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10 songs that changed my life

Posted on May 5th, 2011

I’m not sure how many times someone has asked me what my favorite song is. How could anyone answer that? At one point I made a list of my “top 100″ favorite songs. Maybe I can find that somewhere.

For now I would just like to pick 10 songs that I feel changed my life in some way. I don’t want to think too hard about it either, so here goes. There will be some obvious ones and maybe some not so obvious ones.


10. Telefon Tel Aviv – “Fahrenheit Fair Enough”

If this isn’t an absolutely quintessential record for all lovers of electronic music and beautiful sound in general than I don’t know what is.

They put out two more records after this, “Map of what is effortless” which contained vocals on nearly every track, many in an “RnB” kind of style which was a bit surprising (but grew on me), and the more 80′s synth pop influenced “Immolate Yourself”.

One of the two band members, Charlie Cooper, was found dead in a park in 2009, apparently from a lousy combination of alcohol and sleeping pills. His bandmate Joshua Eustis defends that Charlie was not suicidal and would not have meant to take his own life–though his life had taken a “dark turn” apparently. Very sad, but this guy left behind some very beautiful music and Telefon Tel Aviv continues to operate with Josh Eustis and a new member.

This band helped me realize how amazingly beautiful electronic music could be, and how well organic and electronic elements can be combined. These guys didn’t cheat with a bunch of ableton plugins- they are/were regular old Pro Tools guys, armed with a real Fender Rhodes piano, guitars, and glitchy beats for DAYS.

9. Otis Redding – “That’s How Strong My Love Is”

Again, I remember the first time I heard this track (only 3-4 years ago). I was hanging out with a girl who is an old friend of mine, who I had a big crush on at the time. We were browsing through hats and jewelery and crap (something I wouldn’t do unless I was following a girl around like an idiot) at an antique store in Spokane called Finders Keepers when I heard the chorus over the store stereo.

I remember when the chorus kicked in, just those simple words “that’s how strong my love is”, but in such an amazing soulful voice. I went home and google’d the lyrics to find out it was Otis Redding, a familiar name.

I’ve since become a HUGE fan of Otis Redding, but then again, how could you not be, given the chance?

Rolling stone named Redding #8 in the greatest singers of all time. I think he might be even closer towards #1 in my book.

He is probably best known his single “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, which was, as legend has it, recorded only a few days before (and released after) his tragic death in a plane crash into a lake at the young age of 26.

Otis’s voice opened the doors for me into the world of soul music. I think it has done this for a lot of people.

8. Broken Social Scene – “Anthems For Seventeen Year Old Girl”

In my usual stubborn fashion – I had discounted this band on the basis of their name for a good year or two. I thought it sounded stupid and couldnt be good.

I was VERY depressed, I had got mega-dumped and I was in one of those funks where you hardly leave the house for weeks. My roommate at the time, a good friend of mine to this day, insisted that I get out of the house to go see this band with her.

It was probably 2004, and I was living in an apartment about a block from Chop Suey on Capitol Hill in Seattle. The show was at Neumos (might have been called Noiselab at the time!), the band wasn’t TOO popular then, but they had the place more or less packed out.

I remember a drunk guy in the audience heckling them a number of time between songs calling them “radiohead wannabes”. The singer (frontman? hard to say in this band) took the heckling graciously and with a smile even, and asked the drunk man and the audience, “aren’t we all radiohead wannabes though really?”.

I enjoyed the set, was impressed by the band dynamics with so many members contributing so many different things, but towards the end of the show things slowed down and a girl took the front stage mic and blew us all to pieces.

My jaw was literally on the floor towards the end of this song. I could have cried. and ya, they had her vocoded or whatever the hell they do to make it sound so weird and cool.

Getting out of the house that night helped get me out of that funk, and hearing this band play this song got me stoked on music again.

7. Neil Young – “Mr Soul” (MTV Unplugged version)

My dad and uncles were big fans of Neil Young – I think he is one of my biggest influences of all time. The first song I ever learned to play on the guitar was “Needle and the Damage Done” (thanks dad) .

It wasn’t Dylan that made me want to play the harmonica – it was this song.

6. Pedro the Lion – “Simple Economics”

Eleven years ago I recorded a song for the first time (I had a tascam 414 4-track but im not sure i ever recorded a full song on it). This time I recorded the song into a friends computer with a shitty mirophone. I was 16.

I played the song for my friend BJ , who was into a lot of christian hardcore metal stuff like Zao and Living Sacrifice. He told me “You should like Pedro the Lion, dude”.

Pedro the what?

