Posts Tagged ‘Songs that impacted my life’

Note: I was gonna call this blog Tracks that Stopped Me in My Tracks, but that would have just been confusing and dumb. I think. Maybe it would have been cool. Damn it. I’m second-guessing myself already.

This has been a difficult one for me. Trying to narrow the songs that impacted and influenced my life down to just a few? Whew. Not easy, and I gotta tell you up front – some of these may surprise you. These tunes may not be critically acclaimed or Grammy Award winning, hell, you may not have heard of some of them. I tried to narrow down the list by thinking this – what songs do I hear that still make me stop and really listen, even after hundreds, maybe thousands of repeated plays?

And you know, some songs grab you with the hook. Others, the lyrics. If you’re lucky the song has both. For me, there have been several songs whose words and melody have had a tremendous impact. Let us begin. And please, for the love of God, click on the song titles! Deep breath . . .

Acadian Driftwood – The Band (1975)

Yeah, it was hard to leave out The Weight, but there has simply always been something about this song that touched me. Here’s what’s beautiful about music – that a Canadian song describing the forcible displacement of the Acadian people after the war between the French and English could have such an effect on a kid from southern Ohio.

Robbie Robertson’s lyrics were influenced by Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, and as I mentioned they describe the deportation of the Acadians. Just a beautiful, haunting, intelligently written song.

Oh, and be sure to click on the title and listen to the live version from The Band’s farewell concert and movie, The Last Waltz. It’s in the box set. The boys are joined by fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, and the vocal solos by Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko will make your skin tingle.

Nowhere Man – The Beatles (1965)

It should come as no surprise that the four guys from Liverpool were the first to write a song that made me think. Before “Nowhere Man” I just liked music for the beat and the melody, never expecting to learn anything. Still, when I heard these lyrics I was mesmerized . . .

Doesn’t have a point of view

Knows not where he’s going to

Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

You know, I was just a kid but I knew exactly what they were saying – wake up, young man, and see what’s all around you.

E’s Tune – E (1992)

One of my man Mark Oliver Everett’s early songs, before he founded the Eels. Who can’t relate to these lyrics?

Life’s just an ugly mess

The angry souls in such distress

Still there is a time when moments can be sweet

And it feels like someone’s smiling down on me.

Amen brother. This song hits home with me on every level. Period.

Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan (1964)

Although this song came out before “Nowhere Man,” it never made it to my rural Ohio existence until later. Let’s just say Dylan’s protest stuff wasn’t in rotation on Mom and Dad’s turntable. When I finally got a listen, though, I was blown away:

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’.

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’.

Those lyrics, which addressed political divide and the generation gap, may have planted the seeds that eventually grew into my liberal outlook, much to the chagrin of a couple of my conservative friends. The song became an anthem of the civil rights movement as well. Powerful stuff.

Your Imagination – Brian Wilson (1999)

This was on Brian’s comeback album after his years of having major mental issues, and when I heard it open the album it took my breath away. All the old Brian Wilson genius was there – the gorgeous voice, the melody, the lyrics, and the harmonies. Oh, those magical harmonies.

Another bucket of sand

Another wave and the pier

I miss the way that I used

To call the shots around here

You know it would’ve been nice

If I had something to do

I took a trip through the past

And got to spend it with you.

If you loved The Beach Boys but haven’t heard this song. Download it. NOW.

The “Fish” Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag – Country Joe & the Fish (1967)

Well, if I hadn’t figured out Viet Nam yet Country Joe drove the point home for me with these lyrics:

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,

Pack your boys off to Vietnam.

Come on fathers, don’t hesitate,

Send ’em off before it’s too late.

Be the first one on your block

To have your boy come home in a box.

Ouch. Needless to say the song didn’t get a lot of airplay on conservative WLW over in The Natti. After midnight I could get WLS out of Chicago though, and my ears were forever cooked.

Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys (1966)

Yep, Brian Wilson again. It wasn’t the lyrics that blew me away with this song, but rather the music. Brian Wilson’s “pocket symphony” showed me that a rock song could go deeper musically than it ever had before. The varied instrumentation was groundbreaking (A cello? Are you serious?). And what the hell was that woo-woo sounding thing? I found out later it was an electro-theremen, but all I knew at the time was that it sounded cool as hell. We all know that Lennon and McCartney were trying desperately to keep up with Wilson in the studio production department during the mid-60’s. The album Pet Sounds, and this song, illustrates why.

Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)

Ah, John Fogerty’s ode to the advantages of the privileged as they related to the draft. It is sung from the viewpoint of somebody being drafted, and since I was 14 at the time the draft was looming ominously in my future. I listened, and when Fogerty sang these lyrics, it hit home with me . . .

Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,

Ooh, they send you down to war, lord,

And when you ask them, how much should we give?

Ooh, they only answer more! more! more!

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I aint’ no military son, son.

It ain’t me, it ain’t me; I ain’t no fortunate one.

Oh, and how can I forget that kick-ass opening guitar riff?

Southern Man – Neil Young (1970)

This was Neil’s shot at racism in the south, and I was listening intently. I’d remembered the “white’s only” drinking fountains and restrooms on my family’s yearly vacations down south, and I also remember my parents pointing out why that was so terribly wrong.

Southern man better keep your head

Don’t forget what your good book said

Southern change gonna come at last

Now your crosses are burning fast, southern man.

Pretty strong stuff that elicited a legendary response from Skynyrd with “Sweet Home Alabama.” The song also led to a bunch of death threats aimed at Neil Young, which he famously ignored. I’d also like to point out the song is not an indictment of all southerners. You know, just the ignorant racist ones.

The Last Resort – The Eagles (1976)

This was Don Henley’s missive about the American West directed at polluters and corporate greed. I always thought it was vastly underrated. By the way, I also play it for my students when we discuss Manifest Destiny and our conquering of the west. Good stuff . . .

Some rich men came and raped the land, nobody caught ‘em

Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus, people bought ‘em.

And later on . . .

We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds,

In the name of destiny and the name of God.

And you can see them there, on Sunday morning

They stand up and sing about what it’s like up there

They call it paradise, I don’t know why

You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.

Over the Rainbow – Eric Clapton (2002)

Probably my favorite song of all-time, and this is my favorite version. I am touched every single time I hear it. Sad and plaintive, but uplifting at the same time. It’s performed not particularly slow, but not fast either. Mid-tempo I guess. Whatever it is, I love it. Oh, and it’s performed live, folks. Love Clapton’s vocals on this one too. And oh, by the way, if it’s not played at my funeral I’ll come back and haunt all y’all’s ass. Note: Did I punctuate “all y’all’s” correctly? I’ve no idea.

Well, there they are. The most influential and impactful songs of my life. So, what are the songs that influenced you or had an impact? Whaddaya got?

Originally published on March 12th, 2013.