Friday, December 6, 2013

10 Songs My Parent’s Taught Me to Love

The hardest part of my day is choosing what music I’m going to listen to during the morning commute.

On second thought, the hardest part of my day might be deciding which playlist to turn on when the writing muse demands my fingers start hitting the keyboard.

Did my girlfriend’s living room lip-synch performance put me in the mood for the majesty of Meat Loaf’s “I'll Do Anything for Love?” Or does a gray Friday morning in Boston demand the constrained intensity of Joshua James? Is Alabama Shakes’ “I Ain’t the Same” the perfect song to listen to while plotting out the hell you’re going to make your main character walk through?

These are the questions that try my musical soul on a daily basis.

An enduring love for music has led me to a Springsteenian baptism in the front row at Madison Square Garden, an $11 Miller Lite-fueled epic night of U2 at MetLife Stadium, and my brothers and I across New England to experience Bob Dylan’s 4,356 renditions of Hollis Brown.

But every lifetime musical journey has to start somewhere. I’m blessed to have two parents who exposed me to a wide range of artists that not only produced great music, but also helped defined who my parents were at different stages of their lives. I listened to country music growing up because that’s the genre my mother grew up with. I listened to James Taylor and The Rascals because that’s who was playing when my father was hanging out with friends in high school. Every album, every song, every entertainer meant something to my parents, so they mean something to me.

Here are 10 that they taught me to love forever:

“I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” by The Rascals

The Rascals remind my father of high school. The Rascals remind me of my father. Eddie Brigati, Felix Cavaliere, Gene Cornish, and Dino Danelli formed his first favorite band as a teenager in 1965 and have been a staple in his music collection ever since. He’s fond of telling the story of his friend Peter’s band opening for The Rascals. The band only knew how to play at that point were songs by The Rascals, so they had to learn all new music before the performance.
Play this song loud.


“Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion

If you don’t love Celine Dion, we can’t be friends. She’s awesome and I’m pretty comfortable saying so. Disliking Dion is just un-American and un-Canadian in equal measure. Wesley Morris said it best in a Grantland article recently: “I've always imagined that when Beyoncé's hair is blowing it's Dion's voice powering it.” This particular song is special because it reminds me of the bond I have with my mother. I am on this earth because my mother decided not to murder me all those times she easily could have.

“Shed a Little Light” by James Taylor

Since I included “Something in the Way She Moves” in my 10 Songs That Define Me post, I had to go with a different James Taylor song here. I could have easily picked something else off his first "Greatest Hits" album, but I choose “Shed a Little Light” because the hairs on my arm stand up whenever I hear the first notes of the song. It’s a humbling, inspiring, and purpose-driven arrangement that never fails to motivate me no matter what mood I’m in.

“Wouldn’t Have Missed it for the World” by Ronnie Milsap

Sometime in the 1990s, my parents went to see Ronnie Milsap in Cape Cod, Mass. They were in the lobby of their hotel when the man himself walked in surrounded by bodyguards. My mother was able to break out of her catatonic state just long enough to take a picture. My father jokes that he had to keep her on lockdown to prevent her from stalking him that night, but it’s probably truer than she’d admit. Since I used my personal favorite “Lost in the Fifties” in a previous post, I’m including one of her personal favorites.

“Aqualung” by Jethro Tull

I remember raking leaves the first time I heard this album. I’m pretty sure my father handed me the cassette tape and said “listen to this right now.” This band also almost led to a reality that wouldn’t have included me and my brothers. I tell the tale in a chapter in my novel (with some creative license regarding some details):

Jethro Tull had replaced Neil Young after Bridgeport. Hawk had no system whatsoever to his CD collection and it had taken Sid a good 10 minutes to find Aqualung. Sid could tell his father lapsed into a memory as soon as the first guitar rift rang out. “You ever see them live,” Sid asked, already knowing the answer. The elder Sanford was just like his father before him with stories. They never got old to him, so that meant that it never got old to everyone else either. “I saw them on tour when this album came out,” his father said smiling. “I went with my roommates Terry Gorman, Tommy Cane, and Bobby Irvin, who we used to call Fuzzy, and a friend of Terry; who had gotten us the tickets. We drove out to Dayton in his beat up Chevy Covair. What a piece of shit this car was; I think Terry was more impressed with the fact that the car made it both ways than he was with the concert.” His father laughed, the image must have been sitting right in front of his face. “It’s weird, I can still picture it to this day,” the elder Sanford said, once again bobbing his head to the song. “Ian Anderson had such a presence on stage. What a concert. It really was something special.” That was the version Sid heard since before he could remember. His father had more tonight, however. “Your mom was really pissed I went,” he said. “We were engaged at the time and she almost called everything off when I left. I had to do some pretty good begging when I got back.” “Are you serious?” Sid asked. “You’re telling me all of us were a Jethro Tull concert away from being nonexistent?” “I hadn’t thought of it like that,” his father said, adjusting in his seat, probably trying to make the feeling comeback in his knee. “But, yeah, that’s pretty much on the money.” Sid let a few moments go by. He knew how deep his love for music went and probably would have done the same thing as his father. Music was one of the things that kept the family close together and a lot of that came from his father. Sid smiled. “Was it worth it?” Sid asked, knowing full well his father would never fall into that trap. The elder Sanford just winked and kept driving.


“Blue Clear Sky” by George Straight

There isn’t a bad George Strait song. The man simply can’t make bad music. . I’m pretty sure true love didn’t exist before George Straight sang about it. That being said, “Blue Clear Sky” is my favorite because of its optimistic tone and how it playfully captures the spontaneity of new love.

“Tell Me Why” by Neil Young

I can’t leave Neil Young off this list. As my father says often, “Neil’s the man.” One of the reasons my father loves Young so much is that he can rock out on songs such as “Like a Hurricane,” but also mellow out on tunes like “Silver and Gold” without losing any credibility or magnetism. This song remains his favorite, and I even got to work it into a jewelry blog during my tenure as JCK Magazine’s web editor.


“Whenever You Come Around” by Vince Gill

I can’t help but think of this Lewis Black bit whenever I hear Vince Gill:

I swear I’m the sentimental writer I am because of listening to artists like Vince Gill with my mother. These lyrics are perfect and so is this song: “I get weak in the knees; and I lose my breath/Oh I try to speak but the words won't come I'm so scared to death/And when you smile the world turns upside down/ Whenever you come around.”

"Tuesday Afternoon" by The Moody Blues

One of the best Christmas presents I ever bought my father was a Moody Blues’ concert DVD. I’m pretty sure he wore it out. Few things are better in this world than listening to the album “Days of Future Passed” when you’re in the right mood.

“Now That We’re Alone” by Rodney Crowell

I had a hard time choosing between Rodney Crowell, Conway Twitty, and Keith Whitley. I chose the song by Crowell because I listen to it often when I’m writing and it nicely sums up the value I learned from my parents to always be there for people when they need you.


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