That was the beginning of something. I downloaded some Pedro the Lion (this was probably around 2000 or something so I probably used IRC or napster to get the files). I’m fairly certain Simple Economics was the first Pedro the Lion song I ever heard.

I remember being floored by the lyrics to the chorus “When you’re nothing but a boyfriend, dangling by a thread, keep in mind the bottom line: diamonds are a girl’s best friend”.

Anyone who knows me probably knows that Pedro, and all other work by David Bazan have been one of the biggest and most obvious influences in my music.

And ya, our voices do sound a bit alike, sometimes.

5. Nirvana – “Pennyroyal Tea” (MTV Unplugged)

I think I saw the music video for “Heart Shaped Box” , and the Nirvana Unplugged air on MTV about a month before Kurt took his own life. I was only 10 years old, and ya I think I had an Ace of Base cd, and Shaquille O’neill’s rap album, and of course Boyz II men “Cooley High Harmony”, but I was already starting to get hip to Neil young and Zeppelin.

Especially during my pre-teen and teenage years-like millions of other emotionally unstable youth battling feelings of alienation and trying to find their own place in this world, Nirvana just hit the nail right on the head.

Some other Nirvana fav’s : Drain You / Lounge Act / All Apologies / Serve the Servants .. Ah.. there just too many.

I pick this one because it just boils it down. This song helped me realize how powerful melancholy can be- and how there is no such thing as too much sad, if its the real deal. I’m a sucker for sad songs.

4. Andrew Bird – “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left”

I discovered Andrew Bird when this record came out. It’s called “Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Bowl of Eggs”. This record, and the next 3 after it, are all so mindblowing that I can’t think of words to really describe it. The level of musicianship in Bird’s voice, violin, guitar, whistling, and whatever else he does, is nearly unparalleled in my mind.

Bird’s lyrics are VERY clever. Sometimes they are emotional, often times they are playful and funny. Sometimes he can make you want to laugh and cry in the same song.

This track is a good jumping off point into a VERY impressive collection. I wouldn’t say its his best song-not even close, there are just too many good ones, but this is a great place to start.

Bird helped me realize that music can be beautiful and emotional without being mopey, or political, or angry, or whatever. Its just good music for listening and enjoying, and you almost feel yourself getting smarter just by listening to it.

3. Nico – “These Days”

Ya, I admit it. I think I heard this song from the Royal Tenenbaum’s soundtrack, but whatever, thats like my favorite movie. (Thinking about what a cliche I am right now, blogging and referencing a Wes Anderson film).

That’s not the point though. This song was not written by Nico. This song was written by a 16 year old named Jackson Browne. You may have heard of him ;) . Jackson Browne was always one of my Dad’s favorites, and I enjoyed his records a lot when I was younger (actual records).

Browne wrote this song when he was 16, but gave it to Nico for this record, and he performed this fingerpicking guitar on electric for the recording, when he was 20 years old if I recall correctly.

How it changed my life? I was DETERMINED to learn to play this guitar riff, SPOT-ON. I’ve heard a lot of covers of this song, and nobody plays it right. Even Jackson Browne’s own live album , he simplifies the guitar picking compared to this original version.

I had to slow the song down in soundforge so I could figure how the picking pattern, and it look a lot of practice to get it right.

I credit this song more than any other song with helping me get good at fingerpicking, which is something I am complimented on quite a bit, which is weird because I don’t even think about it anymore, I just do it.

2. The Strokes – “Someday”

Man, does this song bring me back. That’s the thing though, it brought me back the first time I heard it. Thats what this song is. “In many ways, we’ll miss the good old days”.

I’m not sure what else to say about this song, other than I’m going to play it for my grand children if I ever have any, and every time I hear it , its gonna bring me back to 2001 when I was in high school and in love – and to wherever else it decides it wants to take me.

It hurts so good.

1. Massive Attack – “Pray For Rain”

This is an interesting pick because of all the songs on this list, this is by far the newest one. I think this album only dropped early 2010.

When I got my hands on this album I was fairly recently sobered up (probably 4-5 months) and I needed some music that would help me feel strong and focused on success.

I’m not sure what it is about this song that makes me feel that way-but it does. Its very primal, spiritual, and transcendental.

I would put this track on as my first listen when starting out on some very long runs , which were a necessity because I was suffering very very extreme anxiety attacks at the time while my mind and body were recovering from all the stupid crap I had done to myself throughout the years.

If you are feeling frustrating and need to get in your zone , I recommend this song. It is very powerful. The vocals are not by a usual Massive Attack member, they are Tunde Adebimpe of the band “TV on the Radio”.