Music is an integral part of our lives. We wake up to it. We exercise with it. We consume it on our commute. We hear it as we wait in line at lunch. It sits underneath our favorite shows. And for most of us, we listen to it in our workplace.
Here, at Rule29, we are serious about our (workplace) music. There are a few rules. One, it’s on at all times. We have designated genre days (i.e. Hip-Hop Fridays). The intern(s) are to play DJ. Commentary and/or critique is always welcome. And no country is ever allowed.
As some of you know, each year I put out a list of my favorite music from that year (you can find it at bobsfavorites.com). As we’ve recently discovered that some of our (younger) team members are not as familiar with some of the great artists and/or music of our time, I thought it would be a good idea to have the entire Rule29 family create a list of their favorite songs of all time.
What follows is a curated list from each person on our team, with liner notes. In addition, we have the compiled playlist available on Spotify. We hope you enjoy this list as much as we enjoyed creating it.
Note: This is NOT an “objective” list (though we are considering one). These lists are approached subjectively based on personal experiences and favorites. Lyrics, musical composition, and significance midst life-moments were all take into consideration. (Warning: some songs may be explicit for young ears.)
Nas, New York State of Mind
At the time of this song’s release in 1993, on Nas’ debut album Illmatic (often regarded as the greatest rap album of all time), the landscape of Hip Hop music centered around simple, toe-tapping rhymes strung together with smooth, repetitive beats, often sampling Funk and R&B. It’s content had been heavily dominated by catchy, party-hopping lyrics and street freestyle battle rhymes. The revolutionary music of N.W.A. had brought forth the advent of unapologetic, hard-hitting street sounds that resonated with the plight of African American communities living in trifling, crime-ridden areas. Yet few, if any had been able to weave together a tapestry of hip hop music detailing the daily struggles and dangers of urban life with the poetic, masterful lyricism coupled with the strong, rugged delivery displayed by young Nasir Jones (aka Nas) on Illmatic. This perfect juxtaposition of rangy vocabulary, jazzy beats, and a hardline(bordering on threatened) tone is culminated on the song New York State of Mind. Nas recants the story of a young black man navigating through the joys and fears of life in the Queensbridge projects with (at the time) unparalleled poise and delivery. He told the story that no one in the mainstream was listening for and those living it heralded with eye-opening purpose and angst. There is no doubt, this song went on the influence the landscape of not only New York hip hop, but the national scene within the genre for years to come.
Dr. Dre, Ain’t Nuthin But a G Thang
This track is just super dope.
LCD Soundsystem, Dance Yourself Clean
This song is simply so versatile for so many different moods and activities. You can put it on at a party, while on a run, chillin’ doing some drawing. It’s a song that just makes me happy and can’t help to want to move to.
The Strokes, Under Cover of Darkness
This one is more an homage to The Strokes as a whole. Probably their most refined album start-to-finish, this song is the apex of a sound that they mastered.
Daft Punk, Da Funk
I don’t think anybody can deny the influence that Daft Punk has had on contemporary pop music. Yet, even more than Around the World, Da Funk really set the tone for the electronic, funky-fresh style that the French robots unleashed to the world on their debut album. From the synths, to the ethereal autotuned sounds, to the rolling, steady bass, this song has it all. You’d be hard-pressed to find my ass in my chair while this song was playing…unless I was chair dancing.
James Brown, The Payback
This song is so good it hurts. At least that’s what it sounds like when you listen to Mr. Brown reciting the lyrics. You can hear this in the tone and inflections of his voice. It’s like the music is taking over his body. The song performs a sort of rhythmic possession that, once it consumes someone, can only be exorcised is through step and dance. One could say the bass line just takes you on a walk down to funkytown.
Michael Jackson, Thriller
First music video I ever saw. Was hooked. It’s Thriller, enough said.
Frank Sinatra, Come Fly With Me
The definition of a classy in a song. One you just want to enjoy with scotch and cigar in your left hand, and your significant other on the right. Sinatra beautifully illustrates the fantastical nature of someone in love.
Nelly, Hot in Herre
Reminds me of a certain someone…you get the idea
Notorious B.I.G., Juicy
Quite possibly the greatest rap song of all time, by quite possibly the greatest rapper of all time. Regardless of upbringing, ethnicity, or economic status, anyone can appreciate this song as a celebration of one’s ascension from the depths of despair through hard work and reaping the fruits of their labor with a triumphant zeal for life.
One love. R.I.P.
Hanging By a Moment – Lifehouse
I almost got into an car accident driving home from school as a teenager when I heard this song on the radio for the first time. It was so catchy, sweet, and moving – my favorite song of all time.
Your Hand in Mine (with Strings) – Explosions in the Sky
A beautiful instrumental with one of my favorite melodies. If Disney’s Fantasia were made today, I would hope this song would be included.
