an annotation of my favorite songs
November 16, 2022
Every now and then a song will come on that I can immediately identify as one of my all-time favorites. It usually happens when I’m listening to my regular rotation of artists like Ryan Adams or The War on Drugs, and one of my favorite tracks will jump off the record and greet me like an old friend.
I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately as an escape, putting real thought into what certain songs mean to me. After plenty of consideration, I came up with ten tracks I’m comfortable advertising as being my favorite songs.
Here they are (in no real order), sequenced into a playlist that flows nicely and ties everything together.
I hope you enjoy a look into the window of my mind.
Small Town — John Mellencamp
No, I cannot forget from where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
It’s hard being from a place nobody has ever heard of because so much of your identity is shaped by where you come from. It’s even more difficult when almost everyone you meet in your adolescence comes from beautiful, exotic countries or some of the biggest cities in the world.
My entire family, both my mom’s side of the family and my dad’s side of the family, are from the same small town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Our ancestors have been in the same area since the 1800s if not earlier.
Just like my mother and father, their mothers and fathers and their mothers and fathers, my siblings and I were born and raised in Chambersburg. Same goes for my aunts, uncles and cousins.
When we moved away, I spent a lot of time being ashamed of where I came from because I wasn’t from anywhere “cool or exciting.” Now that I’m older, I can appreciate how living in a small town, and the lessons that come with it, have molded me into the person I am today.
These days, I proudly call Chambersburg my hometown and my home away from home.
I was raised on classic rock, and few songs have stuck with me like Small Town has even after all these years. Songs like Small Town remind me of how lucky I am to have a home base where I can visit my extended family, and how proud I am to be from a community where my family has such deep ties.
Cemetry Gates — The Smiths
If you must write prose and poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarise or take on loan
During college, I worked at Quiksilver on the Las Vegas Strip. For about four years, I had to listen to more alternative rock than anyone should have to hear, and entirely way too much of The Smiths, The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen.
I couldn’t stand the mopiness of that genre of music, and Morrissey was the worst offender. It didn’t help that Johnny Marr’s pulsating guitar on How Soon is Now? made me nauseous after the second listen of the day.
My outlook on The Smiths and alternative rock in general changed when I was reintroduced to The Smiths’ music through the context of Stranger Things. Granted, the song was scrubbed from the Season One soundtrack because the show was set in 1983 and the song was released in 1986, I was exposed to the song There Is a Light That Never Goes Out through Stranger Things.
Now I can safely say The Smiths are one of my favorite bands, and I want to be Johnny Marr so badly. More than a handful of their songs would’ve been worthy of being on this list, but I chose Cemetry Gates for its lovely guitar work and the ironic lyrics about “dreaded” sunny days and plagiarism.
Cemetry Gates will always remind me of the time I stole a headline, word for word, from an old, obscure article about Loggins and Messina from Rolling Stone, dropped it into a feature story about soccer and turned it in. Top banter and an absolute masterclass in plagiarism.
Back for Good — Take That
And we’ll be together, this time is forever
We’ll be fighting, and forever we will be
So complete in our love, we will never be uncovered again
Thank God for Derry Girls.
I have a lot of memories associated with certain songs, and those associated with this track were lodged in the back of my brain ready to be forgotten.
Luckily, this track came back into my life for good (sorry) when it was featured in the third episode of Season Two of Derry Girls, one of my favorite shows.
Back for Good came out in 1995, a time when I was becoming aware of music. I still remember hearing it playing on the jukebox at the diner my family ate at when we lived in the trailer park down the road.
I’m a sucker for harmonies, and Back for Good has them in spades. The song is perfect lyrically and musically, which is even more impressive because unlike most boybands, Take That wrote and performed their own songs.
The jukebox is long gone, but the diner, like my childhood memories, is still kickin’.
The Outdoor Type — The Lemonheads
I can’t go away with you on a rock-climbing weekend
What if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again?
The Outdoor Type genuinely might be my very favorite song. It has everything I like in a song—jangly guitars, a breezy vibe and quirky, relatable lyrics.
In 2014, Brittney and I went on a road trip to Idaho, Washington and Oregon and spent a lot of the time enjoying being outside. That made us decide we wanted to move somewhere we could have outdoor adventures, which brought us to Richmond.
It turns out we’re not really the outdoor type, making this song semibiographical and all the more ironic.
The real reason I love this song is that it captures a very specific moment in time, and its lyrics send me right back to the nineties.
Back then, you made dinner or movie plans based on being back home in time to catch your favorite TV show or the 1997 Chicago Bulls. You could always record your show on VHS tapes, but you ran the risk of accidentally taping over your family’s home videos.
Mandolin Rain — Bruce Hornsby
Often she’d smile, it would last for a while
You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til you lose it all again
Bruce Hornsby is one of the most criminally underrated musicians of all time.
