They are in no particular order, and you may wonder why it goes from best new artists and songs to my favorite recording by post-Beatles Beatles gone solo, and other strange lists — such as my favorite country rock songs, and defining high school songs for me and my classmates. And while it may seem overly lengthy, this post consolidates pieces that I’d been tapping away at over the past half year or so. Some of them are merely lists, but I do love making lists!
Pop star of the day has tied the Beatles for three top hits in a row
Ariana Grande, turning 26 in June, has officially become a superstar with the most top hit singles
She’s not the only young pop music icon star of the day. That list would also need to include Drake, Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone, Cardi B, Ed Sheeran, and a few others. But she’s risen to a level that isn’t reached very often. Another piece of evidence that Grande is a superstar — getting paid $8 million to be the main act at this year’s Coachella Music Festival. Legendary singer Beyonce Knowles is said to have been paid $4 million last year to headline the Coachella festival.
How did she get here? The former TV star broke into singing in the mid-2010s to follow in the footsteps of mentors like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, able to belt out her own emotional ballads with a falsetto voice. At first, Grande’s voice can sound a bit glossed over using the typical engineering style of pop music vocal recordings these days. But then it grows on you, and her voice quickly becomes immediately recognizable.
Critical acclaim is there for her, too. ”Thank U, Next” made Top 5 best song rankings for 2018 from Billboard and NPR. “God is a Woman” made Entertainment Weekly’s #8 for best songs; and her album “Sweetener” made #5 on Rolling Stone’s best albums of 2018. Winning a long list of awards, including a Grammy, has helped build her name in the music scene.
Comparisons to other diva superstars like Beyonce and Rihanna are obvious. But there are other influences such as Carey, Houston, Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Toni Braxton. She has a similar level of charisma and star power that combine her singing talent with stage performance.
Speaking of Stefani, her 2004 “Rich Girl” hit was a redo of the song “If I Were a Rich Man,” from the classic musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Listen to Grande’s “7 Rings,” a revamp that comes from “My Favorite Things” on the “Sound of Music” soundtrack. She’s clearly been influenced by these performers, who’ve been able to cut their own paths through the pressure cooker of the music industry by sharing their own eccentricity, humor, talent, and personal style. Lots of well produced and entertaining videos help, too, as if she’d just starred in a short movie.
My favorite radio songs of the 2000s
(in no particular order)
“1901” — Phoenix — 2009
“It’s Time” — Imagine Dragons — 2012
“Dare” — Gorillaz — 2005
“Rock Your Body” — Justin Timberlake — 2002
“Soul Meets Body” — Death Cab for Cutie — 2005
“Walk” — Foo Fighters — 2011
“Firework” — Katy Perry — 2010
“Sirens” — Pearl Jam — 2013
“Dog Days Are Over” — Florence + the Machine — 2009
“Holiday” — Vampire Weekend — 2010
“The Joke” — Brandi Carlile — 2017
“Use Somebody” — Kings of Leon — 2008
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” — Green Day — 2004
“Don’t Know Why” — Nora Jones — 2002
“Beautiful Day” — U2 — 2000
“Umbrella” — Rihanna feat. Jay-Z — 2007
“Hey Ya!” — Outkast — 2003
“Lose Yourself — Eminem — 2002
“Someone Like You” — Adele — 2011
“Born This Way” — Lady Gaga — 2011
“Get Lucky” — Daft Punk — 2013
“Happy” — Pharrell Williams — 2013
“Gold Digger — Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx — 2005
“Crazy” — Gnarls Barkley — 2006
“99 Problems” — Jay-Z — 2004
“Crazy in Love” — Beyonce feat. Jay-Z — 2003
Unexpected and great rock anthems
“We Will Rock You” is likely what comes to mind when you first hear the topic of rock anthems brought up. Queen’s 1977 mega-hit, which was fused together by radio stations with its B-side “We Are The Champions,” quickly became the anthem of high school cheerleaders, beer-keg parties, and teenagers driving fast with radios blasting and windows open.
There are several other hits that many would consider classic rock anthems, but I’d like to take this theme in a different direction. What about anthems written around classic American themes like overcoming the odds, making it through tough times, and standing up for what you believe in? What would that list of songs look like?
