TDP Playlist: Tunes for Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities



This year’s BHS English curriculum updates included some changes in the texts students read. One of the more noteworthy changes is the loss of the Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities. Although the new books students have the opportunity to read are great, we can’t help but miss this massive classic. For those of you who are feeling a bit nostalgic for your sophomore year or feel like revisiting the characters in this serial novel, tune in.



A Tale of Two Cities Playlist, by 

“We should meet in another life, we should meet in air, me and you.” -Sylvia Plath

I tried to “2013-Gatsby”-up this book to romanticize and modernize it more, even though it’s already awesome. There’s a mix of well and lesser known artists and a spectrum of genres to mimic the emotional roller coaster of the plot.

1. “I Come With Knives”- IAMX !

  • I was drawn to this song originally because of its lyric “The paradox of our minds,” which reminded me of the opening line of the novel. The song in general speaks about a romanticized desire to kill, alluding to the murder of the Marquis and the bloodiness of the French Revolution, caused by regular citizens, like in the lyrics “I’m only human.” The German chanting throughout the song, along with the creepy, repetitive tune creates a dark and mysterious night atmosphere present during the murder.

2. “According to Plan”- I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness

  • This song represents Sydney Carton’s love towards Lucie and his transition from a brooding alcoholic towards a noble human being. The first verse references his observations as a lawyer about the misfortunes and dangers of the world, supported by the lyrics “the world is without love.” The progression of the song with its inclusion of “In a perfect world,/The perfect place is with you” is Carton’s acceptance of the world’s imperfection because he cannot be with Lucie. It’s almost like Sydney Carton’s profession of love for Lucie, with its instant retraction.

3. “Starter”- The Cardigans

  • Because Dickens characterizes Lucie as pretty flat, I’ve chosen this song to give her more character by presenting her inner thought process during her isolation, her move to London, and her distraught at the fall of her home country. The line “Lifetime of changes/a strange generation/explanations never come in time” reminded me of the uprise of the French proletariat and how everyone around Lucie keeps secrets from her. The final statement “So I’m leaving everything behind” demonstrates Lucie’s entire, unstable life.

4. “Little Drop of Poison”- Tom Waits

  • This song reminds me of the Defarge’s tavern and their poisonous role in the revolution. The line “Nobody knows they’re lining up to go insane” juxtaposes the previous prosperous happiness of the tavern with its new dark role of numbing the pain of oppression. The lyric “A rat always knows when he’s in with weasels  alludes to the secret meetings of the Jacquerie and the tension present with keeping allegiances to either the monarchies or the revolutionaries.

5. “A Song for a Lover of Long Ago”- Justin Vernon

  • This is another sad Sydney Carton song because he is a beautiful man. In the chorus, the narrator states “I have buried you/Every place I’ve been/You keep ending up/In my shaking hands” which to me reminded of Sydney’s desire for the metaphorical burial of his love for Lucie, yet his inability to do so as everything reminds him of her. The obvious first verse of the song also includes a lot of imagery pertaining to water and alcohol, referencing Carton’s addiction and suffering.

6. “Between The Bars”- Elliott Smith

  • Although this song is extremely romantic, to me, it humorously reminded of Sydney Carton’s drugging of Charles Darnay in the French prison cell because of its reassuring qualities. It’s almost like Carton’s complete transition into a selfless and loving human, especially in lyrics like “Do what I say” and “The people you’ve been before/That you don’t want around anymore/That push and shove and won’t bend to your will/I’ll keep them still.”

7. “Gold Mine Gutted”- Bright Eyes

  • This is yet another song that applies to the relationship between Sydney Carton and Lucie, as well as potentially being a song that describes the downfall of the monarchy, especially in the lyric “We were a goldmine and they gutted us,” the “we” applying to the bourgeois and the “they” representing the revolutionaries. The same analysis can be applied humorously to the line in the chorus “Well I did my best/To keep my head.” When applied to Sydney Carton, the lyric “And a girl from class to touch/But you think about yourself too much/And your ruin who you love,” perfectly highlights his self-destructive character and his obsessive love towards Lucie.

8. “Cemeteries of London”- Coldplay

  • This song is an obvious one for Jerry Cruncher and his grave robbing habits. Also, the superfluous religious imagery in “God is in the houses and God is in my head/And all the cemeteries of London” contrasts the idea of a decided fate with the people’s desire to create their own destiny.

9. “Bones”- MS MR

  • This is another song with Jerry Cruncher-like tendencies in “dig up her bones but leave the soul alone.” The lyrics “midnight hours cobble street passages,” “forgotten savages,” “these are hard times for dreamers” and “manmade madness” reminded me exactly of the French Revolution. Also, the song brings back Lucie Manette’s struggle in the line “Marinate in misery/Like a girl of only seventeen.”

10. “Killer Queen”- Queen

  • This song acts as a parallel between Marie Antoinette and Madame Defarge and the power that they both hold in France and the French Revolution, respectively. Madame Defarge is careless towards humanity and absolutely ruthless, similar to Marie Antoinette’s rumored phrase “Let them eat cake.”

11. “The Weight of Us”- Sanders Bohlke

  • This song’s deep emotional appeal focuses more on the distraught during the revolution, rather than the violence and chaos. The significant analyses of the state of society in “There are thieves, who rob us blind,/and kings, who kill us fine” suggests the oppression of the lower class. The narrator struggles with accepting his role in the revolution through his confession in “I’m not ready/For the weight of us,” which exposes the strong force that the revolutionaries maintain despite their low class. The lower class narrator does not know how to be anything but the lower class. However, by the end of the song, he is ready to fight against the bourgeois and state “Shake off all of your sins, the time has come, let us be brave.”

12. “Sugar”- Cristobal Tapia de Veer

  • This instrumental tune is from a show set in Victorian England, but its fast paced and cutting violin reminded me of the rapid chaos of the French Revolution. The composer included some electronica to modernize the song, while adding a creepy, chanting, and breathy undertone to illustrate the romanticized danger similar to that of the French Revolution.

13. “Aint’ No Rest For The Wicked”- Cage the Elephant

  • This song just reminded me of the socioeconomic standing of France during the revolution with its prostitution, thievery, and corruption.

14. “Local Girl”- Neko Case

  • This song to me demonstrates Lucie’s internal struggle with her surrounding and the people surrounding her. Dickens portrays her as the epitome of purity, so the lyric “I pass the light that the young people make/How joyfully it’s wasted” contrasts that “light,” or the purity, with the idea that everyone else is completely corrupted. The line “All of you lie about something/You know you do, all of you, shame on you, all of you lie” illustrates Lucie’s potential disgust with the impurity of others. Also, this song can be applied to Madame Defarge who is also disgusted with the lies of the upper class.

15. “Lovely Head”- Goldfrapp

  • This song illustrates the relationship between Madam Defarge and Lucie and the former’s desire to kill the latter. This song specifically reminded me of that final showdown scene between the two women during the revolution. The lyric “Why can’t this be killing you/Frankenstein would want your mind/Your lovely head” references Lucie’s beautiful hair, while also making Madame Defarge into the narrator and stressing her desire for the destruction of the corrupted purity of the bourgeois.

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