First things first, this blog relies on people willing to spill their hearts and guts into letters (that are then posted on the internet).
That being said, if you are reading this post right now you should seriously be considering writing a letter or a Flashback Fives (a.k.a. FF). Go. to. Submissions!
In the meantime, while you begin crafting said letters or FF, here is a list of our favorite search terms people used to find our blog (interestingly enough, WordPress gives blog owners access to such fascinating information).
See if you can figure out which letter or post matches to the search term. It’s fun!
2016 Search Terms
“tall blonde singer with john prine”
“damon albarn + sneering”
“letter to a friend for green day”
“broken heart letter”
“naught love letter”
“hard nails by vj jingo”
“so many people in uk with droopy eyes paul mccartney”
and last, but not least
“l doo wop my hope this summer girl our love your ring on my chain”
You love music. But what do you really, really love about music?
I have a sound in my head.
If you want to be highfalutin’, you could say it’s an audio equivalent of Plato’s Forms, an abstract ideal that represents the perfect sound, beyond human realization, just outside our mortal ability to craft and replicate in this mundane real world. If you prefer to remain grounded to the planet we inhabit, you can call this sound a mere (?!) joyous reflection of every song I’ve ever heard, every tune I’ve ever loved, and every fantasy I’ve ever entertained of the promise of pop music.
But it’s neither. It’s an AM radio, tuned to an imaginary station that never existed. It’s as real as dreams, as corporeal as passion, and as timeless as memory, experience, grace, hope, ambition, disappointment, and love. It kinda sounds like The Beatles in 1965. Also James Brown. The Ramones. The Bay City Rollers. Otis Redding. Chuck Berry. The Everly Brothers. The Sex Pistols. Paul Revere & the Raiders. Prince. The Go-Go’s. The Isley Brothers playing “Summer Breeze.” KISS singing “Shout It Out Loud.” The Monkees being The Monkees. The Flashcubes. God, The Flashcubes!
What do I really, really love about music?
I can’t narrow it down more than that. I love the way music makes me feel, even when the feeling is melancholy, like how The Kinks’ “Days” reminds me that I recited the lyrics of that song at my Dad’s funeral, or when some random tune recalls past betrayals, lies, or heartbreak. Lyrics. Hooks. Harmonies. The drum, the bass, the guitars. “It’s My Life” by The Animals blows me away every time I hear it, its self-assured wall of melody unerringly prompting me to marvel at the precise, perfect placement of each note, each lick. Everything in its place. “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa.” “On Broadway.” Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” “God Only Knows,” and the entirety of Pet Sounds. “In The Midnight Hour.” “Laugh, Laugh.” “Freedom” by Wham!, ferchrissakes. “I Only Want To Be With You.” “I Wanna Be With You.” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.”
On my blog, I have an ongoing series called The Greatest Record Ever Made. Notice the singular rather than the plural “records;” an infinite number of records can be The Greatest Record Ever Made, as long as they take turns. (“September Gurls.”) You live your life within each song as it plays. (“The Tears Of A Clown.”) Your faith is fully invested, without reservation, and your belief is rewarded with each never-ending spin. (“Kick Out The Jams,” muthas and bruthas.) The allegiance is eternal, immortal…at least, until the next song plays.
Do you believe in magic? I do. And that means I’m unable—unwilling—to dissect music’s appeal. That would be like trying to tell a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll. Well, actually, I’m eager to do that. But my discourse will retain its reverence, its delight, its wonder, its awe. My cranial transistor is tuned to Sly Stone, Alice Cooper, Suzi Quatro, Rotary Connection, Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, The Shangri-Las, P.P. Arnold, The Smithereens, The Four Tops, and to a bunch of singers and groups I haven’t even heard yet. But I will. I’ll hear ’em all. What do I really, really love about music? My God, what is there not to love? And how would we even know how to love if we didn’t have it?
“Ages of You” R.E.M. I spent a lot of time this year watching old R.E.M. videos on YouTube. In one from 1982 in Raleigh, they did this B-side, and I was instantly smitten. It was collected on Dead Letter Office, though I couldn’t find my copy—thankfully, it was reissued this summer.
Picking my favorite song off A Seat at the Table was nearly impossible, but “Mad” has such an amazing groove and that Lil Wayne verse: “And when I attempted suicide, I didn’t die/I remember how mad I was on that day.”
“Here Comes the Night” The Beach Boys
I got really into Wild Honey last year, and this spring, my husband found me a pristine used LP copy. I usually start with side 2 so I can hear “Darlin'” and this song—sometimes I don’t even make it to side 1.
