I spend a lot of time these days listening to crappy music.
That’s because most of my time listening to music these days takes place when I’m in the car going to or from work. During these commutes, I’m typically listening to local radio because I love the Smiley Morning Show and find them hilariously entertaining, but their radio station’s music format leaves a little to be desired (if I ever hear “Sit Still, Look Pretty” by Daya again, it’ll be too soon). I also stream a custom Pandora station while I’m at work, but I’m usually so busy concentrating on other tasks that the music playing just provides some static background noise so it’s not so deafeningly quiet during those moments when everyone’s so busy you could hear a pin drop.
So yesterday, after having some drinks at my new local hangout with a friend, I reverted back to the turn of the century and popped in a few CDs instead of relying on local radio or Pandora. And it wasn’t until the opening sounds of “The Mix Tape” by Jack’s Mannequin came on that the beer combined with the sounds of my early twenties combined into something magical. I’ve always liked to think of music as something of a teleportation device for your mind. It takes you back in time to places where that song was relevant in your life. Sometimes it can even take you to places you’ve never been before.
Keeping that in mind, I’ve put together a list below (in no particular order whatsoever) of fifteen songs that most speak to my heart, my mind, and my soul for various reasons. Hopefully you’ll remember to share with me some of yours in the comment section below!
- “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns” by Mother Love Bone – This first selection might be cheating a little bit since the track is actually two separate songs sequenced together (“Crown of Thorns” from Mother Love Bone’s 1990 studio album Apple, and “Chloe Dancer,” which is unavailable on its own), but together they form one long, gorgeous grunge trip back to early ’90s angst. The track was prominently featured on the soundtrack to the movie Singles, a Cameron Crowe-directed flick from 1992 starring Bridget Fonda, Kyra Sedgwick and Matt Dillon that was said to have also directly inspired the much-less-obscure (and also much-less-dour) pop culture phenomenon we all now know as Friends.
- “Miss Atomic Bomb” by The Killers – I like to think that I was one of the first handful of kids to pick up on the Killers bandwagon back in the early 2000s (I still vividly remember listening to my leaked downloads of “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me” while chatting away to my friends on AIM before their debut album Hot Fuss was even released in 2004 like it was yesterday), but for whatever reason, I didn’t really start to consider them one of “my favorite bands” until relatively recently when I caught myself listening to their Direct Hits compilation and frontman Brandon Flowers’ solo ventures nonstop. And since I’m fond of so many songs of theirs, it’s really tough to pick out an absolute favorite, but this selection from their 2012 album Battle Born just might take the cake. The song is gorgeous somber and even the music video is amazing, splicing fantastic animation with live-action footage and featuring the return of actors Izabella Miko and Eric Roberts reprising their roles from the “Mr. Brightside” video.
- “Fear” by Sarah McLachlan – I didn’t really know about Sarah McLachlan until the release of her breakout album Surfacing in 1997, so imagine my surprise when I would later stumble upon her earlier 1993 effort Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, which is easily superior to the rest of her albums thus far. “Fear” is one of the final tracks on that album and was also featured heavily in the pilot episode of Roswell, a sci-fi show about aliens among us that aired for three seasons from 1999 to 2002, where I heard it for the first time. It didn’t stick with me until late one night in my mid-twenties, while I was lying outside staring up at the stars and listening to my iPod (the old school kind, with the click-wheel and no touchscreen!) on shuffle, and it came on. It became readily apparent why Roswell‘s music supervisors went with the track. It has an ethereal, otherworldly sound that makes it sound almost as if some kind of extraterrestrial team helped produce it for her. I’ve loved it ever since.
- “Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters – Released in September 1999, “Learn to Fly” coincided with the beginning of my freshman year of high school. Naturally, I still sort of consider it my unofficial high school anthem and for that period of time in my life. It also went on to become one of the highest-charting singles ever for the Foo Fighters, arguably my generation’s greatest alternative rock band, so clearly I wasn’t alone in thinking this one was fantastic! Somehow the Foo Fighters have this really strange knack of coming to me just when I need them to help me make the most sense of my life (their acoustic rendition of “Times Like These” would also later help me during some tough times).
- “I’ll Remember” by Madonna – Some critics would tell you that Madonna didn’t start making “serious” musical efforts until the release of her Grammy Award-winning album Ray of Light in 1998. Those critics would be wrong. Madonna wasn’t just pop tunes and sex symbols back in the day. She recorded the gorgeously haunting “This Used To Be My Playground” for the soundtrack to the film A League of Their Own (in which she also co-starred), but she was also responsible for this theme from the 1994 film With Honors, an academic-themed dramedy that starred young versions of Brendan Fraser, Joe Pesci, Moira Kelly, and Patrick Dempsey. Madonna’s strength has always been in the smooth, warm vocals she employs on her ballads, and this one is no exception.