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Like with #1, this song made me stop and just listen. When this song comes on, I can tune out everything else. Karen O’s voice is so powerful and filled with sadness. (The tears she shed in the music video were real.) Sometimes you just need a sad song, and this is my go to.
Midnight City – M83
One of the greatest hooks I’ve ever heard. An anthem. This was also my ringtone on Ryan’s phone for the longest time.
Do I Wanna Know – Arctic Monkeys
My favorite concert experience ever. Alex Turner is my favorite frontman and this song makes my heart skip a beat.
Your Song – Elton John
The only good part of me having to sit on cold, hard bleachers at my sister’s gymnastics practices was when this song entered my life. Also featured in my favorite movie, Moulin Rouge, sung by the amazing Ewan McGregor
Banquet – Bloc Party
The song that reminds me of college. Playing the mix CD it was on and driving up and down, up and down the parking garage looking for a space. It was was kept me from ramming into cars out of frustration.
Someone Like You – Van Morrison
The first song Ryan and I danced to at our wedding.
Twilight – Elliott Smith
Love his entire collection, but this one in particular is beautifully sad. Simple and soft. The type of song you need big headphones for.
Ghouls – We Are Scientists
The first song I heard from WAS. Love their use of effects in this haunting indie track. Still on my concert bucket list. Too bad things have always got in the way.
I’ve always felt really passionate about people and things. I am the fool who can’t keep my mind off the dream girl.
Arctic Monkeys, R U Mine?
That first 10 seconds just hooks you in for this ride of a song. Alex Turner just wants his question answered and she won’t respond.
Led Zeppelin, Tangerine
I feel this is a beautiful acoustic song about love and loss. Jimmy Page was originally going to record this with the Yardbirds but Robert Plant put his own touch on it.
Rolling Stones, Jumpin’ Jack Flash
This song just makes your body move you can’t help but dance and sing along. Just hearing it makes you think of Mick Jagger’s struts and Keith’s moves.
Beatles, I Should Have Known Better
First song that inspired me to play guitar and make me fall in love with the Beatles. That harmonica too is just brilliant.
Guns N’ Roses, Patience
Favorite and first song I learned to play on guitar plus the lyrics hit me pretty hard. The whistling just sets the mood for a great acoustic ballad. The song that proved Guns was going to be one of the biggest bands ever at the time.
The Struts, Where Did She Go
Queen inspired song written about the past love that was lost with time. My favorite band with an all or nothing attitude.
Mötley Crüe, Kickstart My Heart
Great song for getting your pulse kicked up a notch and fueled for anything. Great sing along song with amazing riffs from Mick Mars.
Aerosmith, Love In An Elevator
What a lovely catchy song about doing fun things in an elevator. Steven Tyler’s groove and Joe Perry’s solo just screams yeah.
Queen, You’re My Best Friend
Brings tears to my eyes almost every time, it’s all you need just friend that makes you feel alive.
Fleetwood Mac, Dreams
I think this song is a classic and every time I hear it, I have to sing along. It’s been a favorite song since I was a child and I have a ton of memories attached to it. It’s a beautiful song and arguably one of Fleetwood Mac’s greatest.
Little Dragon’s voice on this song is killer and it’s just an overall great song. I also LOVE the music video which may not seem important but totally is. I think I’m really attached to this song too because one of the first concerts me and my fiance saw together was SBTRKT and this entire album reminds me of some really great things.
Kanye West & Jay-Z, Otis
Just a really great feel good song. I play this whenever I feel like I need to get pumped up or I’m feeling tired. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.
Usher & Alicia Keys, My Boo
Literally been my favorite song since I was a child. I know all the words and it may be kind of cheesy but I think this song is really cute. Can’t beat Confessions era Usher, and Alicia Keys has literally never not been good. I always get excited when I hear this song on the radio.
Mick Jenkins, Jazz
Pretty much his entire mixtape “The Waters” is fantastic. It’s a concept album about the metaphorical meanings of water. In this song water represents truth and jazz represents lies. Mick Jenkins has a fantastic voice and I think this song has a magical feeling that I just really connect with.
Frank Ocean, Sweet Life
Man, I miss Frank Ocean, and I’m not sure why this is in my top ten other than I really like this song and that this is my go-to Frank Ocean song.
Dr. Dog, The Breeze
I feel like this song and entire album by Dr. Dog really got me through a lot of tough times when I was younger. I’ve had this album (Fate) for a really long time and everytime I listen to it, it just puts me in a good mood. It reminds me of perfect summer days.
