Category Archives: Music

Soundtrack to my life, part 3: kicking ass and taking names

When I set out to imagine the soundtrack to the many moods and experiences of my life, initially I figured I’d better include a list of my favorite relaxing music (because there are certain songs and even albums that will put me into a medical-grade coma if I listen to them long enough — hi, Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing), but then I realized that sharing my chill-out playlist would be boring and self-indulgent and decided to just skip straight ahead to a list of songs that make me feel powerful (so — just self-indulgent). So here, in no particular order, are ten songs that make me want to stride forth into the world and take it by the lapels, or whatever.

1. “Telephone,” by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. Everything about this song screams lady empowerment. The lyrics are about how Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are sick of your insistent phone calls, everyone. They’re too busy out in da club sippin’ dat bub (I think?) to bother picking up their phones so just give it a rest, okay? This song allows me to imagine what it would be like if I were wildly popular and pursued by many admirers. I think I’d enjoy it. Also, it must be said that the beat is amazing, especially when you’re working out and your energy is starting to flag. This will perk you right up!

2. “Walk Away,” by Kelly Clarkson. I unabashedly love Kelly Clarkson. She is one of the few American Idols that have not been an embarrassment to our country (looking at you, Taylor Hicks). Her songs are consistently catchy and I particularly love the ones where she gets a little sassy. “Walk Away” is one of those.

3. “Burn It Down,” by AWOLNATION. I first heard this song, appropriately enough, on an episode of Sons of Anarchy, during one of that show’s many high stakes motorcycle chase scenes. And that pretty much sums up the tone of the song, which is sort of shout-y and involves clapping, enthusiastic drums, and inscrutable lyrics that I think might be referring to some weird sex thing (but I’m cool with it).

4. “Titanium” by David Guetta, feat. Sia. First of all, I’m a big Sia fan. In case you’re not familiar, she is weird as hell and all of her videos give me the creeps, but dang, lady’s got a pair of pipes on her. This particular song was really popular when I lived in South Africa, and I used to listen to it while working out at my shitty Joburg gym along with some scarily muscled Afrikaans dudes and a smattering of old ladies. With lyrics like “You shoot me down, but I won’t fall; I am titanium,” it’s kind of hard not to get pumped up while listening to it, am I right?

5. “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” by U2. Even though “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” my all-time favorite U2 song, is about resisting violence and promoting peace in the face of the misery of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, something about it makes me want to strap on a gun and march into battle. Any battle! I know that’s not the point of the song — in fact, it’s the opposite of the point of the song — but that infectious, warlike drumbeat — who can resist it?

6. “The Distance,” by Cake. Here’s the thing about Cake: you either love ’em, or you hate ’em. Me? I love ’em. Like I said in my last post, I’m a sucker for a good horns section“The Distance” not only has horns, but it has special meaning for me because it was my high school cross-country team’s pump-up song one year, and what a pump-up song it was! (Incidentally, my own personal pump-up song for the last two years of high school track — and please don’t judge me for this — was Sisqo’s “The Thong Song.” To this day, whenever I hear “The Thong Song,” I want to go run 3200 m. as fast as I can).

7. “Forgot About Dre,” by Dr. Dre and Eminem. I probably shouldn’t like this song, since it has zero relevance to my life and, now that I think of it, zero relevance to probably to 99.9% of humanity’s lives. It’s pretty much only relevant to Dr. Dre’s life. But what can I say? I have a soft spot for Eminem (Detroit, what), despite his many flaws. Plus, this song includes some of my favorite rap lyrics ever (despite the poor grammar involved): “So where’s all the mad rappers at? It’s like a jungle in this habitat. But all you savage cats knew that I was strapped with gats when you were cuddling a Cabbage Patch.” Bless Dr. Dre’s heart for finding a way to incorporate both Cabbage Patch dolls AND gats into one phrase!

