Nick Hornby, patron saint of Intrepid Media, is a trend-setting author. More importantly, he's a music lover. Not a one-night stand, but a lick-you-all-over-and-take-you out-for-scones-and-chai-with-scruffy-face lover.
In Songbook, a collection of essays, Hornby describes with lyrical vividness a handful of songs that make up the soundtrack to his life. I admired his brevity. While reading, literally hundreds of titles and slivers of choruses jammed my frequency. Each one was an individual snapshot, leading into entire scrapbooks. It didn’t matter that I didn’t always relate to a song he mentioned (although sometimes I did). It was the intent behind it that spoke to me.
This isn’t a Top Five list or, necessarily, a “favorites” list. These aren’t in chronological, alphabetical, or even autobiographical order. I don't even have an explanation for all of them. Consider these the funky Polaroid One-Shots stuck on the ‘fridge.
“Little Wing/Castles in the Sand” – Tuck and Patti. If you play guitar, you need to hear this. If you sing, you need to hear this. If you don’t do either, you still, by all means, need to hear this.
“Let it Go” – Def Leppard. I was 14. His name was Scott. He had an incredible crush on me. He brought Def Leppard’s “High and Dry” album to my remote little farmhouse and said, “Listen to this.” “Let it Go” blasted through the speakers, and Scott was forever lost in the shadow of Joe Elliott and the rest of the guys. Even though “Slang” was their last good album, that early love bond can’t be broken.
“Personal Jesus” – Depeche Mode. I never became a huge Depeche Mode fan. But this paved the way for a thousand midnight drives, so it’s worth something.
“Hurt” – Johnny Cash. Song interpretation is everything. It’s what made Frank Sinatra great. With Frank, it’s easy to believe life is one big neat scotch and a pressed tie. With Johnny, life is lemonade, Demerol, roses, crashes with trees, prison, Black Beauties, God, broken promises and love, so much love.
“So Lonely”/”Roxanne” – The Police. These were the Start of the Ga-Ga. Albums with worn grooves. Every blond guy lusted after. It was all good, until Sting busted it all to hell.
“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” – Elton John. My early musical tastes developed by nipping at the buffet of my mother’s collection: The Allman Brothers, Chicago, Stevie Wonder, The Guess Who, James Taylor, Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, Sly and the Family Stone, Loretta Lynn, Carole King – the late 60s/early 70s singer-songwriter sampler platter. Elton John and Bernie Taupin were also prime choices, and “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” made me want to sing and play the piano. The result? I do one pretty well. The other? Not so much.
“Better Man” – Pearl Jam. One of the best songs written by a man about a woman. I wish I had heard it when I needed to.
The entire “Avalon” album – Roxy Music. The father of emo crooned at me, tangled between world rhythms and sounds I’d never heard before, through three ceiling fans, two boyfriends, one bottle of Frangelico and one pair of thigh-high boots. In addition to putting this on a Top Five List, I would anoint Bryan Ferry’s feet with oil.
“Stay” – Alison Krauss. If a better example of an angel exists, show me. The sheer sparkling beauty of this woman’s voice brings tears to my eyes, but to listen to her is absolute joy.
“Valley Girl” – Frank Zappa. I spent many formative years in a rabbit hole known as Lee’s House, where time and space suspended, and that’s all the description we can give in a family column. There, I was introduced to various forms of Zappa, but “Valley Girl” epitomizes incredible musicianship and zippy satire that really turns a listener upside down, becomes a hit, and even wins a Grammy.
“Wishing Well” – Terence Trent D’Arby. A Midwestern farm girl stands in Jackson Square, overlooking the Mississippi Delta, and this tune plays over the loudspeakers as she makes the full realization that she’s about to embark upon an fantastic voyage. What a great day.
“Train in Vain” – The Clash. I wasn’t a punk. I was a rock chick. Which is why The Clash works well on so many levels.