Arcade Fire, Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains)
At one point my fiance told me this was one of his favorite songs. It was always my favorite song from Arcade Fire’s, “The Suburbs” so I always thought of it as being some type of connection between us when we met. I think the vocals on this song are beautiful and it honestly just makes me feel happy when I listen to it.
Kimbra, Two Way Street
Kimbra’s voice is so beautiful and underrated and so is this song. I wish she made more music like this honestly. This is just an overall beautiful song.
Kendrick Lamar, Money Trees
It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite Kendrick song. I was honestly between this one, Backseat Freestyle, and The Art of Peer Pressure. I chose this one because it just makes me feel good when I listen to it. It’s a great song to rap loudly while you’re in your car driving on the highway at night. It gives me energy when I listen to it. Also Kendrick Lamar is literally a genius so there’s that.
To Be Gone – Anna Ternheim
She’s one of my favorite singers. This song was on heavy rotation during the months I was getting ready to leave SF and move back home…
Free – Cat Power
Love the guitar and beat in this one. Love Cat Power as well.
Transporting Theme – Elastica
I love the layering of vocals on this one. The interplay between the two voices and lyrics in the middle get me all excited.
Le Festin – Camille
Everytime I hear this one it makes me happy. I don’t know the words, but it’s still great. This also represents all of my score music
Special – Garbage
Can’t have my list without Garbage. There are too many to list, but this is probably my favorite. Reminds me of high school. First band to start following and never looked back…they were also the first band I saw in concert.
White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
Nothing bad can be said about this. Such a good song to get a good strut going when walking around SF lol
400 Lux – Lorde
That first note that then is joined by instruments, and then her voice, so good. Then the hook with the added instrumentals! So good.
I’m Good, I’m Gone – Lykke Li
First ever Lykke song and video I heard and it changed EVERYTHING lol. The video is really what did it for me…different.
Fancy – Reba McEntire
I mean, just listen to her…it’s so good. We listened to a lot of Country growing up, so there is that familiar connection with this one.
Sock It 2 Me – Missy Elliott
The first ever full album I ever bought. She’s obviously one of the best
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, U2
I bought a U2 tape at Goodwill in highschool because my car only had a tape player. That tape never left the player, this by far became my favorite track on this album. I saw U2 perform this song at my first concert with my mom where, in Montreal, I had my first legal drink. Great memories.
From the lovely Moulin Rouge. Nicole and Ewan’s voices are great together and this is a powerful and energetic scene. I plan for this to be my first dance song as it was my mothers.
To Build A Home, The Cinematic Orchestra
I love how this song builds and the subtle acoustic emotions it brings out.
Roam, The B52’s
I listened to this catchy fun song growing up. My parents lived abroad and travelled the globe after they got married, this was their song during that time.
Tiny Dancer, John Elton
From one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous. Really fun to replace dancer with donut, ‘Hold me closer tiny donut.”
Something In The Air (Acoustic ONLY), Thunderclap Newman
Again from Almost Famous. That movie was formative during my high school years. In the scene, William is observing Penny in her element and the song is being sung in the background.
Sweet Hell, Gin Wigmore
I love Gin Wigmore. Her raspy New Zealand accent is prevalent in this song and it has a catchy back and forth tone. Her band once came to my house and played this sound on my back patio. It was a memorable night and I will never forget singing this song with Dave the lead guitarist.
With A Little Help From My Friends, The Beatles
I fell in love with The Beatles because of the movie Across the Universe. In the scene they are sliding down railings and running around town having a great time. Also, friends=lyfe
9,000 Days (Acoustic), Emile Welman, Invictus
My best friend passed away in college, this was her favorite song. It’s fitting.
A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got), Fergie
Best dance song of all time. Appropriate for many occasions. Never disappoints. fergie4eva
This song makes every party playlist. I love singing to it in the car, dancing to it with friends, even singing along with a hairbrush in the mirror. I still do this.
Arcade Fire, No Cars Go
I was sold as soon as I heard this live. I love how they incorporate such a variety of instruments into their music and I especially like how they’ve managed to utilize a church organ in so much of their music- without it sounding so “church organ-y”. The sound just envelops you.
Coldplay, The Scientist
It’s a great alt-rock piano ballad. It’s always my go-to track for a dreary day.
Fleetwood Mac, Silver Springs
This is hard for me. I love every song off of Rumours and I am also a huge fan of “Big Love”. Had Silver Springs made it on to Rumours the first time around, it could have been the best album ever recorded. But it’s a great love/break up song that Stevie wrote about Lindsey Buckingham in reference to their recent breakup that was pretty public and obviously painful. Seeing them perform it together in their live performance of The Dance back in ‘97 is intense.
10,000 Maniacs, These Are Days
Specifically referring to the “unplugged” version that came out in early 90s. I love Natalie Merchant’s voice and she was the first female singer that I listened to growing up that made me feel like “yeah, I could pursue music, I could sing this too”. She has a fantastically original sounding voice.
