’ Crowd by Bryan Ferry
Linda fritters away her youth to Bryan Ferry’s 1974 version of the 1964 Billy Page song. With her pal Lord Merlin, she paints the town red in nightclubs and bars. Ferry’s wobbly and otherworldly voice is perfect, and can’t fail to bring to mind high society soirees, King’s Road wine bars and aristocratic decadence. Which is all very Linda. I have to say, though, that the woozy scenes of her dancing and gyrating on a nightclub stage also evoke Alan Partridge’s famous “Would you like me to lap dance for you?” scene. Given Linda’s oft-mentioned love of “chat”, perhaps this is no bad thing (or even a very veiled reference for Partridge fans?).
Not Fade Away
Buddy Holly and The Rolling Stones made this song famous. It is used in The Pursuit of Love to symbolise Linda’s enduring, well, pursuit of love. Without giving any plot details away, it rears its head when you least expect it. The song’s incessant Bo Diddley-esque beat is thrilling: a pure and unadulterated blast of rock n roll. It could represent a giddy heartbeat or a raised pulse. And there are plenty of those in this series.
Paris 1919 by John Cale
On the surface, this is one of the most literal pieces of music in the series. Paris 1919 is a song by former Velvet Underground member John Cale that is used here when Linda is in the French capital. It’s a beautiful and dramatic piece of music that plays when Linda meets the dapper and rich Fabrice de Sauveterre, played by Assaad Bouab (better known to you and I as Hicham from Call My Agent). The 1973 song’s vibe couldn’t be further removed from the stuffy drawing rooms of England’s country houses, which is – again – the very point. It also references the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, which historians would tell you had unintended consequences, many of which play into The Pursuit of Love’s plot.
Plus Je T’Embrasse by Blossom Dearie
As Linda lives it up in Paris, we hear the mesmerising Plus Je T’Embrasse by American jazz singer Blossom Dearie. This song works because it is a breezy delight that makes you crave a trip to Paris. There’s no hidden meaning here, it is what it is: unfailingly romantic. Translated, the lyrics mean: “The more I kiss you / The more I like kissing you / The more I embrace you / The more I like embracing you.” And nothing sums up Linda more than this.
Be My Husband by Nina Simone
“Be my husband man / I be your wife,” sings Simone on this 1965 track. Lovely sentiment, but the song has a barbed underbelly. Its minimalist handclap and cymbal backing track lend it an icy rawness. And lyrically, things are going swimmingly until Simone implores her man to stick to the promises he made her and “stay away from Rosalie”. In The Pursuit of Love, we hear the song in a sweaty underground Paris club. It is both passionate and eerily doom-laden at the same time.
Déshabillez Moi by Juliette Gréco
French singer Juliette Gréco, who died last year, was married three times and was said to have had relationships with Albert Camus, Sacha Distel and Miles Davis. A famous bohemian, she therefore had plenty in common with the character of Linda. This song – “Undress Me” – ironically appears as Linda is on a clothes shopping spree in what we might term The Pursuit of Love’s Pretty Woman scene.
Woncha Come on Home by Joan Armatrading
The use of this Joan Armatrading song as Linda is back in London waiting for her lover (I won’t say who in case you haven’t seen it yet) is a little too literal for my taste. It might be that I’m tiring of the clever music because we’re approaching the end of episode three, but OK, we get it, Linda’s lonely and wanting her man back. It’s a lovely song – lo-fi and yearning – but it wouldn’t feel out of place in one of those twee adverts for a mobile phone company. The later inclusion of Are You Leaving For The Country? by folk singer Karen Dalton when Linda – surprise, surprise! – leaves for the country is similarly unsubtle.
Sea of Love by Cat Power
The series ends with Cat Power’s powerful 2000 cover version of Sea of Love by Philip Baptiste and George Khoury, a version that was also used in the 2007 film Juno. The lyrics are sheer romance: “Come with me my love / To the sea / To the sea of love / I want to tell you / How much I love you.” Power delivers them over simple acoustic guitar in a jazzy, husky voice. The song works here because it is a pure distillation of Linda’s DNA. To have overcomplicated this final moment would have been to ruin it. As Linda herself asks in the show, what else is there to life beyond love? This song offers an answer to that: not much.