Sunday, February 25, 2007

31 Songs

Inspired by Nick Hornby's excellent 31 Songs book, and kicked into gear by Binface and Witsy getting theirs out into the ether, I have complied my list of 31 songs. I have a few caveats to begin with. This is not a comprehensive list of all the songs I love, it would be too long for that. There are also several rules to abide by. Only one song by an artist is the hardest one, but the most needed to stop this from just being a list by about 5 artists. Another rule is that these have to be genuine songs to have affected your life or be loved by you. There is no space here for being cool or trying to impress. This is nearly impossible to keep but you will see that I have managed it, Meatloaf is still on this list. Please don't stop reading.

These are songs that have travelled with me in my life, some I love just because I love them, most have a story attached, a box of memories to delve into. I am slightly obsessed with music, as you will discover I can chart my life and friendships through music. I find it hard to imagine what you would do or be if you didn't have a permanent soundtrack in your head. Music is how I express what is in my head, gives voice to the emotions, helps me communicate with others and does weird things inside me.

I've loved and been frustrated at compiling this list, it's a lot of fun, but also too hard. Mostly because music tastes seem to be so relative to the indivdual involved, I've been afraid I'll never be able to explain what I love about these songs, because you might not love them too. They are personal to my story and that's why I find it hard to share some of them. But enough ramblings, here are the songs. Enjoy, wince, laugh and cry along with these snapshots of my life.


Being restricted to one song from one artist is a headache and brings it’s own limitations in this whole thing. How do you chose just one song from artists that you have loved for different reasons over 15 or so years? This small section is my attempt to do that, I’ve loved these bands/singers for a long time now and they’ve been too prolific in their writing to just chose one song. But here goes.

1. A kind of magic- Queen

Queen, the first band I knew all the dates of birth of, the first band I covered my walls with pictures of, the first band I grabbed as my own. Sadly, all due to the death of Freddie Mercury which I heard on the radio before I’d really heard much of their music. But the radio stations all played Queen songs, the tribute concert is still on video somewhere at my parents house and I was hooked. I remember clearly the moment my friend handed me a recording of their second Greatest Hits album in the corridor at school, the longing to get home and play it.

Queen have done better songs than this one, there are others I could have chosen, but this is the first one I really listened to that afternoon when I got home from school. I remember switching off the stereo after two or three songs because it was too much, I wanted to savour it all. The opening bars of ‘A kind of magic’ had sent shivers up my spine, an over used cliche when talking about songs, but the best description of the way music can grab you, do something that nothing else has ever done before inside you and make you long for more.

Every Saturday I would go down to the collectors record shop in Guildford with a friend, we would spend hours looking at the records and tapes and eventually buy one, sometimes just for the need to buy one, sometimes because we’d found what we were looking for, sometimes because we wanted to educate each other. Gradually all the Queen albums were found and I became hooked on buying, collecting and loving the feel of walking out of shop with a fresh load of music to do things inside me.

2. No Surrender (acoustic) - Bruce Springsteen

Bruce is someone who gets a bad press, if Reagan had completely missed the point of one of your songs and used it in a campaign to be president it would be easy for you to get a bad press as well. When I meet someone else who really gets Bruce I love it, for a long time he was one of those artists that you didn’t mention on your top 5 list. But he’s more than the 80s cheese images of the Born in the USA album. He’s someone who sings with passion, someone who expresses important stuff about life and reality, and who sings like he means it. His songs tell stories, take you on journeys through dark nights and long car chases, and some of his songs do make you want to run around the room with glee, drive way too fast, grin with much joy and cry with the unbearable sadness of some of this life.

Thinking about it, I also love the way his songs sometimes express hope, hope that things might work out, hope that there might be something better up ahead on the road. I like that not everything has to be black all the time, and sometimes you do want to sing along with the fact that “it ain’t no sin to be glad that you’re alive”. There should be music for those times. When you want to sing about salvation through music, relationships and escaping the current grind of life. No surrender does just that, and speaks of the redemption found in music, as I’m a fan of the darker side of life I much prefer the sad acoustic version than the loud rock anthem. Mainly because it sounds like Mr Springsteen has been through more emotionally and is singing it one last time to scrape some hope together in this world. (or maybe that’s my bias and really songs just sound better played on an acoustic guitar.)

