Since I’m kind of off television news for Lent* and since I also can’t focus worth a damn to read books, music is playing pretty much all the time around here. Added bonus: it helps me to stop my incessant chatter.
*I’m not really giving up anything for Lent. I’m not what you’d call a practicing Catholic. The last time I went to Mass was for a funeral last year and I was worried the building would get swallowed up by the earth. And while it is true that sinkholes are a fairly frequent occurrence in Florida, I would just know that it was God’s wrath and not just your run-of-the-mill sinkhole.
Anhedonia really keeps me from enjoying most anything, including my beloved music. Now that I’m taking something to help with that, I’m reconnecting with tunes like I haven’t in some time.
For about a month or so, I’ve been putting that musical energy into creating daily playlists on Spotify. Usually 10 songs a day, Monday through Saturday, with a special themed list on Fridays. For example, today’s list is all songs from the movies.
I figured I’m already listening to tons of music. I might as well give in to my inner DJ and share some of it, even if it’s with only three people a day.
I hope you’ll check out my lists and follow them if you enjoy them. My goal isn’t to put together playlists full of songs everyone will love. It’s about helping people discover new artists to listen to. So even if you find just one new band you like, I’m happy. I know I’ve found quite a few, even in the last month.
My Top Five Musical Support Blankets
I often use music to vicariously emote, so I particularly love the singer-songwriters who dive into real, genuine issues. Stuff I can relate to. That can often mean depression, yes, but lots of other things, as well. Sure, I love the fun stuff, too. But those usually aren’t the types of songs or bands I’m seeking out when I’m feeling anxious or depressed.
This list is about the artists and bands that go beyond making me move physically. These five make me move emotionally, as well. I always return to these wells and never tire of them. They just always tend to make me feel better. Or at the very least, they keep me from feeling worse.
In no order of importance, here are the five musical artists I use again and again as my musical support blanket.
I have loved this band since I was a high school disc jockey at a little radio station in New Mexico. (By the way, 94 Key’s logo has barely changed since I was working there, and has been been 32 years since I quit.) As a DJ, I had the first listen to a lot of great stuff before it hit the airwaves. Record companies sent promo singles and albums all the time, hoping the program director would listen to their stuff and put it on the air. (Little did they know our station was automated. All the music was on reel-to-reel tapes and run by a computer, but that’s neither here nor there.)
I always had a knack for telling what would be a hit and what wouldn’t. And the first time I heard INXS, I knew they had it. I remember one night not long after I’d graduated high school I was in the studio listening to their latest album, “Listen Like Thieves,” and one of my classmates dropped by the station. She was delivering some information for a PSA or something. I always had a crush on her because, you know, she was gorgeous and I was perpetually horny. Alas, I was also a super nerd and stricken with the inability to speak to females. That’s really why I was driven to Dungeons & Dragons. There was no other viable option.
Now, this girl never gave me the time of day, really. Not many of them did. But she came into the studio to say hi because how many times do you get to go to a radio station? Anyway, she was nice and we had a little small talk before she heard the INXS. “Who is this?” she asked. I said, “INXS. They’re an Australian band that’s had a couple of hits on MTV already, but this album is going to make them go big.” I was right. They did go big with that album. But they went way bigger four years later with “Kick.”
So many of their songs resonate with me. “Kick” came out when I had just joined the Air Force and I was without my family for a couple of months. I wore that album out multiple times. I love all of their albums, but if I had to choose my favorite, it’s “I’m Just a Man” off of their “Elegantly Wasted” album. I like the message.
I was fortunate to see INXS twice in concert. Once at Wembley Arena in London when I was stationed there. Huge crowd, major light show, big energy. The next time was in Fort Worth, in a much smaller, more intimate venue almost like a gymnasium. A lot more acoustic numbers. Incredible.
I was driving home from a weekend spiritual retreat in Dallas when I heard of Michael Hutchence’s death in 1997. It was a rare moment. I actually cried.
You could just as easily say Mark Oliver Everett, since he’s the only guy in the band, really. Of course, he assembles a real band when he goes on the road, and that’s a concert I’ve always wanted to see.
Almost more than any other artist, when it comes to connecting musically when I’m depressed, I turn to The Eels. Mark Everett has been there, and then some. Hell, he’s even taken up residence, and that’s something I can relate to all too well. His songs are so heartfelt, the lyrics so poignant and clever, not to mention dark as hell. And that’s entirely appropriate when you’re deep in the pit of depression. I love his turns of phrase. He’s not always dark, mind you. That’s the beauty of The Eels. He puts it all out there.
“Beautiful Freak” and “Electro Shock Blues” are probably my favorite albums by The Eels. Of course, I may be a little biased because those are their first two and I pretty much took a chance on “Beautiful Freak” right after hearing their first hit, “Novocaine for the Soul.” And I hit the jackpot, too. Solid album, as are most of them. He is so good at describing depression and the dark thoughts you experience that he can give me chills even today. Or he’ll make me smile and nod, like, “Yeah, he fucking gets it.”
Songs I can really relate to include “Beautiful Freak,” “Your Lucky Day in Hell,” and “The Medication is Wearing Off.” However, my favorite song by The Eels is on their next album, “Daisies of the Galaxy.” It’s my unofficial anthem for telling depression to piss off: “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues.”
I ADORE The Eels. Just know that he is NSFW. So if F-bombs are a problem for you, then move on down the list. Also, if F-bombs are a problem, what are you doing here?