“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – The Platters/“Que Sara Sara” – Doris Day. Uncle John rebuilt classic cars, and loved 50s/60s music. He always kissed you goodbye, even if he was off to the quickie-mart for a pack of cigarettes, because “you never know when – or if – you’re coming back.” In the fourth and final month of his cancer, I sent him a Walkman and a few cassettes of 50s/60s music I had taped, so he could fall asleep in his hospital bed, listening. I hear these, and he comes back.
“Church” – Lyle Lovett. I embody this song. I take on roles and do extra voices. I am the preacher. I love every measure, because it permits me to do all those things, and doesn’t mock.
“Radio, Radio” – Elvis Costello/“Raised on Radio” – Journey/
“FM” – Steely Dan. Oh, come on. I don’t need to explain these, do I?
“Love Shack” – B52s. I suppose “Rock Lobster” is more definitive, but nothing makes me want to do bad karaoke more than this song. Life’s too short not to enjoy a band like the B52s, and for anyone who says otherwise, they can just stay away from my backyard pool party and my Aqua Net.
“September” – Earth, Wind and Fire. You know that one song that immediately puts you in a good mood when you hear it? Bingo.
“John Doe, No. 24” – Mary Chapin Carpenter. A writer should never be blocked, for inspiration is everywhere. One small news blip leads to a proud but heartbreaking tale with a lullaby guitar melody and incredible sax work by Branford Marsalis. I always cry fat, oozing tears when I hear this, and sometimes, that’s okay.
“Lovable” – Bix Beiderbecke and Bing Crosby. Very early ba-ba-ba-boom from Bing, and another young tortured star in the jazz universe. Bix was also from my husband’s hometown. When Matt sings this to me, it’s pretty incredible.
“Make Yourself”/“Drive” – Incubus. The mantra for courage to leave the confines of benefits, a regular schedule and a steady paycheck to attempt my own business. I still listen to both about once a week, whenever I think I’m not going to make it. The music isn’t bad, either.
“One Week” – Barenaked Ladies. Pop music at its finest. And together, my teenage niece and I are hot like wasabi when we bust rhymes.
“Caught Up in You” - .38 Special. I had a brief and sordid affair with Steve Brookins, one of the drummers for .38 Special. So I giggle like a hyena whenever I hear this song and remember that his first wife and I share the same birthday, he was a fabulous kisser, and he probably would’ve married me had I slept with him.
“Bang Bang” – David Sanborn. Joe Cuba wrote it, but David Sanborn does it better. This is a different kind of dance-on-the-table song but, believe me, it can be done.
“Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green. You cannot grow up in Michigan and not be influenced by R&B and Motown. So there’s a transistor radio on as I lay in the sun, soaking up the purity of singing through this man.
“Jamie’s Cryin’” – Van Halen. An old eight-track, cold hamburgers, contraband gin and Pepsi in “Plumbers Do it Better” glasses, and a split pack of Marlboro Lights, just hangin’ with my best friend then, who is still my best friend.
"Somebody Bring Me Some Water" - Melissa Ethridge. I didn't care if she was singing about girls, boys, or fat-tailed lemurs. For the first time since mid-70s Heart, there was a serious rock chick on the radio. I was moved.
“Under You” – Better Than Ezra. Kevin Griffin and the band are incredibly overlooked, which is a damn shame. This is the one I take with me when I’m traveling alone to give me warm fuzzies. Ramen noodles at 4:30 in the morning, indeed.
“Ballad for Kay” – Acoustic Alchemy. Knew them. Loved them. Miss Nick. Love this song.
"Cult of Personality" – Living Colour. One part rock song, one part anthem, especially when you breathe it in, and scream it out. Which I've often done.
“Time Stand Still” – Rush w/ Aimee Mann. Yeah, it was the synth phase. But Peart’s lyrics about growing up and older make more crystallized sense now than when I first heard it.
“God Bless the Child” – Billie Holiday. Classic, yes. But it’s so much more than that, and for the life of me, I can’t think of any other female singer who does what she did.
“In Your House” – Audioslave. This is all about Chris Cornell, and his voice, and the fact that I missed most of early 90s grunge rock because I was too much into jazz at the time to notice Soundgarden as a whole, but Chris' part was always glowing, pulsating and demanding attention. Now, I have the opportunity to give it to him.