3. Stay, far away, so close- U2

U2 are really where mine and my brothers music tastes collide, cross over and find a lot of common ground. I love the way they progress throughout the albums they make, the cyclical way their albums have come out. Their albums always come in stacks of three. Boy, October and War form their early years of working out how to do this rock thing, and getting it pretty near perfect on War. The Unforgettable Fire starts to experiment with new things, new ways of expression, Joshua Tree is when they nail it and Rattle and Hum is when the wheels start to fall off. And so they go back to the drawing board and come up with something new and inventive again, Actung Baby; if ever you need to explain the difference between the 80s and 90s as decades to an alien from outer space, just sit them down with the Joshua Tree and Actung Baby.

Going back to my brother for a moment, you can tell a lot about us both from the fact that his favourite U2 album is the Joshua Tree and mine is Actung Baby. Someone once described Actung Baby as the sound of the Joshua Tree being hacked down with a chainsaw. In the days of cassettes the first song had us all checking our stereos to see if they were chewing the tape rather than just playing the distorted opener to Zoo Station. Irony, cynicism, tiredness of hope never getting fulfilled and the loss of meaning pretty much marked the 90s and U2 moved with that. Zooropa took it further and then it all started to fray at the edges with Pop. And so they went back to the drawing board and put all the good elements of their career together and came up with ‘All that you can’t leave behind’ and ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’. If things carry on like this the next album might not be so great and we might be due for a new invention again, it’ll be interesting to see.

Anyway, clearly all this is just an excuse to write down my theories on U2 as a band, now to the song. There are too many good ones to chose from and so I chose this one, a slightly obscure one only listeners to Zooropa will discover. It’s a beautiful song with all the usual elements that make for a beautiful U2 song, but I chose it for the ending alone. I have never heard a cymbol clash used so evocatively.

4. Paul Simon- Graceland

There are songs that are companions on the journey, there are songs that stick through the dark times and songs that keep you warm late at night when it has all become too much. There are songs that are too painful to listen to again and again because of the memories they evoke. There are songs that make you feel things too deeply and so are restricted listening, or songs that you want to listen to again and again and again until you can recite every lyric. I hope Mr Simon won’t be offended by this entry, the things is, I love his songs because they don’t really have that effect on me. Yes, I love them, yes some I play over and over again but they’ve never been with me in the emotional depths, or highs and for that I love listening to them.

I can happily forget how good Paul Simon is at what he does, I don’t need to listen to his songs but they are perfect for the times when I just want to love music for being music, when I don’t have to worry about the memories that will come through as a result of listening to them. Sometimes we just need music that is great for it’s own sake rather than the memories it evokes in our head, a less intense experience maybe, but needed for the moments of just getting on with it in our lives.

Now, I’m not saying they are bland songs, I’m just saying that I’ve never cried my eyes out to them and so I love rediscovering his songs from time to time because he is clearly just a musical genius (we won’t talk about some of his later stuff…). Graceland is a sublime album, I don’t think there’s a duff song on it. And the song Graceland sums up Paul Simon, the way the music gently wraps itself around you, the smooth voice, intelligent lyrics, humming rhythm and the need to head off somewhere to find some hope. “I have reason to be believe, we all will be received in Graceland.”

The I blame the parents section:

I claim no responsibility for these songs. I had no choice. They were the only records on offer and they laid my musical foundations. My love of random folk music, slightly embarrassing appreciation of country music and joy at cheese can be entirely blamed on someone else. I can trace almost every song I love now back to these songs and artists. These are songs that are like old familiar friends, songs that take me back to my childhood, songs that I will never get tired of because they are so entrenched in my story. These are the songs that I will carry with me forever. These are the companions along the way.

5. The Rhyme and Reason- Garth Hewitt

This one is slightly obscure, few people have heard of Garth beyond certain Christian circles and people over the world who he’s been involved in speaking up for. He is a lover of justice and speaking up for the poor. He taught me a lot. We had all his records in our house when we were growing up, my parents were friends with him and my Mum worked for him. I couldn't escape him. But I am indebted to him. However nasal the voice, however strange the songs, I owe him my love of American music, my appreciation of singer songwriters and my love of people who can make you cry with the passion they put into singing the songs they write.

