Wednesday, November 16, 2011

10 Songs That Shaped Me

This isn't a list of my favorite tunes, though some most certainly are. I don't listen to these songs every day, and in fact, if my iPod were to land on a few of them, I might actually press skip. But at one point, they were all songs to learn and sing for the simple fact that they spoke to me for some particular reason. So while they might not add up to the soundtrack of my current life, they're a partial document of my past, which is just as pivotal as my present and my future to who I am and to who I will become.

Too deep? Well, I'll skip the philosophizing then and just get to the music.

Gene Watson "Love in the Hot Afternoon" Someday when I do a post on great underrated country singers, Watson, my all-time favorite of the genre's male singers, will probably top my list. If I were stranded on a desert island and could only have one of his songs on an mp3 player with severely limited space, it would be this one. When I was young, my parents preferred for us to listen to country music because they thought it was more wholesome than rock & roll. This is one of the earliest examples of how wrong they were!

The Eagles "New Kid in Town" One of the key songs that launched my transition from being strictly a country music fan to embracing pop and rock, which is fitting since the Eagles were the biggest of the '70s acts that straddled all of those genres. Whenever I hear it, it takes me back to the late '70s in Kissimmee, Florida, riding in the back seat of the family's brown 1978 Ford Thunderbird with my mom and dad up front. It's laughably cliche, but life really was a lot simpler back then.

The Cure "Killing an Arab" The song that kicked off my love of both alternative rock and my third favorite band of all time, though not until several years after its 1978 release.

ABBA "I Have a Dream" Yes, it's all kinds of corny, but I didn't always feel that way. When I was in the seventh grade, I wrote the hook -- "I believe in angels... I have a dream, I have a dream" -- on the back of a test paper, and Mr. Duncan, the teacher, who obviously had never heard the song, made me stay after class to figure out whether I was crazy, a genius, a dreamer or just someone who liked to doodle. (I convinced him the latter was true.)

Randy Crawford "One Day I'll Fly Away" I'll never forget the first time I ever heard it. I was riding in a taxi from a club to my hotel during a trip to London in the autumn of 1995, and it was playing on the radio. I've been in love with Crawford ever since the driver told me who was singing. That I would hear songs like this (which hit No. 2 in the UK in 1980) and Barbra Streisand's "The Love Inside" on Top 40 radio stations in London all the time was one of the earliest clues that I was living in the wrong country.

Duran Duran "Hungry Like the Wolf" I was such a good boy at the time, and buying the 45 of a song that was strictly about carnal desire made me feel "bad" for the very first time. By the time I added Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" to my collection of vinyl singles later that year, I was tainted, and there was no going back.

The Smiths "London" A song about goodbyes that speaks to me, which is strange considering how much I hate saying goodbye. I've sneaked out of parties (some of them my own), countries and bedrooms countless times just to avoid it.

Morrissey "The Ordinary Boys" For anyone who grew up feeling different knowing that life would always be that way.

Bjork "Venus As a Boy" I'd always fantasized about a more rugged type myself until I heard Bjork singing the praises of her Venusian stud.

Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach "This House Is Empty Now" Painted from Memory, Costello's 1998 collaboration with Burt Bacharach, is probably one of my 10 favorite albums, and for me, this track is the most devastating of the emotionally exhausting bunch (even more so than "God Give Me Strength," because its pain is quieter and therefore more powerful). At the time, I'd yet to have my heart broken and shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces, but after hearing this song for the first time, I knew exactly how it would sound.

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