Whenever I really love a piece of media, I make a mixtape of songs that remind me of it. As soon as I finished The Outer Worlds, I began compiling my mixtape. There’s something nice about having a compilation of songs that take you back to a tone and a mood, since it allows you to revisit a game without having to play through all of it again.
Weirdly enough, my first idea for what to put on the mixtape came to me when my boyfriend and I were in a YouTube rabbithole and ended up watching a Bernie Sanders ad from last year. It’s the ad that was set to Simon and Garfunkle’s “America.” I had never seen it.
It’s a powerful ad that does its job of saying that Sanders, as president, would protect the rights of workers across the United States, but the song stuck in my head long after my boyfriend and I moved on to watching cool music videos. The idea of America as a question that we have yet to answer made me think of the lingering questions about the creation of a society that The Outer Worlds poses. From there, my playlist practically created itself. It’s thirty-one songs long, so I won’t explain every song choice, but below are a few highlights.
Railroad Bill - Ramblin’ Jack Elliot
Railroad Bill is a folk song that’s been covered numerous times by artists like Bob Dylan, Etta Baker and Colter Wall. The real life Railroad Bill, whose life is the subject of the song, was actually named Morris Slater. He was a worker who made himself the sworn enemy of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad after he was caught stealing from them. After getting caught the first time, he basically made it his life’s work to fuck them over again and again. He stole from that railroad a lot of times, murdering a lot of people in the process. During one robbery, he actually made it off the train while being chased by the authorities, and then got back on it to continue the fight until he ran out of bullets. The Outer Worlds draws on history and Americana to fill out its world, and it was easy to imagine a character like Railroad Bill shooting raptidons on Monarch.
My Queen Is Ada Eastman - Sons of Kemet
Sons of Kemet are an extremely cool contemporary jazz ensemble from London, and please keep reading because I promise they actually whip arse. I had the chance to see them at last year’s Big Ears music festival in Knoxville, and I will always cherish the memory of watching someone go ham on a tuba. The song that this album comes from is called Your Queen Is A Reptile, and as bandleader Shabaka Hutchings explained during the concert, it’s called that to try to subvert the myth of monarchy, and to create new myths of who a queen can be. This song is named for Hutchings’ great grandmother. “I would say that’s my queen,” Hutchings says in the bio on his personal website, “that’s the person that inspires me to get up in the morning and try to get better at whatever I’m doing.”
Electric Avenue - Eddy Grant
I had to include at least one song about hating Margaret Thatcher, and this one was a gimme. This song is about the 1981 riots in Brixton, a primarily black neighbourhood. The community was hit hard by the recession. After a fire started at a house party, where thirteen people died, the community responded with a march, and ended up clashing with police. Over the following days, as tension between Brixton residents and police grew, the situation exploded into a full-blown riot. This song is about the residents of Brixton, who suffered poor housing, low employment, and higher than average crime rates, and their efforts to be heard instead of beaten.
Expect The Bayonet - Sheer Mag
The lyrics of this song are pretty straightforward: if you don’t give us the ballot, expect the bayonet. As well as a warning to those in power, it’s a call for solidarity for all working people, all over the world to stand together. There are more of us than they are of them.
Harmony Hall - Vampire Weekend
Father of the Bride is probably the first Vampire Weekend album I’ve actually liked, though I do think, like most double albums, they could have cut a few songs. This particular song shot straight to my heart the first time I heard it. It perfectly captures the feeling that simmers underneath everything I do or say, a dark truth beneath every day as time inches forward. It’s not just a threat of violence, but a feeling that the whole world is teetering on a knife’s edge. As Ezra Koenig sings in the song’s rousing chorus, “I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t wanna die.”