Thirty-Eight Songs

September 4th, 2009

fifthgrade.jpgSometime after midnight thirty-eight years ago today in a sterile-white, fluorescent-lit University of Iowa hospital room, my parents welcomed me into the world just a few weeks shy of my due date.

My mother was studying classical guitar that summer. Moreover, the acoustic balladeer — James Taylor, Carol King, Jim Croce, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkle, CSN — was everywhere then, including my parent’s record player.

Those elements combined (presumably) with genetics, the position of the moon, the frequency of my family’s moves, the arrival of my first transistor radio (and shortly thereafter, Sony Walkman) and the desire to escape into headphones drove my love of listening to, and, eventually, my performing and creating music.

From John Denver’s 1974 Washington, D.C. performance to R.E.M.’s 1987 Philadelphia show and thousands of rock shows, radios and iTunes in between, millions of musical moments have made me the musician and fan that I am.

Thirty-eight years in, then, here’s a list of thirty-eight of my favorite, most hugely-influential songs in rough chronological order:

John Denver “Leaving On A Jet Plane”
Shaun Cassidy “Da Doo Run Run”
Daryl Hall & John Oates “Kiss On My List”
Olivia Newton-John “Magic”
The Human League “Don’t You Want Me”
A-Ha “Take On Me”
The Go-Go’s “Vacation”
Barry Manilow “Copacabana”
Billy Joel “My Life”
Tommy Tutone “867-5309 Jennyā€¯
Neil Diamond “America”
Styx “Paradise Theater”
Men At Work “Overkill”
Duran Duran “The Chauffeur”
Howard Jones “No One Is to Blame”
Hooters “Hangin’ On A Heartbeat”
R.E.M. “South Central Rain”
They Might Be Giants “Ana Ng”
Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”
U2 “Where The Streets Have No Name”
Don Henley “Boys of Summer”
Luka Bloom “Delirious”
Sinead O’Connor “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Pearl Jam “Alive”
Toad The Wet Sprocket “Come Back Down”
Paul Westerberg “Dyslexic Heart”
Matthew Sweet “Girlfriend”
Counting Crows “Mr. Jones”
Ben Folds Five “Whatever and Ever Amen”
Oasis “Wonderwall”
The Wallflowers “One Headlight”
The Verve “Bittersweet Symphony”
Death Cab For Cutie “Crooked Teeth”
Guster “Homecoming King”
Ryan Adams “New York”
Fountains Of Wayne “Troubles Times”
David Gray “The One I Love”
The Envy Corps “Rhinemaidens”

Of course, there’s a story behind every one of them. Taken together, though, maybe I’ve arrived where I departed. As The Envy Corps’ frontman Luke Pettipoole refrains in the closing bars of “Rhinemaidens,” “Let’s sing songs despite the devil.”

Thirty-eight years later, the world is still is cold, bright, loud, jarring, disruptive place. A handful of songs, though, puts (almost) everything in its right place.