Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Favorite songs

I don't own an iPod and never have. I had a handheld I could have used as a music player, but never bothered. When I'm in the car (and I spend a lot of time in the car) I listen to talk radio -- sports, politics, NPR, occasionally the local "news" -- rather than music.

I do listen to music at my desk. Some years back I switched to iTunes -- which has ratings and play counts -- previously I'd been using a music player that lacked both. So I've got nearly 35 years of music ripped to disk at this point -- quite a few tracks actually off audiotape, most of it from CDs or directly off the internet. And over time I've rated most of it, certainly everything I listen to with any regularity. It ranges from stuff I fell for recently (Feist, Angie Aparo, Katie Melua, the amazing jaimi shuey) to American Pie, which is the first song I remember waiting for while listening to the radio, back long ago.

Here's the list of songs rated '5' in iTunes. It's a purely personal list with no respect for historical or musical importance. Sure, Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone is an amazing piece of work -- but it doesn't do for me what the songs I've listed have. Some years back Rolling Stone magazine did a Top 500 greatest rock and roll songs list -- only 3 of their top 15 songs (What's Going On, London Calling, and Smells Like Teen Spirit) appear on my list. And I'm fine with that.

The first ten are my ten favorite songs; after that they're in alphabetical order. (Making lists is fun, but also problematic; today's list isn't likely to exactly match tomorrow's, and so on. So this is a broadly accurate representation of what I like, and it's also a snapshot -- five years from now the list would surely be different. Twenty years ago this list would have had a lot more punk and metal on it ...)

Title ~~ Artist
Thunder Road (Live 75-85) ~~ Bruce Springsteen
Will You Love Me Tomorrow ~~ Shirelles
Don't Worry Baby ~~ The Beach Boys
The Heart Of The Matter ~~ Don Henley
O-o-h Child ~~ Five Stairsteps
Dreams ~~ Fleetwood Mac
Watching The Wheels ~~ John Lennon
Bat Out Of Hell ~~ Meat Loaf
You Used To Love To Dance ~~ Melissa Etheridge
Angel ~~ Sarah McLachlan

My oldest daughter says the above is a depressing list .... doesn't seem so to me, but maybe that's gender, or generation, or something....

Thunder Road (Live 75-85) ~~ Bruce Springsteen

I've had a few different favorite songs over the years. My first favorite song was American Pie. Sometime after that it was Dreams, by Fleetwood Mac -- the album Dreams comes off of, Rumors, would probably top my favorite albums list. Based on the results, more bands should make albums while everyone is sleeping around and getting divorced ... sometime after Dreams it was Atlantic City, by Bruce Springsteen. Over 20 years ago now, Springsteen released Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live 1975-1985. Springsteen's acoustic version of Thunder Road leapt up at me off that album, and since then there's no single piece of music I could honestly say has threatened it as my favorite song.

Well now I'm no hero
That's understood
All the redemption I can offer girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window
And let the wind blow
Back your hair
Well the night's busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels

... and the conclusion:

so Mary climb in
It's town full of losers
And I'm pulling out of here to win

I don't suppose you have to be a poor homeless white boy from Pomona for this to resonate, but it sure doesn't hurt.

One thing iTunes told me about myself I hadn't quite known -- I'm a huge fan of Don Henley. While Sprinsteen's hit my favorite song button twice (maybe 3 times, The River is in there somewhere) -- Henley, solo and with the Eagles, has 12 entries on this list. Prior to iTunes and the Amazing Ratings Button, I'd have said Springsteen was my favorite artist -- it's probably Henley, really, certainly by volume of what I actually listen to.

Some comments on the rest of the Top 10 --

Will You Love Me Tomorrow ~~ Shirelles

When I was a teenager one of my favorite musicians was Jim Steinman (maestro behind Meatloaf's work) -- guy who did operatic teenage angst better than anyone. Pet Sounds- era Beach Boys on steroids. The passage of time and the presence of teenage children has, not surprisingly, distanced me from all that teenage angst. But "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" is a perfect song. No one's ever nailed down the core of a new relationship better.

