We all have them. Those songs that constantly come back to us, sometimes when we least expect it. They’re the ones we ‘re always singing in the shower or humming along to in the car, whether they’re on the radio, on the iPod, or simply in our heads.
They’re the ones that create a soundtrack, anthems to accompany the story that is our lives. No matter how old we are, what we’re doing or where we might be, they always have the power to lift us up or leave us melancholy, embolden us, put us in our place or, sometimes, make us feel on top of the world.
They are songs about us; our loves and hates, our wants and needs, and they always ensure that we’re important enough to act a leading role in the play that is our own life.
Here then, are a few of the songs that make up the soundtrack of this particular writer’s life. Humming along is, of course, mandatory.
The Beatles – Hey Jude
How could anyone not be a Beatles fan? They offer something, a style, an era, for everyone. Want pop? It’s there. Psychadelia? You got it. Rock? Blues? Classical orchestra? You bet! For me, my all-time favourite Beatles song, among many it must be said, is 1968’s stunning, Hey Jude.
Written by Paul McCartney for Julian Lennon, during the divorce of his parents, John and Cynthia, the piano-driven Hey Jude is an uplifting song about an individual being the central and most important person in overcoming adversity and accepting love. “The movement you need is on your shoulder,” after all.
Fittingly, it does this with a sense of community in mind. Is there a greater mass sing-along than Hey Jude’s transcendent “naa naa naa na na na naa hey, Jude”?
Blur – For Tomorrow
Already a fan of Blur since their first album, I bought the CD single of For Tomorrow in early 1993 and raced over to my friend Peter’s house where we played it over his hi-fi stereo system. What a sound! Acoustic and electric guitar, horns and strings and sing-alongs, all pop sensibilities that echoed 60’s music by The Kinks, Small Faces and the previously mentioned, The Beatles. When everyone else was listening to American grunge, For Tomorrow was the British retort: the right song at the right moment for the right person.
I once read an interview where Blur front man and main songwriter, Damon Albarn spoke about For Tomorrow and the writing process. I remember him answering a question about the simple ambiguity of the song’s chorus, and he answered something to the effect of “everyone knows what “la la la la la” means”. And it was true. Those words, vague as they may be, have the ability to mean so very much.
For a little while in the 1990’s, like the band, I wore cherry red Doc Martens. I rolled up the bottoms of my blue jeans and buttoned my collared shirts because it looked proper. I sported a brown tweed jacket because it was mod. For a little while, I was a twentieth century boy, looking for a naughty girl with a lovely smile, trying to figure out my own place in a modern world that seemed full of rubbish.
But the music, oh, the music was so, so great. And For Tomorrow still is.
New Order – Temptation
Immediately after hearing a cassette tape of the collection (at my long-time friend Melanie’s cottage, wherein I killed the batteries of her usurped tape recorder relentlessly playing it over and over again), New Order’s 1987 release, Substance was the first compact disc I ever bought. The song Temptation (which has its origins in 1981) was an instant, life-long favourite.
I suppose I must gravitate to songs that are infectiously hummable and easily sung. Of course, Stephen Morris’ incessant drumbeat in Temptation helps with toe tapping and head nodding, as do Bernard Sumner’s uplifting guitar and Gillian Gilbert’s synth sounds that remind me of the Spring season. And then there’s Peter Hook’s low-slung bass sounds – a mischievously playful groove that forms the foundation of the song.
I remember working my very first part-time job, a dusty warehouse gig unpacking clothes and racing pump trucks through ceiling high rows of cardboard boxes and wooden skids, singing this song again and again and again. Sometimes I’d sing it in my head and sometimes I’d sing it out loud, just to pass the dull time spent in that place. But I also sang it to keep my mind fixated on a pretty girl named Betty for whom I had a teenage infatuation. While I tried lifting boxes bigger and heavier than me, she worked the conveyor lines sorting garments by size. For whatever reason, I could never muster the courage to talk to her.
To this day, I can’t remember if Betty had green eyes, blue eyes or grey eyes. Temptation, though, has always stayed close, easily remembered and easily sung.
The Waterboys – The Whole Of The Moon
I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of The Waterboys oeuvre of music, but when, as a child, I heard 1985’s The Whole Of The Moon, I was hooked. Kicking off with sharp piano and drums while slowly building to add in violin, trumpet and saxophone, it’s a magical song about inspiration and the elucidation of life’s secrets. It’s a song, like life, to grow into.
Forgetting the song during the latter half of the decade, I rediscovered The Whole Of The Moon in the mid 1990’s at a time when I was studying art and English and philosophy and, while doing a little bit of travelling, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I was reading Sandman comics and Italo Calvino’s short tales of fantastic fiction and here, returned to me as some lost gift, was a song about crescents, unicorns, scimitars, palaces and Brigadoon.
That’s what the beautiful and uplifting The Whole Of The Moon fosters. It may very well be one of the single most important traits that guide this life – a quality and a song that I hope remains with me all my days.
The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony
Like many, I first heard Bitter Sweet Symphony on television, on one of the many music video stations that proliferated the airwaves.
I was already a fan of The Verve due to early single “Blue” and their second, brilliant album, A Northern Soul. Bitter Sweet Symphony, and its corresponding video, was an incessant mantra on owning a singular focus, knowing what you want in life, and grasping it against all odds. It contained lyrics that spoke to an encompassing love of music, something I definitely was simpatico towards. Still, it was the video’s strong imagery that echoed the convincing nature of the song and singer-songwriter Richard Ashcroft’s insistence on music being the center of everything. Only once, you’ll notice in the video, upon gazing at his reflection in a passing car window, is he even aware of himself.
There were, and still are, many times when it gets sung in my head and, sometimes, out loud, while confidently swaggering Toronto’s downtown streets on the way to my favourite record shop or concert venue.
All city streets, all of life’s veins, are accompanied by great music like Bitter Sweet Symphony.
Elbow – One Day Like This
British band Elbow has become one of my all-time favourite musical acts. Here is a group of musicians who wear their hearts on their sleeves, passionate about their creations and everything that life has on offer.
One Day Like This is an unabashed love song. Taken from their Mercury Prize award-winning fourth album, 2008’s, The Seldom Seen Kid, it details the feeling that one has, first waking next to a lover and then trying to ascertain the flood of feelings that run both physical and mental through a body and head. Guy Garvey, singer and songwriter of Elbow tells us in his lyrics that it’s a feeling both distinctly childish and adult, naïve and wizened. A year later, it won the Ivor Novello award for Best Song.
Still, it easily transcends the love song genre and has been used as backdrop music during award shows, television programs, and live sporting events. With strings and bass, and due to its infectious sing-along chorus, the song is a stadium rocker, often closing Elbow concerts with the full attendance as choir.
One Day Like This is an endearing soundtrack to the best of days that life has to offer and can even make the worst of them magnificent. Love commands a beautiful day and every time this song is heard, the sun is most assuredly shining.
Throw those curtains wide!