“Not the Only One” – Bonnie Raitt. “Do we have a song?” You know that when someone you love asks that question, another question is gonna pop. How cool is that?
“Rebel Rebel” – David Bowie. I was eight when this came out. It was the beginning of the end, right there. No eight-year-old should absorb this song as much as I did.
“Uneasy Rider” – Charlie Daniels Band/“You Never Even Call Me by My Name” – David Allen Coe. Nothing gets a crowd of boot-scootin’ Bud Lite longneck-clutchin’ drunks moving like these two tunes, especially when conducted with great flair and sung word for word by a rock chick working a country music remote in a bar decorated with a giant castoff neon Michelin Man dressed up like a cowboy.
“Hate To Say I Told You So” – The Hives. Brilliant. More of this and a Pixie Stix, please, as it tastes veddy, veddy good to me. Make all the bad, bad Third Eye Blind go away.
“The Beacon” – Sam Bruton. A darling jazz musician friend wrote this song as a wedding gift. He hated playing weddings, but did ours anyway.
“Banditos” – The Refreshments/“Last Dance with Mary Jane” – Tom Petty/ “Girl All the Bad Guys Want” – Bowling For Soup. These are not so much “my” songs, but fun, summertime songs my boy likes to crank up while cruising down the highway, windows down. My job is to sit in the passenger seat, sing loudly during the choruses and laugh.
The entire “War” album – U2. Here’s another for a Top Five album list.
“At the Foot of Canal Street” – John Buotte’. A more recent memory of New Orleans. Funny, but I can’t stop thinkin’ about the place.
“Joy To the World” – Three Dog Night. At the age of three, I pleaded to stay up late to watch The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour because Three Dog Night was appearing. And so began my music television addiction: Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert, The Midnight Special, “In Concert”, Soul Train, American Bandstand, Night Flight and, for a while, MTV.
“Tell Me Something Good” – Chaka Khan. I shoulda been born a beautiful ebony woman with fabulous hair. So I hold up a hairbrush and sing into it.
“Times Like These” – Foo Fighters. I already loved this, but a treasured friend just happened to put on a mix disc for me recently. It reminds me that every so often, people connect in strong ways, and good things happen when they do.
“Rocksteady” – Remy Shand. I was in the Detroit airport, and the Motown store resonated with this. The goose bumps hit, which is a certifiable, guaranteed indicator of a great song.
“Harlequin” – Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour/“So What” – Miles Davis.
I heard these for the first time in the same year: 1986. That’s when I felt “grown up” enough to know that sometimes, music is pure mystery, and even after repeated playing, you may never know what the artist is trying to say. The important thing is the listening.
“Cody’s Song” – Kenny Loggins. If I were a mother, this is the song I would sing to my child every night.
Are there more? Definitely. These songs just jockeyed for position during the strange early morning hours this column was composed, and I resisted the urge to keep changing the list.
But it will change, in time, and I can hardly wait to see what's next.
Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
7.30.04 @ 2:21a
Terence Trent D'Arby is SO underrated. "Wishing Well" is still the song after all these years!
7.30.04 @ 8:38a
Awww, no "Footloose"?
7.30.04 @ 9:45a
For a while there, it looked like TTD'A was going to be a new Prince-like genius. Then he just got all weird 'n stuff.
Which is Prince-like, only without the genius part.
7.30.04 @ 10:19a
The Refreshments? ugh. The Hives? nice.
7.30.04 @ 10:55a
See? That's the thing. It's hard to determine why a particular song sticks with you, especially when it's associated with an event or a memory or an experience. I clarified that this isn't a "favorites" list for that reason. While I don't necessarily spawn hatred for the Refreshments like I do, say, Jessica Simpson's music, it's part of an experience now. And while I do, indeed, like the Hives, that particular song stands out to me more because of different things that were going on at the time.
7.30.04 @ 11:07a
For some reason, I link songs to really insignificant memories. Like I remember hearing that stupid Jovi song "I'll be there for you" while riding in the back seat of my parents car, returning my cousin to law school. Neither that song nor that memory mean anything to me, but I remember lots of instances like that. Completely random and pointless associations. Right now I am listening to a song by The Postal Service, and I link it to last summer when I was moving to Southie and I heard it on one of the trips between apartments. I don't really link songs to big emotional moments, I guess.
