“If music be the food of love, play on.”The opening line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. A frustrated Orsino asks for more music as he hopes excess of the medium might cure his obsession with love. As a writer and musician, I have listened to and played many songs. Some I have enjoyed, some it was just a job to play as a session musician. However, these songs are a pleasure to hear and their meaning is not only special to me but also many people around the world. Some of these songs you will have heard but others may be a first and I envy you as I remember the times I heard these classics. Enjoy.
1. The Times They Are A-Changin’ — Bob Dylan
The 1964 title track of the album with the same name. Dylan wrote this as a song to represent a change in the world as it was, an anthem for the youth. Anti-establishment feelings summed up in three minutes. Many of the lyrics are based on the Civil Rights movement in the US. As Dylan stated “I wanted to write a big song, some kind of theme song, with short, concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. This is definitely a song with a purpose. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and who I wanted to say it to.” We all want to say something to the establishment — what better way than through song.
2. Beautiful — Christina Aguilera
Receiving universal critical acclaim “Beautiful” touches on insecurity, self-esteem and, of course, inner beauty. The memorable video shows a homosexual and cross-dressing man kiss — shock horror even in 2002 — the song has been embraced by the gay community. A powerful chorus which resonates with many people, especially teenagers as they tread this murky part of life, embracing mistakes and difference. “We’re the song inside the tune, full of beautiful mistakes.” Look deeper in yourself and others to see true beauty.
3. Everybody Hurts — REM
From the 1992 album “Automatic for the People”, and released as a single a year later, Everybody Hurts has been everyone’s favourite and most hated song at some point. An anti-suicide song written by drummer Bill Berry(although a drum machine is used in the song), it is aimed as a glimmer of hope for those who see none. The song was initially aimed at teenagers but became an anthem for many in an MTV era with a traffic-stopping video on the freeway. Being a teenager at that time, I wonder if it has the same effect on today’s teens.
4. Cloudbusting — Kate Bush
A relationship between a psychiatrist/philosopher and his son, Bush describes, on her 1985 Hounds of Love album, the boys memories of cloud bursting with a machine intended to make it rain. “I wake up crying, you’re making rain.” It leads on to tell us of the arrest of the father and the helplessness of the son to help his father. “You looked too small in their big black car to be a threat to the men in power”. A moment we all have experienced as a child when we realise that our parents, and in fact all adults, are not invincible.
5. The Boys are Back In Town — Thin Lizzy
Phil Lynott wrote this in 1976 about a not so legal drinking establishment ran by Lynott’s mother. He would often observe the customers, gangs, their actions and their escapades and this led to the song. Known for its blistering opening and twin-guitar lead, it tells us of the gang going to Dino’s, drinking and fighting. A song to play before a lads or lasses night out on a Friday night.
6. Born Slippy — Underworld
A cry for help from an alcoholic? The repetition of the word lager, by writer Karl Hyde, sent crowds wild but it was never, meant to be a drinking song. Named after a dog running in a greyhound race, it was written after a night out and Hyde struggling to get home. A night like so many other people can relate to. It featured in the 1996 film Trainspotting which raised its profile and love or hate, I am sure you can remember a time it came on in a club and the floor bounced.
7. A Change Is Gonna Come — Sam Cooke
Written in 1964, “A Change Is Gonna Come” is an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement and is often thought of as one (if not the best) of Cooke’s compositions. The line, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come” expresses Cooke’s hope for those who struggled with racial equality, including Cooke himself most notably when he and his entourage were turned away from a whites-only motel in Louisiana. The song was released after Cooke’s untimely death as he was shot in a motel in Los Angeles ending a successful music career but a tragic personal one. “I was born by a river, in this little old tent, oh just like this river, I’ve been running ever since.” Black Lives Matter has never been so prevalent but has Cooke’s change come yet?
