Music (1974-Present)

Katie and I have been talking a lot about music in recent days.  The conversation was born out of a question posed over an empanada at Calavera Empanada and Tequila Bar, “What are your favorite songs that have been released since you have been born?”  Tough question, right?  (For the record this conversation was not tequila-induced). I even stumped our server with the question while she refilled my water and she “had to think about it.”  (We’re still waiting, Tierra).

I suppose before I rip off a listicle, I should define what creates a favorite  song for me.  This is my criteria:

  • The song survives the test of time (sorry, pop superstars).
  • The song may move me to goosebumps no matter how many times it’s heard.
  • There is meaning in the lyrics whether on the surface or metaphorically.
  • I saw the song played live and I had an “Oh!  I get it now!” moment.
  • Music is art and I just like the darn song.

I started with a goal of whittling the list down to 10, but let’s be real.  That is not going to happen.  I will even list some honorable mentions, including some local favorites.

I was born in 1974 and the number 1 song on the date of my birth (June 23) was Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot.  Having just dabbled in his music, I am confident I would have been a concert-attending fan if born earlier in the 2oth Century.

So, there’s my starting point.  Not a bad start.  It should be noted that I was a VERY late bloomer to music.  I was the teenager that listened to AM talk radio or the voice of Ernie Harwell calling the Detroit Tigers on WJR each evening as I went to bed. Jeez, I can’t imagine why girls didn’t dig me in high school.  Anyway, it wasn’t until college at Central Michigan University that music became part of my routine. It wasn’t really by choice.  Roommates such as Adam Kanouse and Craig Bull from Reed City, Michigan were always listening to music. I am grateful for their immersion and just weeks ago, sitting at Some Random Bar in Seattle, I messaged Craig letting him know that the owners of this business have obviously stolen his college music collection. Thanks, Craig.  Thanks to Adam, too.  Without you I might not know who Eazy E is.

Anyway, let’s get to the list.  I had thoughts of actually ranking  them too, but then I thought, “Does it really matter?”  No, it doesn’t but some of my commentary might reveal where some songs might land in such a ranking. Pro Tip:  Listen to music with headphones. Totally transformational experience.

Landslide, Stevie Nicks

I mentioned that I was a late bloomer to music.  I was even a later bloomer to Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac.  I had a neighbor growing up that was all about the Fleetwood Mac.  I didn’t care. I just wanted to play basketball and hockey at their house.  Music was secondary.  This song in particular was introduced to me in the form of a cover by Tori Amos.  Beautiful song, no matter who is singing it. Even Nickelback could pull this song off.  I might need to rethink that last statement.

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Billy Joel

Just try not to love this song. I always liked it because it feels like 3 distinct songs in one and well, it seems based on the years I have been on this earth, there should be a Billy Joel song on this blogpost somewhere.

Fast Car, Tracy Chapman

At Central Michigan University, we were required to complete a general education requirement in the Arts and Humanities.  I enrolled in Music 114:  Listening Experience.  My life was changed forever. In addition to being required to attend on campus musical performances of which I was inspired to attend BY CHOICE the rest of my college career, we would also “break down” music in class.  The class met one night a week for and we spent the entire first class of the class analyzing Fast Car by Tracy Chapman word by word, beat by beat, and layer by layer. It was a fascinating experience that helped me “get” music. I said I wouldn’t rank these, but rest assured this would be near the top.

I Couldn’t Explain Why, Citizen Cope

Citizen Cope is special.  I have seen him on several occasions, sometimes acoustic, but usually with the accompaniment of a band. There are dozens of songs of his that I love, but this is the one that best aligns with the bulleted criteria listed in my introduction. You know that song “Sideways” that has been performed by Santana, Sheryl Crow, and John Mayer?  Yep, that’s a Cope song.

Losing My Religion, REM

REM is another college roommate inspiration. I can’t remotely claim to be a fan or own any albums of REM, but this song (another covered nicely by Tori Amos) is solid.

Precious Things, Tori Amos

You didn’t think I would create a music list that did not include Tori Amos, did you?  You were right.  I could have gone a few different directions with a Tori choice, but the goose bump factor in the live version  probably put Precious Things over.

Stay or Leave, Dave Matthews (Band/Tim Reynolds)

Reviewing the DMB catalog brought back a lot of memories.  They have been at it a while and I would argue  they went from jam band to more lyrically mature and relevant.  This song gives me all the feels, so it makes the cut.

Last Goodbye, Jeff Buckley

This was another song introduced to me by college friends.  I still don’t know much about Jeff Buckley other than he was an amazing talent taken from us too soon. Try not to see the brilliance in this song.

Mad World, Gary Jules Version, (Tears for Fears)
This song deserves a little history lesson.  It was originally the 3rd single off of the first Tears for Fears album. I would argue that version is not good all.  Sorry, 1983.  I will give you “Shout” TfF, but I think Gary Jules brought Mad World to the place it needed to be. It’s a totally different song.  You win, 2001.
Oh No, Andrew Bird
I do like me some Andrew Bird and this was one of the first songs introduced to me.  I gained a great appreciation when I learned of the song’s origin in an Andrew Bird interview.  (The song is)”inspired by the sweet, mournful cry of a four-year-old boy sitting behind me on an airplane. His dread was so utterly complete. I found myself envying his emotional abandon and tracing the musical cadence of his wail as he cried ‘Oh no.’ I suppose we’re talking about repression here. We can’t all behave like four-year-olds but must we be emotionally frozen? So let us lock arms as the harmless sort of sociopath and all sing in together.”
Deep, I know.
Murder in the City, The Avett Brothers

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better live performance than at a Avett Brothers concert. I had tried to see them for years and always had a scheduling conflict. New Year’s Eve at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina filled that void. I had already appreciated their craft but sometimes seeing a band perform live allows you to see and hear songs from a different angle.  This song falls soundly into that category.

As previously mentioned, I had to create some Honorable Mention categories.  There have been a lot of great songs since 1974 and I am sure I missed some that would easily find its place in the text above.  There has also been a lot of empty, pop hook, carried-by-a-beat- songs too.  The older I get, the more discerning I get between what is art and what is..what’s the word?….garbage.  (Not the band Garbage.  That would be OK).

Honorable Mention: 

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Pearl Jam, 32 Flavors, Ani Difranco, Rise and Shine, Guster, Ran Away to the Top of the World Today, O.A.R., Wagon Wheel, Old Crow Medicine Show Version, Dust Bowl Dance, Mumford and Sons, White America, Eminem

Local Honorable Mentions:
An Artist’s Song, Lost in the Trees, Go Ahead, The Rosebuds, Manteo, The Love Language, several songs by The Avett Brothers.
Now before you go all “HOW COULD LEAVE X OFF OF THIS LIST!?” …… let’s try a different approach:  What would your list include?