Nico, These Days
I don’t think that Nico has a particularly pretty sounding voice. However, her deep, gravelly, German-accented timbre is a perfect pairing for this song. It really forces me to reflect on things that have happened and focus on how I can move forward in life with no regrets.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Mary Jane’s Last Dance
It all started with the music video, which is AWESOME. I didn’t listen to TP&HB earlier music until I got older, so this would have been one of my first experiences listening to them. Love the song- I connect it to being a 90’s kid.
Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit
“Angsty”, loud and awesome. Can’t listen to it without it blasting on the highest manageable volume level (“this one goes to 11”). You know, Nirvana was like the voice of the generation (gen X) and they’re regarded as one of the most influential bands of all time. I’ve always been into the whole “90’s grunge scene”. I thought it was so cool when I was younger. Flannel, ripped jeans and Dr. Martens? Be still my little 90’s-kid heart.
Van Morrison, Days Like This
Anytime I have a bad day, this song gets played. It makes me feel good. It feels like a summer breeze blowing through the curtains while you chill on your couch on a Sunday morning drinking coffee and reading. It makes me feel THAT good. Van Morrison is fantastic.
Talking Heads, This Must Be The Place
It’s one of only a few songs that can always put me in a good mood. It’s upbeat and sends some great vibes. I’ll always link it to that movie Wall Street.
This list is approached subjectively based on personal experiences and favorites. Lyrics, musical composition, and significance midst life-moments were all take into consideration. List is in order of being experienced and gaining significance, not based on which one is “better.”
Bad (U2) – U2 single handedly saved me from the vast sea of extravagant and empty music produced in the 80s. While The Joshua Tree was my gateway drug, it was “Bad” that captivated me. It’s the song that got me through junior high and high school. It was the first song I played in my car when I got my license and the song I’ve listened to more than other (U2 or otherwise). I’ve had the opportunity to hear it twice live (a rarity) and it was a transcendental experience each time. There is debate on which version of the song is considered “the best” and I would give two answers: 1) The best recording to experience is the live version from Wide Awake in America. I generally hate live recordings, but this one minimizes the crowd, yet you can sense the significance of the connection of the fans within the space. 2) While not as good of a recording/listening experience, my favorite version is the live performance from Live Aid, which is a 12 minute rendition including samplings from Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Ruby Tuesday.” Spectacular.
The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel) – Other than maybe Dylan, I’m not sure there is a more prolific songwriter (still living) that is writing lyrics with such variety, depth, and poeticism. Many songs (Sounds of Silence, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Homeward Bound, Mrs. Robinson, etc…) could have made the list, but this is the one that has garnered even more meaning today, three decades after I first experienced.
Creep (Radiohead) – This album came out my senior year of high school. I had never encountered (nor I’m not sure most had) a song that was so honest and full of angst. I couldn’t stop listening to it.
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley) – Not only is it one of the most covered songs of all time, it might be the most profound (lyrically). While Leonard Cohen deserves the accolades for its brilliance, it’s hard to palette Cohen’s voice for the entire song. I often oscillate between Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright’s versions as preferable cover, but Buckley’s version tends to be more raw, heartfelt, and memorable.
New Slang (The Shins) – I found The Shins (and this song) from Napster of all places. Not the free-steal-it-share-it-peer-to-peer version, but the actual paid version of Napster. I was listening to Sufjan at the time and this song was “recommended” to me via the (new at the time) recommended artist section. I couldn’t stop listening. It wasn’t the lyrics (for they are hard to follow). It was the music itself. It’s like the song acts like a tow-rope, pulling you along with its perpetual calming melodies. Of course, a year later, when Natalie Portman (via Garden State) claimed it as the “greatest song of all time”… I couldn’t disagree.
The Predatory Wasp of The Palisades (Sufjan Stevens) – There wasn’t a category for this album when it was released. It didn’t fit indie, nor alternative, nor folk. This is part of its brilliance and significance. While numerous songs from the album could find its way here, this one is Sufjan’s best of all time (in my opinion)… rich with lyrics and music complexity. I desperately wanted to shoot the music video for this song and listened to it on repeat as I worked out the storyboards in my head. The essence of beauty via music.
Hoppipola (Sigur Ros) – The Takk album was my entry into truly “experiential” music. The lyrics didn’t matter as the voice was simply another instrument. It was about the experience and feeling conveyed. While Glosoli captivated me visually (via the music video), this song was one of the most uplifting and aspirational songs I’ve ever heard.
Holocene (Bon Iver) – One of the most emotive and transcendent songs ever written. Hands down.