He didn’t write easy to understand songs at first. Talking through the meaning of lyrics with my brother taught me to listen to songs, to listen to the stories that you can tell so much better with a guitar. He taught me of a world that is wrong, a world that is messed up and that telling the stories of that world is important. He expressed things about the God who cared about these stories too.

This song, the rhyme and reason, was one I spend time trying to work out. Time dwelling in the lyrics and taking them on as my own. Which is something we all do with songs, we find ourselves in the story, we look for the point of identification and the expressions that put into words the deep corners of our souls. This was one of the first songs that I can remember doing that to me. The cry at the end “I long to be of value, I long to have a friend, I long to have a home to go to when my life should end” became my cry, and later on the answer as well became mine “And just as I start thinking that this could not be mine, he contradicts me with his body and a cross far back in time”. I spent lots of the dark times crying out for these things that could only ever come through that cross.

6. Folsum Prison Blues- Johnny Cash

The prison albums sum up everything I love about music. I’ve never been able to explain to anyone adequately why I love these two albums so much. I don’t think I’ve ever played them to anyone for fear that they won’t get it and won’t get how much I love them. It’s a risk playing music that means something to you to your friends, there is a risk that they’ll laugh and then you’ll have to pretend that this track you’ve played them didn’t really mean that much to you and that they haven’t just mocked part of your inner soul that you rarely show anyone. It’s a risk I rarely take, music is so personal to each one of us and for those of us who express our souls through the music we listen to, who have a soundtrack to our lives, who have a song in our heads constantly it’s a risk to expose that to others who might not understand.

Anyway, I love these albums because you can hear the men responding to the songs on them, you can hear that Johnny was doing something magical in those prisons as he sang songs that identified with their plight, as he didn’t preach to them but sang with them in their pain, repentance and unrepentance. The roar of appreciation for the line “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” sends shivers up my spine. I couldn’t believe what was going on when I first listened to these albums, some songs took my breath away and left me stunned at his guts, understanding and presence. I haven’t listened to this album with anyone else and I’m not sure I ever could, what if they didn’t get it? I can’t explain even here what this music does to me, what the sound of a man bringing hope to others and being able to hear hope living and breathing does deep inside me.

7. Sloop John B- The Beach Boys

One of the only bands we could all agree on in car journeys when I was growing up was the Beach Boys. They gave me my love of cheese and my love of any song with a catchy sing a long chorus. Sloop John B is from the more serious, less jump in a car with a girl side of the Beach Boys. A story of longing to go home, a song I sing when I’m fed up with this world, when all of me just wants to go home, where the things I struggle with will be gone, when there will be peace and this trip will be over. It’s a great song to sing at the top of your voice.

8. What did you learn in school today?- Pete Seeger

Some songs teach you things. Pete Seeger taught me about civil rights, taught me about another world far away from white middle class Guildford, about people standing up for their rights in a world that thought they were second rate citizens. Pete taught me about protest songs and although I didn’t understand the full implications of some of his songs he taught me about metaphor and breaking free from conformity. When I was about 10 or 11 I had an old chewed up tape of one of his concerts that I ‘borrowed’ from my parents. I loved explaining his songs to one of my friends, possibly the first memory of me introducing music and communicating through it. ‘What did you learn in school today’ is clever, funny and an example of how easy propaganda is to spread.

9. Sweet Soul Music- Arther Conley

A song for Sunday mornings to be put on the record player and turned up loud. When my parents went off to church and I stayed at home to be rebellious I would put on my Dad’s old soul records and dance my blues away around the house. I secretly love dancing and funky soul music is perfect for such occasions. The song is just Arther Conley singing about how much he loves Soul music, trying to express in a song how great other songs and singers are, all to the backdrop of some funky guitar. Simple but effective in making me dance around the house like a loony.

