Friday, July 9, 2010

The Hardest Question

On my brief visit to E=MC in Durham, North Carolina (pre-cross-country 6 day road trip), we are at Allen & Sons BBQ, licking our fingers at red checkered table cloths and drinking sweet tea with a group of his grad school friends when someone poses me the question that probably gives me the most anxiety of all questions ever.

The guys have been throwing the question around the last few days, and are reciting one another's lists back to each other, and I am terrified they are going to turn on me and demand to know my answer. It makes me sweat (or maybe it's because it's 90 degrees with %143 humidity).

Halfway through a bite of my pulled pork sandwich, it happens.

"Okay, your turn. What are your top five favorite songs. Of all time."

Damn. There it is. The anxiety rises in my chest and I eyeball the nearest exit.

I don't know why I get this way! Definitive questions always make me waffle: I feel like I need a top ten, at least, for anything, and even then I have awkward addendums ("Honorable Mentions," Alternates, etc). I cringe when I think about the application I submitted to Princeton University as a high school senior: as part of their folio of information they request from you, they ask you ten simple questions about your preferences in music, movies, art, books and the like.

I stressed out about it for like, a week, filled in my answers, immediately second guessed the impression said answers would give about me, typed and printed new answers, and pasted them on top of the old ones. I might have even done this multiple times for certain questions. (I am sure all of the answers were wholly unimpressive and unremarkable, hence my ensuing letter of rejection).

But I still get like that. I don't even have any "Favorites" sections filled in on Facebook anymore because the idea that my list isn't actually correct or complete or truly representative of me really freaks me out, plus, it changes a lot. So I just scrapped it altogether.

This is all running through my brain as I flail around for a way to start answering this impossible, difficult, frustrating demand to put a box around your tastes and catalogue your love for one of the most lovable things in this life- music- and so I am wholly suprised when I answer almost immediately, with unequivocal confidence,

"Oh, Number 1 for sure is "Night Moves," by Bob Seger."

"AAAAAH! SUCH A GOOD ONE! Great choice! I can't believe I missed that one! So good!" choruses the table.

And then from there I throw out a whole bunch of other ones, only once every tenth suggestion or so moving it into one of the top five spots.

I think the list ended up shaking out something like this:

1. "Night Moves" - Bob Seger
2. "Fast Car"- Tracy Chapman
3. "Neighborhood #1" - Arcade Fire
4. "Lover, You Should Have Come Over," - Jeff Buckley
5. "Come on Eileen"- Dexy's Midnight Runners

With the following somewhere in the top 15:

"Beast of Burden" - The Rolling Stones
"Walking on Broken Glass"- Annie Lennox
"Let's Stay Together"- Al Green
"Just Like Heaven"- The Cure
"The Trapeze Swinger"- Iron & Wine
"Ex-Factor" - Lauryn Hill
"No Sleep Til Brooklyn"- The Beastie Boys
"I Want You"- Bob Dylan
"As Long as You Follow"- Fleetwood Mac
"Don't Stop"- Brazilian Girls

Which is weird, because none of these slots are represented by my favorite bands/artists(Ray LaMontagne, The Decemberists, Neko Case, Air, John Mayer, Fiona Apple, The Black Keys, Wye Oak, Everything But the Girl) which is maybe because I just can't pick a representative one song from any of them? Or maybe it's that a "favorite song" is just chosen by entirely different criteria.

These favorite songs are ones I NEVER get tired of, and am ALWAYS jazzed about when I hear them. They all make me feel something specific, and are often times tied to a moment worth remembering (or in some cases, a moment I wish I remembered, like, when Dance Fighter paid the karaoke DJ $15 so I could sing "Night Moves" at my 21st birthday party. There are pictures, at least).

So, I'm curious- what are your favorite songs? Can you pick just 5? What's your criteria? Are they representative of your favorite artists? Don't be shy!


  1. After a lot of deliberation, here are my top 5 of all time.

    1. One - U2
    2. Tangled Up In Blue - Bob Dylan
    3. Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
    4. Falling Down - Vertical Horizon
    5. Jeff Buckley - Last Goodbye

    edged out:
    Lover's Greed - Jump, Little Children
    The Trapeze Swinger - Iron & Wine
    Someday - The Strokes

    ...and for good measure, top 5 songs of the last year. Not necessarily songs that were released last year, just songs that I listened to a lot during that span.

