Songs that change your life are not always revolutionary, nor do they always turn you into an entirely different person. More often than not they’re that one tune that gets you through—the best and the worst of times; the unknown and uncharted territories; transitions from one stage of your life to the next; to soothe your troubled mind and heart. Maybe they’re the eureka moment of understanding, a fond reflection of times gone by, or a staple of your youth. The point is, we all have songs that at one point in time acted like a punch to the gut, and these are ours.
Jai Paul, “BTSTU”
Because I transitioned in a lot in my college experience (from high school, to a new town and community college, to another new town and university, then to yet another new town and university for grad school), I needed a song to calm me down and give me a little confidence, and this song did just that. And actually, the same goes for LCD Soundsystem. Dance Yrself Clean helped me kind of forget social pressures and let me just chug along through school.
My partner showed me this band: he gave me the album during my junior year of college a few months before I went into to treatment for my eating disorder. I ended up listening to it every morning as I drove to the facility. It definitely helped me remember why I was going, and why I was trying to refeed myself again.
Beginners Soundtrack, “Beginners Theme Suite”
As I am a lover of movies, I tend to also love their soundtracks. “Beginners” as a movie stars Melanie Laurent and Ewan McGregor, and it is essentially a story of how the two met and came to be as a romantic couple while at the same time learning about their family struggles. Sounds cheesy, but it has a realistic undertone. I would credit a lot of its success on the music, from a personal standpoint. And the “Theme” represents their relationship as it starts off and ends with a typical romantic narrative. Happy in the beginning, then some sort of struggle, and ends on a note of happiness. It’s a song that will forever be on my iPod’s most recently played.
Elton John, “My Father’s Gun”
For me, Elton John songs are either one of my all-time favorites or I loathe them entirely—there’s not much in between. But when I was introduced to “My Father’s Gun” via the “Elizabethtown” soundtrack, it immediately skyrocketed to one of my top 5 favorite songs. Telling the tale of a Civil War soldier, but more importantly of family, honor, duty, and a troubling heritage, it punched me in the gut and said, “This is the song of your family.” And as Elton John’s wails, “We dug his shallow grave beneath the sun / I laid his broken body down below the southern land,” with perfect clarity I see my grandfather’s funeral one day in the future, burying the last of the truly Southern in our line.
Billy Joel, “Vienna”
Despite being about 15 years too late to the party, I went through a huge Billy Joel (and classic rock) phase in high school. And as is standard with most junior years, mine was a nightmare: too many hard classes, too many responsibilities, too much angst, and too much of the weight of the world on my shoulders. Then I heard, “Slow down you crazy child you’re so ambitious for a juvenile/ take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two ,” and it was as if someone had finally given me permission to breathe again. The song has followed me throughout my life, from all-nighters going after that perfect GPA in college, stressing out at work, and generally always taking on too much. It’s also advice I’ve finally learned to take, and once a year I go disappear with no communication, no work, nothing but me slowing down and letting go.
The Civil Wars, “Billie Jean”
It is difficult for me to pick just one song by The Civil Wars since their first album, “Barton Hollow,” marked an earth-shattering discovery in my previously musically-sheltered life. The duo met in Nashville in 2008 during a singer-songwriter session and I like to imagine their first meeting as something magical—it’s actually difficult for me to picture them as anything but pure magic since the combination of their voices, lyrics, and folk-blues style is unparalleled in the music scene. Although John Paul and Joy are currently on hiatus (and I am in mourning), we can still enjoy their stunning acoustics of original songs and covers. This cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” will seriously blow your mind and the way they look at each other… well, that will never stop pulling at your heart strings.
Frightened Rabbit, “Nothing Like You”
I discovered this Scottish indie rock band during my senior year in high school. I was sitting in my best friend’s car when the song “The Wrestle” came on. I was instantly captivated and, for someone who had adamantly rejected the indie scene during high school, I think my friend was shocked that I actually liked this band. Like became obsession and obsession became stalking tour dates and it all ended with me buying concert tickets to see FR in Glasgow during my semester abroad. I dragged fellow LD writer, Michelle, with me and although we got a bit lost in the back streets of Glasgow and decided to put off writing our essays that were incidentally due the next morning, it was all so incredibly worth it. I will never forget watching Scott and the rest of the band jam out to “Nothing Like You.” I also don’t think that Michelle and I will ever forget the girl who threw a cup of wine and her tights at the stage, but that’s another story.
