Hear the Cicadas official soundtrack (plus Part 1 annotation)

Several readers have emailed me asking for a playlist for Cicadas: A Totally Ordinary Epic Love Story, a book that has music at the core of its throbbing heart. It was the world’s easiest request, because of course I’ve been thinking about the soundtrack since I started writing the book in 2021.

This is the “official” version, the one most faithful to the timeline, which means the songs fit one strict criteria: They were released in roughly the year before the story takes place. For example, all the Part 1 songs were released Spring 1986 through Spring 1987. So zero anachronisms!

Scroll past the YouTube video to learn why I included the Part One songs. Parts Two and Three to come in later posts.

  • Tidal (I use this service because it pays artists more and has the best sound quality)
  • Spotify (embedded below)
  • YouTube (also embedded below)
  • Amazon
  • Apple (coming soon (?) it’s being a PITA about transferring and displaying the playlist under my pen name even though that’s the name on the account 🤦)
Cicadas soundtrack on Spotify
Cicadas soundtrack on YouTube

Notes on Part One (1987) songs:

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2: In Part One, Danny’s wearing a Joshua Tree shirt (for a while, at least). Little does he know how well the song describes the journey his life will take. According to analysts on the internet, the song is written in the style of King David of Psalms fame.

I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
I have driven across Kansas oh god it's so flat forever and ever in all directions please kill me
Only to be with you

The Kiss by The Cure: Having just met ten minutes prior, Joel has Danny listen to this song, the opening track of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. Bold choice, Joel. Bold choice.

Play in the Sunshine by Prince: Joel and Danny listen to Prince’s Sign o’ the Times in the meadow on a bubblegum-pink Street Beat boombox. THIS. SONG. IS. JOY.

Before my life is done
Someway, somehow
I'm gonna have fun

A Man Could Get Arrested by Pet Shop Boys: Joel mumbles the title line when Danny says they should stop flapping their arms “like chickens caught in a storm.” Then he starts singing the song, but Danny doesn’t recognize it, so it goes unnamed in the text. Deep POV, baby!

Cemetry Gates* by The Smiths: At the end of Part One, Joel gives Danny a cassette of The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow, which he in turn got from the British exchange student who recently stayed with his family (and with whom Joel had his first same-sex sexytimes). But oh noes, Hatful of Hollow came out years earlier, making it ineligible for this list. So instead I chose one from 1986’s The Queen is Dead, a song that happens to be my favorite Smiths song of all time, partly because it’s upbeat, partly because Oscar Wilde is on my side (see lyrics below), and partly because…I don’t know, that ineffable magic that makes a song plant a flag in one’s heart.

As far as Cicadas goes, the lyrics show a pair of friends, one of whom is trying to impress the other by dropping dubious knowledge. Sound familiar?

A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
While Wilde is on mine.

*Not a typo. The song title is purposely misspelled, as is the pronunciation of “plagiarise” in the song, implying the narrator is not as well-read as he claims. Deep POV again, baby!

Every Little Counts by New Order: This Cute AF final track off the Brotherhood album makes me think of Joel and Danny’s laughing fits (both sober and stoned) and their general juvenile dorkiness. It also speaks to the preciousness of their time together while abandoning all sentimentality:

Every second counts
When I am with you
I think you are a pig
You should be in a zoo

Now We’re Getting Somewhere by Crowded House: One of my top 10 songs of the 80s. When I went to study in London, my best friend sent me a mixtape that concluded with this tune. To me it’s about that youthful impatience for a better world, and the moment one realizes that it takes work but we will get there if we have faith in each other. It will forever make me dance and hope.

Swan Swan H by R.E.M.: Like Joel says, it’s in 6/8 time (for awkward waltzing) and refers to the tragic human cost of the American Civil War.

What's the price of heroes?
Six of one, half-dozen the other
Tell that to the captain's mother

The Life’s Rich Pageant album was one that spurred kids in my generation to activism, whether for peace or the environment or human rights, which is why my favorite line is from These Days:

Fly to carry each his burden, we are young despite the years
We are concerned, we are hope despite the times

To this day I sing that line at the top of my lungs, and I believe it with all the sincerity a Gen X heart can contain.

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