In Stitches (David Bazan) – I couldn’t authentically represent a list such as this without having a David Bazan song on it – for it has played a significant role in my “musical therapy” so-to-speak. I could choose any one of ten songs here, but today it’s this one. Here’s why. One, he ended a house show in my living room with this song (right after the album was released) and you could hear a pin drop at the end of it. It was as if we had just been allowed into Bazan’s head for a few minutes to not only witness, but wrestle alongside his most prominent questions and struggles (with God). We had a few beers after and dove into the significance of the song (which closes his introspective/autobiographical album Curse Your Branches). Experiencing midst one of my own great struggles, it’s honesty resonated on many levels.
Song for Zula (Phosphorescent) – While I’m hesitant to place a song that has been released within the last 5 years, this one is worthy of representing recent years. It’s like a drug that mesmerizes. It’s patient yet persistent, and full of lyrical complexity, all of which I love.
ALMOST making the cut: “A Day in the Life (The Beatles)”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana), “Hotel California (The Eagles), and Joseph Arthur’s “In the Sun”.
Dawn’s Forward I would like to say that this list consists of Dawn’s favorite of all time songs, there are many amazing songs missing, like MANY. But when I was coming up with the following songs I realized that these songs were my favorite based off of events, moments of my life, or people in my life. So as some of you may look at it and think, “Heck Dawn, there is nothing recent on here?!” I know. I thought of that. I think on a deep note what I realized when thinking out my list is that as I have gotten older my life is better now, it’s happy, I am happy—and music back in the day was my way only way to deal with upset and unhappiness. Now I listen to music for enjoyment, music now just flows in and out of me and I don’t obsess on lyrics, most of the time I make them up myself if I like the beats. I listen now to enjoy, not to deal. Cuz you know, I’m so dang musical the beats flow right through me—like deep in me the music plays, and makes me move and groove. That’s what music is to me now, when I get sad I talk now, communication seems to be better:)
Song One—Phoebe Snow, No Regrets
This song is my mom’s favorite song, so therefore mine as well. We used to sing it together loud and proud. This song is amazing. If you don’t get a sway goen’, a hip moving and fingers snapping, well than I have no idea what is wrong with you.
Song Two—Puff Daddy & Faith Evans, I’ll Be Missing You
This song is from my childhood, rollin’ in my Cavalier with my bestie Kylie. That’s all I can tell you, the rest will go down with me to my grave. But this is a song that CAN NOT be overlooked.
Song Three—Keller Williams, Best Feeling
I was your typical idiotic girl at one point in my life and fell in love with some really stupid guy, he will rename nameless for the rest of my days. At any rate, at the end of our relationship I lost the ability to understand how to live, like a real dummy. Anyway, I went to a beautiful place called Winona, Minnesota and found a way to be me again. This song, along with my best friend Amy, got me there and home again.
Song Four—Ray Lamontagne, Trouble
This may not be Ray’s “best” song, but it’s my favorite of all time because I found Ray with this song. He was featured on a late night show, Last Call with Carson Daly and he was no one. I became obsessed, and loved him from that day on. Now, yes, the song has been overplayed, its been in a commercial—but I don’t care. It’s where Ray Lamontagne and my love began, and for that I am #blessed.
Song Five—Brandi Carlile, The Story
What can I say, its beautiful. She starts out soft and pretty, gets loud and violent. I just love it, its the perfect song. Forever and Ever, Amen.
Song Six a&b—Nina Simone (Couldn’t widdle it down any more tween these two, let’s get serious, how could I?), Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Feeling Good
I talk a lot of how John Legend’s music is like butter, well he didn’t make the cut on this list. But the same reasoning here. Nina Simone’s voice is beyond butter. Its smooth like butter, she growls, she has soul, sadness, she was perfect. These two songs make me feel so good, all the way down to the tips of my toes.
Song Seven—Mary J Blige, I’m Goin’ Down
Mary J is the queen and this song is deep. It’s dirty and full of soul. Mary J knows and so do I. If you left this off your list you better reconsider.
Song Eight—Willy Nelson, All of Me & Angels Flying Too Close To The Ground
All of Me was my mother and stepfather’s song, it reminds me of when their love was beautiful, it’s romantic and sad and I will always cherish this song in honor of their insanely strange love. Its country, I know, but it’s Willy Nelson, and that’s a whole nother level of music, he is his own category in my opinion. His twang and guitar, is sick. Trying to figure out which Willy song to choose was so hard, I got it down to two! An old friend of mine passed away recently and his all time favorite song that he introduced me to is Angels Flying Too Close to The Ground. Its Gold, pure GOLD.
Song Nine—Sam Cook, A Change Is Gonna Come
Butter again. Beauty again. I mean here’s the thing folks, you’re reading this list, and hopefully listening as you go, it’s genius. This is classic, and gorgeous and just gosh darn great. This should be our theme song and we should all make it happen.