I’ve got a list of songs that over the years helped me through tough times; and that can still make a difference. Life can be tough, no doubt, so finding inspiration and singing along can make for a better day. These are not hurrah marching songs, or something you’ll hear at weddings or on classic rock stations. They delve into some of the pain and struggle of life, and keeping hope alive during dark times.
Here’s a list of songs I love to hear, and a slice of their lyrics.
“Badlands” — Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Springsteen is well known for other anthems like “Born to Run” and “Glory Days,” but this song is one I’m even more fond of. It’s the opening track on the 1978 album, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and begins with the E Street Band at their most powerful, with a great piano and guitar riff and dynamic drumming. It’s not a feel-good song, and it goes deep into the themes and messages that have defined his life-long songwriting about overcoming barriers and rising up.
Here’s a passage that stands out:
“Talk about a dream
Try to make it real
You wake up in the night
With a fear so real
Spend your life waiting
For a moment that just don't come
Well don't waste your time waiting
Badlands, you gotta live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you've gotta pay
We'll keep pushin' till it's understood
And these badlands start treating us good”
“Everything Now” — Arcade Fire
This was the first big hit by the Canadian indie rock band that put out its first album in 2004. "Everything Now" made it to No. 1 on a Billboard chart and was the first single released from the album of the same name in 2017. Produced by Arcade Fire along with Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Pulp bassist Steve Mackey, it’s got a strong, melodic opening ripe for the dance floor and outside the band’s solemn sound on its first albums.
The lyrics nearly clash with the song’s cheerful melody led by a piano and backed by a thumping beat that could inspire a chorus of stage dancers. The lyrics cast an ominous glow, depicting a culture overtaken by information overload filling up “every inch of space in your head” with a lack of authenticity.
Lead singer Win Butler had this to say:
“Every inch of road's got a sign
And every boy uses the same line
I pledge allegiance to everything now
Every song that I've ever heard
Is playing at the same time, it's absurd
And it reminds me, we've got everything now
We turn the speakers up till they break
'Cause every time you smile it's a fake!”
“I Still Believe” — The Call
The Call was one of the best and least recognized bands of the 1980s, overshadowed on alternative, post-punk stations by the Replacements, REM, Husker Du, U2, and others. “The Walls Came Down,” was an anthem on these FM stations, and rock fans heard several more including “Everywhere I Go” and “Let the Day Begin.”
In 1986, the band had an FM radio hit that became an anthem for young people concerned about the culture of the day. That included the conservative Reagan administration, lifestyles of the rich and famous, the Yuppie career path in preppy outfits, and casualties in the cocaine- and alcohol-driven dance clubs and party lifestyle.
For music fans who wanted to support another path, the song presents a stark landscape for those seeking meaning and purpose and looking for the light — and its resonates in ‘80s synth-pop through electronic keyboards and guitars.
“But I still believe.
I still believe.
Through the shame,
And through the grief.
Through the heartache,
Through the tears,
Through the waiting,
Through the years
For people like us,
In places like this
We need all the hope,
That we can get,
Oh, I still believe!”
“Refugee” — Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty’s death in October 2017 was shocking for many of us. He seemed like someone who would never really go away, with his music being deeply embedded into American radio. When was the last time you’ve heard, “Free Fallin’,” “American Girl,” or “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”?
And what about “Refugee?” That song was prominent on the great 1979 album from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, titled “Damn the Torpedoes.” You’ve probably heard “Even the Losers,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Here Comes My Girl,” and “Century City”. Yes, it was a great album, and it all began with a great song on side one, “Refugee”.
“Refugee” was performed by great musicians who played perfectly together. You’ll hear Benmont Tench soaring on the organ, Mike Campbell’s powerful lead guitar, rhythm carried by Stan Lynch on drums and Ron Blair on bass, and Petty on rhythm guitar and lead vocals (with backing vocals from Tench and Lynch). It was co-written by Petty and Campbell.
“You don’t have to live like a refugee,” Petty sang during a time when he battled with ABC Records for trying to sell the band’s contract to MCA Records without the band knowing about it. It was also written during a time when international news coverage regularly included stories about refugees fleeing their countries to save their lives; such as the Vietnamese “boat people” taking great risks to leave their country and which was still transpiring when the album was released.
Was this song about a relationship Petty was in? Who knows, but it was about rising up beyond struggles and desperation. It sends out the age-old message of fighting for freedom.
