I am currently rewriting a novel called Jordan’s Sister, which is about a singer/songwriter named Taylor who is trying to break free from her past and step out of the shadow of her sister’s fame while getting to know a former child singer, Layne (male). I have been thinking a lot about music and songs in general while I have been writing my draft for this story. Layne’s song was fun to write. If only I could sing, I could let you all know what it sounds like in my head.
I think of my character Taylor as a singer who sounds like strong female singers like Avril Lavigne and Christina Perri. I think of Layne as a singer who sounds like Edwin McCain and Jason Wade of Lifehouse. While I am thinking about my characters, I am also thinking about what their favorite songs might be and why. According to US Copyright law, song titles are not protected by copyright, so I can reference songs in my writing as long as I don’t mention the specific lyrics. This is so valuable because songs can convey so much by making you think and feel and be transported back to another time in your life. Taylor’s favorite song is “Jar of Hearts” and Layne’s is “I’ll Be” which are listed below in my top 10.
I have thought about writing this post for the past few weeks, narrowing down a list of my top 10 favorite songs and why. For someone who loves music as much as I do, it was extremely difficult to keep the list at 10, which is why I also have 15 honorable mentions. My top 10 favorites are in order, and had to meet my requirements of being recorded by the artist or artists who wrote the song. All of these songs are on my Spotify playlist of what I consider great songs, which currently contains 138 songs (9 hours, 42 minutes worth of music) that I consider amazing performances and excellent songwriting. I have a separate list for Guilty Pleasures that contains songs that I like, but don’t necessarily consider amazing songwriting, an example would be “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. I really like the song because it’s fun and catchy, but it isn’t what I consider great like another of her songs “Tug of War” which didn’t quite make the cut on the top 25 included in my favorites and honorable mentions.
I made another list for songs that were popular during 1996 when the main storyline is taking place in Caroline’s Lighthouse. Listening to that playlist while I wrote helped me time-travel back to feeling 15 again when all of my emotions matched those of Caroline. I appreciate how music can do that. You want to know how one character feels about Caroline? Listen to “Hold On” by Jamie Walters and you’ll know. How does Caroline feel about her life in general? Listen to “I Shall Believe” by Sheryl Crow.
My top 10 favorite songs, with links to YouTube so you can listen to the song if you like.
- “Landslide” Fleetwood Mac, 1975, folk rock. “Landslide” was originally recorded six years before I was born. A live version was released in 1997 when I was 16, which is when I first noticed the song along with “Silver Springs” and “Dreams.” “Landslide” is a song about life and growing older written by the awesome Stevie Nicks. I was blessed to be able to see Fleetwood Mac in concert in Little Rock in April 2015. They are a band who sounds wonderful live. (I hate hearing recordings of bands who sound good on the main release of a song but sound terrible live.) I like many of their songs, but prefer the ones in which Stevie sings lead. I love her raspy deep voice. Seriously, I want to be Stevie Nicks when I grow up, not in the sense of the singing or the unfortunate cocaine addiction she overcame, just in the sense that she seems so sure of herself and believes in dreams coming true. I sang this song to my daughter every night when she was a baby and before she realized I couldn’t sing very well.
- “Pennyroyal Tea” Nirvana, 1993, grunge. My favorite version of this song was recorded for MTV Unplugged in November 1993. The show first aired in late December which is probably around the time I first heard it. The song had a lot more significance to me when I bought the album after lead singer, Kurt Cobain’s death in April 1994. The Unplugged version is one that Kurt recorded by himself and he makes a mistake with one of the lyrics, which makes this recording perfectly imperfect. I used to listen to it every morning before I left for school from 10th-12th. The song is about someone who is suffering from depression. Pennyroyal is a toxic herb that is rumored to have an abortive effect. Most people believe that Kurt Cobain had undiagnosed stomach and intestinal problems that he self-medicated with heroin. He was truly talented. His music isn’t some people’s “cup of tea” because his voice could be raw and he screamed a lot. The thing with screaming singers is that it really is just screaming if they don’t have the foundation to work with of actually being able to sing. Kurt had talent for music, singing and songwriting. Kurt’s lyrics were often strange, but they all had a lot to say and were expressions of his pain. Other notable songs, “All Apologies,” “Lithium,” “Come As You Are,” and the most popular anthem for the grunge era, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
- “Breathing” Lifehouse, 2000, alternative rock-soft rock. Lead singer Jason Wade has amazing talent for writing meaningful songs and his voice has a raspy quality to it that I like. Plus, he has extremely sexy eyes that convey sincerity in his lyrics. I first heard this song after I bought Lifehouse’s album during my sophomore year in college after hearing “Hanging by a Moment” which was incredibly popular. Lifehouse is one of the few bands that I can play their entire album and like all of the songs. “Breathing” stands out because to me it represents finding yourself and God again after a breakdown of your spirit. It represents longing and loving yourself again. I love the folksy guitar music in this song. This song as well as “You and Me” were on the soundtrack for my wedding.