Don't Worry Baby ~~ The Beach Boys

Not technically the best of the Beach Boys, certainly. But it's the song that means the most to me. When the Beach Boys sing "Everything will turn out all right," I believe it.

The Heart Of The Matter ~~ Don Henley

These times are so uncertain
There's a yearning undefined
And people filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age?
The trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness
They're the very things we kill I guess
Pride and competition
Cannot fill these empty arms
And the work I put between us
You know it doesn't keep me warm
Im learning to live without you now
But I miss you, baby
And the more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I'd figured out
I have to learn again

My first marriage was cracking up when this came out. The first time I heard it I was standing in my living room, and about halfway through it I realized I was crying, and I stood there crying while that song finished. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, or for that matter since.

O-o-h Child ~~ Five Stairsteps

The most optimistic song ever recorded. Whenever I'm feeling down I play this, and I feel better.

Dreams ~~ Fleetwood Mac

This song's 30 years old and I still can't help but stop what I'm doing and listen whenever it comes on. There are four or five scenes in AI War that come straight out of this song -- most likely I coined "Players" and "Crystal Wind" directly from this song.

Now here I go again
I see the crystal visions
I keep my visions to myself
It's only me
Who wants to wrap around your dreams and
Have you any dreams you'd like to sell?

One of the last scenes in AI War is a straight lift of this song's chorus:

Thunder only happens when its raining
Players only love you when they're playing
Say women they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean you'll know

There aren't too many celebrities I've ever had meaningful attraction to -- Michelle Pfeiffer, Audrey Hepburn, and Stevie Nicks probably top the list. She was both achingly sexy and an amazing talent. Not many artists (practically none, or there would be a lot of albums like Rumours) could have recorded the breakup of their marriage the way she and Lindsey Buckingham did. Dreams, Silver Springs (the version from The Dance), Go Your Own Way, The Chain, Gold Dust Woman ... I don't know if any of this made either of them feel better, but if you have to suffer, this is the way to use your suffering. There haven't been many better examples of "It's all material."

Watching The Wheels ~~ John Lennon

I hope that by the time I'm in my 60s I can reach the degree of wisdom and acceptance John Lennon had reached before an insect killed him. The work Lennon would have done late in life is one of the great losses in the history of rock and roll. There have been a lot of artists lost young in this field -- there haven't been so many lost in their middle years, when they were plainly evolving toward a new style of work. Maybe Buddy Holly would have done remarkable work at 50; no one can say. But there's no doubt in my mind that Lennon would have recorded enduring classics had he lived.

Bat Out Of Hell ~~ Meat Loaf

Probably the only teenage song that I really loved that I still really love. I don't care how old you are, if Bat Out of Hell can't get your blood moving, it's time to start shopping for headstones. I wrote most of "All Possible Worlds" while listening to Warren Zevon -- and this.

You Used To Love To Dance ~~ Melissa Etheridge

It appears that I'm the only person who thinks Etheridge's second album was her best -- and it's almost a certainty I'm the only one who thinks this is her best song. But it's mature and wise and defiant and better than any ten tough guy songs about never backing down ...

I'm gonna go out tonight
I'm gonna drive up to the hill
I'm gonna dive on into those city lights
And I'm gonna dance, dance
Dance till I get my fill

Angel ~~ Sarah McLachlan

Theme music for my James Camber stories.

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there

I'm completely unable to believe in the Christian God. But I could believe in angels. There are angels all over All Possible Worlds, which is about the Revolt of the Angels. (All of the songs used in the APW outline appear below: Season 1 ends with Mohammed's Radio. S2 opens with Amazing Grace and closes with Desperados Under the Eaves. S3 opens with Across the Border and ends with Accidentally Like a Martyr. S4 opens with For My Wedding and ends with Keep Me In Your Heart. And season 5 opens with Danny Boy.)