Song Ten—Too Explicit to include!
Foreward from the author: I would like to say (much to my chagrin) that there were 12 additional songs on this list that I wasn’t allowed to include because of the 10-song “limit” (imposed by a tyrannical dictator who insisted that rules – even absurd and unnecessary – must be followed). Also this list is not in any sort of order.
Jonsi – Grow Til Tall
The first time I heard this song, I wept. Actually, every time I hear this song I tear up a bit. This song has become a signpost for me for each season of life, a familiar place to come back to when times are uncertain or change is at hand. One of my biggest regrets is that I missed out on seeing him perform this album live. Luckily, I found it on Youtube and it is every bit as beautiful as I imagined it would be.
Anathallo – Genessaret (Going Out Over 30,000 Fathoms of Water)
I tend to go through “musical awakenings,” usually sparked by an artist or song that shakes me from musical monotony and reinvigorates me. Anathallo is an artist that sparked one of them. Admittedly, the first time I heard this song, I wasn’t overly impressed. But then I started to dig into the lyrics and the musicality…and I was blown away. Truly, the whole album (Floating World) is an amazing feat.
Bedřich Smetana – Má vlast: II. Vltava (Moldau)
Growing up playing in the orchestra, this piece (about Smetana’s beloved Vltava River in the Czech Republic) was always close at hand and I’ve always loved it. When Terrence Malick used it as the backdrop for his “childhood” sequence in Tree of Life, the song took on a whole new meaning. These days, I feel an even deeper appreciation in light of my own desire to seek and preserve “place.”
Damien Rice – The Blower’s Daughter
I first heard this song my senior year of high school while traveling to a track meet. It was the perfect sentimental blend of melancholy lyrics, anguished vocals, and weeping strings to touch this desperately angsty 17-year-old’s heart. Damien Rice was on repeat (in my portable CD player) as my parents and I traversed the country that year for college visits.
The Low Anthem – This Goddamn House
Songs are often tied to experiences for me, and the first time I heard this song was at a Low Anthem concert at Lincoln Hall. At the end of the song, they had the audience take out their cell phones, call the person next to them, and then hold the phones up in the air. It produced an otherworldly sound unlike I had ever heard before. When the song finished, the audience just stood silently in awe. This is an experience I point back to as a musical awakening.
Sufjan Stevens – The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades
In 2007, I spent the better part of my summer training for my first marathon. The only album I listened to was Sufjan Steven’s Illinoise. For 4 months. Every day. The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades was one of those songs that I loved the first time I heard it. So simple and gentle, but so much depth and meaning. UGH. SUFJAN STEVENS MARRY ME.
Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People
Who could take a classic like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” and make it even more awesome? Sufjan Stevens, that’s who. His take on the iconic song is my favorite thing of all time and I’m not ashamed to say it. It’s a feast of musical brilliance and lyrical genius. Listener beware: running 11+ minutes, it’s not a song for the faint of heart.
Fun. – Be Calm
The moment I heard this song I loved it. It is unabashedly “fun” and, although I tend to stay far far far away from musical theater, I can appreciate the theatricality of this song. Interestingly enough, my dad became a big fan Fun. when I introduced this album to him. We had a chance to see them in concert a few years ago and it was one of the best concert I’ve ever been to.
Bruce Springsteen – Jungleland
I have my parents to thank for introducing me to the Greats early in life. Jungleland remains one of my all-time favorites. How can you compare anything to the Boss? I remember reveling (as a young kid) at how poetic his lyrics were and wishing to be as eloquent. At the end of the day, the saxophone solo is what sealed the deal (as if I needed the deal sealed in the first place).
Soley – I’ll Drown (Live on KEXP Version)
Watching Soley perform this on KEXP was the push I needed to pursue my own dream of a music career. I remember watching this and thinking that music truly could be simple and still mesmerizing.
Miner – Hey Love
This band isn’t incredibly well-known, but I stumbled across them after the the spiral of YouTube searches. From the moment I heard this song, I was hooked. He has a folksy sound, perfectly harmonized by his wife/band mate; it’s just beauty. Plus the ramp-up gets me so energized – like sing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs-in-the-car kind of energized. Plus…the lyrics. Perfect.
Mumford & Sons – White Blank Page
While “Little Lion Man” was my first exposure to Mumford & Sons, and will always be a great song of theirs, this song brings up so much emotion for me. Again, folksy, powerful ballads, just get me. It’s a beautiful and yet haunting song. Perfect dedication to past loves. Also by far, one of the best concerts I have ever been to.