8. Sunday Bloody Sunday — U2
The struggles in Northern Ireland come to the forefront in this 1983 U2 overtly political song. In Londonderry, Northern Ireland, 13 unarmed civil rights demonstrators were shot dead by British Army paratroopers in an event that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” The protesters, all Northern Catholics, were marching in protest of the British policy of internment of suspected Irish nationalists. Starting with thunderous military-like drums, then The Edge’s powerful guitar riff leading into Bono’s political tones “And the battle’s just begun. There’s many lost, but tell me who has won.”
9. Wildfire — Seafret
A relatively unknown band in comparison to the rest of the list but no less entitled to their position I feel. Two young men (singer Jack Sedman and guitarist Harry Draper) from Yorkshire, England, wrote the song comparing love to a wildfire. Simplistic but effective. However, the video to the song adds another dimension as it looks at the 36 questions to ask that will make anyone fall in love with you. The video shows the reactions of these people. The first five questions —
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Would you like to be famous? In what way?
Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
Scientists believe “foster closeness”. The study authors advise “the best way for you to get close to your partner is for you to share with them and for them to share with you”. I feel another piece just on this.
10. Cover Me Up — Jason Isbell
An American singer/songwriter from Alabama, Jason Isbell wrote this song about his wife, Amanda Shires. These beautiful lyrics from a song that won the 2014 Americana Music Association awards really make this an almost perfect love song. Words such as “home was a dream, one that I’d never seen, ’til you came along” leave the listener wishing he had written those words for his lady. Not to mention the line “I sobered up, I swore off that stuff, forever this time” that when performed live brings a heartwarming feeling and chills literally throughout your body.
11. Love will tear us apart — Joy Division
The end of a relationship, illness, suicide. Ian Curtis took his life in May 1980 and this song, released a month later, became an inappropriately appropriate tribute to Joy Division’s singer. His lyrics (and vocal style) sounding haunting over the 80’s synth and bass riffs. The final verse talks of failings being exposed, desperation taking hold and good things that can function no more. Whether unrequited love or drowning in a pool misery this song continues to be found and refound by all ages. Something good can come from someone suffering so bad.
12. Gimme Shelter — Rolling Stones
“War, children, it’s just a shot away.” You can hear Jagger singing it and Richards intro. Written by ‘Keef’ after his partner Anita had ‘relationships’ with Mick, it starts with Richards looking over London and a storm early morning. The world was changing. The times were a-changin’ but not as people hoped. War, drugs, murder, rape and pillage. Constant reference as stated at the start but changing to “Just a kiss away”. We have all had feelings about war between nations but also about a kiss between two people.
13. Into My Arms — Nick Cave
The break up of a relationship played on piano and bass. Nick Cave wrote this song when his long term commitment to his partner ended, followed by another with musician PJ Harvey. Cave performed this song at his friends (Micael Hutchence) funeral, perhaps a fitting melancholy and mournful masterpiece. Despite it perhaps being a very upsetting song for Cave the lines “But I believe in love and I know that you do, too, and I believe in some kind of path that we can walk down, me and you” give chills to new lovers hearing the song for the first time.
14. Ghosts — Laura Marling
The ex! Or Exs! Either way Marling personifies the ex as a ghost stating “these are just ghosts that broke my heart before I met you”. In mourning, the man feels he cannot love again as his heart is broken. A feeling we can all relate to at some point in our life. After the struggle of breaking up from any relationship, let alone a long term one, it is quite understandable that some of us do not believe in everlasting love… but you should.
15. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) — Bob Dylan
Where to start with this Dylan tune taken from the 1965 album Bringing it All Back Home. This song contains some of Dylan’s best lyrical imagery starting off with one referring to nuclear war, then hypocrisy, consumerism and commercialism in American culture. However, unlike his earlier protest songs, he offers no hint of optimism to a solution. Other classic Dylan lines include “He not busy being born is busy dying,”(keep reinventing yourself)“Money doesn’t talk, it swears,”(causing violence, social aggression, deprivation of many) “Although the masters make the rules, for the wisemen and the fools”(we all have to follow someone's rules regardless of who we are) and the crowd-pleaser especially in the US — “But even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked”. With elections imminent, more relevant than ever.