10. America- Simon and Garfunkel

No round up of the songs that were to influence everything else would be complete without Simon and Garfunkel. Their spectacular brand of misery and dark lyrics combined with pretty hum along tunes is a familiar theme throughout the rest of my record collection. With songs that have opening lines such as; “hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again”, songs that devastate you when you listen to the lyrics and make you realise that you’ve been humming along happily to a nice ditty about the effects of a Nuclear Holocaust, it’s hard to pick just one song to talk about. And so I’ve copped out somewhat and just gone for what I think is one of their best songs, purely on the merit of the song itself. I could have talked about the first time I listened to Richard Cory, the identification with I am a Rock, the amusement of listening to Ceclia and the (as I though at a young age) risky lyrics. But America is just a beautiful song.

It’s got it all, wistful road journeys out into the wilderness, expressions of lostness, being alone, searching for some indefinable meaning, and of course the line “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why”. I’ve always wanted to go back in time, get a camper van and drive across America, probably due to this song.


11. Everything louder than everything else- Meatloaf

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a sucker for a good tune, lyrics to make you cringe and that overwhelming feeling that something is grabbing your insides and squeezing you tight. This song encapsulates all that into a nifty 8 minutes. I could have picked anything from the Bon Jovi/Def Leppard/Bryan Adams back catalogue but nothing else gets closer to defining my love of uncool music that makes me put my fist in the air, sing at the top of my voice and want to drive off cliffs triumphantly.

Meatloaf himself is an incredibly uncool person. He has no style or taste, looks or even critical appreciation. You don’t admit to liking Meatloaf. And if you do it’s probably only because Bat out of Hell IS a classic rock album and you want to show you know things like that. The fact that his music makes you lie on your back on the floor playing air guitar remains a closely guarded secret between you and your bedroom walls. Especially if you are a girl. This is, in theory, the music of boys. The music that makes them want to grab girls, drive off into the night and get laid in a good all time American way. But it still does something in the deepest darkest regions of my soul that I don’t want to talk about.

The song itself sums up and defines everything about the genre that I love, from the opening; ridiculous dialogue and unashamed passion for lines that no human being should be allowed to say out loud. “Goddammit daddy, you know I love you, but you got a hell of a lot to learn about Rock and Roll”. I mean, really. How do you get away with something like that? But from those opening lines to the very first power chord you are hooked into something that approaches embarrassment, but ends up grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and pushing you into a room that you long to enter but have never dared. You see, the song has an affect, it makes me write overblown long pompous statements. It is an overblown long pompous song and I love it.

It sums up the disaffection of youth, the desire to escape, the feelings of being misunderstood, and and and…. Look, lets forget the cod psychology and sociological explanations, the song rocks. more importantly it ROCKS. I can’t defend the song. It has no defence, it’s overblown, stupid, cheesy, clichéd and far far too long. But I love it. I love that I can sing along to it at the top of my voice. I love that when it comes on I want to sing with all my heart, and truly believe that a wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age. That life has no meaning so we might as well sing into the night, jump onto a stage and play music until we can play no more.

Who knows, maybe it’s just me. I wish I was cooler, I wish I reacted differently, but there is something about this music. It’s got me. Cheesy rock. The anthem of the rebel stuck inside me that wants to stick two fingers up at life and believes that problems can be solved and life can be worth living if all you have is a guitar, some drums and a few killer riffs. And write clichéd sentences with the phrase ‘killer riff’ in them. Oh dear.

Kill me now.

12. Paint it Black- The Rolling Stones

For someone who loves music so much, it seemed obvious to want to join a band. I tried the guitar, I tried the piano, but it later turned out I was OK at hitting things in time. When they advertised drum lessons at school I remember the agony of fighting my shyness to be able to go up to the teacher afterwards and say that I wanted to learn. I loved learning to play the drums, talking to my slightly mad teacher about the blues, Jazz and the Rolling Stones. And then I got put in touch with a guitarist through a friend and Highly Dubious was born. We were a band who didn’t know how to play in time for the first year. My poor family had to put up with the sound of drums pounding out some kind of rhythm, Elli’s slightly off key singing and the endless repeats of Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones coming out of our garage every Sunday afternoon. For a whole year. We did get better, we got a singer and a bassist and two types of songs. We had fast depressing songs, and slow depressing songs. You get the picture. This song is so brilliantly dark, all they want to do is paint everything black. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

13. Wave of Mutilation (U.K Surf)- The Pixies

One of the films I constantly watched as an angst ridden teenager was Pump up the Volume. Don’t rush to buy it because you’ll probably be faced with some cliché ridden high school movie. The thing is, I loved it. Amongst the clichés it’s full of great one liners and lots of despair over the futility of life,
“They say I'm disturbed. Well, of course I'm disturbed. I mean, we're all disturbed. And if we're not, why not? Doesn't this blend of blindness and blandness want to make you do something crazy? Then why not do something crazy? It makes a helluva lot more sense than blowing your brains out.”
"There's nothing to do anymore. Everything decent's been done. All the great themes have been used up--turned into theme parks."