The Lumineers – Ho Hey
Yes, some may say they are super outplayed (cough Kelly), however if I ever want to sing loud and dance around like a fool, this is a go-to. It always makes me feel happy, but also sentimental. Many of their other songs are great too, this one just always stands out for me.
Florence & The Machine – Dog Days Are Over
It was so hard to pick one song of hers I love most – they are all so good! This one will always be an all-time favorite though (“Cosmic” a close second). Florence’s voice is so hauntingly beautiful, she’s just incredible. Once again, I can’t help but dance around and sing to this song. So many layers to this song. And also, one of the top concerts I’ve ever been to.
Explosions in The Sky – Your Hand in Mine
I have to second Susan here, this is one of my favorite songs. No words are needed. Amazing how their purely instrumental music can hit so many emotions.
Brand New – Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t
This was a band I started listening to in high school, and their Deja Entendu album has always remained in my top 5 favorite albums. It brings back so many memories of all that lovely teenage angst, it’s ridiculous. This song is raw and emotional. Lyrics are amazing. (Another top fave is Sic Transit Gloria, however the content being about someone losing their v, perhaps not appropriate for this list)
Bill Cassidy – Bye Bye Miss American Pie
This piano folk classic may seem a bit different from the rest of my list, but brings back great memories of childhood. It reminds me of summers when I was little in Big Bear Lake, CA, at parties my parents would throw. It’s catchy and you can’t help but smile hearing this song.
David Gray – January Rain
I first heard this song in the movie, Serendipity, one of my favorite romantic movies. This song always reminds me of the film. Again, a purely instrumental song that is so beautiful and whimsical with its subtle guitar. I also ended up walking down to the aisle to this song years later, and it will always remind me of the beauty of that day.
Louis Armstrong – La Vie en Rose
Does it get better than Louis Armstrong? This and “Give me a Kiss to Build a Dream On” became favorites when I was little. Silly, but I love to play these songs and other old jazz classics while at home cooking in the kitchen. The world just seems like a better place listening to his music.
Ray LaMontagne – You are the Best Thing
Love and happiness comes to mind when I hear this song. Ray’s voice is incredibly sexy, and his music just makes my heart full. What else can be said?
Preface: I’ve spent more time thinking about this list than I have spent working over the last few days. This list is laid out with hesitation, with the understanding it could (and should) change at any moment in time with no warning.
Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers, Milwaukee
This was the first song I had ever heard from this band, and I knew within the first few lines it would be one of my favorite tracks of all time. I’ve seen these guys a few times, and following the bridge the band cuts down the volume and goes into a bridge where Stephen improvises a few, tragically honest lines that you can tell are more true than he would even like to admit. It’s almost like sitting around a campfire with a good friend who finally fills you in on some heavy stuff he’s been dealing with.
Listener, Wooden Heart
This is a weird one. Dan Smith is one of the greatest lyricists I’ve ever heard, and this track is his shining glory. I’m not all that into spoken word music, but this band has made me a believer. This track is all about the beauty, mystery, and brokenness of the Church and our need to lean on one another to be healed. Favorite line: “My throat still tastes like housefire and saltwater. I wear this tide like loose skin, come on and rock me to sea. If we hold on tight we’ll hold eachother together and not just be some fools rushing to die in our sleep.” If there’s one track from my list you listen to, let it be this one.
Ryan Adams, Lucky Now
Way before the Taylor Swift stuff, Ryan was laying it down as a beacon for the Americana genre, combining Buck Owens with Tom Petty.
Dawes, If You Let Me Be Your Anchor
When Ali and I were trying to figure out what song to dance to at our wedding I, as the self-identified music authority, said I would find us song. After a few weeks and a couple terrible suggestions, Ali quietly said, “How about that Dawes song you put on the first mix CD you ever made me?” She knocked it out of the park. This band will become the next Eagles. Just watch.
Death Cab for Cutie, St. Peter’s Cathedral
I love bands that have settled into their groove, weathering a few decades of making music together. Every time I listen to it, I’m forced to think through what I believe about who we are and where we’re headed.
Robert Johnson, Sweet Home Chicago
Every time I drive back to Chicago after being away for a while, I listen to this song and think about the Chicago Robert Johnson was looking at back when he wrote this. I fell hard for this city, and this track brings together all the memories and feelings that make me fall even harder for her.
Blind Pilot, Half Moon
When I was 21 years old, my brother and I drove across the country from Virginia to California. We listened to this song most of the way and every time I hear it, I think of roaring through the open deserts of Nevada.
Bon Iver, The Wolves (Act I & II)
One of the most haunting and mesmerizing songs I’ve ever heard. I’m convinced that this melody is the most perfect combination of notes and chords ever recorded.
Sufjan Stevens, Casimir Pulaski Day
Some songs can bring about the most intense emotions and memories. For me, this one digs up all the pain and hope and fear and excitement of leaving home for college.