- “Broken” Seether featuring Amy Lee from Evanescence, 2004, alternative rock. I love this version of Seether’s song. To me, it represents healing for two very imperfect people who love each other. I heard this song around March of 2004. I was broken-hearted for two reasons, the end of a relationship about six months prior and my Meema had just died. I was lonely. Amy Lee’s voice is incredible, and I love Seether in general. Shaun Morgan has a sexy voice that conveys deep emotions, especially pain. The song had even more meaning to me when I met my husband during the summer when this song was in heavy play on the radio. An excerpt of this song is what I chose to play during the time Jonathan and I lit our unity candle during our wedding. A little unconventional, but I never claimed to be conventional (or normal). I love their songs, “Gasoline,” “Fine Again,” “Driven Under” and “Fake It” as well. I was able to see Seether in concert with Evanescence on August 14, 2004, which would have been my Meema’s birthday. They sounded awesome live and covered a Nirvana song during the concert.
- “Prayer” Disturbed, 2002, alternative metal. I was going through a lot of crap when this song was released. To me this song is talking to God about life’s pain and asking Him to bring it on because I am strong enough to take it. The video for this song was controversial because it was released after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Lead singer, David Draiman has an amazing vocal range with tons of passion and emotion shining through his music. Check out Disturbed’s cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” for another powerful performance.
- “I’m with You” Avril Lavigne, 2002, rock. Raw emotion about waiting for the right person to come along. I love Avril’s music. Some of her songs are just fun and others convey different levels of pain or love. Avril is not afraid to use some colorful language that may be offensive to some people. She is a singer I recognize instantly because her voice is distinctive and has almost a yodeling quality to it. I enjoy all of her songs, but “Complicated” and “Wish You Were Here” also stand out to me.
- “I’ll Be” Edwin McCain, 1998, pop rock-alternative rock. A song about hope for future love. It is a very simple guitar-based ballad and I love everything about it. The message is simple and beautiful. Love is what most of us are hoping for or fighting for. I think love is what makes life worth living and Edwin captures it with this song. I played his cover of Diane Warren’s “I Could Not Ask for More” during my wedding. What I like most about Edwin McCain is that he seems like a nice guy who could live in my neighborhood—the boy-next-door quality.
- “Jar of Hearts” Christina Perri, 2010, piano rock. I wish this song had existed in 2002 when I needed to hear it the most. It’s about not letting someone break your heart again. Christina writes songs based on things happening in her life. Her voice is soulful and beautiful. The song has a haunting quality to it and is significantly sad. She has other songs such as “Human” and “A Thousand Years” that are great. “A Thousand Years” was written for one of the Twilight movie soundtracks, but I try to not judge the song based on that since I am not a fan of Twilight at all.
- “Higher” Creed, 1999, post-grunge. I heard this song for the first time on September 23, 1999. I remember the exact date because something else happened that night that changed my life. The song has continued to have significance in my life because to me, it means changing for the better and holding on to my dreams for as long as it takes to either make them come true or realize they shouldn’t. I like several Creed songs, and I realize that the band/lead singer Scott Stapp is hated by a lot of people similar to the hate for Nickelback. It doesn’t matter to me, I like the songs. I sang “My Sacrifice” to my son when he was a baby because it helped calm him down. Other notable songs are “My Own Prison” and “Torn.” I saw them in concert on October 10, 2000. The show was great, the ride home was hell for other reasons.
- “Hard to be a Saint (1999)” Some Guy Named Robb, 1999, alternative rock. I heard this song performed live several times at a little Russellville, Arkansas coffee shop called Higher Grounds that closed a long time ago. It was somewhere I went when I was a lonely college freshman nursing a pretty severe broken heart. Robb’s music spoke to me, especially this song. He’s kind of awesome and is an all-around nice guy who helps out with a lot of charities in the River Valley. Check him out on Spotify because many of his songs are as awesome as this one, including “Wasn’t it You” and “Another Room.”
Honorable mentions-in no particular order, all are available on Spotify.
- “Stay” Lisa Loeb
- “Breathe Me” Sia
- “Gravity” Sara Bareilles
- “All of Me” John Legend
- “Gypsy” Fleetwood Mac
- “Colorful” The Verve Pipe
- “For What It’s Worth” Buffalo Springfield
- “Where I Stood” Missy Higgins
- “Hold On” Sarah McLachlan
- “My Immortal” Evanescence
- “Outside” Staind
- “Snuff” Slipknot
- “Insensitive” Jann Arden
- “Try” Pink
- “Pain” Three Days Grace
- “I Try” Macy Gray
- “Through Glass” Stone Sour
- “Hurt” Nine Inch Nails (also the cover by Johnny Cash)
So what are your favorite songs? Why? How do they make you feel? That’s what life is all about.
-Brandi Easterling Collins