Sunday, April 28, 2013

10 Songs That Define Me

I’m approaching 15,000 songs in my iTunes music collection.

I’m not trying to show off. I have a genuine love of music that compels me to collect as many different songs and albums in every conceivable genre as humanly possible.

After putting myself in a contemplative mood by consuming a rather full glass of Oban single malt scotch one night last week, I tried to choose the 10 songs in my entire library that defined who I am.

Let’s just say that process didn’t take an evening. It was the worst kind of torture, the self-inflicted kind. My heart ached for the songs I had to eliminate from the list in order to get to the musical heart of my being.

Of course it was worth it, not only because it gave me an excuse to listen to some righteous, inspiring, rocking, soul affirming, get-up-off-your-ass-and-fucking-loosen-up-your-damn-hips tunes, but also because I got to reminisce about why these songs became so essential to my life.
”String of Pearls” and “In the Mood”

Let’s travel back to the 1940s for a moment.

The world is at war and one newly wedded bride from Baldwin, N.Y.,  is waiting for her husband to come back to her in New York City. She distracts herself by hotel bar hoping around the city, enjoying a couple of stiff manhattans, or dining with her father-in-law who people assumed was her sugar daddy. “String of Pearls” and “In the Mood” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra provides the soundtrack to many of those nights.

Lucky for me, Grandpa Ford would come back from World War II—a few pounds heavier thanks to devouring any C-ration other soldiers refused to eat—and be married to my grandmother for 54 years.

My grandmother loved when my high school jazz band performed these two tunes because it reminded her of a time when she was young, in love, and in New York City awaiting for her soul mate to return all at the same time. I couldn’t in good conscience choose just one. Here’s hoping she joins me in spirit for a drink in Manhattan sometime soon.

“Lost in the Fifties”

When I was a teenager, I compiled my favorite songs on cassette tapes. I’ll pause briefly for the youngun’s to Google what a cassette tape is.

Welcome back. Ronnie Milsap is one of the first country artists I remember following religiously as a kid. “Lost in the Fifties” is the first song on Volume 1 of Daniel Ford’s Favorite Songs Anthology (there were 20 volumes in total).

Listening to Milsap today reminds me of running errands with my mother on the weekends, having family dance parties in the living room, and not knowing enough about the world to care about anything else but having fun.

I don’t give my mother enough credit for sparking my love of music. The country singers she turned me on to are still an important part of my collection and I wouldn’t be the same guy without exclusively listening to country music the first 13 years of my life.

Including this song is my way of saying “I love you” and “thank you.”

“Everybody Knows This is Nowhere”

Odds are good that when I get into my father’s car there will be a Neil Young song playing.

Young’s discography has been on nearly every car ride I’ve taken with him, from the time he used to pick me up from elementary school to our reunions at the Waterbury train station. I had to choose something from the legendary “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” album because it marked my father’s musical birth and is one of the records he remembers wearing out as a teenager.

The album’s title track has comforted me during my darker moments in New York City. It served as a reminder that when I did indeed escape nowhere that someone who loved me would be waiting to pick me up with never-ending guitar solos and cowgirls in the sand.

“Something in the Way She Moves”

When Neil Young isn’t playing in my father’s car, James Taylor probably is.

My father says that his generation would listen to Taylor to “come down” from listening to acts like Jimmy Hendrix. The man hasn’t deviated from his laid-back, melodic style and the world is a much richer place because of it.

Pretty sure my father and I wore out the cassette tape of Taylor’s first greatest hits album. This song in particular is one of our favorites because it sums up perfectly what being in love should be like for a man.

There’s not a bad version of this tune. And I think someone I know will appreciate the “Go Red Sox” shout out at the beginning of this clip.


Attending Bob Dylan concerts is what my brothers and I do to bond.

We’ve seen him at a variety of venues across New England and New York in varying states of inebriation. There was the show in Augusta, Maine, where my younger brother bought a slim-fitting women’s concert T-shirt; the one at UMASS where we had front row seats and completely ignored the gaggle of attractive, blond college girls in the second row; and the show in Boston we almost didn’t make because of a handful of tall Guinness pints at the Bell in Hand Tavern.

Since Dylan is hell-bent on trotting out the same playlist every time we see him live together—if I hear “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” one more time Bob, I’m charging the stage—my brothers and I will probably never get to hear this song live. This clip will have to do.

“I’ve Got the World on a String”

Listening to Frank Sinatra in high school confirmed in my mind that I was going to be a writer and live in New York City. “I’ve Got the World on a String” is how I thought I’d feel every day waking up in my apartment before I stepped foot in the city I was born to reside in.

Ten years here and it’s exactly how I feel.


I want to believe this Stevie Wonder song is what my writing process sounds like: energetic, inspired, loose, free flowing, and adventurous.

For those that know me, my process doesn’t sound this beautiful.

I also can’t resist dancing to this song whenever it comes on. I was once at a wedding and everyone had just sat down to enjoy dessert. The DJ decided that it was a good time to play “Superstition.” I alone bolted for the dance floor.

Was I helped by several gin and tonics made with top shelf gin? Sure, but it wouldn’t have changed my reaction in the least. Best part was I remained completely alone on the dance floor. Not even my date made a move to join me.

I didn’t care. And I never will when it comes to this tune.

“She’s the One”

I usually start every half marathon I run with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” but “She’s the One” ends up saving me at some point during the race.

I’ll feel my body start to fatigue and thoughts of slowing down will pop into my head when the opening keyboard and guitar riffs start pounding into my ears. My energy level and the belief I can make it to the finish line are re-filled instantly. The line “that thunder in your heart” that leads the second stanza makes my whole being thunder as my sneakers hit the blacktop at a faster pace. This song has a permanent spot on my ever-changing running mix.

Unrelated to running,  I’ll also add that if James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves” sounds like how a man should be in love, than this song sounds like how he should make love.


“The Way You Do the Things You Do”

For being alive, young, and in love in New York City all at the same time.

No comments:

Post a Comment