Here's the remainder:

50 Ways To Leave Your Lover ~~ Paul Simon
A Long December ~~ Counting Crows ("our song" -- mine and Amy's)

All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light
attaches to a girl

A Rock n Roll Fantasy ~~ The Kinks
Accidentally Like A Martyr ~~ Warren Zevon
Across The Border ~~ Bruce Springsteen (song I want played at my funeral)

We'll leave behind my dear
The pain and sadness we found here
And we'll drink from the Bravo's muddy waters
Where the sky grows grey and white
We'll meet on the other side
There across the border

Ain't No Sunshine ~~ Bill Withers
Amazing Grace ~~ Joan Baez (I have 25 versions of this -- this is the best, from the album From Every Stage.)
America ~~ Simon & Garfunkel
American Pie ~~ Don McClean
Atlantic City ~~ Bruce Springsteen

Now, I been lookin for a job, but it's hard to find
Down here its just winners and losers and don't
Get caught on the wrong side of that line
Well, Im tired of comin out on the losin end
So, honey, last night I met this guy and Im gonna
Do a little favor for him

Ball And Chain ~~ Social Distortion
Beach Baby ~~ First Class (one of the three songs I thought about using as theme music for APW -- I went with the much different Keep Me In Your Heart, by Zevon, but it was close. The third was Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.)
Boys Of Summer ~~ Don Henley
Chuck E.'s in Love ~~ Rickie Lee Jones
Comfortably Numb ~~ Pink Floyd
Coming Around Again ~~ Carly Simon
Common People (Feat. Joe Jackson) ~~ William Shatner (seriously, a great song, and I'm not talking novelty value)
Cum On Feel the Noize ~~ Quiet Riot
Danny Boy (the Derry air) ~~ Sinead O'Connor & Davy Spillane (14 copies of Danny Boy and this is the best -- hard Irish nationalist tint to it, so if that doesn't work for you, try another version)
Desperado ~~ The Eagles
Desperados Under The Eaves ~~ Warren Zevon
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes ~~ Paul Simon
Don't Give Up (with Kate Bush) ~~ Peter Gabriel
Down To The River To Pray ~~ Alison Krauss
Dust In The Wind ~~ Kansas
Enter Sandman ~~ Metallica
Everybody Knows ~~ Leonard Cohen (thanks to Robert Hansen for hooking me up)
For My Wedding ~~ Don Henley
Free Fallin' ~~ Tom Petty
Georgia on My Mind ~~ Ray Charles
Go Your Own Way ~~ Fleetwood Mac
Gold Dust Woman ~~ Fleetwood Mac
Goodbye California ~~ Jolie Holland (thanks to the guy on Lakerstalk who hooked me up)
Graceland ~~ Paul Simon
Hot For Teacher ~~ Van Halen
How You Remind Me ~~ Nickelback
I Love LA ~~ Randy Newman
I Will Never Be The Same ~~ Melissa Etheridge
If It Makes You Happy ~~ Sheryl Crow
If You Don't Know Me by Now ~~ Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
I'm Comin' ~~ Will Smith
Feel the Earth tremble see the skies turn red
Eclipses, shooting stars, turn ya head
Volcanoes erupting rage in the sea
Ain't the second coming of Christ
The first coming of me
They say if you damned up the Nile
It would throw off the rotation of the Earth
Well, messing with me is worse