Another fallback to my youth and one I never tire of. I’ll never forget the very first time I heard Queen. It was 1977, the same year the original “Star Wars” came out. My babysitter showed me the album cover of “News of the World” and I saw that giant robot and wondered what kind of band would name themselves Queen.
She said, “Wait until you hear this” and put the record on.
Then that familiar stomp-stomp-clap stomp-stomp-clap started on “We Will Rock You. And then Freddie Mercury started in and I’ve been listening ever since.
I cannot tell you how many of their Greatest Hits cassettes I went through before I got them all on CD. And those CDs are with the hundreds of others I own, sitting in albums gathering dust.
Of course there’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and that is definitely a favorite. By the way, if you don’t do the Wayne’s World headbanging bit at the appropriate moment, we can never be friends.
There are many, but the songs that speak to me a lot are “Who Wants to Live Forever” and “Keep Yourself Alive.” Both connect with different aspects of my depression. Specifically, the suicidal ideation. Every time I see someone in the movies seeking immortality, I think, “Who the hell would want that shit? It’s been half a century and I’m pretty tired already.” Then there’s “Keep Yourself Alive” and that’s pretty self-explanatory. I don’t listen much to the full albums these days. More of the greatest hits. But ever since the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” came out, I’ve been diving into their stuff again.
Another long-time favorite who I discovered twice. When I first discovered the band Crowded House, I was still in technical school learning my job in the Air Force, barely out of basic training. I heard “Don’t Dream it’s Over” and immediately found it very catchy and dreamy. CONFESSION: I first thought it was Barry Manilow. I know, I know. But you listen to that song again and tell me you don’t hear the slightest hint of Manilow’s voice. Besides, he does write the songs.
But no, it was Neil Finn singing that song. And once I learned that piece of information weeks later (hey, we didn’t have any Internet back then), I realized who Crowded House really were: Split Enz! I discovered them in my high school MTV days! Okay, at that point my high school MTV days were just three years behind me, but still.
“Woodface” is easily my favorite album of theirs. “Fall at Your Feet,” “Whispers and Moans,” and “Better Be Home Soon” are probably my favorite songs. But really, if I’m in a funk, I could put on anything Neil-Finn-related and feel at least a tinier bit at ease.
Crowded House reminds me very much of a modern-day Beatles. They have so many great songs, full of amazing lyrics, melodies, and harmonies. And they’re not a cookie cutter band where all their music sounds the same.
Barenaked Ladies, the Steven Page years
I know, not the first band you think of when it comes to the deep stuff. All of their hits have been rather silly. At least the ones here in the States. But trust me, there’s a lot more to the Barenaked Ladies than “One Week.”
I have to credit two people with my love for BNL. One is my very first email pen-pal, Cindy. It was the mid 90s and I was blogging then, too, but there was no word for it. What I was actually doing was writing journal entries and coding my homepages in HTML so I could upload them to my directory on my ISP’s server. None of this WYSYWIG stuff back then. We didn’t get fancy white backgrounds like we have now, either. Nope, everything was gray for a while and we had this thing called Netscape. Now you kids get off my lawn! But I digress.
Cindy found me through our common love of C.D. Payne, and if you haven’t read the adventures of Nick Twisp, you simply must because this series of books are easily in the top three funniest works of fiction I’ve ever read. Like spit soda out your nose funny. And holy shit, I just saw there are more novels in the series! I really need to get my reading mojo back.
So anyhow, Cindy was (and probably still is) Canadian and we exchanged custom music cassettes by mail. We included songs that were by our own country’s artists so that we’d get exposed to different music. One of the songs that she included on my cassette was “If I Had $1,000,000” by this silly sounding band, the Barenaked Ladies. I loved it, but didn’t do much about it as far as looking into the band more.
Until my friend, Pat, came along and told me about this great band called the Barenaked Ladies. I took that as a sign from above that I should listen to this band. I started with “Gordon,” their first album and was hooked from the get-go. The weirdest, goofiest, most profound folk band I’ve ever heard.
I fell in love with BNL before anybody knew who they were. I saw them twice before their “One Week” stardom, both times in this little club in Dallas called Deep Ellum Live. Standing room only, couldn’t have been a thousand people, probably half that. But me and Pat and our friends were close enough to the stage to spit on Steven Page. Amazing shows. Then they started playing arenas and they were still awesome, but it wasn’t the same.
Of course I love “One Week” and “Pinch Me” and their other hits. But most of my favorite songs by them are not songs that made American radio. I like the classic pre-Stunt stuff a lot, of course. I love a lot of their songs, but I tend to go more for the songs where Steve Page sings lead. I love Ed, don’t get me wrong, he’s amazing. But it’s Steve’s crooning ability that I really dig. I just love to sing along with him. BNL just isn’t the same without Steve.
My favorites with BNL are the ones where Steve sings about depression. He has bipolar disorder, as well, which I only recently discovered. (Around the same time I discovered he has several solo albums.)
“Call and Answer” is a fantastic song that describes some relationships I’ve been in. But the ones that resonate with my depression are “War on Drugs,” “This is Where it Ends,” and “Brian Wilson.” Yes, that Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys, also bipolar.
And there you have it. My top five bands when I need to shut out the world for a while, regroup, recharge my batteries…whatever.
How about you? Who are your top five?