Rhodri Marsden: A taxi driver's romantic playlist makes for a quite awkward journey

Life on Marsden
  • @rhodri

Without wishing to make gross generalisations about the listening habits of British taxi drivers, minicab journey soundtracks tend to consist of live football commentary, or local radio stations featuring angry phone-ins about how unfair everything is, or a rotating playlist of three soft-rock ballads on Magic FM. So it was a surprise to open a cab door on Sunday and hear Pavarotti's version of "'O Sole Mio" booming out. "Good evening, sir," said the driver, just audible above the operatic climax. "Can I leave the music on?" I gave my permission – it would have been churlish not to – and he smiled, gratefully. "Thank you," he said. "It's romantic, isn't it?" Possibly. I wasn't sure, however, why he wanted to establish a romantic atmosphere in a taxi that only had me and him in it. I felt uneasy as he guided me through his "Sexytime" playlist in 30-second bursts, as if he was seeking out the perfect sound to match the mood.

He never found it, though, because none of the tracks featured blasts on an emergency klaxon. Richard Clayderman's "Ballade pour Adeline" seguéd bumpily into "Without You" and "You Take My Breath Away", as he gripped the wheel and glanced at me in the rear-view mirror. As he cued up "Lady In Red" I thought he might announce that he was "a bit hot" before taking his top off.

Of course, the idea that he was trying to seduce me is merely a gentle comic conceit, and you've all been very indulgent. But it got me thinking about the music of seduction. My taxi-driver was clearly a self-styled Casanova, but if the women I know were played those songs in a candlelit situation, they'd laugh and say "Are you serious?" Of course, there are recordings guaranteed to shatter the mood: the National Anthem, Ed Balls's Budget Response broadcast, xylophone solos, or the theme to Nationwide. (If you don't remember the theme tune to Nationwide, check it out on YouTube, and try whispering "I need you, now" while it's playing. It can't be done.)

What's really needed, is an album called "Nondescript Seduction Music" that doesn't put the other party into a state of high alert. Songs called things like "I'm Not Particularly Bothered Either Way" or "Let's Leave It For A Bit Then". Suitable for bedrooms, boudoirs, and the back seat of taxis.