8. “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” by Dropkick Murphys. I lived in Boston (okay, Cambridge — lay off me!) for three years and while I lived there, I used to take this amazing spinning class at the law school rec center. The instructor, a real Boston girl, would always play this song during the hardest part of the workout and, needless to say, everyone loved it. It’s catchy AND motivational: imagining a sailor looking for his leg (which he lost climbing up the topsails, by the way) really puts the difficulty of a tough spinning class into perspective. “At least I have both my legs,” I’d always think to myself. “Things aren’t so bad.”

dropkick murphys

9. “Mala Gente,” by Juanes. I wasn’t kidding about being a big Juanes fan. “Mala Gente” is from that same life-changing album as “Luna,” Un Día Normal. “Mala Gente” (“Bad People”) is about Juanes telling a lying woman to take a hike, and also letting her know she sucks. It’s very satisfying.

10. “A Quien Le Importa?” by Thalía. The title of this song translates as “Who cares?” As the title suggests, it’s a ballad about not giving an eff about what people think, and it rocks. Thalía (Mexican pop goddess and wife of Tommy Mottola) has a bunch of great songs (one of which, “Seducción,” has been my ringtone for, like, seven years) but this one is the most kick-ass of them all. Lyrics include: “My destiny is what I choose,” and “I’m this way, I’ll continue to be this way, and I’ll never change.” Go girl!

Well, looking back on this list, I can say with some confidence that it’s totally random and arbitrary. However, every one of these songs, in its own way, pumps me up. What are your favorite blood-pumping ballads? And am I the only one who has that perverse reaction to “Sunday, Bloody Sunday?” Does anyone else like Cake? Let me know.

Soundtrack to my life, part 2: joy

My last post on the soundtrack to my life was all about the angst. And while I love Alanis Morrisette as much as the next thirty-one year-old, there is a time (turn, turn, turn) to every season (turn, turn, turn), and so forth, and so now it’s time for a little joy (and pain — sunshine — and rain). [Editor’s note: I have recently diagnosed myself with a disease where I can’t write a sentence without inappropriately inserting song lyrics. It comes and goes.] ANYWAY. In this installment of my life soundtrack blog, I want to focus on the opposite of angst: pure, unadulterated joy. There are certain songs, you see, that I can put on and know that my mood will be boosted. These songs are either great fun to sing along with, or they remind me of a specific, happy time in my life, or they just have infectious, happy-making tunes — or sometimes, all three of the above. Here, then, are ten songs, in no particular order, that never fail to make me smile.

1. “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive,” by Travis Tritt. This was my freshman year dorm’s theme song (what up, Otero 2001-2002?!) and it speaks for itself. If you’re not a country music fan, I ask you to listen to this song and make an exception. Also: name me one other song that involves not one, not two, but THREE full-throated howls (“oww-oooooo!”) followed by banjo interludes? Other reasons to love this song: it references microwave rice, homemade soup, Harleys, Fu Man Chu beards, and the word “goofy.” TRY NOT TO LOVE THIS SONG. I dare you.

2. “There’s Too Much Love,” by Belle & Sebastian. As I mentioned in my last post, this is my “jaunty walking song.” If this song comes on in my earphones while I am walking, you best believe things are getting jaunty. There’s just something about the melody and instrumentation of this song that is like catnip to me. I think it’s the strings. (By the way: if you’re listening to this song for the first time, by all means, make sure you wait until the strings kick in). God, I love a good strings section! But while we’re talking about Belle & Sebastian, they have a whole catalog of really cheery-sounding songs that just perk me right up. Try “Sukie in the Graveyard,” “Funny Little Frog,” or “The Blues Are Still Blue.”

3. “Já Sei Namorar,” by Tribalistas. You can’t spend any amount of time in Brazil and not come out of it with a profound appreciation for Tribalistas, a Brazilian super-group/collaboration of three already famous singers. They only produced one album but dang, it was a good one. “Já Sei Namorar” (which means “I already know how to love”) is one of the best on the album and it is catchy as heck. If you’ve ever been to any gathering at my house, you’ve probably heard this song on in the background, because it’s perfect for any occasion, and it’s nearly impossible to feel bummed out while listening to it.



4. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” by Whitney Houston. First of all, RIP, Whitney. Second of all, this song makes me want to dance — like, REALLY dance — every single time I hear it. Including now. And the video is awesome (Whitney’s neon make-up and crimped hair!! I miss her).

5. “Australia,” by The Shins. I listened to this song on repeat when I was taking a break from studying for the California Bar Exam. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, let me assure you that I needed a heavy duty dose of happy to pull me out of the self-pitying misery that defined my bar-studying experience. I used to put a CD with this song on in the car when I drove to and from my yoga class (the other thing that kept me sane that summer) and totally rock out.