You see, lots of things to identify with. A couple of the songs from the soundtrack stand out, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ with its worn out cynical approach to love and the Pixes – ‘Wave of Mutilation’. This version is changed from the original, slowed down into music that creeps up to you, puts it’s arm around you and slowly leads you down the path to misery.

14. Territorial Pissings- Nirvana

I can still remember watching the news and hearing that Kurt Cobain had died, I still remember the phone call afterwards with a friend. It was one of those important things we went through. The first voice to be silenced. Every teenager needs music to listen to in the dark, to jump around their bedroom to, to scream along to the lyrics and know that someone else is going through the sadness and pain of figuring out what life is all about. This song does all that and more. Music that you can’t stand still to and that scratches the deep inner itch of fear, pain and confusion.

15. Misshapes- Pulp

I had to include a song from the brit-pop era, from the days when we would sit around in a classroom in the 6th form at school and talk about music. 6th form was the time I starting noticing that the music in the charts was taking a definite turn for the better, bands who played real music with real instruments were back. I have a whole load of singles from those two years full of fairly bouncy cheery songs, not musical pap but not genius, just some fun stuff with sing a long choruses. (the Beach Boys influence coming out again.). Pulp were a little more innovative than the rest and I and a friend spend much fun imitating the slightly angular movements of Jarvis Cocker.

Misshapes is one of those songs that helps you feel less alone when you are clearly a geek and aren’t one of the crowd. (clearly I should also have included Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ for similar reasons) Someone else putting a voice to the fact it’s ok to have a brain and not be the same as all the rest was a good thing. As someone who walked through my home town and got punched in the arm for smiling the lyrics were highly pleasing…

“Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits, we'd like to go to town but we can't risk it, Oh 'cause they just want to keep us out. You could end up with a smash in the mouth just for standing out.” “We'll use the one thing we've got more of - that's our minds.”

16. Everybody Knows (except you)- The Divine Comedy

There are few love songs on this list, mainly because I haven’t had many relationships where love has been reciprocated. This song sums up some of the torture of unrequited love, especially when it seems so obvious to you and everyone else. The important thing is never to play this song in the same room as the person you are obsessed with. Yes I did, yes it was a bad idea, and thankfully he didn’t pick up on what seemed so painfully ironic and obvious to me, he just appreciated me introducing him to a new band. Sigh.


17. Still Fighting it- Ben Folds

There is no story attached to this song, I just like it. Mainly because it includes lines like, “everybody knows it sucks to grow up”, and, “you’re so much like me, I’m sorry”. Working out what growing up is all about is just hard. Here’s a song to help.

18. Landlocked Blues- Bright Eyes

I spent a whole month recently listening to nothing but the Bright eyes album, “I’m wide awake it’s morning”. This is a man whose every song echos something of the fight to express the meaningless of this life, to work through the pain, to express the hollowness and to ask the questions of identity and purpose. He doesn’t write your average verse chorus, verse chorus songs. Every song is an epic journey, poems to music, anguish expressed in beautiful ways. Landlocked Blues pretty much has it all, lines such as, “the worlds got me dizzy again, after 22 years you’d think I’d get used to spin”, and “You’ll be free child once you have died, from the shackles of language and measurable time.” Questioning anguish has never been expressed so well.

19. Cannonball- Damien Rice

I don’t know how I am possibly meant to chose just one song of Damien Rice’s. Cannonball is one of the first ones I loved and so it is included here, but really, it could have been almost any of his first album, and many from his second. He took me by surprise when I first listened to the album, the aching voice, the original songs, the perfection of it all is too much. The album ‘0’ is still one of those albums that makes me stop whatever I am doing and listen to it. Music that refuses to be relegated to the background. Music that makes me want to shut up whoever is talking at the time and just listen. That’s probably one of the highest compliments you can pay a piece of music.

