New music releases on Fridays. Today is Thursday. I always like to beat a deadline. Here, then are notes from a truly mad paragraph stacker on songs admired and enjoyed in my 45 years on planet Earth. Musicologists will be unimpressed by the lack of deep cuts. So it goes. I like the music I like and if it happens to be popular, well, why should that be a deterrent? YouTube links added if I could find the song.
1. COMING UP CLOSE By ‘Til Tuesday: I love Aimee Mann’s voice. As a rule, I prefer her solo work to her brief two-year stint with the 80’s one-hit wonders, ‘Til Tuesday. That said, this gem from their back catalog, which mentions Iowa in the opening lines, touches my heart and puts me in a place and time the way few songs do.
2. EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE By Neil Young: He’s Canada’s greatest songwriter, but could any song better sum up how it feels to grow up in a small town than this? Actually, come to think of it, could any song better sum up what it feels like to work in newspapers right now? I doubt it on both counts.
3. YOU’VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY — By The Beatles: For years, I rejected the Beatles. I realized it wasn’t the Beatles I was rejecting, but baby boomers. The Beatles are the source of so much good music, it’s hard to turn your back on them. This is the third track from “Help!,” the soundtrack to the motion picture of the same name. John Lennon’s lyrics speak to the part of me that fears too close of connections to people, especially women, after a collection of childhood traumas.
4. THE BOXER By Simon and Garfunkel: This is still probably my favorite song. It played over and over on my sister’s tape deck whenever I visited her. There’s a line in there that goes, “In the clearing stands a fighter … he carries with him a reminder of every glove that laid him down and until he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving! I am leaving!’ but the fighter still remained.” Damn right. Can’t change what you are.
5. MOTHER’S LITTLE HELPER By The Rolling Stones: This song actually helped me understand my dead, drug-addled, brain-fried mother a bit better. I realized there was a whole subculture of pill-popping matriarchs working through the wee small hours as they descended into late-life madness. Now, of course, I take “little yellow pills” to fend off madness deep set in my bones and blood.
6. BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY By Emmylou Harris: Harris has one of the great voices of country music. She wrote this song for her late father and boy, it chokes me up every time. I can see my father’s liver-spotted hands, flannel shirts with pockets stuffed with paperwork, bushy gray mustache and heavy-rimmed glasses. Her voice hits the tone of sorrow in my soul pitch-perfect.
7. HURT By Johnny Cash: This is Johnny Cash near the end of his life in 2003, I think, covering Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame. He essentially wrote his own obituary. The weariness in his voice and weight he gives the lyrics. He transforms the song and makes it his own. In the process, he reaches me as I struggle to balance the past with the present.
8. INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN – By Warren Zevon: There are so many wonderful songs by Warren Zevon. It’s a shame he’s thought of mostly for “Werewolves of London.” It’s a great tune, but he’s so much more than that. This is off “The Mutineer” album. It sums up my take on religion. A lot of terrible shit happens in the world. A lot of wonderful stuff happens too. Seems like Heaven doesn’t give a shit either way. Cynical? I suppose. But it’s how I feel.
9. I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU By Dolly Parton: Whitney Houston ruined this song. Dolly’s version from 1972 is the best love song of all time. If there is a better song about unrequited love, I don’t know what it is. When I made this playlist, I vacillated between this and Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” Both are beautiful, but I picked this for the most ruthlessly practical reason: It’s more that 2 minutes shorter and allowed me a 20th track on the disc.
10. ON THE WRONG SIDE By Lindsey Buckingham: This comes from the “With Honors” soundtrack, a movie from 1995 that I absolutely adore. This tune talks about transitions. Aren’t we always in some form of transition? Life is metamorphosis.
11. ONE MORE CUP OF COFFEE By Bob Dylan: The great Dylan is the only artist I allowed to appear twice on my soundtrack, three times if you count The Pretenders’ cover of “Forever Young.” This is my favorite song of Bob’s that sounds the least like his body of work. It has that weary journeyman quality to it that seems to talk to me. Keep moving forward.
12. MR. REPORTER By The Kinks: This is another band that is thought of in terms of one or two songs, but they’re much more than “You Really Got Me” and “Lola.” Get yourself a copy of “Face to Face,” if you can find it, and you’ll see what I mean. This is a pretty straightforward addition, but it captures the self-loathing of journalism quite well.
13. THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD By Nirvana: I had to get David Bowie on here somewhere, but this version by Kurt Cobain and the boys surpasses even Bowie. It comes from their magnificent “MTV Unplugged” album, despite it obviously being an affected guitar to open the song. That said, I see this as sort of my post-St. Louis anthem. I fucked up. I moved on.
14. THINGS HAVE CHANGED By Bob Dylan: This is a late-career gem from the greatest American songwriter who ever lived. He wrote it for the 1999 film “Wonder Boys,” which is a good movie, but the song is terrific. It, too, is my post-St. Louis anthem. Things I used to believe, about myself, about journalism and life, changed after that. I needed to become a different man, a better one. This song reaches that bit of me. “I’m locked in tight, I’m out of sight. I used to care, but things have changed.”
15. IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME By Cher: Mock me if you will, but Cher is a great entertainer. She owns a couple of Oscars, an Emmy and some Grammys. That’s a tough trifecta to match. This a damn good, rocking tune from her 1990 album “Heart of Stone.” It’s simple, but it expresses just right the feeling that most of us have. Who wouldn’t want to turn back time?
16. CLEAN By Taylor Swift: Taylor Swift music makes me happy. The woman seems to endure a lot of criticism. They say her “nice girl” image is carefully cultivated. I argue everyone’s image is carefully cultivated, especially in the media. The only relationship I have with an artist is their art. And I love Swift’s art. This is my favorite song off her “1989” album. I find serenity in it.
17. ANY ROAD By George Harrison: This comes from George’s final album in 2001, released not long after he died that November. This is the first track and it contains the lyric “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Goddamned right, George.
18. FOREVER YOUNG By The Pretenders: This too comes from the “With Honors” soundtrack, a record that is easily in my top five most played CDs in my collection. This is a Bob Dylan song, but Chrissie Hynde’s vocals are so beautiful, I think they make it their own. Also, Bob hits me right in the chest again with his lovely wish for eternal youth: “May the wind always be to your back …”
19. DON’T YOU (FORGET ABOUT ME) By Simple Minds: “The Breakfast Club” film made this song a 1980s staple. Each listen puts me right back atop my bed after Little League games watching endless replays of that flick on the local UHF station. I wanted to be John Bender, but was probably more like poor Brian and a smidgen of Andrew.
20. BREAKFAST CLUB By Z-Trip, et. all: I wanted to end on an upbeat note. This song is silly, but warm and inviting. There was a time when cereal and cartoons were all we needed to conquer the universe. I never want to forget that part of myself, even if my present day me knows it takes a bit more than that to rule the world.