6. “Luna,” by Juanes. Maybe I should start a separate list of my favorite peppy Latin songs, but that could take all day, so I’ll confine myself to just a few. Juanes, in case you’re not familiar, is a pop sensation (and all-around good person) from Colombia. I first discovered his music in 2003, when I was studying abroad in Chile and his album Un Día Normal was being played non-stop everywhere in Santiago. My friends and I all jumped on the Juanes bandwagon and never got off. I recall standing in one of my friends’ teeny-tiny bedrooms in her host family’s house and blasting this song, “Luna,” over and over, while shrieking the lyrics at each other. Good times. (Our host families loved us.)

7. “Would I Lie To You?” by Charles & Eddie. This song makes me smile every time I hear it because it reminds me of hanging out with my high school best friend, Rachel, driving around and singing along to this, one of the stupidest of songs ever produced. Yet, you have to admit, there’s something catchy about it — maybe it’s all the “woo!”s? Also, if you can get through the video without laughing, you are a stronger man than I.

8. “Mi Primer Millon,” by Bacilos. Okay, I know this list is Latin-heavy, but come on, there’s a reason for this. And that reason is HORNS. I love a good horn section almost as much as I love a good string section, and “Mi Primer Millon” (“My First Million”) has the horns covered. For those who speaka da Spanish, the lyrics are really fun (I always sing along to the line, “Tranquila, querida, Paulina solo es una amiga“), and for those who don’t speak Spanish, it doesn’t matter. This song is great and undeniably joyful.

9. “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” by The Avett Brothers. Oh, The Avett Brothers: marry me! (Kidding – sort of). This may not be the peppiest song on the list, but I find it uplifting, soothing, and, most importantly, sing-along-able.

10. “California Love,” by 2Pac and Dr. Dre. No explanation needed. Okay, fine: I love so many things about this song. I love that it involves rapping AND singing, and I rap and sing along with it, well aware that I sound like a jackass when I say things like “ever since honeys was wearin’ Sassoon,” especially since I don’t actually know what that means. But listen, I lived in California for a few years, and I feel justified in loving this song unreservedly and letting out my secret West Coast rapper whenever it comes on. RIP, 2Pac. (Also, just because: my favorite Chapelle show sketch of all time.)

Obviously, I have a lot more happy-making songs on my playlist, but these ten are near the top of the list. Stay tuned for my future installments, including songs to chill to, songs for romance, and songs for kicking ass and taking names.

Soundtrack to my life, part 1: angst

Like any narcissist, I often dream about the movie that will inevitably be made of my life. I don’t focus on which actor would play me (although, let’s be real, Jamie Lynn Sigler could use the work), but I do tend to fantasize heavily about the soundtrack. When I think about the soundtrack to my life, I don’t try to connect songs to particular scenes that I’ve lived (since most of the foundational moments of my life were not, as it turns out, set to music), but I match specific songs to moods that I’ve experienced or general feelings that I’ve had. So, for example, my happy, jaunty walking song will always and forever be Belle and Sebastian’s “There’s Too Much Love.” Listen to this song and try NOT to walk jauntily. It’s impossible.

Since there are so many songs that I love and that figure prominently into any dramatic rendering of my emotional life, it won’t do to try to sum them all up in one post. So let’s just start with the most fun: the angsty songs — you know, the songs you listen to when you just want a good wallow. Sometimes I listen to angsty songs when I’m in a good mood, just to feel superior (it’s like Schadenfreude). So, here, in no particular order, are ten (plus a couple of extras) essential, angsty, life soundtrack songs.