The guy is a piano virtuoso, a multiplatinum bandleader, a Grammy-winning artist in pop, rock and bluegrass and was a touring member of the Grateful Dead, and yet he still doesn’t get his propers.
Everyone knows the tune “The Way It Is,” as they should, but the entire album (also The Way It Is) is damn-near perfect. Mandolin Rain is my favorite cut from the record.
The music and lyrics paint such a vivid picture of love lost that it actually makes me feel it, even though I’ve never experienced the feeling at all.
That’s the mark of a true lyrical and musical genius.
Feel – Robbie Williams
There’s a hole in my soul
You can see it in my face
It’s a real big place
There might be some recency bias happening with Feel because I just discovered it within the last year. What definitely happened, though, was a misinterpretation of the song’s lyrics that initially drew me to it.
I misheard the chorus as “I just wanna feel real love fill the home that I live in,” and I immediately identified with the words. Even though the correct lyrics are “I just wanna feel real love, feel the home that I live in,” the theme remains the same. It’s a song about depression and feeling undeserving of love—two things I’m quite familiar with.
At the end of the day, after everything I’ve been through, I just want to feel real love.
Alive — Ruston Kelly
You can call it blind luck, call it divine
However it happened, I made it out to the other side
Now I’m laying in the early light, looking deep in your eyes
What a beautiful morning to be alive, and it’s all because of you
I’ll let Rusty take this one away:
“(Alive), specifically, was written for my wife at the time to say, ‘Without your encouragement, without you sometimes having to pull me off the fucking ground, I don't know where I would be.’”
I’ve had a pretty go in life, and the only person who has been with me through everything is Brittney. I owe everything I’ve ever achieved and everything I’ll ever achieve to her.
Sometimes I don’t know why she stands with me through all of my ups and downs, but I’m beyond blessed that she chose to be with me then and continues to choose to be with me every day.
I love you, Brit <3.
Pain — The War on Drugs
Go to bed now I can tell
Pain is on the way out now
The opening lyric “Go to bed now I can tell, pain is on the way out now” is a pretty accurate description of where my mind goes late at night. I’m an insomniac, and my anxiety is so bad it takes three prescriptions to slow my brain down enough for me to fall sleep.
Most people wouldn’t call that healthy.
I was introduced to The War on Drugs’ music through the Season Five finale of Bojack Horseman, a Netflix show I used to watch when I really wanted to lean into my depression. A Deeper Understanding, the album Pain is on, was The War on Drugs’ most recent album release when I became aware of the band in 2018.
Since that September day, Pain quickly became one of my favorite songs because of my relation to the lyrics, and the mesmerizing guitar work of Adam Granduciel.
Fun fact: Three different versions of this song are the three most-played songs on my Spotify account.
*cue fuzzed-out outro guitar solo*
Kim — Ryan Adams
As the autumn leave begin to fall
Walking down the street where you and I would walk
I see him, Kim
Discovering Ryan Adams’ music changed my life, and it happened entirely by accident.
It was 2016, and I was really excited about the music of Margo Price at the time. Farm Aid was coming up in September in Northern Virginia and she was on the bill.
She also had a July show in Charlottesville opening for Ryan Adams, so I figured I needed to do my homework on his music since he was the headliner. I never made it to the concert.
I had no idea I’d be stumbling onto a vast catalog of immeasurably incredible songs Ryan Adams wrote and released throughout his prolific career. Almost seven years later, there are several complete albums of his I still haven’t listened to.
I spend a lot of time listening to music, but Ryan Adams’ music is the soundtrack of my life. I’ve never felt more connected to a music the way I do with DRA’s.
Like The Smiths, I could’ve picked any of his songs to be on this list, but Kim stands out because of the raw emotion in the music and lyrics.
It also doesn’t hurt that Johnny Depp rips the song’s guitar solo.
It Never Ends — Bring Me The Horizon
I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, I’ve said it a thousand fucking times
That I’m OK, that I’m fine, that it’s all just in my mind
One of my best friends in high school listened to a lot of emo, screamo and post-hardcore music—generally some pretty heavy shit.
Bring Me The Horizon was far and away the heaviest band I listened to and enjoyed from a musical standpoint. Songs like The Sadness Will Never End and Suicide Season were in a league of their own in how heavy the lyrics were.
I really don’t remember how I got turned on to BMTH’s music, but I remember buying There Is a Hell Believe Me I've Seen It. There Is a Heaven Let's Keep It a Secret. at Target the day it came out and going to their show a few weeks later.
I still have the CD, and I proudly display the case in my cubicle at work. I still put on It Never Ends whenever I need to let it all out.
That said, it remains in heavy rotation.