One of my online friends on another site challenged us to come up with our own personal top 40 songs. I hesitated, then decided that such a ranking is necessarily shifting and impermanent, which removed a lot of the pressure. The task proved both instructive and startling: I found an unsuspected folky streak in myself, and I’m surprised at how many of my favorite artists got edged out by songs that just make me feel good.
These aren’t the best songs by the respective artists, or even the most personally meaningful, but they are the songs that I would stop everything to listen to, that I would hear in my head all day, all week. These are songs I croon absentmindedly, songs I belt out alone or with friends, or songs I play when I want to feel the most like myself.
This exercise drove home something I’ve been thinking already: I need to find a way to get more music into my daily life. I need to get better speakers for the laptop, buy a cheapie iPod and fill it, move the stereo (which is now in a little-used corner) or maybe just move the speakers.
These are in no particular order, except that I put the one long note first.
1. Picture in a Frame – Tom Waits (I coulda picked any of a dozen Waits songs, but this one is special: I pitched hard for this to be the first song at our wedding. The Fella, who loves Tom Waits even more than I do, nixed it, though I’ve never understood why. C’mon: “I’m gonna love you ’til the wheels come off”? Every time I hear it, I get all teary-eyed.)
2. No One Will Ever Love You Honestly – Magnetic Fields
3. A Town Called Malice – The Jam
4. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – Richard Thompson
5. Baby’s On Fire – Brian Eno
6. I’d Like That – XTC
7. Is She Really Going Out with Him?– Joe Jackson
8. Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
9. Los Angeles – X
10. Jezebel – Iron & Wine
11. My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone
12. Suffragette City – David Bowie.
13. Wicked Little Town from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
14. That’s When I Reach for my Revolver – Mission of Burma.
15. The KKK Took My Baby Away – The Ramones
16. Elvis Costello — like with Tom Waits, I could’ve chosen almost any song at random, but I actually gave it some thought and came up with I’m Not Angry, one of those rare songs that still sounds as amazing to me as it did when I 30 years ago.
17. Girl – Beck.
18. Love Will Tear Us Apart Again – Joy Division
19. I Don’t Love Anyone – Belle and Sebastian
20. Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love) – Ella Fitzgerald
21. Sway. I just love the song, not a particular version — but I first noticed the song while watching “Dark City,” so I’ll link that version.
22. Who Loves the Sun – Velvet Underground
23. Life During Wartime – Talking Heads
24. I’ll Follow the Sun – The Beatles
25. A Day in the Life – The Beatles
26. When You’re Next to Me – “Mitch & Mickey” (Eugene Levy & Catherine O’Hara)
27. Working in a Coalmine – Devo
28. Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker) – Parliament Funkadelic
29. Llorando – Delores del Rio a cappella [Note 1: warning! Mulholland Dr. spoiler in that clip! Note 2: oddly enough, I don’t care for Roy Orbison’s English-language version at all.
30. I Hear the Rain – Violent Femmes
31. Driver 8 – R.E.M.
32. Why Don’t You Do Right – Peggy Lee (more recently made famous by Jessica Rabbit)
33. the abysmally depressing My Man – Billie Holiday
34. Lithium – Nirvana
35. Bye Bye Blackbird – I don’t have a favorite version, but I’ve linked to one by Diana Krall that approximates what I hear in my head when I sing it. (What comes out of my mouth is almost certainly quite different.)
36. Brick House – The Commodores
37. Bear Necessities – Phil Harris (The Jungle Book soundtrack)
38. If I Should Fall from Grace with God – The Pogues
39. All Day and All of the Night – The Kinks
40. (You will think I’m kidding but I’m not.) How High the Mountain (Y’all Are Brutalizin’ Me) – Ronnie Dobbs (David Cross)
I know there will be a handful of songs I CANNOT BELIEVE I left off this list, but for the moment, this feels pretty solid. “That one’ll do.” “Let’s go have us a champagne jam.”