Jean Elan, “Where’s Your Head At?” (Klaas Remix)
(I’m probably the only person to put an EDM song on here, but so it goes!) I’ve always been very shy and very “in control”—it’s difficult for me to just let loose and party. In 2010 I went to Wet Electric and it was a life-changing experience. Wet Electric was basically a house music festival/rave at a waterpark. Okay, sure—a lot of people there were uninhibited because they were rolling, but I was not one of them—I wasn’t even drinking! I wasn’t very close to the people I went with and eventually I just lost everyone (I almost didn’t even make it back!) but I didn’t care because the sun was out, the bass was bumping, and I was dancing like a fool. Klaas was one of the last DJs of the day, and the sun was starting to go down during his set, but everyone was still dancing and splashing like mad. It’s one of the few times in my life I was completely able to let go and have a blast, and it definitely set me on the path to loving EDM music, which has led to some great times in my life.
The Get Up Kids, “Campfire Kansas”
This song got me through a dark period in my life. I was young, I lived at the beach and I was dealing with melanoma in the most destructive way possible. During the times that I was covered in scars and stitches, my friends and I would sing this song and the lyrics, “We’d laugh away the sunburn / as we laughed away the day / what we lost means nothing / for the memories will stay,” used to practically bring me to tears. It still does on certain days and I love that, it moves me and reminds me that I am strong, even on the weakest of days.
Rise Against, “Swing Life Away”
Sometimes when words fail you, music can step in and express your feelings. I remember many years ago getting in a horrible fight with my best friend and after weeks of not speaking, she sent me the lyrics to this song as a peace offering; one of our favorites. I responded to her email with another chord from the song and all was forgiven. In eight years of friendship that was our only monumental disagreement, and Rise Against told us “Let’s unwrite these pages and replace them with our own words,” and that is what is beautiful about music. Some songs heal you, they mend bridges that you regret burning and they remind you why you love.
Coconut Records, “West Coast”
This song just makes me happy. When I went to college and moved away from everyone I knew, it gave me comfort. “And we both go together if one falls down / I talk out loud like you’re still around.” That lyric is my favorite, I missed everyone so much, I would walk around campus and make notes of the things I wanted to tell them. When I went home to visit I wanted to put them all in my suitcase and bring them back to school with me. To this day, when I hear this song I just smile, grateful for its ability to take me back to that time in my life.
The Police, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”
One of my last memories with my mother was with this song. My mom, my best friend, and I were on our way to Starbucks—I must note that as a die-hard coffee addict, this last coffee date with my mom will forever be one of the most monumental moments of my life. Anyway, this song was playing on the radio, and my mom, who was still stuck in her ’80s-Madonna days, naturally started belting one of her favorite ’80s classics. Every window in the car was rolled down while every part of me was completely mortified from embarrassment. But after my mom passed away, I realized that the only thing that should leave me feeling mortified is the fact that I didn’t sing along.
So, to the woman who every little thing she did was magic, this one’s for you.
Rascal Flatts, “These Days”
Growing up, the music I listened to exclusively included Top 40 pop (mainly boy bands) and Motown. One night, my siblings and I were gathered in my parents room watching CMT Top 20 Countdown, because my dad had recently joined the country music train. I will never forget the image of lead singer Gary LeVox pointing up at the sky in the middle of “pouring rain” as he belted out this song. Not only do I associate this song with falling in love with country music, but I also attribute a portion of my happiness from middle school forward by spending my time listening to Rascal Flatts. That song still plays on the radio, and when it does, it never fails to make me smile as I point up to the sky, just like Gary did in that video. Without a doubt, this song has had the biggest impact on my life.
Madonna, “Material Girl”
This was probably the first song I memorized that wasn’t in a cartoon. My mom instilled in me a love for Madonna. She had Madonna’s “The Immaculate Collection,” and I would just listen to those songs in a CD player on repeat. This one, though, was easily my favorite. My mom even had the video recorded on a VHS tape and I’d rewind and play the music video again and again. I always liked how Madonna seemed to be in control throughout the video, taking from the men as she pleased. Even as a kid I was drawn to divas. As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate the commentary on materialism and how foolish men often believe that women can be bought.
Jason Isbell, “Cover Me Up”
This song marks the first time I realized what a love song should really sound like. It’s hauntingly beautiful, discussing the evolution of the relationship through its ups and downs. Isbell wrote the song for his wife, Amanda Shires Isbell, after she finally got him in rehab and sobered up, and talks about how she’s the first in a long string of women who was actually able to help him: “The old lovers sing / ‘I thought it’d be me / who helped him get home’ / but home was a dream / one I’d never seen / till you came along.” Isbell is a killer singer/songwriter and all his stuff hits me hard, but not nearly as hard as this one.
Dashboard Confessional, “Rooftops and Invitations”
Well. There’s music from my teen years, and then there’s Dashboard. “Rooftops and Invitations” is one of the best-written songs, in my opinion, of all time. The metaphors are perfect, the melody is 100-percent mid-2000s. Every girl wants to be the girl in the song; that’s what I remember thinking the first time I heard it.[divider][/divider]