“Dorothy” Kevin Morby
This ode to Morby’s guitar was a consistent source of joy all year, once I got over the shock of falling for a new guitar-based rock song sung by a dude.
“The New World” X
A song from 1983 that sums up 2016. X capture the feeling of having years of slow social progress and a growing sense of empathy toward marginal voices smashed flat by a comically oversized jackboot, with shoutouts to the dying auto industry along the way.
“Desirée” Blood Orange
Dev Hynes has shown himself to be an artist committed to the projection of marginal voices, and Freetown Sound was one of my go-to listening choices this year. The dusty bass and electric piano groove of this track struck me from the outset.
“Shakedown Street” Unknown Mortal Orchestra
This Dead cover (from the massive Day of the Dead comp) replaces the paranoia and darkness of the original with a chaotic, lustful bounce that happily reminds me of the Purple One at his most giddy. A pick-me-up without the sugar crash.
“Let’s Relate” Of Montreal
Though Kevin Barnes’ emotional firebombing of those close to him has become difficult to stomach, this track shows a gentleness and sweetness towards a new object of affection in simple terms – “I already like you, I like that you like you, I think that you’re great, let’s relate.”
“Tonight” Sibylle Baier
A devastatingly simple acoustic track that transitions from dark to light in the course of a brief interaction between two lovers, where the interior world of thought is affected by the exterior world of touch. This track evokes the feeling of sanctuary that my own home has attained this year with my significant other; while uncertainty and chaos roils outside, there is a peace of mind and body in our little shared space that comes directly from the presence of the other person.
“Where Are We Now?” David Bowie
When I found out that David Bowie had died, it seemed impossible. He wasn’t just a musician. He was a comet flaring through the culture, altering whatever he touched. I had that Tuesday off, so I decided to treat myself to breakfast at a diner near Washington Square. As I sat watching the traffic on Sixth Avenue, this song came into my head. To me, it’s always seemed like a song of making peace, of looking around at one’s life and realizing ‘I’ve got a good thing going here’. “As long as there’s sun… as long as there’s rain… as long as there’s fire… as long as there’s me…. as long as there’s you.” And I felt like his spirit was there, in the spike of the Empire State Building against the bright sky, in the hum of the subway and the crystalline wind.
“Wild Imagination” Kurt Vile
When I first listened to this album, this song didn’t make much of an impression. But I kept the album in heavy rotation through the winter, and the whole thing grew on me—I realized that every song had layers of meaning under that laid-back façade. At the end of April, everything changed. My friend Dan, a fine musician in his own right, died just six months before his twenty-sixth birthday. The fact of his death hit me like a brick wall. How could I get around, or through, or over? “I’m looking at you/ but it’s only a picture/ so I take that back…” People had posted hundreds of pictures of him, clowning around on stage and off. What hurts are the pictures I didn’t take—like the one of him walking up outside the bar on 67th Street a week after I got back to the city, in his Harry Nilsson shirt, looking at me like I was the best thing he’d ever seen. For a while, this song was all I could stand to hear. It’s full of longing, but it, too, has a sense of peace about it—a chapter has closed, but the world hasn’t ended.
“Left of the Dial” The Replacements
Having already written about this song and its role in my friendship with Dan, I don’t feel the need to add much more. But that piece brought me a lot of kindness, from people who knew Dan and some who never met him, so I’m grateful for that.
“You Ain’t That Young Kid” Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
This was one of the only new albums I bought this year. Again, I feel like I’m only starting to appreciate its complexity, but from the first time I listened to it, this song stood out as the heart. Like the others on this list, it’s a meditation on change, loss, growing older. I turned twenty-five this year. I have a full-time job, and some grey hairs coming in. I’ve been through a lot. So when Leithauser croons about “some way-too-long road with some way-too-young folks,” I think I know what he means.
“My Zero” Ezra Furman
This song would be one of my favorites in any year; it has a timeless quality to it, as if I’d always known it. But in this year of so much doubt and disappointment, it’s been an anchor. We all need a ‘zero’—a place (or person), for our hearts to rest on—as our minds and bodies take on this business of living.
When asked what positive experiences I had in this notably sucky year, I thought of the big goal I accomplished with the help of music—finishing my second marathon. Getting lost in a meditative-like reverie when running with music is why I do it. These five songs are now wedded to specific, memorable moments I experienced over those hundreds of miles.
“Birdhouse in Your Soul” They Might Be Giants
TMBG is hard for me to avoid as I’m married to a fan. In trying to gain an appreciation for them, I added some of their songs to my running playlist. Only one failed to annoy me (no offense) while I got caught in rainstorm while running a winding path through a rolling meadow with humming powerlines zig-zagging above. It was pretty dreamy, and with this song’s steady beat and seeming to go on a little too long, I felt like I was floating.