20. La Tristessa Durera- The Manic Street Preachers

Apparently the song’s title means, the sadness will never end. It’s funny then that this song has me grinning inanely every time I listen to it. I think it’s the combination of a pounding rhythm and the freedom of someone else saying. “I retreat into self pity, it’s so easy” and someone else screaming, “all the sadness will not go, will never go away, baby it’s here to stay.” For some reason that cheers me up.

21. Postcard - Eddi Reader

One of the best things about some friendships is when you discover that you love music and use it for communicating to each other. Many times my music collection has been influenced by a particularly intense friendship and the resultant sharing of all the songs that are important to us. I have made many tapes and cds for others, helping them along in new music discovery and am glad that others do it for me as well. I love that I can trace friendships through my music collection, and that songs that were introduced to me by others can find their way into my story as well. Clearly there are songs and bands that you discovered first, the old friends which were yours before anyone elses. But it’s also delightful to be influenced by others, to have yours eyes opened to more. Eddi Reader is an example of what I am talking about, music that I wouldn’t have delved so deeply into were it not for a good friend, and music that reminds me of times we spent together in my car escaping from conferences. It’s good to have music like this in the collection.

When I first heard a cd of Eddi’s songs I was with a friend and we couldn’t talk, couldn’t play the card game, couldn’t do anything except sigh at the sadness of it all. Every song felt like an epic emotional journey, and it’s hard to just pick one of those. Postcard is just another example of a beautifully crafted song. Any song where you can hear the hands moving up the guitar strings is a winner in my book. But it’s more the beauty of the singing and the ability of this song to have me staring out of the window in deep thought that I love.

22. The sun's coming over the hill- Karine Polwart

This might be one of the saddest songs of all time, possibly competing with Kate Rusby’s “Who will sing me lullabies”, although admittedly the idea of the sun coming over the hill might imply some hope to the situation. However the only joy found in the song is “in the sound of the rain, you have to find joy where you can.” With lines such as “you are lucky if you are sufficiently strong to daily decide not to die”, it’s hard to see the sun coming over the hill as bringing much hope, especially as “there are better days gone than those that remain.” I can’t listen to this song too much as its melancholy is too sweetly seductive.

23. Closer to fine- Indigo Girls

Once upon a time I was at a Christian conference and I heard someone play this song, (go figure..) I loved it, couldn’t get it out of my head and wanted to know where it came from. Then I forgot the title and all I could remember was something about mountains and fountains and the Indigo Girls. I checked their space in the racks of record shops but could never really find the song again. Fast forward about 7 years and I’ve just met a friend of a friends who is really into the Indigo Girls, she made a cd for me (barely knowing me which delighted me immensely) and the song about the mountains and fountains was found again. (please note, it’s not about mountains and fountains, it’s just an easy line to remember). I love things like that happening, discovering music in random ways and love the Indigo Girls, who sum it all up with, “darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.”


Not all the songs I like are drenched in misery and despair. Here’s some that might actually be slightly happy. Not many I grant you, but some.

24. I can see clearly now- Jimmy Cliff

This is a song I always used to put on the stereo at the end of exams. It sums up the long summer ahead, the freedom from work, the joy of blue skies and hope after horrible times. Sometimes it really is going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day.

25. Gratified - Coastal Dune

One of the things I love most is delighting in the details of life. This song is a list of all such fine details. This is the song that most reminds me of Uni, delighting in the fun, the randomness of student life, pizzas, lazy days of not going to lectures, enjoying just drinking tea for three years.

"A cup of tea, and a bath
A little boy’s infectious laugh
Rekindling friendships that have lapsed
A difficult concept now I’ve grasped
A cat that’s purring up at me
A baby smiling up at me
After war- there’s peace, I write a poem that brings release.

When your football teams at the top of the league
A teachers handwriting you can read
When the doctor says there’s nothing wrong
When I’m singing out this song
An aired jumper that’s soft and warm
When you’re tucked up in bed and you can hear the storm
Tomorrow better than today- A God that loves you anyway.