Bob Dylan, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
A perfect example of what makes Dylan the best there ever was or ever will be. I love the way he sings “the light I never knowed” – it’s almost like a middle finger to everyone who makes the rules of conventional songwriting etiquette. Any song that gets covered as many times as this one certainly deserves to make the list.
Many of my favorite songs were ones that were available when I needed them. Many come from when I was struggling and was younger, or I painted or trained to…I don’t latch on to songs as much now as I did then it seems. These are not in order.
Michael Jackson – Billie Jean (close second is Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough)
First song I did a dance routine to His music was something that was different from the classic I grew up with and I just really loved it all. His off the wall and thriller albums my pop favs.
Run DMC – Jam Master Jay ( my fav from this first album shifted rap worldwide, just awesome – social, cultural, etc) Many great songs on this album. I listened to this on repeat while I practiced basketball…over, and over, and over
Fleetwood Mac – Dreams ays remind me of my Mom and I singing music from this era and especially the rumors album. This was my fav.
Eric B & Rakim – Microphone Fiend
A group that arguably influenced hip hop and rap structure more than any other. You still hear their influence in Dr. Dre, Kanye, Kendrick, etc. This was a song no one was aware of where I went to high school and I felt like this album was mine.
Stevie Wonder – Superstition
Hard to pick from his catalog, but this is always a song I go back to.
Ray Charles – I’ve Got a Woman
Similar to Stevie, I love most of Ray’s work and this was the first song I heard from him.
Ray Lamontagne – Trouble
The first time I heard this song I fell in love with Ray. It’s hard to pick my favorite but I always come back here.
Amos Lee – Arms of a Woman
This song…makes me happy, beautiful, so soulful, reminds me of a wonderful time.
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
This was much as defining an era as it was a catalyst for a new music perspective.
New Edition – Mr. Telephone Man
From this group came Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant, Bel Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown and was a major part of my music for 15 – 20 years. After the Jackson 5, easily the best boy band EVER!!!!!
Beatles – Blackbird
Not a huge Beatles fan but their influence is obvious. This song has always been haunting and beautiful to me
Close to the list Prince, Metallica, New Edition, Pink Floyd, Ray Charles, Queen, Ben Harper, Dr Dre + Snoop, Amy Winehouse
Music, specifically specific songs, were bigger for me in junior high,high school & college than now…as now I am subjected more to my children’s choices. But the following list reminds me of fun & contemplative times in my younger days.
Depeche Mode- Personal Jesus
I spend a lot of time driving because when living in Elburn EVERYTHING is at least 20 mins away. This song seemed to always be in my tape deck and I felt angsty listening to it…even tho I wasn’t.
Alanis Morissette- All I Really Want
This album, and this song, was played constantly my senior year in college. This song was being played in my Dodge Neon when I locked my keys in the car…while it was running. I had to beg a guy in the Circle K to pick my lock so I wouldn’t be late to my final.
My sister Liz and I loved this song and dedicated ourselves to learning all of the words, which we then sang LOUDLY & OBNOXIOUSLY in my car. This tortured our neighbor, Tim Polz, who carpooled with us to high school.
6th grade. My friend Jenny Bergold introduced me to WHAM! Fell in love with this song and often dreamt about slow dancing with a boy at the 6th grade dance to this song.
Amy Grant-Sing Your Praise to the Lord
My friend, Jenn (Capes) Rosati called this the “Orgasm Song”. I’ll explain. The intro is all instrumental and builds & builds:). We would drive around in my Red Cavelier and conduct the orchestra. We would be laughing uncontrollably the whole time. The rest of the song is not good so we would rewind, in the tape deck, which took skill to get it to just the right spot, and conduct again and again.
The House the Cee Built-Big Daddy Kane
Justin introduced me to this song early on in our dating life. I loved it. Can’t necessarily explain why. But it was played over & over and still to this day makes me smile.
Three Times a Lady-The Commodores
This is one of my mom’s favorites songs. Whenever I was being less than “lady like” she liked to tell me that no boy would ever play this for me.
Pearl Jam- Even Flow
My freshman year of college. The first time I was ever away from my family & I was at a school where NO ONE knew who I was or only thought of me as a Brubaker :). This song was belting out of dorm room windows and it reminds me of all the possibilities and the freedom I was experiencing for the first time.
Guns n Roses- Sweet Child of Mine
I picked this song, but really its this whole entire album. I love me some Axl and I can still break into his microphone dance…proudly.
I latched onto Metallica for the “Black” album like all other goody two shoe girls did who had never listened to them before and nothing after. But we felt like rocker girls doing it. We sang it loud & proud…always annoying the true Metallica fans who shunned the album in its entirety.