“Dot Dash” Wire
was a band I discovered with my college friend Dana the summer we shared an apartment. At this time, I hadn’t talked to Dana in two years. In December 2016, though, we randomly reconnected, finding that we’ve both been dealing with similar crap and having the same 30-some year old realizations, but mostly just talking about anything and everything—just like we did ten years prior over a bootleg Wire cassette tape.
“Spanish Bombs” The Clash
Between miles 17 and 20 of the actual marathon, I was super cranky. I was so sick of running. I seriously thought about quitting. Knowing I’d hate myself if I did, I forced myself to get into a better groove. This old favorite came on shuffle, and I sang along aloud. Especially the parts in Spanish. I channeled Joe Strummer, who ran the Paris marathon, I dug deep, and I laughed out loud at myself.
“Life on Mars?” David Bowie
In the fallout of one of the many depressing news stories of the year, I chugged along my typical route on a long Sunday run. The neighborhood cat I usually stop to pet wasn’t around. I worried that my niece will grow up miserably in a terrible world. Perfectly timed, one of Ziggy Stardust’s magical songs came on. But, instead of feeling eased, I sobbed. I didn’t stop to catch my breath and wipe my face. I didn’t care if anyone saw me. I just let myself be in that moment with Bowie and thinking, “I really fucking hope there’s life on Mars.”
“Gypsy” Fleetwood Mac
Alone, I chugged along a wooded trail at dusk. I was a little paranoid, hoping a mugger (or worse) wouldn’t surprise me. After tracing a sharp curve, I came upon a doe gracefully leaping into the brush to my right. On my left, two fawn spied me from behind thorny brambles. Stevie Nicks blasted in my earbuds, “I have no fear. I have only love.”
The frustration and heartache of this trying year cast a long shadow over the music I played. These are the five tracks which stand out in my mind as the songs I listened to the most often in 2016. One is an actual new 2016 release, three reflect a few of the many losses felt by the pop world this year, and one is just a perennial, much needed blast of transcendent rock ‘n’ roll brilliance. In no real order:
“Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” The Monkees
One of a number of tracks I could have selected from The Monkees’ superlative 2016 album Good Times! It could just as easily have been “Me & Magdalena” or “You Bring The Summer.” Far and away my favorite album of the year.
“Life On Mars?” David Bowie
2016 wasn’t even two weeks old when we lost Bowie, and we should’ve taken that as a sign to return the damned year to sender, postage due. Bowie’s passing affected me a lot more than I ever would have imagined, and I started my own blog because I needed a place to vent. I have several favorite Bowie songs—”Rebel Rebel,””Suffragette City,””Panic In Detroit,” and “Heroes” come to mind—but “Life On Mars?” was the one I kept coming back to, over and over, in search of…catharsis. I guess.
“Your Own World” 1.4.5.
1.4.5. was an offshoot of The Flashcubes, my all-time favorite power pop band. Piloted by ‘Cubes guitarist Paul Armstrong, 1.4.5. has encompassed many varying lineups; this track is from the 1987 album Rhythm n’ Booze, and it features the late Norm Mattice on lead vocals. Mattice’s passing was the 2016 death that felt like the biggest, most vicious single punch to the gut. He was one of our own, a Central New York talent who should have been a star, and not a homeless man who died of exposure, all alone, unable to find shelter from the cold Syracuse night. He had friends and family willing—eager—to help him, but it was of no avail. Nothing was. Nothing could be.
“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” Prince
We’d been playing Prince’s “When Doves Cry” on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl a bit throughout the first few months of 2016, and I betcha it would have made our year-end countdown even if Prince had remained one of our greatest living rock stars into 2017. His death in April sealed the case for this year’s ongoing infamy. “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” was never a song I thought much about before—if I were going to play Prince, I’d be more likely to go with “When Doves Cry” or “When You Were Mine”—but a request for the song from TIRnRR listener Joel Tinnel prompted us to play it on the show the week after Prince died. And it just clicked with me, suddenly but unerringly. I’ve been playing it ever since.
“You Really Got Me” The Kinks
Always. Especially in a year like this one, a year which has demanded more from us than we’ve felt capable of giving. Turn it up. And I say we attack 2017 before it attacks us.
It’s a challenge to find songs that satisfy the three distinct musical tastes in my household, which include those of a 17-month-old child. The entire Porches album Pool manages to get us all, and this song in particular is a standout.
I am not ashamed to say that this year I started going to a meditation class and I find it really helpful. I’ve really leaned on this song to help me, especially post the election. The opening line “Close your eyes and remember I am not in control,” it was like Daniel Blumberg managed to capture the concept of meditation in a song without pulling some cockamamie tricks involving sitars and/or sampling people chanting or something. There was a period of time where I would listen to this song every morning when I got into my car before going to work. Thanks Daniel!
