Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Stories Behind The Songs, Part II

One hour, ten hours... Same difference. At any rate... Second verse, more emotionally invested than the first.

10. "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing," Aerosmith
It's probably the cheesiest rock song ever written. It doesn't even sound like Aerosmith, really. But to me, it's just a great anthem of undying love. Not only that, but I use it to be able to say in conversation, "Oh, yeah, I like Aerosmith." ...what? They're not all going to be brilliant reasons. I just really like the song. It's the song I geek out to, really. Check out Allison Iraheta's softer cover that removes some of Steven Tyler's, erm, histrionics.

9. "Halo," Beyoncé
The hard-pumping religiously allegorical "Halo" is arguably her best effort. Though the beat is a little overused (you can hear it, or a version of it, in Kelly Clarkson's "Already Gone," Leona Lewis' "Happy," and Jordin Sparks' "Battlefield," all produced by Ryan Tedder), it's still irresistible. It's also the only time I feel that Beyoncé truly restrains herself. On other songs, her crazy personality is fully on display, but on this one, she keeps it under control. It's a Beyoncé I can admire, not the Beyoncé I'm a little scared of.

8. "Total Eclipse of the Heart," Bonnie Tyler
Oh, my relationship with this song is so interesting. Starting from driving in the Toyota Corolla with my best friend blasting this song to listening to Glee's Lea Michele do her cover version and watching it somehow rocket to number one on the iTunes charts to watching the literal video (haven't watched it? Go. Now. Do it.) over and over again until I remembered those lyrics better than the original ones. The best part? It's a horrible song. Awful. Completely nonsensical. The video's even worse. But I love it. It's truly amazingly bad. My ultimate guilty pleasure.

7. "Knock You Down," Keri Hilson f/ Ne-Yo & Kanye West
"I never thought I'd hear myself say, 'Y'all go ahead, I think I'm gonna kick it with my girl today.'" This is my favorite hip hop song because it is so beautifully orchestrated. The three artists' parts are weaved together beautifully. I consider it a hip hop masterpiece. But it is also a difficult song to listen to, because of when I really loved it most. I loved it, and a good friend of mine who I'm no longer close with loved it too. We would sing it loud and proud driving on 360 with the windows down and music blaring. It's a highlight song, but it does remind me of times gone by that I'm sad don't exist anymore. But to paraphrase the song, when life knocks you down, you just gotta get back up again.

6. "Yesterday," The Beatles
I gotta say, leaving this out of my Top Five is really hard. It's my favorite Beatles tune, quite out of step for the Fab Four. It's an aching tale of a metaphorical morning after a loved one leaves. This song has helped me live through at least one difficult time where I needed to remember the past while still moving on. It is cathartic and a means for living with the past. When you're at your lowest point after a breakup or a friendship ends, take a listen to this song. It can help you realize that just because yesterday is gone doesn't mean you go with it. Listen to Syesha Mercado's heavily stylized cover that recasts the speaker as a woman wronged. It's not better, but it's a pretty damn good stand-alone.

Now, for the Top Five. I would say that most of these could be interchanged. But the following order is probably the most accurate for me.

5. "Paint It Black," The Rolling Stones
Who among us hasn't envisioned that our world gets darker when we're in a bad mood? The Stones took this to an extreme, imagining a world where everything is painted black. The guitar is almost Middle Eastern-influenced, and the lyrics are powerfully gripping, creating an anthem of depression. I will say, however, that I didn't love this song quite as much until Siobhan Magnus tore it up on this past season of American Idol. As good as the original is, I actually prefer Magnus' "demented toybox" version. It's damn impressive, and the sonic scream she pulls out at the end could be irritating but turns out to be the perfect finale. A wonderful interpretation of a wonderful song.

4. "Because of You," Kelly Clarkson
If there's one contemporary pop artist I've followed with the most consistency, it would be Kelly Clarkson. She was my first big concert, the first album I learned all the lyrics to, the first pop star I was ever disappointed in for changing too much, and the first comeback album I ever owned. All in all, she was, and is, my American Idol. This song explains perfectly why I love her so much. Written first when she was sixteen, it's amazingly deep for a pop hit. In it, Clarkson sings about her parents' divorce and how damaging the relationship with her mother was. Sure, I loved "Since U Been Gone" and "My Life Would Suck Without You." I even liked the random "Addicted," "How I Feel," "I Want You," or "Save You." But "Because of You" is special. It's the moment I knew Kelly Clarkson wasn't the average pop star. She's an artist, and she's something special to me.

3. "Falling Slowly," The Swell Season
"I don't know you but I want you all the more for that." Talk about a universal feeling. That gal or guy you see across the room who catches your eye and you can't stop watching. The chance encounter that lasts only a fleeting second but you want to last forever. The aching feeling when you realize that you've truly, completely fallen for someone who doesn't yet love you. It's not a hymn of unrequited love, it's a hymn of a love not yet in existence that you can just taste. I've felt it many a time. It's something you can't fight but in your most difficult moments you succumb to far too often. But just the emotion and the lyrics wouldn't be enough. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are extraordinary artists who evoke incredible emotion of their audiences. I can honestly say that no song makes me more emotional. It's a tearjerker.

2. "So You Can Cry," Ne-Yo
Speaking of songs about pain... This catchy ballad by current R&B king (sorry, Usher) Ne-Yo is about getting over the past and moving on, because life should be a celebration, not a funeral dirge. Like "Yesterday," which is more about remembering the past but still about moving on, "So You Can Cry" appeals to me as a reset button, a way to completely throw away the past and move on with your life. There was at least one period of my life that so desperately needed to be forgotten and thrown away that I wish I had heard this song long ago during that time. It might've helped, because one thing I know now is that in the greatest moments of crisis, music may not be a miracle cure, but it can be a great emotional outlet.

And here we are. Number one. My favorite song of all time is...

1. "You Don't Know Me," Ben Folds f/ Regina Spektor
...the most non-emotional song on this list. Huh? Isn't this all about the story about the song? How did this one win? Let me explain. This was the song of my summer in 2008. Up until that point, that was the best summer of my life (trounced by the summer of 2009 and 2010 is on its way to trouncing it as well). It was bubbly, fun, indie but pop-influenced: the best of all possible worlds. It is the one song I can never tire of listening to (though, strangely, it is behind "So You Can Cry" on my Most Played iTunes list), and the one song I immediately feel sheer joy for when it plays. When someone suggested that American Idol season 9 finalists Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze cover it, I felt immense pleasure that it was being referenced and leapt into defensive Mama Bear mode to protect my favorite song from such debauchery. I have no more love for any other song. This is my song. This is my story. (Cliché ending, right? It had to come sometime.)

Well, there it is. My 20 favorite songs and the reasons why I love them so much. What are your favorites? Give me a taste in the comments section of either Part I or Part II.

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