Keep Me In Your Heart ~~ Warren Zevon
Kiss The Girl ~~ Samuel E. Wright
Landslide ~~ Fleetwood Mac
Leaving on a Jet Plane ~~ Chantal Kreviazuk
Live and Let Die ~~ Paul McCartney (though the Guns'n'Roses version may be better)
Lola ~~ The Kinks
London Calling ~~ The Clash
Love And Death And An American Guitar ~~ Jim Steinman
Loves Me Like a Rock ~~ Paul Simon
Mack The Knife ~~ Bobby Darin
Mama I'm Comin' Home ~~ Ozzy Osbourne
Me And Bobby McGee ~~ Janis Joplin
Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) ~~ Marvin Gaye
Mohammed's Radio ~~ Warren Zevon
My Eyes Adored You ~~ Frankie Valli
Never Gonna Score Speech ~~ Beavis and Butthead (no better example of Zen clarity in existence)
New York Minute ~~ Don Henley
Nine Million Bicycles ~~ Katie Melua (this and Feist's Secret Heart are the songs I've listened to most in the last year)
No Souvenirs ~~ Melissa Etheridge
Not Ready To Make Nice ~~ Dixie Chicks (played this a hundred times when it came out, really loud)
Only the Strong Survive ~~ Jerry Butler
Part of Your World ~~ Jodi Benson
Push ~~ Matchbox Twenty
Rebel Yell ~~ Billy Idol
Revolution ~~ The Beatles
Right Through You ~~ Alanis Morissette
Science Fiction/Double Feature ~~ Richard O'Brien
Secret Heart ~~ Feist
Silent Legacy ~~ Melissa Etheridge
Silver Springs (The Dance) ~~ Fleetwood Mac
Slip Slidin' Away ~~ Paul Simon
Smells Like Teen Spirit ~~ Nirvana
Somebody To Love ~~ Queen
Spaceship ~~ Angie Aparo (song I've played the most in the last couple months)
Sunset Grill ~~ Don Henley
Suspicious Minds ~~ Elvis Presley
Take It to the Limit (Live Farewell) ~~ The Eagles
The Angels ~~ Melissa Etheridge
The Ballad of John and Yoko ~~ The Beatles
The Boy In The Bubble ~~ Paul Simon -- referenced this in all of the Trent cycle novels -- "lasers in the jungle" from Emerald Eyes; "bomb in the baby carriage," The Long Run; "age of miracles and wonder," Last Dancer. Crystal Wind quotes it directly:
It was a dry wind
And it swept across the desert
And it curled into the circle of birth
And the dead sand
Falling on the children
The mothers and the fathers
And the automatic earth

The Boys Of Summer ~~ Don Henley
The Chain ~~ Fleetwood Mac
The Devil Went Down to Georgia ~~ Charlie Daniels Band
The End Of The Innocence ~~ Don Henley
The First Cut Is The Deepest ~~ Rod Stewart
The Hotel California ~~ The Eagles
The River (Live 75-85) ~~ Bruce Springsteen
The Wrong Girl ~~ jaimi shuey (playing this Wednesday night at the Cinema on Sepulveda, in West L.A.....you won't get better music anywhere for free)
Under the Bridge ~~ Red Hot Chili Peppers
What's Going On ~~ Marvin Gaye
Who Wants to Live Forever ~~ Queen (possibly the saddest song I've ever heard)
Why Don't You Get a Job? ~~ Offspring
With a Little Luck ~~ Paul McCartney
Woman ~~ John Lennon
You Can Sleep While I Drive ~~ Melissa Etheridge
You Don't Know Me At All ~~ Don Henley


Anonymous said...
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David Pitkin said...

If you install a neat plugin from the last.fm site it will track and share your historical playlists and find people with similar taste and best of all suggest new things to listen to.

I am a huge fan (http://www.last.fm/user/dpitkin)

Dan Moran said...

One of the moments when I really felt like I was doing something of value in my technical life -- I wrote the back end to Launchcast (now a part of Yahoo Music) -- the first radio station that tried to figure out what you were listening to, make associations with things you might like, and play them for you. One night I was working late and listening to Launchcast, and frankly it hadn't worked that well up to then -- at one point it played a song I didn't recognize, and I thought -- hey, not bad -- not really paying attention, I was coding.

A few minutes later I heard another new song that caught my attention ... and a few minutes after that, it did it again and I realized I wasn't getting lucky -- the recommendations were working and we were getting good results.

I believe that was the first automated system in existence that would recommend new music, with anything like a meaningful success rate. 1999. I'm proud to have worked on it.

Thomas said...

Dude, I'm still a LC Plus subscriber. I got on board early with one of those "lifetime subscription" thingies. Of course, now that Yahoo is selling off everything to Real Networks (lesser quality, more money), I'm spitting mad at them.

Didn't Spinner do something with statistical analysis of music at or around the same time? I forget if that was a precursor of Launchcast or a competitor.

