A long time ago, when I made the mistake of giving my ex-boyfriend the new Adele CD before I listened to it as a bereavement gift (I KNOW. I KNOW IT WAS A HORRIBLE CHOICE FOR A ‘HOPE YOU FEEL BETTER’ GIFT BUT I HADN’T LISTENED TO IT YET I ONLY KNEW ‘ROLLING IN THE DEEP’ WAS ON IT OKAY?!) I made a prediction.
After, you know, listening to it.
What struck me more upon my very first listen was not the utter horror I should have felt at giving such a morosely sad album, much of the content of which has to do with heartbreak, to a grieving ex-boyfriend, it was that I knew “Someone Like You” was probably going to be the hugest song of the year.
It wasn’t just that I knew it was good, or that it was going to be a hit, I knew it was going to be HUGE. Iconic to her career. I had a vision she’d win a dozen Grammy’s off the album.
Even as said ex-boyfriend argued that “Set Fire to the Rain” was going to be the next single and be a big hit, I responded, “I think it’ll be a single, but I’m telling you right now, ‘Someone Like You’ will be a single and it will be HUGE.”
Was it the best song I’d ever heard? No. Was it even my favorite song on the album? Nope. It was something I couldn’t quite put into words – and the only thing I was basing it on was the very first listen. The second and third time I listened, it was just a beautiful, sad song. But on the first listen, I had a premonition filled with goosebumps.
The same happened with “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye. Again, best song ever? No. But a great song. And on the very first listen, I wondered why in the hell it wasn’t huge yet. It was being played on the radio as “tell us what you think? Should we toss it or keep spinning it?” and the calls in at first were pretty so-so. Some hated, some loved. I loved, but more importantly, I was surprised that not everyone else loved.
Music is one of the only things I’m actually surprised when people don’t share my opinion on. I’m an EXTREMELY opinionated person (all my closest friends right now are screaming “UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR”) but I can also usually see both sides of the issue, whether or not I feel strongly about my side. I’m only surprised at extremes in religion or politics, and even that I’m starting to learn not to be, sadly. I’m also never surprised when people don’t think an outfit I like, either while shopping or see on someone else, is as bangin’ as I think. Or if they didn’t like a book that I absolutely loved. And with social issues, whether they’re politically divisive or not, I am obsessed with figuring out and understanding why the other side doesn’t see something the way I do.
But music? Music affects me deeply. To my core. And I’m always shocked when a song that shakes me to the core doesn’t have the same effect on someone else.
It’s not that I am a musician by any means. I can carry a tune in a bucket but no further, I can play “Jingle Bells” on the piano, and I can play like three chords on the guitar. Freaking Mozart right? Yeah, I’m not a music-maker.
But I am usually right when I have a feeling a song or an artist is going to blow up and be hugely successful. A musician I may not be, but a good record exec I might have been had I followed another path.
What I’m trying to tell you is, I like to give music suggestions. It’s my favorite activity, playing what I call “music tradesies.” Some of my closest friendships or hottest dates have been based around music, whether bonding over a shared love of a band (my friend Laila is one of my oldest and closest friends and mainly what we do when we hang out is jam out to our favorite music) or the topic of conversation being great music (tell me you love Patty Griffin and I will make out with you) instead of “what do you do, where are you from, oh that sounds interesting [no it totally does not].”
And all of my friends have at some point been drowned out in my car by my turning up the stereo, or shushed when a great song comes on. Or asked to hang out SOLELY for the purposes of a newly released album listening party.
So since, lately, it is summer and I have been too broke to go to many summer concerts like is usually my second favorite part of summer (the first favorite being the beach, also which I’ve been too broke for), I have been throwing my own summer concerts on my iPod and dancing it out for myself. The best part about summer concerts is screaming along to the songs you love into your friends’ faces right?
(I’m looking at you, Laila and Rhea who went to the Paramore concert with me because we totally screamed into each other’s faces all of the lyrics to “Still Into You”.)
So with that, I’ll lead off on my “songs I can’t stop listening to right now, maybe you might like them too” playlist.
DISCLAIMER: These are my personal favorite songs of the moment, not the ones I think or thought were going to be huge hits. In fact several below took a few listens for me to really love. But I like sharing.
DISCLAIMER 2: I really like country music. It was literally the only music I listened to before like the age of 10, besides Motown and Celine Dion. (…you shut your mouth RIGHT now about Celine.) This is where I implore you: If you’re one of those people who says “I like all music except country” – either pull your head outta your ass and ACTUALLY listen to country, real country, not the bullshit commercial stuff, or, if I just offended you because you actually have given country, real country, a tried and true listen and managed to not find a single thing to like about it, most of this list will not impress you much.