- “The Boys of Summer” by the Ataris – The Ataris were a pop-punk outfit that my friends and I were into during our high school years but they didn’t really seem to make a huge impact on the world at large until this cover of Don Henley’s classic ’80s staple hit the Billboard charts. Without meaning any disrespect for Mr. Henley (he’ll make this list a little later…), this is one of very few cover songs that I think actually improved upon the original recording. It pumps up the energy but leaves it just discordant enough to maintain the same emotional resonance. Fun fact: This is also the only song I’ve ever performed karaoke to!
- “Hearts Like Ours” by the Naked and Famous – Sometimes I like to dip my feet into a little bit of “what the kids are listening to” and for a moment it seemed like the college crowd were all about The Naked and Famous, an indie-electro outfit from New Zealand that has had their music featured in everything from Pitch Perfect and Gossip Girl to The Cabin in the Woods and Covert Affairs. My favorite tune of theirs so far is “Hearts Like Ours,” the song and music video of which are what I like to think my dreams look and sound like.
- “Atlas” by Coldplay – I’m a little hit or miss with Coldplay. While their album A Rush of Blood to the Head has a lot of strong positive connections to my one and only musical outing during my senior year of high school, I was done with their overly-triumphant “Viva la Vida” before it even started. Thankfully, when they were asked to provide a song for the soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, they did it the right way with this haunting and beautiful tune. The first YouTube comment on this video states that when they listen to this song, it feels like they’re in a film where magic is real. I couldn’t agree more.
- “City of Angels” by Thirty Seconds to Mars – I don’t live in Los Angeles. In fact, I’ve never even been there. But if ever there was a song that made me want to call it home, this would be it. Adding to the fascination is the extended cut of the music video that could almost be considered a short film, featuring several celebrities the likes of Ashley Olsen, James Franco, Juliette Lewis, Kanye West, Lindsay Lohan, Olivia Wilde, Selena Gomez and more getting real about their lives and dreams in L.A.
- “Pictures of You” by The Cure – Somewhat similar to my issue with selecting a favorite song by the Killers, it’s incredibly difficult for me to pick just one song to love on by the Cure. I basically live my life for the weekend so I’m especially fond of “Friday I’m in Love” and who can forget that “Just Like Heaven” is basically the ultimate ’80s love-song? But it’s this beautiful track that blows the rest out of the water for me. “Pictures of You” is just mellow and gorgeous and one of those songs that makes me sad when it’s over.
- “Destiny” by Zero 7 – Perhaps the ultimate “chill out” song ever, this song by Zero 7 also features the vocals of one Sia Furler before she became the magnificent weirdo she is today (and if you don’t even know who she is, you need to look her up right now and then be grateful that you get to spend the rest of your life trying to get “Chandelier” and “Titanium” out of your head!). Originally released in 2001, the song has not gotten any less effervescent than it was back then — if anything, today it remains something of a hidden gem.
- “All I Want” by Toad the Wet Sprocket – Honestly, there’s really just very few songs that evoke the hopeful wistfulness of the ’90s in their entirety as much as this one does. Though this group’s amazing “Walk On the Ocean” comes pretty close, too.
- “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals – Sometimes music just reminds you of a bond between yourself and someone else. One of my best friends and I have named this silly, fun, and evocative tune “our song,” perhaps because it reminds us so much of all the crazy shenanigans we have gotten into over the last decade of friendship as well as the fun and ridiculousness of the late ’90s that we so badly miss.
- “Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2 – It’s easy to hate on U2. Specifically frontman Bono for all his philanthropic work that sometimes feels a little like he’s just trying to generate a headline or two. But in the process, I think we also forget that he’s also doing amazing work around the world and that his band is also responsible for creating some really beautiful pop-rock music. This opening track from what is undoubtedly their greatest album, The Joshua Tree, is perfectly succinct in driving home that point. The album features a lot of other great cuts (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You” immediately come to mind), but I think it’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” that most embodies what the album meant for a lot of people: the beginning of something special that would go on to become a milestone in music history.
- “Heart of the Matter” by Don Henley – I told you this former Eagle would make this list a little later. In fact, I just may have saved the best for last. Perhaps one of my favorite songs of all-time, “Heart of the Matter” tells the story of moving on with our lives past heartbreak and devastation and being able to forgive. When you’re younger and naive, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and believe that you’ll never be able to get past your struggles. Sometimes you don’t really want to — you just want to live in the delicious misery forever. But eventually, you know it’s time to set it aside, let it go, and move on to the next chapter of your life. And sometimes that means embracing the meaning of forgiveness. In a way, it’s like Mr. Henley has defined life down to its very core with this one. I don’t think there’s anyone who can’t relate.
There we go. Fifteen songs close to my heart. Now tell me about some of your favorite music in the comment section below!