Don’t Stop The Music 2023

I love looking back at the music that mattered to me over the years.  The tone and timbre of my choices reflect my emotional state at the time and it’s insightful to remember where I’ve been and why these songs spoke to me.

I mark the eras of my life with music, and Spotify is getting into that game with their year-end data dump on every subscriber. They have so much data on me, it’s staggering. They informed me that I am in the top 1% of their listeners who consume the most music.  And I would buy that.  Music fills my house and headphones from morning to night.

But even with their Moneyball approach to data, the songs that they said were my favorite were really the ones most listened to, not the ones that spoke deepest to me. For my sake, I thought I would reflect on what mattered and share these with you.

If you are a friend on Facebook, you’ve probably seen me post my periodic game I call All-Play Friday. I don’t do it as often as I once did, but I poll my friends and ask them for their music recommendations based on a particular theme.  My favorite topic was In Her Words. I wanted people to send a song that had lyrics from a point of view that could not be covered or sung by a man.  Here’s that playlist:

To commemorate this New Year’s Eve, here are five songs that mattered to me in 2023.

I Am The Fire (acoustic version)  by Inglorious.

I cut my teeth on hard rock and roll as a kid and have never lost the penchant for loud guitars and heavy metal thunder.  One oft missing component among this genre is the skill of the lyricist doesn’t always match the virtuosity of the musicianship.  The song might rock, but the words sound cliche and embarrassing.  KISS is my case-in-point. While we all want to rock and roll all night and party everyday, it not very inspiring.

Hall of Fame Canadian power trio Rush, is an exception.  Until I saw them play live, I didn’t have a concept for how much sound can emanate from three musicians. but sometimes their lyrics float in a stratosphere so high, they leave my ears feeling like they can’t fly to that height. Rush has the ability to make me feel uneducated, but I bowed to that altar anyway.

Steel Panther is an interesting beast and is the most enigmatic band I know of and at the same time, the most vulgar band on the planet.  Their music is NSFW and if you track them down because I said so, I will deny I ever did so.  I wouldn’t recommend them, but the point I’m making is that their music is congruent with their lyric writing. Not sure what their thought process was as they decided to build such a band, but they went on to marry the honed craft of metal guitar with crude, but funny (to some) sexual references. They disregarded innuendo and went straight to overt, blatant vulgarity.

Two years ago, enter the British rock group Inglorious. And Spotify told me they were my favorite band, which to a music lover like me is like telling me which of my kids is my preferred.  But I listened to them a lot because I like their sound and singing along didn’t make me feel embarrassed that I am saying that out loud.  Seldom do I come across a song that feels like I wrote it, because every line touches something of my story.

Call It Dreaming by Iron & Wine

Sam Beam is who I want to be when I grow up.  He is masterful at crafting a lyric that has a distinct feeling attached to it. His voice and his acoustic guitar are a seamless story.  As a writer, I am drawn to artists who can say things I wish I could say, but lack the musical talent and words with which to gift the listener.  I can cut and paste this lyric alone, but it falls so short without his voice to deliver the gift.

“Where the time of our lives is all we have
And we get a chance to say
Before we ease away
For all the love you’ve left behind
You can have mine”

Call It Dreaming, Iron & Wine

Spotify told me this song was #11, but I have to disagree with the data and go with my gut.

King of Pain by The Police

The Police is a band I would never want to attempt to cover any of their songs. Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copland each had an internal metronome that ticked on a special cadence. When the three of them came together for their tumultuous 7 year career, they came up with songs that sounded so different and distinct, to attempt to reproduce them would be moot.

The song matters because the title matters.  I am drawn to beauty and pain, however or wherever I encounter it. It might be in nature, or in listening to a stranger’s story. I’ve always had the peculiar ability to sit with grief and not run from the person suffering it. 

I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain

King of Pain by The Police

King of Pain ranked #27 and I’m not sure why it was so low.  Maybe I started listening to it later in the year?

Particles – Island Songs VI by Olafur Aranalds

I listened to a podcast earlier this year titled Why You Like The Music You Do. Susan Rogers is a music producer-turned-neuroscientist that became fascinated by how people choose the type of music they listen to.  Some are drawn to the lyrics, others not at all.  Some prefer the intellectual stimulation, others for purely how it feels.

This song falls into the latter category for me. It’s all about the feeling it invokes in me.  I think it’s why I have specific playlists for rainy days. And this one is canonized among each of them.

Black Joy by aja monet

I guess this should be in the genre of spoken word, but the rhythm in her rhymes invoke imagery in a song-like way.  She presents thoughts, scenes and scenarios from her childhood neighborhood.  She recalls her cultural connections that are way outside my rural Oklahoma heritage, but lets me in to see what it is like to see the world through her eyes.

Here’s to where the music takes us in 2024.  Don’t stop the music. Here’s a bonus track.

Don’t Stop the Music by Jamie Cullum