Using all seven letters in a scrabble game
Someone important who knows your name
An encouraging word that someone’s said
When you’re really tired and it’s time for bed.
When you’re in the shower, when you’ve been for a run
Direction and purpose in the days to come
The very essence of being gratified
Is when you heart, soul and body are satisfied."

26. Justified and Ancient- KLF

Somewhere in this list there had to be a bad 90s dance tune. Really because I have a love hate relationship with cheesy 90s pop. Secretly I love it, but obviously I was too black and dark and angry to ever really embrace such a notion when I was growing up. Delightfully we can all enjoy such music in an ironic fashion now. This one is just genius. "They’re justified and they’re ancient and they drive ice cream vans". (Clearly I use the word genius advisedly.). But really. A 90s dance act and Tammy Wynette get together. Who could fault such a union?

27. Peaceful Easy Feeling- The Eagles

The summertime is full of wonderful sensual experiences. Hot tarmac crackling under bike tyres. The smell of BBQ’s. The smell of freshly cut grass. Deep blue skies. Summer evenings listening to wood pigeons and watching sunsets. Sitting on the steps outside our house eating breakfast. Walking around barefoot. Lying on the beach listening to waves lapping the shore. These experiences need the right kind of music attached to them. Jack Johnson is the most recent addition to perfect summer music but this song by the Eagles captures it all so well. Peaceful easy feelings are hard to come by, a whole song that induces them is fairly brilliant.


I am a Christian and one of the hardest things to fine is decent Christian music, music that does more than sing I love you Jesus over three chords. I want music that expresses the dark sides of faith, the struggle to believe, real engagement with the Maker of the universe, the reality of the hope we have and more. These are some that I’ve found.

28. Hard to get - Rich Mullins

There are few Christian songs that do justice to the actual experience of being a Christian, of wading through this world trying to make sense of it all. Nobody does it better than Rich Mullins on this song. He says it how it is. A song for the dark times when it really does feel like hope has gone, a song for the times you need to ask God these questions:

"Do you who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth?
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt?
Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread?
Did You forget about us after You had flown away?
Well I memorized every word You said,
Still I'm so scared, I'm holding my breath
While You're up there just playing hard to get

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained
And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know
Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can't see what's ahead
And we can not get free of what we've left behind

I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret
I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led
And so You've been here all along I guess
It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get"

29. Hymn- Jars of Clay

The first line says it all: “Oh refuge of my hardened heart, oh fast pursuing lover come”, A prayer for God to come and do what he is so good at doing, softening my hard black heart and wrapping His story around me to remind me of what we are all doing here and where we are going. I love that we get to cry out to God like this, to ask his love to melt our pride and self sufficiency. I am constantly amazed and surprised that we have a God like this, who doesn’t expect us to have it all sorted but who longs for us to come back to Him for everything. That he wants to, can do and is willing to transform my stubborn heart is something I’ll never get over.

30. Have an angel walk with her- Martyn Joseph

There are other Martyn Joesph songs that I would rather put in this collection but this one has the most history and personal story attached to it. It is a song that sums up all I want to do for people but can’t. All I want to be for my friends but can’t. I have held a couple of friends whilst listening to this song and wished it could be true. Thankfully we have one who does not ask these paths of us but walks them himself. I need to remember that.

I have no idea what this song is really about but it is one of the saddest songs he has written, and he isn’t know for his happy ones. The song was recorded in his attic and at the end of the song you can hear the rain coming down on the attic window. I really can’t listen to this one too much, it is too hard to bear.

31. How great Thou art- Any large group of people singing at the top of their voices.

Ok so it’s a hymn, but really. In any list of songs that I love there must be a hymn. I love the poetry of old hymns, the fact that most of the time they express things in language that seems almost more deserving of the awe inspiring subject matter. This hymn is the one that I play every time I drive down the road into my valley in the Lake District (yes it is mine, I’ve claimed it on the new earth, yes you may visit). There are few other songs that are worthy of the journey. The Lakes are a place where I feel most at home, closest to seeing how big our God really is and is a area of the country that can bring me to tears. For such emotion I need a big song, this hymn is it. There are few other songs able to express the majesty of the views. Few other words that go so well with the tightness in my chest when I stare in awe at things so much bigger than little me.