10 Songs that Changed My Life

Today there was a discussion on Twitter about songs that changed our lives.  Here are mine,  all written down for posterity.

I think our most formative experiences happen around the ages 11-14. At least that was the way with me. You can totally tell that I was a somewhat melancholic 80s kid.

1.  “Mad World” by Tears for Fears




In 1983, a local radio station that I listened to as a child changed formats from AOR to “alternative”.  I was  listening at the moment they did it.

I hadn’t known what they were doing.  I had switched on the radio but there was a lot of dead air.  I was confused, but I kept the radio on because I had a feeling something was going to happen.

And then the DJ came on and said something, and played “Mad World” as their very first song.

A light blazed on in my brain.  I realized that the music I had listened to before was mass-produced generic stuff.  There was actually something different out there,  music which spoke to me directly and was relevant to my life.

“Pale Shelter” was the best track on The Hurting, but I’ll always remember “Mad World” as the first song I ever heard that I could relate to.

2. “Black and White” by INXS

I spent half my adolescence wishing I were in England, because all the good new wave bands were British.  I spent the other half wishing I were in Australia because that was where all the great rock bands were from. And of all those bands, INXS was my favorite.

Rush through my veins straight to my head.  My mind is a planet for you to roam”   is my vote for the greatest song lyric of all time.

3. “Church Not Made With Hands” by the Waterboys

The majestic opening riff  has always made me see, in my mind’s eye,  banners fluttering from the towers of Cair Paravel and green fields that roll on and on forever.  Mike Scott‘s wild, scalded-cat singing is like a blast of cold air from outside.  I realized that music makes it possible to dream while awake.

4. “The Road” by the Alarm

(This video is a bit strange as there is no “official” video. But it has the best version of the song.)

The road opens up in front of my eyes

The only limitation is in my mind

Whenever I hear this song, it electrifies me.  My soul is bursting and I can conquer the world.  I still hear it in my mind’s ear whenever I start out for some strange new place.

5. “Radioactivity” by Kraftwerk

The most original and futuristic band ever, it is hard to believe that this song (and one of the first music videos) is from 1975.   From the first moment I heard it, this song wrapped me in its electronic spell and has held me ever since.  From the rhythm in Morse code to the eerie ghost choir in the background,  there has never been anything like it and there will never be.

6. “The Garden” by John Foxx

John Foxx is one of the great wordsmiths of the English language.  Who else could use the word “esplanade” in a song without sounding like a pretentious twit?

Ours is no age of poetry, twitterhaiku notwithstanding.  But if it were I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Foxx would deserve a place among Byron, Browning, Keats and Shelley.  He spins the most elaborate language into song and yet his lines are supple and weightless as spiderwebs.

Listening to The Garden is like stepping into another world where nothing exists but nature,  bathed in a golden twilight.  When the song finally ends in a burst of twittering songbirds, I am sad, because I don’t want to leave.

7. “Dead Souls” by Joy Division

This song is a drill boring deep into our collective soul and letting all the darkness out.  It hurts so much,  but in a good and necessary way.

I’m not much into tradition.  I hate being pressured to be merry on holidays. But there is something I like to do every year on December 25th.  I lie around and listen to all the Joy Division songs I can as loud as I can for as long as I can.  I call it the Joy Division Christmas Special.

8. “Bad” (live) by U2

It’s difficult to describe the extraordinary power of this song;  it has to be heard to be understood.  It is a triumphant catharsis, but somehow it hurts even more than Joy Division does.   It’s like my soul is pulled out, the dirt on it is blasted off, and then it is stretched — almost to the point of breaking.

9.”Four Seasons in One Day” – Crowded House

This song is about the bittersweet irony of life.

My brother has suffered all his life from addiction and the damage inflicted on us by our abusive parents.

I lost contact with him for almost ten years.  When I found him again, I took him to see the Finn Brothers live.   For the first time in my life (and as it turns out the only time) I had money, and I wanted to do something for him.

So I took him on a trip to the city where the concert was and paid for hotel, restaurants, everything.  I thought he would be happy.  But he wasn’t.  The more I did for him, the unhappier he was.  He felt his lack of ability to reciprocate so keenly.  I hoped he would at least be able to enjoy the concert itself.

He had never heard of Crowded House before we went, but by the time they played this song, he was singing along with all his might.

I like music but I can live without it; he can’t.  He needs music like he needs air.  I sat there with tears rolling down my face, not wiping them away for fear he might see my hand move.

10. “Weightlifting” by the Trashcan Sinatras

This is the song I want to hear as I lay dying.

I only worry that I’ll die in a plane crash or some equally unexpected and violent way, and I won’t have the chance.  But if I have a last few minutes while that plane is spiraling toward the ground, I’ll be clawing for my earphones so I can listen to this on the way down. Maybe I’ll have some last moment of clarity where I see myself as an insignificant handful of atoms dispersing into the infinite richness of the universe, and I’ll be able to let the terror go.

Leave it behind, a great weight lifting

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What songs changed your life and why?   Share your experience in the comments box below.

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One thought on “10 Songs that Changed My Life

  1. Pingback: Confessions of an accidental music blogger « Exiled Stardust

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