    1. Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying - Belle & Sebastian
    2. Missed the Boat - Modest Mouse
    3. You are the Best Thing - Ray Lamontagne
    4. The Rake's Song - The Decemberists
    5. Goodbye, Sweet Youth, Goodbye - Greycoats

    just missed the cut:
    You, Me & the Bourgeois - The Submarines
    M79 - Vampire Weekend
    Phoenix - Lisztomania

  2. Love these, Steven. I identify with 1-4 on your Top 5 of Last Year list, too. Those opening horns on "You Are The Best Thing" make me smile every single time.

  3. yeah, I'm pretty sure that it will be played at my wedding. It may even gain first dance status.

  4. 1. Don't Get Fooled Again --The Who (best rock tune of all time, with great guitar, drums, keyboards and rock vocals -- and the long version goes on forever.)
    2. Magnificent* --U2 (*or any of eight other U-tunes)
    3. Desperado -- The Eagles
    4. My Song Is Love Unknown -- (find it on YouTube)
    5. America the Beautiful (when sung live)


  5. The Platonic BoyfriendJuly 14, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    These five popped into my head much faster than I thought anything would.

    1. "I Got Mine" - The Black Keys
    If I could BE any song, I would be this one.

    2. "Send it On" - D'Angelo
    So silky. And completely different from my first choice.

    3. "Ooh La La" - Faces
    This song reminds me of watching the sun float down through the trees on the shores of a quiet river....even though I've probably only ever listened to it in my car.

    4. "Pass Me Over" Anthony Hamilton
    Possibly the most beautiful song I've ever heard. It would take all of me not to sing along when I hear it.

    5. "Fix You" - Coldplay
    The only song that has ever made me cry.

  6. hi internet.


  7. So I read this post a while ago and intended to respond immediately, but I think I also became overwhelmed with thinking of my top 5. Which is a bit ridiculous considering I was there at Allen & Sons, and had made my own top 5 list the night before. But the problem is that the more I thought about my list, the less I liked it. I think it went like this:

    1. September - Earth, Wind and Fire
    2. Bad - U2
    3. Atlantic City - Bruce Springsteen
    4. Casimir Pulaski Day - Sufjan Stevens
    5. When It Don't Come Easy - Patty Griffin

    I think my reasoning was that I needed to have a representative song from each of my favorite bands/artists (i.e. U2, the Boss, Sufjan, Patty) due to some sort of band loyalty. But I think a better criteria includes these factors: re-listenability, singalongability, the test of time, the sense of mini-eupohria I get whenever the song comes on, hookiness, and my sheer inability to turn it off or skip it if it comes up on iPod shuffle. A certain amount of whimsy helps - a favorite song doesn't need to dig deep into your soul and evoke staggering emotions, though it might. Finally, the On-the-Go test: when I want to make a quick playlist for a road trip, dance party, or some other social gathering, which songs ALWAYS make it on the list? In light of this criteria, my new top 5:

    1. September - Earth, Wind and Fire: My all-time favorite wedding song, I can't help dancing a little when I hear it, I know roughly 3% of the lyrics but still sing along, and September is my favorite month. An easy choice.

    2. Wake Up - Arcade Fire: I have liked it every time I've heard it. The 15 person chorus alone is enough to merit it's selection.

    3. America - Simon & Garfunkel: the detail of the lyrics and the crescendos of the chorus. "The Boxer" was also in the running here.

    4. When It Don't Come Easy - Patty Griffin: I just couldn't let go of this one. No whimsy; a lot of soul.

    5. Electric Feel - MGMT: Kind of an iffy choice, since it's a relatively recent song. But it has gone on every playlist I've made in the last 7+ months, and the bridge is dynamite.

    Honorable Mentions:
    Casimir Pulaski Day - Sufjan: Still one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard
    Wagon Wheel - Old Crow Medicine Show
    In My Life - The Beatles
    Bad - U2
    Wolves - Josh Ritter
    Theologians - Wilco
    Gimme Some Lovin' - Spencer Davis Group
    The Man Comes Around - Johnny Cash