I don’t listen to music as much as I used to. Because of my job I spend most of my time listening to spoken word, and reading far more than most people probably should. But previously I was a radio DJ, so selecting songs and playing music was what I did for a living, and it was enjoyable to come back to that and pick this playlist. It was torturous too, because there’s just so much great music out there. People might have a genre they’re into, but any song can mean something to me – whether it’s The Beatles or Beyoncé, it doesn’t matter.
I look to music for motivation and meaning. The meaning is about what the song is saying and how it makes you feel. The motivation is about if you find a message or a beat in a song that gives you a pep in your step. If I’m walking or exercising I’ll listen to music then. I used to drive around the country as a correspondent, and when I was tired and on a long journey I’d put on the songs that would perk me up. The first four or five tracks on the playlist motivate me – Mr Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra is probably one of my favourite songs of all time. I love the energy.
Music is also such an immersive experience that it can give you clarity of thought. If you can relate to a song it can urge you to think in a certain direction, so music often helps me process my thoughts.
The playlist is so varied, from early 1970s right up to the current day. You have someone like KD Lang, who’s such an experienced songwriter, then you come into the younger singers, who write music that’s equally inspirational. People might look at a current-affairs news presenter in his 40s and probably don’t think he listens to Selena Gomez, but there’s something in her songs.
The field of music is like sport: you can be so young and still excel to the very top of your game. You can’t do that in a lot of other careers or ways of life: you have to put in the hard yards. But when you have a brilliance like that, you can go right to the top.
That's the same with Niall Horan. He's a kid to many people, having come from a boy band. But now he's writing really impressive, meaningful music, like Our Song. I think he's brilliant. But I am a bit biased, because I'm from Longford like his mother, so there's a midlands link there.
So some of the songs might surprise some people, but if I find the meaning in the song, the genre or background doesn’t matter. In the mid to late 1990s, when I was spending a lot of money on CDs, I’d base my purchases on what I heard on the radio, the producers, the covers. But now it’s more accessible, and you can base it on the sound.
Thinking about what kind of music hit me in the last period of time, I remember watching Tolü Makay’s interpretation of N17 on RTÉ, and I think the whole country cried. She managed to reinterpret the song that we all sang and we all knew, but in a modern, relevant way, which was just breathtaking. I watched a video of it last night again, and it still brought tears to my eyes. It goes back to that youth thing of having the ability to take the ball and run with it if you have the skill. Already she has a quality in her voice that makes you think of the greats.
I think people should expose themselves to music they don't normally listen to and not judge it on the basis of it being by a 19-year-old kid, or whatever it is. Some of our best musicians around at the moment are in their early 20s. They're kids to people of a certain age, but most of the established singers were that age too when they came up.
Fran McNulty presents Prime Time with Miriam O'Callaghan on RTÉ One every Thursday at 9.35pm