Regarding the music: What is it with a certain timber of voice (most easily exemplified by Bruce Springsteen and Melissa Etheridge) that allows the artist to reach down your throat, move furniture around in your heart until they've found exactly the right cords to pull, and then they yank as hard as they can? The first time I heard Etheridge's Tuesday Morning I was luckily at home, and among people that wouldn't judge me sitting there at my computer, crying like a little girl.

Now you cannot change this
You can't erase this
You can't pretend this is not the truth

Even though he could not marry
Or teach your children in our schools
Because who he wants to love
Is breaking your God's rules

He stood up on a Tuesday Morning
In the terror he was brave
And he made his choice and without a doubt
A hundred lives he must have saved

J.D. Ray said...

If you guys haven't checked out Pandora (pandora.com), do so. I've been very pleased with its hit rate on things I like. Unfortunately, you have very little control over the tracks, such as you can't back up one track and play it again. It's radio in that sense.

Anonymous said...

Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were never married.

SF said...

"Who Wants to Live Forever ~~ Queen (possibly the saddest song I've ever heard)"

You know, I'm a huge Queen fan, and very fond of this song, but I don't think it would even make the top ten saddest songs I know. I think Ron Hynes has a song sadder than this on every album; "Atlantic Blue" and "Godspeed" still move me to tears about every third time I hear them.

quarkwright said...

I was a little surprised, but pleased at how many favorites we have in common. Other than my hero-worship, I didn't think we had too many similarities.
Was good to see some Nickelback in there, too. I want "Photograph" to be the song played at my funeral.

Dan Moran said...


Tuesday Morning is a great track, no doubt. It's one of a hundred songs I could rate a 5 (it's a 4) ... if I'd been in a different mood the day I rated it.

j.d., I'll give Pandora a try some day.


Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were never married.

This is true. However, Mick Fleetwood was busy getting divorced (and had slept with Nicks); John and Christine McVie were also getting divorced, from each other. Hence my use of "divorced." Lot of turmoil in that band circa "Rumours."

sf, fair enough; tastes differ, and that's all this is. But Mercury's singing about "no time for us, no place for us" -- gay man with AIDs dealing with substantial anti-gay bigotry -- wrenching stuff. He died in '91; I don't know if he knew in '86 that he was sick, but it seems likely, and if he wasn't ... well, gays were dying all around him. If he didn't know he was infected, he had to suspect.

Quark ... Nickleback is everyone's favorite whipping boy recently. The bile that band gets surprises me. They're headbangers, OK, but they've never pretended to be anything else, and they're pretty good headbangers. For those of us who like that.

Steve Perry said...

Funny, I was actually living on the levee when American Pie came out. 1971 or '72, though my mind is somewhat fuzzy. Brusly, Louisiana. If my arm was limber and the water was up, I could throw a rock from my driveway and hit the MIssissippi River, just on the other side of the levee.

Great song. Knew all the words.

You know the story that Bob Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) went to hear Buddy Holly in Minnesota a few days before the plane went down?

I shade towards Born to Run, though. That line, "highways jammed with broken heroes?" I wish I had written that.

SF said...

Dan, I'm pretty sure you're right that Freddie knew he had AIDS by '86. But WWtLF is a Brian May song, and on the album, Brian actually sings the verse you quote. I think Freddie does sing it in the movie, weirdly enough.

Rob said...

I never felt "Who Wants To Live Forever" to be a sad song, or at least, I never felt that was its purpose. It's infused with sadness, but there's an angry defiance in the face of sadness. And we can have forever / And we can love forever / Forever is our today.

March 1, 1995, my best friend walked in front of a train. I've never understood why. He was a big Highlander fan. When we were planning his memorial service--there wasn't enough left of him to bury--we were stumped for what music to play. I suggested "Who Wants To Live Forever", and suddenly we had unanimous agreement.

A lot of people showed up to the service, mostly people who barely knew him at all. We got some comments afterwards that our choice of songs was freakish, was ghastly. They didn't understand Shawn very well, and understood us--Shawn's closest friends--even less.

When faced with grief over suicide, we elected for defiance. We were bloodied, we were staggered, we were in utter psychological hell. But we were unbent and we were unbowed. We wouldn't let go of our love for Shawn, even after the incomprehensibly hateful thing he did to us.