16. True Colours — Cyndi Lauper
Written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, the same duo who penned Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and Heart’s “Alone”, this song is about looking a little deeper than the superficial surface to see what they are really like. Used perfectly in the film Trolls, it starts setting the scene that things may be hard and difficult to face - “In a world full of people, you can lose sight of it all and the darkness inside you can make you feel so small.” But, like a parent or teacher telling a child, hope comes next. ‘But I see your true colours shining through. I see your true colours and that’s why I love you. So don’t be afraid to let them show your true colours, true colours are beautiful, like a rainbow”.
17. Let It Be — The Beatles
Paul McCartney wrote this song after a dream about his mother when she mentioned the words “Let it be” as McCartney was having trouble in sessions for The White Album. These words, from Mary McCartney, who died from cancer when he was 14, led to the piano ballad that has also been linked to biblical references. The song appeared on The Beatles last album of the same name and perhaps a nod to leaving past issues in the past and moving on to pastures new.
18. Hotel California — Eagles
This epic tune has many different theories about its meaning but it is commonly agreed it is a commentary on the hedonism and self-indulgence of America, not a lunatic asylum as some believe. However, looking at the final line, prior to the solo, it could easily be either. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. Satanism, marijuana, heroin addiction and even cannibalism have been suggested. Of course, the Eagles were not big fans of hotels, especially guitarist Joe Walsh, who ran up tens of thousands of bills for room damage. Good job the song is played just over ever ten minutes on American radio.
19. Father and Daughter— Paul Simon
Written for The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002), Paul Simon sets out his hopes for his daughter and thus becomes the envy of every father in the world, thinking “I wish I’d written that”. Discussing ways to look after your daughter, being the protector and advising. “I’m gonna watch you shine, gonna watch you grow, gonna paint a sign, so you always know. As long as one and one is two, there could never be a father love his daughter more than I love you”. I played and tried to sing this to my daughter as she grew up, jealous of Paul Simon’s genius.
20. Landslide — Fleetwood Mac
Inspired by the Rocky Mountains and how Stevie Nicks was feeling in life at that time, it is a staple of the band’s set. Deciding if Nicks should return to school or continue performing with Lindsey Buckingham (who played guitar on the track) it tells us of moments in people’s lives were they have to make a decision on their passions and futures. “Well, I’ve been afraid of changing ’cause I’ve built my life around you, but time makes you bolder, even children get older and I’m getting older too”. A thought that may cross many people’s mind at some point in their lives. Do you follow your dreams or take the safe option?
21. Hurt — Johnny Cash
Written by American band Nine Inch Nails in 1994, it was Johnny Cash in 2002 who achieved acclaim for his interpretation of the song. The video that accompanied it has received critical acclaim and stands the test of time for a man of 71. Following the twelve months of its release, both he and his beloved wife June passed away. With hints of addiction, self harm and suicide, it is a song that resonates with many and the tones of the man in black took it to another level. Trent Reznor’s lines so powerful — “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real” so meaningful yet even he admitted he couldn’t match Cash’s version.
22. Live Like You Were Dying — Tim McGraw
This country song, based upon finding out you have an illness that meant you have limited time so now have a new outlook on life. Live life to the fullest was the message and the writer hope to inspire people in that position to do so. To a man like myself, living the life I do, it is inspiring to try and change my life so I am a healthier person so I don’t have to be in a position where I have to do all the things I wanted in a short period of time. An inspirational song for a situation one hopes to never be in.
23. The End — The Beatles
Abbey Road - The Beatles final recorded album. The End was the final song recorded collectively by the group. The final line of the song… “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make…” There is not really much more to say than that.