10 Songs That Changed My Life

When I meet someone new I always ask them what kind of music they like. It shocks and troubles me when a person says, “I don’t know, I don’t really listen to music.” WHAT?? That two-second answer forces me to reevaluate this potential friendship. How does a person even get through their life without listening to music?? That just makes me sad. I have spent countless hours listening to music and discussing music. I suppose being a singer in a band forces one to talk about music, but so many friendships and memories have been made through music. I can’t imagine my life without it. Not even for a second.

One of my friends encouraged me to write a music blog as I’m always talking about my band or music in general. Ok, not “always”, but regularly. That got me thinking. What can I write about music? There are only a zillion topics to choose from. I decided to keep it simple and offer a list of 10 songs that have changed my life. You’d think this would be an easy task, but I must correct you there. Sure, it’s really easy to think of songs I love that are meaningful, but they may not have changed my life. Hmmm…this requires some thought. After much debate, here is my list. I hope you find it interesting and insightful. Perhaps it will encourage you to make your own list enabling you to revisit some important milestones in your life. I’d love to hear your list, too. Don’t be shy about sharing. Here goes!

These aren’t necessarily in any particular order.

1. “More Than A Feeling” by Boston. When CDs first became available, I didn’t have any. I was still marveling over the dual cassette option on my boombox. You mean I can make my own mixes and record songs off the radio? That’s so cool! My older brother Paul was a rabid music fan. I think he has listened to just about everything that’s out there at least once. Of course he had CDs. These were the early days when he only had 10 or 20. I’m sure he owns thousands of discs at this point. One of the first CDs my brother owned was the debut album from Boston. “More Than A Feeling” was track 1. I carefully placed a bookmark in my brother’s CD pile so I could put Boston back in the right place. Of course he would notice it was moved; he had a little sister. Can you hear the acoustic guitar fading in? I can. Tom Scholz wrote the song and played all of those harmonic guitars. And then Brad Delp came in with first a quiet pleasant-sounding voice to explode into those super-high notes that are nearly impossible to duplicate. My mind was blown. After spending my girlhood listening to The Muppets and Strawberry Shortcake, I finally heard real rock ‘n roll. I was never the same again. There’s a whole album after that song, too! “More Than A Feeling” taught me what rock ‘n roll sounded like. It’s an album I’ve never gotten tired of hearing and my brother never knew I frequently “borrowed” his CD. (Well, he does now.) He eventually made me a cassette copy, God bless him. I’m sure it wasn’t to be nice, but to keep me away from his stuff.

2. “Leave It” by Yes. I remember watching the world premiere of the video of this song on MTV. I thought Yes was a new 80’s band and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was their first hit. Oh, the fun of being an ignorant kid. Being a girl who loved singing, “Leave It” was a jaw-dropping song in my book. Listen to all those harmonies! I didn’t know much about recording back then, so I assumed everyone sang the song all together at one time. One take. You practice until you get it right, right? Over the years I have tried to learn everyone’s part in case they need me to fill in. What a fun piece to learn! I listened to it over and over. “90125” is still one of my favorite albums. When I started hanging around with my husband, I told him I loved that song hoping he wouldn’t think I was a dork. He produced a surround sound version of the album with a version of “Leave It” featuring vocals only. Wow! That is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. This song taught me about harmonizing and that singing with a group can be a rewarding challenge. How could I not be a singer after hearing that gem?

3. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette. I know, I know…quit groaning. It’s not what you think. I know this is the 90’s anthem for girl power and the ultimate break-up song, but that’s not why it changed my life. When this song came out, I wasn’t particularly sad or depressed, but I really liked Alanis’s sound. She could sing quiet and pretty and then melodically yell some biting lyrics. That was pretty cool. Not a lot of chicks were doing that at that time. I seem to remember a lot of Shania Twain going around at that time. She has a beautiful voice, but not very rock ‘n roll. In my early 20’s I started hanging out at karaoke bars. You see, I loved to sing and wanted to try singing in front of people. Drunk people are pretty forgiving audiences. So, I decided to try, “You Oughta Know.” Why not? I had sung it in my bedroom a hundred times. Guess what? I totally rocked it out. My choir/musical theater training was doing me some good. When I finished hollering my song at a room full of strangers, they actually clapped. As I shyly walked back to my seat, people were stopping me to tell me how great I sounded. To quote Keanu Reeves, “Wo.” I loved the attention and I loved knowing that I had the power to do something great. Although I could never sing this song in front of my Mom, I did record it for my very first demo. (I changed the bad word so my Mom could listen to it.) So, Alanis Morissette in all of her anger and bitterness kindly ushered me into the spotlight. That was really nice of her.

