Well, I guess you could have guessed that music is my life. Every part of my life is marked with songs that instantly take me back to those moments. I’ve always got a soundtrack in my head. So when my friend Nancy of Midlife Mixtape asked me to be a part of a blog hop to share the songs that made me, I was all in. The current issue of Rolling Stone includes a feature of some rock greats sharing theirs, and it’s going to be fun to see what my fellow blog friends come up with.
1. Tom Petty – The Waiting
Tom Petty is my spirit animal. He is one of the major reasons I picked up a Rickenbacker and started a band. Of the myriad of favorite songs in his catalog, this one has always stood out as my favorite. Perhaps because as a late bloomer, I find it the perfect metaphor for life. Then again, the hook never fails to give me a classic case of the fist pumps. I’ll never forget plugging my first electric guitar into an amp in my bedroom at age 13. We lived in a condo, so my mother nixed the idea of drums since they were too loud. When I got a call from the neighbor whose bedroom was along the same wall as my bedroom closet, asking if I took requests, this was the song they requested. Sorry, Mom. Drums or no drums, I like it loud.
2. You’re No Good – Linda Ronstadt
Linda Ronstadt has always been a hero of mine. That voice. I remember taking guitar lessons from this cute guy in the early ’70s who would play bass and sing backup to my rhythm guitar/lead vocal on a bunch of Linda Ronstadt songs, and my favorite was always You’re No Good. I love the mood of the song and her strong “F you!” attitude. No man was gonna bring her down. She was writing this guy a pink slip and movin’ on. ’70s feminism. Wahoo!
3. Tangled Up In Blue – Bob Dylan
Dylan figures prominently in my male rock and roll trinity. It’s Dylan, Lennon, Petty. (I’m not sure in what order.) Again, a million songs to choose from, but this one…this one is at the top of the heap for me because I love the story and the imagery it conveys. Those last lines “…some are mathematicians…some are carpenters’ wives…don’t know how it all got started…I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives. But me, I’m still on the road, headin’ for another joint…we always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view…tangled up in blue…” evokes so much emotion for me every time I hear it. It sums up life and the people that come in and out of it through the years. And even though I started performing this song in my early 20s when I lived in New York, I was already learning that lesson in an extremely transient environment.
4. Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
Oh, how I love Stevie Nicks and this song! I played it at every school talent show, pancake breakfast and open-mic. I felt like it was “my” song. It’s another coming of age song, a song about growing, changing. I’m an outrageous over-thinker, folks, so yes, even in high school I was waxing philosophical about what it all meant to be “getting older too”.
5. Sweethearts – Camper Van Beethoven
This is the band that my band most admired and was most often compared to, and this is the song that gives me chills each and every time the opening guitar lick kicks in. It’s a political song about Reaganomics, but it’s so much more than that to me. We’ve since become friends with the band, and the one night I got to sing and play it with the violinist/co-founder of CVB was an “I can now die happy” moment. It’s an emotionally evocative song, it’s politically right up my street and it’s just so damn beautiful. One of my favorite songs on the planet.
6. I’ve Had It – Aimee Mann
No other song comes close to summing up what it’s like to be in a band trying to make it while continuing to love what they do. Aimee Mann has had success, but not as much as I feel she deserves, and she’s had to fight hard for every ounce of it. Highly relatable to every struggling musician. Listening to this song, I’m taken back to every crappy indie-rock club, every graffiti covered bathroom, every time I helped load up the van at 2 am. It encapsulates what was a huge part of my life, and the feelings of hopefulness and despair mixed with personal fulfillment and tenacity all come flying back in a head-on collision every time I hear it.
7. Out There – Blake Babies
I wasn’t really familiar with the Blake Babies until my band opened for them in the late ’80s, but after that show, I must have played their album “Sunburn” a million times. This song was their breakout “hit” and everything from what they were saying in it, to Juliana Hatfield’s girlish voice, to their sound at a time when my band was transitioning away from folk-rock during the grunge period was inspiring and influential, and listening to it now gives me a good feeling mixed with a touch of mid-life crisis.
8. Brilliant Mistake – Elvis Costello
What he’s saying about American values in this song is pretty dead on and interesting coming from a British point of view. “He thought he was the King of America…where they poured Coca Cola just like vintage wine…” Brilliant lyrics, brilliant vocals. The way he weaves a song about a relationship with political/socio-economic commentary is so clever and it taught me a lot about songwriting. There can be multiple messages within a song woven together to be interpreted and relatable in a number of ways. This song was something I’d come back to throughout my 20s and 30s. It’s got everything. 20% more meaning. Same great taste.
9. And She Was – Talking Heads
I never really knew what this song was about until recently. (Supposedly it’s about an acid trip and a girl David Byrne knew who took LSD in a field outside a Yoo-hoo chocolate soda factory.) But I always felt like it was a female empowerment song. I guess it could be, in a way. It’s infectiously happy and it really embodies my whole college experience in the Drama department in the early ’80s: cast parties in someone’s parents’ basement dancing to this and Rock Lobster in parachute pants. Need I say more?
10. Two of Us – The Beatles
If I’m going to list the songs that “made me”, it’s impossible to leave out The Beatles. I don’t think that’s allowed if you’re a musician. Luckily, I mean it. As for which song really helped shape me as a person, take your pick; that in itself is a list. But I narrowed it down to this one because it kind of describes the marital musical mystery tour we’ve been on for more than twenty years. Somehow we’ve survived having children and being in a band together without killing each other. He and I have memories…longer than the road that stretches out ahead…
11. Fake Plastic Trees – Radiohead
Okay. If I’m being honest, I’ve gotta be straight with y’all and admit that I love me some mopey British pop-rock. LOVE.IT. The Smiths, Morrissey’s solo stuff, The Cure, Travis, and the kings, Radiohead. I can’t get enough of this song and its sentiment about the realities of striving for perfection and failing, and really, that’s something we go through off and on in life and in art, am I right? Please say I’m right, or I’ll become very depressed. In life and in my music, I’ve always had this undercurrent of melancholy going on and this song represents that to me. There’s so much about life that excites me, and so much that “wears me out”.
12. Morning Morgantown – Joni Mitchell
Whenever I hear this song I’m transported back to New York when I was in my 20s playing folk music in the village. It was when I first started really getting into Joni and hearing this song always reminds me of my neighborhood, my apartment, getting up in the morning and going to my waitressing job. It’s a good feeling flooded with memories and inspiration from a singer/songwriter/poet/artist I’ve always admired for her straightforwardness and unflagging individuality.