I’m not done milking this concept yet! Here are some songs that are as much a part of me as the actual Best 5 and Second-Best 5. However, none of these songs represent a particular favorite musical style or artist… though you will see a few (favorite ‘x’)s here. In semi-random order…
“Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley
If my other favorite songs didn’t clue you in, I adore music that tells a story, even if it just sets a scene. That cool, slick, amazingly 80s, organ riff (which still reminds me of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for some reason) was the main force that landed the former Eagles singer on this list. I love how “Dirty Laundry” sells the appeal of an ambitious no-name sleazeball of a newscaster. Despite the number of parodies that suggest otherwise, this song’s more about local news than Fox News. I poured over the lyrics for my actual favorite songs, but with music this good, who cares what they’re saying?
“You May Be Right” by Billy Joel
The most romantic song I have on my iPod. And there is competition for “most romantic song,” most of the contestants by Billy Joel. There’s not much personal change in the narrator other than a softening of his persona… and that’s somehow more touching than a thousand “God Only Knows”, and more human than a thousand “Cracklin’ Rosie”s. Both “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “God Only Knows” are great, for the record. Also, like Springsteen, Joel’s live version of his songs brings a new energy to his work, and it’s live energy that best fits “You May Be Right”’s story.
“Urami Bushi” by Meiko Kaji
The best songs fill a void of some kind. A lot of music captures the sense of finale or ending. Though these lists of mine don’t reflect it, I listen to a lot of classical and soundtrack music because I like big emotions, and I don’t get enough of that from three chords and the truth. “Urami Bushi” understands that endings don’t resolve the exhaustion that it took to reach such an rest. Due to its Japanese lyrics, would I associate “Urami Bushi” with post-victory depression if I didn’t hear it at the end of Kill Bill? I’d say so, yes. It’s not the biggest declaration of bittersweet fatigue, but it’s the best at filling that void.
“The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats
Vociferously rebellious in only the way a nerd can be. I put some well-beloved songs on my lists, but this one feels the most self-explanatory concerning its greatness.
“Solsbury Hill,” by Peter Gabriel
Depending on my mood, you could slot “Sledgehammer” into this spot instead. Yes, I am aware that the lyrics are more bitter than that always-familiar guitar would imply. But such contempt makes going home that much sweeter. I feel like I knew this song when I was, like, 3, and only rediscovered it a few years ago.
“Orion” by Metallica
I put this on whenever I’m on a long, usually involuntary, trek somewhere. The actual myth of Orion is pretty dark and rapey, but guess what, no lyrics at all here, so who cares! This song’s endless and eternal, like you’re on a furtive and winding journey to the actual namesake constellation. Metal, like classical, feels larger than life, which somehow makes it more appropriate for life. “Orion” shows that, while metal’s best for charging into battle, it requires you to reflect a bit while you move.
“Swingtown” by Steve Miller Band
In the instant pick-me-up category, we have this ode to casting off your troubles, and it feels like a spiritual awakening. If I were to try explaining to an alien what the purpose of music is, I’d put this tune on a car stereo.
Ironically, AC/DC reached their musical peak pretty early with this ode to self-starters everywhere. I don’t think I’ll ever stop going after my dreams— or, at least, not for long— so long as I remember this song. Hell, “It’s a Long Way” made bagpipes sound like a great rock instrument! Of all the songs I’ve shown you, I’m ok if you never hear most of them in your life, but this is the one exception. Authors, give it a listen, or give it another.
“Poor Jack” from The Nightmare Before Christmas
Also underrepresented in my previous list: my love of musicals. There were too many good ones to choose from. Maybe there are better musical numbers than “Poor Jack,” but none better justify the reasons why musicals are great than this. An iconic character sings “Poor Jack” as the emotional climax of my favorite movie ever… and it’s a maturation that can only be expressed by singing “Poor Jack” with all your might. Fair warning to my friends and family: I might break out into this song one day, and then leave for good.
“I Wanna Get Better,” by The Bleachers
The song that made me write this list. I so, SO wanted to put this in the Top 10. It would’ve balanced out the gloomy-minded peers in its company. In the end, I felt weird comparing artists with 10+ bonafide classics to an artist who only have one song I know. But, oh, what a song! Everything I said about the other honorable mentions— their energy, the void they fill, their humanity— “I Wanna Get Better” does it best. And, yeah, this IS the song that defines the turning points of worse-to-better in my life. Why do I do what I do in my writing, after tragedy, and in each moment? Simple: I Wanna Get Better. My new goal is to listen to enough Bleachers music so I can justify placing this higher.
These two song lists define me better than any boring “about” page could. Thanks for reading, and listening. My vacation’s not over yet… but with such tools like these songs, who needs vacations?
(It’s me, actually. I needed this vacation. Give me a few more weeks.)