This Friday, the rapper and singer Doja Cat will release her highly anticipated fourth album “Scarlet,” which features the ubiquitous No. 1 hit “Paint the Town Red.” That is, to quote Playboi Carti, a whole lotta red.
Doja Cat’s crimson era got me thinking about all the other musicians who have used that evocative color to conjure all sorts of images — wine, ballet shoes, luftballoons. Red sometimes signifies love, but it also suggests anger, passion and danger. Red is the color of blood and roses. It’s the musical connection between artists as disparate as Taylor Swift and King Crimson. Clearly, it calls for its own playlist.
Doja Cat’s vampy hit kicks off this mix, but you hardly need to be familiar with her music to listen. (My boyfriend has admitted that, until recently, he thought Doja Cat was “a cryptocurrency.”) It pulls from a variety of decades and genres, featuring artists including TLC, Willie Nelson and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. I omitted some of the more obvious choices, like “Lady in Red” or “Red Red Wine,” because I assume we’ve all heard those enough for several lifetimes. I couldn’t resist adding a well-known Prince song, though, because, well … it’s Prince!
So pour yourself a glass of cabernet or cranberry juice, cue up this playlist, and get read to pain the town red.
1. Doja Cat: “Paint the Town Red”
Built around a sample of Dionne Warwick’s wistful 1963 hit “Walk on By,” which was co-written and produced by Burt Bacharach, Doja Cat’s first solo No. 1 has a strutting swagger and a puffed-chest confidence. It’s the perfect soundtrack for striding off into the sunset, leaving doubters in the dust — or perhaps performing a viral TikTok dance that has added to the song’s popularity. (Listen on YouTube)
2. Prince: “Little Red Corvette”
The second single from Prince’s 1983 album “1999,” “Little Red Corvette” hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 — making it his highest charting pop hit up until that point. While red isn’t the color most commonly associated with Prince, here it provides a memorably vivid image, suggesting passion, excitement and even a little danger. (Listen on YouTube)
3. Willie Nelson: “Red Headed Stranger”
Willie Nelson’s 1975 breakthrough album was more than just a commercial and critical success: It also gave the Red Headed Stranger his enduring nickname. This plaintive, sparsely arranged title track reworks “The Tale of the Red Headed Stranger,” a 1953 story-song written for Perry Como, and imbues it with Nelson’s own inimitable melancholy. (Listen on YouTube)
4. Taylor Swift: “Red (Taylor’s Version)”
This 2021 reworking of the country-rocking, lightly synesthetic title track from Swift’s 2012 release “Red” — still my favorite of her albums — contrasts the cool, muted hues of heartbreak (“Losing him was blue like I’ve never known/Missing him was dark gray, all alone”) with the bright, Technicolor memories of better times: “Loving him was red.” (Listen on YouTube)
5. The Cyrkle: “Red Rubber Ball”
Co-written by a not-quite-yet-famous Paul Simon, this bouncy folk-pop hit from 1966 finds optimism — and a memorably colorful simile — at the end of a bad relationship: “The worst is over now/The morning sun is shining like a red rubber ball.” (Listen on YouTube)
6. TLC: “Red Light Special”
If you thought the Prince song was going to be the sultriest moment of this playlist … think again! (Listen on YouTube)
7. King Crimson: “Red”
“Red”? From the album “Red”? By King Crimson? This six-minute prog-rock epic from 1974, written by Robert Fripp shortly before he disbanded King Crimson, just might be the reddest song of all time. (Listen on YouTube)
8. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: “Red Right Hand”
This slinky, atmospheric single from the Australian art-rockers’ 1994 album “Let Love In” takes its title from a line in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Used prominently in the “Scream” movie franchise and later as the theme song to the TV show “Peaky Blinders,” “Red Right Hand” has a dark, cinematic quality. It also brings this playlist full circle: Like Doja’s “Paint the Town Red,” it’s the perfect soundtrack for slowly sauntering down the street. (Listen on YouTube)
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The Amplifier Playlist
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“8 Red Songs” track list
Track 1: Doja Cat, “Paint the Town Red”
Track 2: Prince, “Little Red Corvette”
Track 3: Willie Nelson, “Red Headed Stranger”
Track 4: Taylor Swift, “Red (Taylor’s Version)”
Track 5: The Cyrkle, “Red Rubber Ball”
Track 6: TLC, “Red Light Special”
Track 7: King Crimson, “Red”
Track 8: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “Red Right Hand”