Micachu & the Shapes “Oh Baby”
I can’t remember if I saw Mica Levi play live in Philadelphia in 2016, or if it happened in 2015. Either way, I believe she is a true arteest and I like how gritty and growly and dudeish she is while being simultaneously melodic and always Beatley. Just tonight I was talking about her and I compared her to Brian Wilson and my husband said, “But she’s not crazy,” and I said, “Oh come on! She’s totally crazy. She’s a genius.” I meant it all as a compliment.
Thin Lizzy “Dancing in the Moonlight (John Peel Session)” Sometimes I get really sick of the music on my iPod and when I put it on shuffle I just skip, skip, skip over tracks. It’s both the pro and con of living in a time period where you can carry around thousands of songs in your pocket. This is a song I never skip….ever. I can’t skip it because it’s just too good. No matter how many times I listen to it I pretty much always laugh when Phil Lynott says, “It’s so goddamn hot!” Also, writing lyrics about getting chocolate stains on your pants, who does that?
Department Store Cassette Company “Personal Power”
It might seem like an easy thing to take samples and put them into songs, but I don’t think it is actually easy at all. I think it is really difficult and takes a lot of time and attention to detail. This song has great samples and the music that binds it together is fun too. I am simultaneously terrified and intrigued by Tony Robbins. If you haven’t watched that “documentary” (which is really a long commercial) about him on Netflix, hop to it.
Tone Set “Out Out!”
This is another song with samples, but the real mind blowing fact here is that this song is circa 1982. How did people sample things then? Cassette tapes? Reel to reel tape? I don’t know. Apparently the audio is from Gomer Pyle which is a show I am aware of, but really know nothing about, and have never watched. This song makes me laugh every time I listen to it. I also have to be honest, I have a penchant for repetitiveness and this song is certainly soothingly repetitive.
Also (I know I’m breaking the rules) but I would also like to mention “The Big Ship” by Brian Eno. I think that song might capture what it sounds/feels like inside of my heart. And, for a wham/bam combination of major sadness and super good production there’s also “Pops” by Angel Olsen.”The Hills” by the Weeknd impressed me as well because there is a part of it that sounds like “Running up that Hill” by Kate Bush and it’s got that dope beat drop. As an aside, I do have some concerns about your mental health/lifestyle choices Mr. Weeknd but I will never question your use of beats. And let’s not also forget….. okay, I’ll stop!
The Velvet Underground “Candy Says”
I never got this band before. But then. . . I had an experience early this year with this album and since then I refuse to return to the planet. It’s beautiful out here. Recommended pairings: snow, nighttime.
Chance The Rapper feat Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz
“Same Drugs” AND “No Problem”
Hard to pick a track from this album (almost went with Blessings). I’m just so grateful for everything he’s given and is giving us. Praise. Recommended pairing for “No Problem:” driving around with friends. Recommended pairing for “Same Drugs:” driving around after seeing old friends.
Peggy Sue “Fools Rush In”
This is the best cover I have ever heard in my life (okay, barring a few exceptional exceptions) and I listen to this song every single damn day and so should you, maybe particularly if you’re throwing yourself headlong into love, which I sincerely hope you are. Recommended pairing: early morning.
Lizzo “Good as Hell”
This song and music video has helped me reach for joy this year. Recommended pairing: end of workday drink.
2016 was kind of a hard year. My playlist was full of people I couldn’t believe died, show tunes, covers, and older songs that make me feel not so tired.
Prince (but also Lydia Lovelace’s version is great, too)
“I Would Die 4 U”
I would also accept it in pretty much any form, particularly the original Hedwig Boardway recording, Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells
Lin-Manuel Miranda et al from Hamilton
“I’m young, scrappy and hungry / And I’m not throwing away my shot.” Oh youth…
Karl Hendricks Trio
“Thank God We Have Limes”
I mean really.
“The Wrong Band”
Put on your raincoat again.
Them Are Us Too “The Problem with Redheads”
Gorgeous and transcendent. This song, co-written by one of the artists who perished in the Oakland warehouse fire, is what helped me get through the emotions of that close-to-home tragedy.
Nite Ritual “Fornicate with the Dragon”
Solo project from the vocalist of “cholo goth/killwave ” duo Prayers. I’m so in love with this beat.
The Vainest Knives “Whirl My Way” I feel weird about putting one of my own songs on my list, but it’s a very meaningful song for me, and I’ve listened to it repeatedly throughout the last half of this year.