More than any other season, autumn is a sad reminder that time is fleeting. The sun recedes earlier, the leaves turn color, and, despite the fact that we “fall behind” on our clocks, it’s a cruel deception: No one can cheat time.
This playlist includes some songs of regret and time lost, but other tunes exhort us to make the most of the precious hours we have.
“Autumn Leaves,” Barbra Streisand // Accompanied by a solo violin and sung partly in French and English, Streisand carves out a singular version of this oft-recorded melancholy ode, making it sound more like an art song than a pop tune. From her 1966 album Je m’appelle Barbra.
“September Song,” Lotte Lenya // This haunting number by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, has been covered by countless crooners, but the interpretive honors go to Weill’s widow, Lenya. The minor key is wedded elegantly to somber lyrics: “Oh it’s a long, long while/From May to December/But the days grow short/When you reach September.”
“Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” Sandy Denny // This lovely, pensive song gained renown when composer/singer Denny was with the band Fairport Convention. But her solo rendition is even more alluring. Against a soft guitar, her expressive soprano in the opening lines is heartbreakingly sad: “Across the evening sky/All the birds are leaving.”
“Autumn in New York,” Dawn Upshaw // Songs about autumn are often about resignation, but this one by Vernon Duke (music and lyrics) salutes the season in grand, unforgettable fashion: “Autumn in New York/Why does it seem so inviting?/Autumn in New York/It spells the thrill of first-nighting.”
“Among My Souvenirs,” Judy Garland // Forget that popular but dreadful version by Connie Francis. Garland invests this reflective song with a thousand times more emotion, and the tempo is much slower, allowing her to drain every drop of feeling from the wistful melody. There’s a catch in her voice when she delivers the last lines with piercingly sad vulnerability: “And as the teardrops start/I find a broken heart/Among my souvenirs.” From her superb 1957 Capitol album, Alone.
“Harvest Moon” Neil Young // This fetching number is all about the joys of autumnal love, spent in the glow of moonlight: “But there’s a full moon risin’/Let’s go dancin’ in the light/We know where the music’s playin’/Let’s go out and feel the night.” The song is from the acoustic album of the same name.
“September in the Rain,” Dinah Washington // Dating from 1937, this Harry Warren-Al Dubin standard about a fondly remembered September romance still has staying power. Performers as diverse as Doris Day and the Beatles have recorded it, but Washington’s version is among the best. “The leaves of brown/Came tumblin’ down, remember/That September in the rain.”
“Speak Low,” Mario Lanza // The Kurt Weill standard, from the musical One Touch of Venus, beseeches lovers to live in the moment: “Time is so old and love so brief/Love is pure gold and time a thief,” delivered with stirring urgency by the golden voice of tenor Lanza.
“Longing/Love,” George Winston // Winston’s albums devoted to the seasons can sound contrived, but that’s not to suggest there’s not worthwhile music on them. From his 1980 solo piano album Autumn, this cut, like the rest of the recording, evokes the fall’s shimmering play of light and shadow, as well as romantic yearning.