4. “It’s Too Late” by Carole King. When I was in my 20’s a tribute to “Tapestry” was produced. Amy Grant sang “It’s Too Late” and I loved it. I loved her voice on the song and the arrangement was smooth. I don’t mean to dis the original as I enjoy that, too. I used to scour the newspapers for audition notices. This was a bit before the internet was a go-to resource. There was a local church putting on a big production. I guess they had been producing this show every year for several years. Not really knowing what it was, I went to audition. I sang, “White Christmas” for about ten people. They asked me to sing a Christmas song. I was selected to be a part of the show. I would be performing at the main attraction which was a live band. There would be a group of about 8 of us who would all perform a song. The rest of us would sing background vocals. The rest of the group already knew each other and I was the outsider. Being a church production, most of the folks were pretty nice to me. I chose “It’s Too Late” to sing for my solo song. We practiced for several weeks and then the big day arrived. This would be the first time that I would sing as myself, not as a theatrical character, with a band in front of a large group of people, including my family. After a few songs, it was my turn to perform. As I was introduced, I walked up to the microphone and looked out among the 100+ people in the room. Once I got going, it was great! What a rush! When the song was over, everyone clapped and yelled and no one threw rotten vegetables. “It’s Too Late” will always hold a very special place in my heart.

5. “Paper Airplane” by Willy Porter. This may be a song that you’ve never heard. That’s okay. I hadn’t heard the song or even heard of Willy Porter until I met my husband. The beginning of our relationship was well, interesting. It was really an uphill climb to be together, but I was willing to fight for it. Apparently he was too. In my quest to show my amorous feelings I did what any normal girl would do and made him a mix CD. Everybody does that, right? I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it, but he made me one in return. Is there anything better than receiving a mix tape/CD from someone else? Most of the songs on his first CD to me were just songs he liked and wanted to share. No real hidden meanings, although I really tried to look for them. As I was getting worried that perhaps my feelings were unreciprocated, “Paper Airplane” played. This song was written and performed by Willy Porter who, in my opinion, is a very underrated musician. His guitar playing is intricate and masterful while his sweet voice could quiet an entire auditorium. You should listen to it for yourself. It’s the live version. There’s a line in the song that goes, “People say I’ve lost my footing, they should look into your eyes.” When that song ended, I knew Steve “like liked me” and my heart swelled. Aww…

6. “Wild Sex in the Working Class” by Oingo Boingo. Oddly enough, this song reminds me of my brother. Alright, alright, before you start gagging, it’s not like that. When I was a kid I looked up to my big brother. I wanted to do what he did, like what he liked and be wherever he thought was a cool place to be. We actually lived together in our 20’s/30’s and really got to know each other as adults. It’s a time I treasure. My brother is not an emotional person, I’m the emotional one. (No kidding??!!) After many years of an estranged relationship with our Dad, he told us that he was moving to California. He did not make arrangements to say good-bye to us, so we went to see him. My Dad bought us dinner and that was it. I said good-bye and walked to the door. I let my brother have his own moment as they have always been closer. Paul came to meet me totally upset. He did not get the farewell that he had hoped for. Their parting was rather cold, actually. I have never seen my brother that upset. Ever. We got into the car and drove away and that’s when “Wild Sex” came on the radio. It’s weird how sometimes the perfect song comes on the radio precisely when you need to hear it. Paul is a huge Oingo Boingo fan, so we turned up the song, rolled the windows down and rocked out. We drove away from the past and into the future with our heads held high and smiles on our faces. It was a side of my brother I had never seen before and I feel like it was a major event in our lives that only we could understand. It was a moving moment, for sure.

7. “Sweet Emotion” by Aersomith. Ok, stay with me. I know this song seems strange, but it will make sense momentarily. I can’t really say that I like this song and I wouldn’t say I’m an Aerosmith fan. I used to be a singer in a local Chicago band called Ruckus. This was actually the first band I was in. I learned a lot with those guys and we had some great times together. I was the last singer to come in after a long line of talented men and women, so the band’s song list was pretty set. Of course they let me choose a few songs of my own. Singing with Ruckus was a wonderful opportunity that I will always be grateful for. They believed in me and made me a member of their family. That being said, I was looking for another band to work with where we would perform more modern songs. I was planning to be in two bands at the same time. I started looking at ads on craigslist to find a band looking for a singer. I came across an ad that looked interesting and set up an audition. Over the phone, I agreed on audition songs with some guy named, Karl. He didn’t sound too creepy so I decided to meet him. I drove about an hour from my house to a stranger’s house to audition. To be honest, I didn’t really care if they liked me or not, because I was already in a band. I met the guys and we got set up in the “band room.” The first song we performed together was…wait for it…”Sweet Emotion.” I was stunned and pleased at how good these guys were. After a few more songs, they offered me the job. So many little details had to come together to get me to that audition to meet my future husband. If you have time someday I’ll tell you the whole story. It’s nearly magical. (As a point of interest, that audition was recorded and I can be heard laughing and joking with Steve, my husband. Pretty cool to have that.)