- Still Into You – Paramore (See the official music video)
Nothing has brought me more unbridled joy this year than this song. It is so catchy, happy, joyful, sweet, and still has that punk pop edge to make it rock. I find music fans are pretty divided or often ambivalent about Paramore – they have a pretty big MAJORLY dedicated fan base, but primarily it’s a 16-24ish crowd. Some find their music, and pop punk in general, too melodramatic and emoangsty. What I love about “Still Into You” is that it’s a happy love song done by a band known for some really angsty angry-chick music. Most people will acknowledge that Hayley Williams is, from an objective standpoint, an incredible talent, but she and the band aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But they are, and this song is, very much mine. I can be having a terrible day or be super nervous and worried about something, but I throw this song on loud and instantly feel awesome. Future husband be forewarned: You better like this song, because it’s gonna be the music to which we enter the wedding reception.
- I Feel A Sin Comin’ On – Pistol Annies (Lyric video)
Gat dang Nashville can claim some pipes in its vocal repertoire of artists. Miranda Lambert is not known for being a power vocalist like Whitney Houston or Adele, but don’t let the irrepressible twang in that Texas voice fool you – she can sing like a motherfucker. She has unbelievable control, and it really shows on songs like this. She, like Hayley Williams, is known more for her angry girl songs than her sweeter or softer stuff, and while this song, performed by her and her best friends she decided to also form a band with after she was already majorly successful, is not sweet, it’s the more quiet music where Miranda Lambert can really show off her vocal ability. And not to count out Ashley Monroe – that is one old-school country voice. Ashley Monroe (she’s the higher voice of the two not-Miranda’s) would have been the hugest thing in country music in like, the 70’s.Plus, Lord knows if I had to describe my favorite “kind” of music, it would be countrybluesfolkrock. Like all in one. You know the sound I’m talking about. It’s a lot like this. I could happily go the rest of my life never hearing another pop song or rock anthem if I could hear shit like this all day long.
- Barefoot and Buckwild – Lauren Alaina (Lyric video)
The beginning of this song belies how great the rest of it is, especially if you’re looking for some workout music. The biggest travesty of “American Idol” is that Lauren Alaina is not a bigger star. Talk about PIPES. And I love a singer who can do a good growl. Lauren Alaina’s voice is warm, velvety, with a ton of range and power. While this song is a little too country pop for my taste (I’d love it if there was a stripped down version released that was totally country rock instead of that fake poppy drum/clapping in the background), it’s AWESOME when I’m running, the pop of alliteration in the title brings out Alaina’s Georgia girl accent that I love, and there’s some killer fingerwork on the strings (I can’t tell whether it’s a banjo or just an acoustic guitar) when the song really ramps up toward the end.
- American Girl – Bonnie McKee (Official video)
SUMMER ANTHEM ALERT. Hello, I am a twentysomething millenial, the phenomena that editors and columnists can’t seem to cease being obsessed with analyzing. This was one of those songs that, the first time I heard it, *I* didn’t personally like it but *WAS* one of those songs that I knew everyone else was gonna love and it was gonna be a hit. The second or third time I heard it, the line “I was raised by a television” caught my attention a little more and I kind of fell in love with the song. There are a lot of pop songs out there that are irreverent to authority or social norms, but something about that line felt really spot on about growing up as a kid in the 90’s. If you’re in your 20’s right now, chances are some of your strongest “That Was My Childhood” memories occurred in the 90’s. The song feels very MTV and I hadn’t even watched the music video until just now when I needed the link. And yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what I thought it would look. This song makes me want to take all my friends to the bar, kick everyone else off the dance floor, and dance until I drop with pure energy and joie de vivre.There’s a small plaza of fast food and fast-casual sit-down restaurants near my house, and it’s where all the kids who were more rebellious than me growing up would gather to smoke pot. And yes, there’s a 7-11 in it. (Anyone who went to high school with me knows the square I’m talking about right now.) So that “I fell in love in a 7-11 parking lot” line brings me back to being a teenager even more.
