Wednesday, October 10, 2018

10 Songs I Can't Live Without

Sirius XM/Volume has a new series called 10 Songs I Can't Live Without.  In this series, musicians and celebrities chronicle their favorite all time songs.  They list them and explain the song's impact on their lives.  It is really fun to hear the lists and perspectives. So, I am starting a little series of lists here on Thoughts of A String Educator.   I will start with 10 Songs I Can't Live Without.  I would love to hear your reactions.

1. More Than A Feeling, Boston 
It was Christmas 1976. The first present that I opened that morning was a brand new stereo from my mother and father. I didn't own any records yet. I just had a feeling that this would be the sonic vessel for tons of music that was to come my way in the ensuing years. I had that stereo for nearly 10 years and it had a part in introducing me to so much music that shaped my life over the years. Later that Christmas morning, I opened my first record album. It was a gift from my sister. Boston's first album had been released earlier that year and was one of the biggest albums of 1976 and 1977. It went on to be one of the most enduring record albums in history. The first cut on the album, More Than A Feeling, still gives me chills every time I hear it. It represents much more than a song. It encompasses all of the possibilities of music.

"I looked out this morning and the sun was gone Turned on some music to start my day. I lost myself in a familiar song. I closed my eyes and I slipped away." 
It's more than a feeling (more than a feeling)
When I hear that old song they used to play (more than a feeling)  

I can't tell you how many times I have turned on some music to start my day and close my eyes and slipped away into that incredible place that this music took me as a 12 year old kid. Can't live without this one.

2. Carry On Wayward Son, Kansas
As a kid who played violin and loves rock music in the 1970s, the day I discovered Kansas was life changing. I couldn't believe the amazing energy that came from the violin on stage. Kansas was actually my first concert that I ever attended. My Dad took me to the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh to here to see them. I remember vividly that Cheap Trick was the warm-up act. But when Kansas came on I was transformed. It was 1979. I was 14 years old. And I knew right there that I had to be involved in music the rest of my life. That said, Carry On Wayward Son has become much more than just another song that Kansas wrote and performed. It has become in many ways my anthem and my theme song. Anytime that I feel a little bit down or defeated those words, "Carry On My Wayward Son,  there will be peace when you are done," resonate in my mind. I can't tell you how many times I have jumped in my car after a particularly challenging day or situation, turned on the radio, and there is that song. Ready to get me through to the next challenge, coaxing me on through the noise and confusion.

3. Fooling Yourself, Styx.

In 1977, my sister had a boyfriend who came around the house a fair amount. His name was Brett and I remember thinking he was a really cool guy. This was her first high school dating relationship and I just remember thinking how hip he was, how cool his clothes were, and what a good guy he was. I remember that he turned me on to this band called Styx. He told me about their new album, The Grand Illusion. So I went out and picked up a copy. That was the beginning of a decade-long obsession with Styx. I memorized all of their lyrics. I love their melodies. The concept albums really gave me lots of things to think about. I was just inspired by them at every level. There are many great songs on the Grand Illusion but none of them inspired me the way Fooling Yourself did. Tommy Shaw's voice was amazing on the song. And the song chronicled the story of a young man who was trying to find his way in the world. As a middle school student, the young man was me. Anytime I felt mad or angry or helpless, I would go to that one too that song. It got me through lots of middle school anxiety and insecurity.

You see the world through your cynical eyes
You're a troubled young man I can tell
You've got it all in the palm of your hand
But your hand's wet with sweat and your head needs a rest

And you're fooling yourself if you don't believe it
You're kidding yourself if you don't believe it
Why must you be such an angry young man
When your future looks quite bright to me
How can there be such a sinister plan
That could hide such a lamb, such a caring young man

You're fooling yourself if you don't believe it
You're kidding yourself if you don't believe it
Get up, get back on your feet
You're the one they can't beat and you know it

These words still lift me up to this day. I had the great pleasure a couple of years ago to go backstage after the Styx concert and meet the band. It meant so much to me to be able to say thank you to Tommy and JY. In many ways, Styx are the reason that I'm a musician today and I can honestly say Tommy Shaw is my favorite songwriter of all time.

In the summer of 1983 I had just graduated from high school. Synchronicity came out and my whole crowd of friends was highly anticipating this record. I already loved the Police and Sting. Roxanne had been a big hit and the band I played in  throughout high school did a ton of Police tunes from the Zenyatta Mondatta album including one of my all-time favorites, Driven to Tears. That tune just rocked. Synchronicity to me is a no-holds-barred anthem of energy and anticipation. Every time I hear those that opening riff I just want to get up and move. And, the lyrics. They just made me think.

With one breath, with one flow
You will know
A sleep trance, a dream dance,
A shared romance,
A connecting principle,
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible.
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectable
Nothing is invincible 

If that doesn't speak to a 17 year old guy, I don't know what does. I can't live without this one.