8. “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel. Anyone who has known me for more than 10 minutes knows that Billy Joel is my all-time favorite musician. I have never wavered in my choice, even through New Kids on the Block, Madonna and N’Sync. When I was a little kid I suppose I knew who Billy Joel was because my Mom or Dad probably listened to him a bit. When I was about 9 years old, again I was watching MTV and saw the video for, “The Longest Time.” It was entertaining enough for a kid to watch, but the part that I loved was at the end of the video when Mark Goodman or Nina Blackwood told me that Billy Joel sang all of the parts himself. What??!! For some reason, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I had never heard of someone recording multiple vocal tracks. I didn’t think that was allowed. I assumed that Billy Joel had figured this out himself and was creating something brand new. I had to hear everything else this man sang. My Mom was joining Columbia House, if you remember that old mail-order music service, and she allowed my brother and me to choose a cassette or two. Here was my big chance to really dig into some Billy Joel. I picked “Innocent Man” and “Cold Spring Harbor.” I loved all of it. Kinda weird for a little kid, but I didn’t know that. I own every album on cassette and CD and I probably know those songs better than Billy does. His songbook has been the accompanying soundtrack to my life. Certain songs remind me of a time in my life or a certain event. I’m sure most people feel that way about an artist. When I visited New York, I carried around “Nylon Curtain” just in case I ran into Billy. I was hoping he would sign my CD. I never ran into him. I’m not even sure what I’d say to him, as he’s probably heard it all before. I hope I get the opportunity to meet him someday. “The Longest Time” is not my favorite song by Billy Joel, but it always reminds me of how I came to love his music. I’m still impressed that he did all of the vocals. In older brother style, Paul later told me that all artists do that, so that was nothing special. Way to poop on the magic, Paul. That’s okay; I still think it’s cool.

9. “Then” by Brad Paisley. Okay, it’s gonna get mushy here, so if that sort of stuff offends you, please proceed to number 10. If you’re still with me, I thank you. I’m not a country girl in the least bit. I can appreciate the country music world is full of talented musicians and songwriters, but it’s just not a style I can get with. My husband, then boyfriend, has a much higher tolerance for country. If there’s cool guitar playing, he’ll listen. Somehow he came across a special with Brad Paisley and heard the song “Then.” I was scheduled to have major surgery a few years ago, before we were married, and I was pretty scared. In fact, it was the scariest event in my life. I wasn’t sure if Steve was worried or concerned, as he is very good at keeping his feelings in-check. The night before my surgery, Steve told me that he wanted me to hear this great song he had heard. He plays a lot of cool songs for me, so I wasn’t expecting anything like “Then.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear Braid Paisley perform the song, followed by Steve telling me that’s how he feels about me. Basically, during the song Brad talks about meeting his wife. It’s kind of a timeline of their relationship. Paisley talks about events and ends each verse with, “I thought I loved you then,” meaning that he keeps loving her more and more as the years go by. This song was the first dance at our wedding a year after that surgery. It was the only country song played all night. I asked Steve to fade out the guitar solo, so we wouldn’t be dancing so long. As a guitar player, he found that idea to be rather disgusting. Being a non-dancer, he now regrets having to awkwardly sway back and forth during that long guitar solo. (I danced around him.) In any case, I still get choked up when I hear that song and it reminds me of how much Steve loves me. It’s a song that is near and dear to my heart.

10. “Wonderwall by Oasis. This is a tricky one. Although I do really like the Oasis version, it’s really my band’s (Puddin’ Head) version that’s special to me. This one is pretty simple. When the band first started playing this song, I always sang it with Steve in mind. “There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how,” and “Maybe you’re gonna be the one that saves me” are lines that are important to me. We eventually recorded this song and Steve and I had a great time recording it together. When we eventually got married a couple years later, I walked down the aisle to Puddin’ Head’s version of “Wonderwall.” It was a pretty cool experience to be hearing my own voice singing to me at my wedding. You can probably guess that this song changed my life, for it was the start of my wedding and married life. It’s still a song I love to sing and it’s even more special now.

Thanks for sticking with this blog. It did get rather long, didn’t it? I invite you to think about the songs that changed your life. I’ll bet you’ll remember happy and life-changing moments that will inspire you to listen to those songs again with fresh ears. I’ll bet you’ve changed and learned a lot since you first heard those songs. Are you a better person? Are you a different person? I’d like to think that I am both. Music and songs are experiences that are so individual, but universal as well. Have you ever been to a concert where the entire crowd was singing along? It’s pretty powerful. Why not get that CD Walkman out of the closet and drop in your favorite CD? Put on your headphones, close your eyes and really listen. What do you hear?

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