7.30.04 @ 11:37a
If pushed, I might be able to er..."single" out individual songs that resonate with a given time. Some of them aren't particularly good songs, but then, some of them aren't particularly good memories.
I tend to soundtrack people, instead. Whole albums belong to them. "A Kiss in the Dreamhouse" by Siouxsie and the Banshees belongs to a girl named Sioux, whom I dated, and who took me down dark, magical roads. The "Until the End of the World" soundtrack belongs to Kathy, as it's one of the first tapes I sent her and is mournfully romantic. My pal Jeff is a mix of BoDeans (passive), TMBG (creative) and Living Colour (near deadline) -- the music that propelled our newspaper production nights during college.
Then, out of the blue, the one song I think of: it's never really Christmas season until I hear The Waitresses sing "Christmas Rapping." Just like it's never summer 'til I hear Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy."
7.30.04 @ 11:49a
This column came to be during one of my insomnia nights - as I was reading Songbook, I got a notepad and started jotting down all the songs that were popping in my head like popcorn. I'm not kidding - these all came tumbling out in the course of about an hour or so.
Since then, it's like some portal opened, and I'm remembering songs from all sorts of different timeperiods, people-experiences, bad experiences (funny how mostly good memory songs came to the surface on this piece.) - all that stuff. "New Kid In Town" reminds me of when I first moved to Bastrop, Louisiana -- a major life experience, but something I didn't remember until about 2 days ago.
Mike, I have the "no particular association" songs too. "Here I Go" by Whitesnake is one that I remember hearing over and over one winter, and wish I could just forget it.
7.30.04 @ 12:26p
Russ, I associate E.C.'s "When I Was Cruel" with you and Procopio, mainly because I think the 3 of us really liked it.
7.31.04 @ 12:14a
The whole CD, or just the one track? Certainly among Costello's best, and probably my favorite CD of 2002.
7.31.04 @ 10:25a
I think pretty much the whole CD - probably because it was a Summer of '02 soundtrack.
Somebody emailed me and said, "Who is Better Than Ezra?" - See? Incredibly overlooked.
7.31.04 @ 11:54p
When someone asks you "Who is Better Than Ezra," the standard reply should be, "Nobody."
Still, what rock were they living under, to have not heard "Good" or "King of New Orleans," back when both were under heavy rotation? Or their new stuff, where they're trying to be Beck from four years ago?
7.31.04 @ 11:59p
Oh...and since I caught a peripheral glimpse of Loretta Lynn's name as I was posting the above, I'll take this opportunity to say her new CD is REALLY, REALLY good. Produced by Jack White, who joins in on some of the tracks. This disc could do for her what Rick Rubin's work did for Johnny Cash.
8.1.04 @ 9:07a
I used to love "Good".
8.1.04 @ 12:58p
An old radio buddy emailed to mock me about my "goosebump factor" - honestly, I have a physical reaction to songs I believe will be hits. I don't even have to personally like the song, but I will break out in goosebumps if it's got that certain something. I feel this should allow me to become a famously weathly and revered producer, don't you?
You know, I haven't heard the latest Loretta Lynn, but I have no doubt that Jack White demonstrated why she needs to be worshipped, especially as a singer/songwriter. And for all the dudes that thought White was a rock-trick pony, this is exactly the reason why they need to diversify the selections on their IPods.
8.3.04 @ 9:30a
ZOUNDS. I just got ANOTHER email from a friend "Who is BTE?" Talk about a need for promotion!
Russ, are you talking about "How Does Your Garden Grow?" You think that was Beck-like?
8.3.04 @ 1:25p
No, mostly "Closer." "Extra Ordinary" is such a Beck rip-off it ain't funny.
Maybe they'd be better if their website didn't have a "mouse" shaped like a butterfly that leaves little butterfly trails all over the place.
8.3.04 @ 2:36p
The new Lynn is good, and White rules.