1. My go-to, moody, blissfully sad, self-indulgently angsty song: “Goodnight L.A.” by Counting Crows. Counting Crows is one of my all-time favorite bands. They’re up there with The Beatles. They’re geniuses, and I won’t hear anyone say a word against them. My cousin Catie and I actually joined the Counting Crows fan club as high schoolers and we used to blast August and Everything After and This Desert Life (and yes, Recovering The Satellites, although it’s not their best work, in my humble opinion) every time we were together. Adam Duritz’s beautiful, ragged voice is present throughout a large chunk of the soundtrack to my teenage years. “Goodnight L.A.,” however, is off of the album Hard Candy, which came out in 2002, and which I listened to heavily during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. Hard Candy, for me, in some ways signaled the beginning of the end for Counting Crows. It included their awful, plasticene cover of “Big Yellow Taxi” (ugh), and although a lot of the songs on the album were good, only a few moved me. “Goodnight L.A.,” though, is perfect. The melody is gorgeous and the lyrics are pure, old-school, poetic Adam Duritz (“So I put my head on the ground, and the sky is a wheel” kills me every time). Whenever I’m feeling like I want to wallow in loneliness or angst without going full Elliott Smith, I put on this song. It’s wonderful.

Counting Crows: angst kings

Counting Crows: angst kings

2. My other go-to angsty song: [Insert any Sarah McLachlan song here]. Oh, Sarah: I love you. So much. Here’s the thing: Sarah McLachlan has the voice of a Canadian angel, and her lyrics are so lovely and heartfelt. If I had to pick one song out of her catalog to be my go-to angst song, I’d probably have to go with “Elsewhere.” It’s slightly churchy in its arrangement and harmonization, the lyrics are great (yet inscrutable), and it’s angsty while still being soothing. You could totally take a nap to this song. A sad nap.

3. My angsty-with-banjos song: “Maybe,” by Allison Krauss. I seem to recall listening to a lot of sad country songs when I was a freshman in college, when EVERY moment in my life held what felt like great emotional import, and I was surrounded by people from Texas: so, a perfect storm of banjo angst. Allison Krauss and her sad, sad voice (lady always sounds like she’s about to burst into tears) was delicious during these moments.

4. My angsty-in-love-in-my-head song: This song hasn’t really applied to my life since I was in college, but I used to listen to Guster’s “Either Way” and just feel like it was speaking to me, about my actual life, even though I never had a real boyfriend until I was out of college and spent most of college pining after people who did not return the feeling. I was basically Noel from Felicity. Anyway, from its first notes, “Either Way” just captures the feeling of delicious misery of having one’s heart stomped upon as a young, impressionable person. It’s hard not to listen to this song, with its sad violins and sad piano, and not immediately picture my freshman year dorm room and its chili lights hanging over the bunk bed. I love it! (Runner up: “Only In Dreams,” by Weezer. Oof.)

5. My so-depressing-you-can’t-even-take-it-seriously song: “Talk Show Host,” by Radiohead. It’s Radiohead. Enough said. (Runner up: “Karma Police.”)

6. My slightly drunk, angsty song: “Wildflowers,” by Ryan Adams. I say “slightly drunk” to be generous to Mr. Adams, who once fell off a stage during a concert. I’ve seen Ryan Adams twice in concert, and he was visibly intoxicated both times, but do you think that stopped him from singing and playing the harmonica, the guitar, and the piano, sometimes all at once? Hell, no. The man’s a dynamo (and I think he’s been clean and sober for quite a while now — hat-tip to the sobering presence of Mandy Moore).

7. My late-nights-working-at-the-law-firm sad song: “The Sword and the Pen,” by Regina Spektor. Used to play this one a lot past midnight while sitting in front of a glowing computer screen.

8. My favorite angsty cover song: Bon Iver’s cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Holy crap. Shivers.

9. My saudade brasileira song: “É Isso Aí,” by Ana Carolina, with Seu Jorge. This is set to the same tune as Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter,” which is pretty angsty in its own right, but there’s something about the acoustic guitar and Ana Carolina’s husky voice that makes this version even better. Brazilians are known for being happy and upbeat, but they’re also experts at saudade, the feeling of longing or nostalgia for the past, or for a place or person far away. This song pretty much nails saudade.

10. My obligatory Ben Folds angst song: “We’re Still Fighting It.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a Ben Folds song on an angsty music list. The guy’s like a teenage girl trapped in an adult male body. I adore his music, and a lot of his songs capture specific life moments. “We’re Still Fighting It” is about growing up, and a relationship between a parent and child. It’s sad, but ultimately hopeful. And it still gives me chills when I listen to it.

So! Everyone feeling nice and angsty now? What are your favorite sad, wallowy songs? I’m sure I’m missing some gems here, but I wanted to keep the list relatively short so as not to overwhelm. Happy/angsty listening!