Defiance in the face of grief. That's what that song means to me.

Every March 1 I visit Shawn's memorial with a bottle of whiskey. I drink some, I pour the rest. I remember that angry defiance we all had. I resolve myself to hold onto it for dear life. And then I walk away and put all the emotions back into a box until the next March 1.

Thirteen years and I still haven't forgiven him.

But the defiance helps.

Bryant said...


"We wouldn't let go of our love for Shawn, even after the incomprehensibly hateful thing he did to us."

I got to Iowa City a few years after that. I've always been ... not sure of the word. Impressed? No.

The depth and complexity of the emotions y'all had for Shawn, years later, was almost palpable. That's the best way to put it. (I dated Erin for a while, back then. You may or may not remember me. Small world.)

Anyway, what I really wandered into this post for was this:

Yes, on albums recorded during a divorce. It's worth checking out Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights. People either like Thompson or not; he's the best guitarist in the world, though, and among the best songwriters as well.

OK, he may not be the best. But he's in sufficiently rarefied company so that I don't ever have any trouble making the argument. His base idiom is British folk/popular music, but he's fluent in everything; he's a musician as well as a guitar player, if the distinction makes sense.

His lyrics are poignant and bitter and sad like Zevon's were. I don't have better praise than that.

Anonymous said...

Given Trent's occupation and his general plotline, I have to say I'm really shocked not to see Dylan's All Along the Watchtower not on this list. (McCreary's new cover is, imho, the best cover yet.. still not exceeding Master Dylan, but easily beating Hendrix and narrowly defeating Young.)

Anonymous said...

Please ignore the double negative in the above post. And don't post at 5 am when you can't edit yourself properly. Public service here...

Rob said...

And what the hell, some more comments.

Re: Shawn--sorry, Bryant, I don't remember you. Then again, I was pretty messed up about the time you were in the area, so maybe that's unsurprising. But "deep and complex" is a kind way to put it; me, I often fear darker and less kind terms are more appropriate.

Re: Leonard Cohen--really, Dan, I was surprised when you said you didn't know him. So much of his oeuvre is right up your alley. Teddy Thompson's cover of Cohen's Tonight Will Be Fine is a must-hear, as is Jeff Buckley's cover of Hallelujah.

I don't especially like Jeff Buckley's version, but that doesn't change the fact that it's heartbreaking to hear. My objection to it is how he trades all the nuance of Cohen's versions for one filled with unrelenting poetic grief. That said, if you want to hear unrelenting poetic grief, listen to Buckley.

Anjani Thomas is another artist I was surprised not to see in your list. Listen to Thanks For The Dance sometime and try not to smile and try not to weep.

I've been listening to a lot of Rush lately. Red Barchetta in particular. When I was a kid I used to think Subdivisions was where I was in life; now I realize I'm at the very beginning of my "white-haired uncle" phase of Red Barchetta. I'm 33. I shouldn't be 33. It feels like I missed my twenties. This is probably a sign I need to re-evaluate my life.

... now you've got me thinking about music that matters to me. I'm not going to be able to sleep until I come up with my own list. I'll let you know when it's finished.

sfvrealestate said...

Dan, I did a track back from your post today at LALand, and what a pleasant surprise! Your taste is much like mine and my husband's, but I think mine includes more Dylan. I'd like to get your take on my "iMix for house hunters" on my real estate site at www.JudyGraff.com (hit select page).

Dan Moran said...


That line, "highways jammed with broken heroes?" I wish I had written that.

"Suicide machines" has always done it for me. Looking at my list, I have more Springsteen songs rated "4" than anything by anyone else, including the Eagles and Don Henley -- despite having more 5s by Henley, Inc.

Interesting stuff.


I do really like the McCreary version of Watchtower. That said, it just doesn't do for me what the other songs listed do -- that list isn't based on quality, it really isn't; it's just what moved me for one reason or another.

Rob, I'd love to see your list. Without you I wouldn't have gotten into Cohen in the first place.