This is the first one on the list that many of you won't know. Donnie Iris was a regional star in Western Pennsylvania with really only a couple of national hits. The big one is Ah Leah, which I still hear occasionally on classic rock radio and turn it up to 11 every time it comes on. This one though is from an album that was released in 1982 called The High and the Mighty. This Time It Must Be Love is a deep cut on that record and I don't believe it really got much, if any, air play. I loved it though. I can remember that I was coming off of a hard break up in 11th grade and every time I heard this song I hoped that I would feel that feeling again. This one expresses that joy and exuberance of the beginning of a new relationship. I loved that feeling back at when I was a kid and the thought that there was more to come kept me from getting too bummed out about my current situation. I knew that I would feel this way again. Now, after being married for 28 years, every time I hear this song it reminds me of how cool it is to feel this way every morning when I wake up. After 28 years, I'm pretty sure that this time it must be love.

The movie Purple Rain came out when I was in sophomore in college. I was already really into Prince. I thought he was a complete genius. The rumors of him writing and performing all of the parts on his records had certainly hit our little music department in Indiana Pennsylvania and I couldn't believe how talented he was. In many ways I wanted to be just like him. He was cool. He was mysterious. And, man, was he a great musician. When I first went to see the movie I was absolutely obsessed. Applolonia was absolutely beautiful. The musician got the girl. And the music was mesmerizing. I love every song on that soundtrack. It was so deep and it was so personal. I couldn't really relate to the story, but I could relate to the struggle of wanting to be a musician. And I definitely wanted to be in that band. I could have probably picked any song from this record. But Purple Rain is really the anthem. This really was solidified for me years later when Prince performed Purple Rain at the Super Bowl. When the rain started falling that evening I was on my feet crying. What an amazing performer. What an amazing anthem. He laid his heart out there on the stage and we were all better for having witnessed it. I really miss Prince. He is gone way too early.

If you're clicking on the links, check this one out. The Sweet Comfort Band is a fairly obscure reference. But this song means a great deal to me. This is the song that I proposed to Barbra with. When I first heard this song in 1981 or 1982, I actually had a feeling that it would be how I would propose to my future wife who I had not met yet. I just thought it was beautiful and expressed love in a simple and clear way that I understood. I desperately wanted to become a musician who was on the road, touring, and dreaming of home. These were the stories that I could really relate to as a kid. As it is turned out, many of these ideas have been part of my life. I wanted to meet someone who could understand my life and that these words would make sense to in the future. Thankfully I did. I still sing this song. Every time I sing it, I sing it for her. 

If you gave me an inch for every mile I've had you on my mind 
They would stretch on down the highway in an endless line 
If I had a dime for every time I've thought about us too 
I could buy myself a lifetime just to spend on you. 

I love you Barbie. I knew this was your song before I knew you.

All I want to do was a huge hit in 1993. Barbra and I were living in the Washington DC suburbs and were enjoying life as a couple pre-children. We loved to go down to Ocean City, MD and spend our weekends at the beach enjoying the waves, sun, and each other. This song became our beach trip theme song. It was on the radio constantly. I can remember driving back and forth to Ocean City from Bowie, MD in my black Jeep Wrangler, with the top down, and every time this song came on Barbra and I would crank it up and sing it at the top of our lungs. In many ways it represented all of the freedoms that we were enjoying. Sun, sand, the wind in our hair, and our best friend at our side. What an awesome tune. What great memories!

In the mid-1990s, a former student (and current friend), Mike Gray, introduced me to Dream Theater. That introduction changed my life. My recollection is that Mike gave me their first CD, Images and Words. He had a hunch I would like it. What an amazing band and what an amazing record. This is another record that I could pick almost any song and it could fit into this category. But Another Day is my favorite. It's a ballad. Has an amazing saxophone solo in the middle. But the musicianship is just amazing.  Every instrument is perfect. I love the production and performance on the record. This is just a great instrumental performance.

From 1983 until 1987 I was an undergraduate music education major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. As a result of my work with the big bands at the school I became friends with a number of guys who were really into jazz fusion and smooth jazz. Groups like Spyro Gyra, Weather Report, the Chick Corea Elektric Band, Jeff Lorber, and others hit my radar for the first time. I seemed to gravitate particularly to the smooth jazz sound of the early 1980s and artists such as David Sanborn, Lee Rittenour, Dave Grusin, and others became my favorites quite quickly. Tom Grant is an artist who I sort of stumbled upon in a record store and bought the album. One of the tunes, Witchitai-to was on that record. This song has some lyrics, but really, it's more of  and instrumental conveying a general musical idea. The mood of the song grabbed me. This be game one of my go-to songs in the dorm rooms and in my first apartment when I wanted to just chill after a long day of work as a young professional. Give it a listen, it's super cool.

Bonus tracks:

To me, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters is the quintessential rock-star of our generation. His work with Nirvana is well-documented and the Foo Fighters are, in my opinion, the last great rock and roll band. I could have chosen a lot of other Foo Fighters songs as well. But Best of You rings as a great anthem in my mind. I love the passion. I love the urgency. I love the energy. I love the band. And most importantly I love what Dave Grohl stands for in rock history.

The last of my bonus selections is Come to Jesus by Chris Rice. It's beautiful. The words are beautiful. The idea is beautiful. This song speaks for itself. Give it a listen. #truth


1 comment:

  1. niiice list. I wore my Boston album out through college. Sad to see Prince leave us, so creative. All the best