The entrepreneur’s playlist: songs to say I did it my way

First published in The Sunday Times on 5th February 2017.

Entrepreneurs need plenty of creative inspiration. I’ve written before about the novels and movies that helped fuel my ambition. This week I turn to music — which can move the emotions more powerfully than any other art form. So what would I feature on the soundtrack if I were to produce an entrepreneur movie?

My playlist would start with The Harder They Come, by Jimmy Cliff. It was the theme song to the film of the same name, released in 1972, about a Jamaican singer turned gangsta, and is one of the best reggae songs ever written. My favourite line from it is “I’m gonna get my share now of what’s mine”. Jimmy Cliff was also the star of the movie, even though he had never acted before — an amazing act of self-confidence in itself.

Next would be Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes — a driving beat backed up by conquering lyrics. Jack White, the duo’s singer, guitarist and songwriter, is a versatile and innovative performer.

Another tune would be Takin’ Care of Business, a Bachman-Turner Overdrive single from 1974. On the website at our bakery business, Bread Factory, we used to have a five-minute video of the bakers in action — the background music was this song. Although it was originally meant to mock the idea of a hardworking wage slave, it is now used as a power number to celebrate real graft.

Money (That’s What I Want) was the first hit on the Motown record label and was co-written by the company’s founder, the entrepreneur Berry Gordy. Gordy is an outstanding role model for any aspiring entrepreneur and the song is one of the all-time great examples of 12-bar blues. I would favour the 1959 original, by the great Barrett Strong, over more recent versions by the Beatles and the Flying Lizards.

A tongue-in-cheek addition to the playlist would be Life’s Been Good by the guitarist Joe Walsh, who was a member of the Eagles for a while. The song takes a sarcastic look at success: “I have a mansion but forget the price / Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice.” A variation on the theme is Money for Nothing by Dire Straits, sung from the point of view of some delivery men who are envious of successful pop singers: “That little faggot got his own jet airplane / That little faggot he’s a millionaire.”

Of course there should be a David Bowie track — perhaps Rebel Rebel? Possibly a little obvious. Instead I’ll choose The Man Who Sold the World. I have no idea what the lyrics mean. In my mind the song gets conflated with Bowie’s role as an alien in his best movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, from 1976.

Nancy Sinatra is perhaps best known for being the daughter of Frank — as well as for her great foot-stomper, These Boots Are Made for Walkin’: “I just found me a brand new box of matches.”

I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor is a reliable standby. It must be the most common karaoke request of all time.

How Do You Stop is a thoughtful ballad by the singer they used to call “the hardest-working man in showbusiness”, James Brown: “You’ve had some success / A new group of friends / You called it the good life / Thought it would never, ever end.” He was one of the ultimate examples of the self-made performer.

Inevitably, one must include Money, Money, Money by Abba. It is not only a catchy tune but the band are virtually the most successful of all time. Yet Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the songwriters, are not especially financially driven. They claimed to have been offered a billion dollars by an American promoter to reform for an Abba tour. But they and the two female singers — Agnetha and Anni-Frid — realised they would only have disappointed their fans night after night because they had grown old, like we all do.

Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones gave me the inspiration for my last book title and is an uplifting track for any founder.

A more melancholy composition would be The Boxer, by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, about an ambitious protagonist who moves to New York and has to hustle to survive.

On the verge of quitting the city, he witnesses a battered boxer and realises that, despite the man’s cuts, “the fighter still remains”.

But the one song that must surely be the entrepreneur’s anthem is My Way. It might be a cliché but Paul Anka’s lyrics do resonate with so many self-made individuals: the overambition (“Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew / When I bit off more than I could chew”); the setbacks (“my share of losing”); and the obstinacy and contrariness (“To say the things he truly feels / And not the words of one who kneels”). The song was written by Anka for Frank Sinatra, who had told him: “I’m doing one more album then quitting the business.”

So Anka devised the lyrics set to the music of a French song called Comme d’habitude. He wrote them in one night, as a sort of musical valediction for Sinatra — who performed and recorded for many more years and, ironically, grew to hate the song. Yet its sentiments remain enormously popular. According to a study by the Co-op, the song is played at one in seven funerals in Britain.

Perhaps readers would like to suggest their own classics for an entrepreneur playlist.