- Made in the USA – Demi Lovato (Official music video – whatever you do, don’t bother to listen to Katy Perry’s “Roar” as advertised on the background – just listen to Sara Bareilles’s “Brave” instead and you’ll get the idea, only better)
In keeping with the “it’s good to be a pretty girl in America” theme (ha, we’ll focus on the positives for the moment), I unabashedly enjoy this song. I think it’s delightfully simple and cute. I also think Demi Lovato looks absolutely the prettiest ever in the video. It goes along the lines of just one of those happy pop songs that kinda pick me up and remind me of pretty things and romance and love and youth and optimism. Also, it’s the first time I’ve really noticed and given credit to the fact that Demi Lovato actually has a powerful voice. And I love that it’s less synthesized poppy and has a little bit of an acoustic guitar thing going on.The point is, I hear this song and I can’t help but tap my foot and keep the beat on my thighs and snap along. Makes me kinda wanna run into an open field and throw my arms open Julie Andrews style.
- Leave My Girl Alone – Stevie Ray Vaughan cover by Travis Tritt (Live performance video)
Oh, you thought country was just a bunch of Blake Shelton alcoholics singing about how the whiskey’s gone, or Toby Keith Republicans still talking about finding and killing bin Laden? Well, this is what I was raised to know what country was.Blues and country are closely associated geographically, and I love when they get tied together. While Stevie Ray was primarily a blues rocker, Travis Tritt is known for more of a country rock thing. But instead of getting lumped easily into a more easy listening, country radio-friendly male country artist category in the 90’s like Alan Jackson, George Strait, or even Garth Brooks, Travis rocked it out with singles like “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” – which you can already hear some Southern gospel influence on – and filled most of his albums with Waylon Jennings-influenced heavier rocking songs “Blue Collar Man.” While his biggest hits over his 25 year career, as country radio tends to make happen, ARE the more watered down, slower ballads, this belies the happy secret that lifelong Travis Tritt fans like myself know – Travis Tritt has one of the most powerful, soulful voices EVER and ROCKS THE FUCK OUT on guitar.
Seriously. Watch that video. As one of my friends said, “He’s earning his paycheck.” WERK.
- Always On My Mind – Brenda Lee cover by Willie Nelson (betcha didn’t know Elvis WASN’T the original singer of that song, huh?) (Official music video)
Sigh. Willie Nelson y’all. Proof of two things: 1) you don’t have to have the best voice to be a fucking musical legend and make someone burst into tears with your singing, and 2) even the best songwriters (Nelson) don’t have to be above doing a cover.Whoever’s version of this song gets played, this is just a plain beautiful song. It’s heartbreaking and tender and vulnerable, and Willie Nelson’s voice on it makes it haunting and understated.
- Keep It To Yourself – Kacey Musgraves (Live performance video)
Willie Nelson is a good transition into Kacey Musgraves, because the understated, sleepy-voiced hippie-esque Musgraves is heavily influenced by and a big fan of Willie Nelson. She can get a little slyly political, a little too cool for school, or she can even get REAL downhome (see: “My House”), but she also isn’t afraid to get a little more straight-lacedly heartbreaking.While I’m a sucker for big pipes, I love Kacey Musgraves’s soft voice. It’s kind of old-school Dolly Parton, and so far she seems to have the songwriting chops to match the one and only Dolly, too. Not only did she pen for Miranda Lambert this rockin’ little diddy (take a moment to watch this incredibly fantastic video and appreciate Miranda Lambert’s fearlessness), she also wrote and produced every song on her first major-label album, Same Trailer Different Park. Kacey Musgraves is one of those songwriters who isn’t just trying to churn out songs – she has something to say, as quietly as she says it. And if she’s not already attractive enough from her songwriting, singing, and pretty face – she plays harmonica, banjo and guitar during her live shows, all while never missing a note.
But I pick this song in particular because I think it’s the most repeatedly listenable song on the album. “Follow Your Arrow” is the one that makes the most waves, “Merry-Go-Round” was a huge radio hit, “Blowin’ Smoke” is cool as hell, and “Silver Lining” is just plain great, but “Keep It To Yourself” is one of those great songs that doesn’t have to SAY it all to say it all. It tells a clear story without narrating.
As someone who has been in the position of working really hard to get over someone, getting to a great place, only to then hear from that person that they think they made a mistake, I’d like to chime in with Kacey: “Keep it to yourself.” I only wish I’d had this song for every breakup I’ve been through, to cling to it as consolation that I don’t want someone who isn’t sure they want me, or only wants me when they’re lonely.
The best part about this song is how gently she sends this message. She isn’t bootstomping scornful about it, or sassy pop anthem about it – she sounds downright sympathetic. It’s the genius of her vocals.
So that’s about it for now. There are some others I have going on rotation (Randy Travis’s “Three Wooden Crosses,” Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me,” Tegan and Sara’s “I’m Not Your Hero,” Luke Bryan’s “Crash My Party”) but I’ve already rambled on long enough like I tend to do when I start talking about music.