“Somewhere, somehow, somebody
Must have kicked you around some
Who knows, maybe you were kidnapped
Tied up, taken away, and held for ransom
Honey, it don't really matter to me, baby
Everybody's had to fight to be free”
“Stand!” — Sly and the Family Stone
Sly and the Family Stone represented both the brightest and darkest moments of late-1960s and early-1970s American youth culture and social change. The band produced a series of great hit singles starting in 1968 that embodied the adventure, self actualization, and social statements of that era. They were the first hit-hit-making band that was racially integrated and led by men and women. It wouldn’t last very long, with drug problems and internal clashes destroying the band by 1975.
But when they made records together, they were great. They made you want to dance and sing along. Their “psychedelic soul” had a huge influence on funk, pop, soul, R&B, and hip hop music. You can hear it songs by Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and many other artists.
One of my favorites is the anthem “Stand!” It all starts out with a drum roll and the singers belting out “Stand” as the chorus in between stanzas sung mostly by Sly Stone. It does have an unusual twist, shifting over to a gospel break for its final 45 seconds. It calls for listens to stand up for themselves, their communities, and what they really believe in.
“They will try to make you crawl
And they know what you're saying makes sense and all
Don't you know that you are free
Well at least in your mind if you want to be
“American Tune” — Paul Simon
For those of you wanting to hear an inspiring, uplifting anthem, you’d better find something different than this one. Let’s start with a passage from the lyrics……..
“And I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
or driven to its knees
But it's all right, it's all right
We've lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
we're traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can't help it, I wonder what went wrong”
I had a friend riding in my car with me a few years ago and I played him this song. He asked me to play it again right after. It struck a chord — not something to dance to, but we could very much understand what he was talking about.
The song’s title had something to do with Simon’s experience being an American in the early 1970s. The country had been undergoing historic change. Although it was cool and hip for rock stars, they like everybody else, were living through a tumultuous period of change, writing a new chapter in our history. Simon and everybody else had to live through it. He had this to say about it:
“We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age's most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it's all right, it's all right
You can't be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day
And I'm trying to get some rest
That's all I'm trying to get some rest”
“Chicago” — Sufjan Stevens
The song is as grand and shimmering as the Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now”; at least the album version of Steven’s song is, on his Illinoise album. He’s been getting some Pandora radio play from a softer, more acoustic version. I’ll take the grand and shimmering version with the backup choral singers.
Stevens is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist known for creating his own style and sound. He gained wide recognition for his previously mentioned album, which hit number one on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart (that tracks up and coming musicians), and for the single "Chicago" from that album.
In the song, Sufjan and his friend go for a road trip, where his inner world is disrupted by reality. It was time to let it go, to be born again. Here’s a little bit of his song……
“I was in love with the place
In my mind, in my mind
I made a lot of mistakes
In my mind, in my mind
You came to take us
All things go, all things go
To recreate us
All things grow, all things grow”
Top 10 songs by former members of the Beatles
“Junior's Farm,” and “Jet” by Paul McCartney & Wings — McCartney has been condemned for schmaltzing up the Beatles, and later the Wings, too much with love ballads (think “Yesterday”), but he and the Wings could really rock. That included his then-wife Linda McCartney, who co-wrote “Junior’s Farm” with Paul, year’s before her tragic death by cancer. The musicianship and recording production is very tight on the songs released in 1974 and 1973, respectively. While great production was something George Martin was credited for with the Beatles, McCartney had a lot to do with it on the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road albums; and you can hear more of it on these two recordings.
“Mother” by John Lennon — This was released on his 1970 solo album Plastic One Band, and came out of therapy he’d done about his childhood trauma. It’s brutal and it well represents Lennon’s authentic experience as an artist; and his abandonment as a child by a father who left when he was an infant and his mother who was hit and killed by a drunk driver when he was 17. The song starts with a funeral bell tolling slowly four times and plays with simple and stark musicianship. The song ends with Lennon singing "Mama don't go, daddy come home,” and then screeching the words and screaming as the song fades out.
“Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” — George Harrison — This song does a good job of summing up Harrison’s spiritual journey that started while still in the Beatles. Released as the opening track of his 1973 album Living in the Material World, it became Harrison's second US number 1, after "My Sweet Lord.” This was during the time in his life he’d dedicated himself to assisting refugees from Bangladesh, leading two all-star benefit concerts in 1971 and 1972. You can hear the grief and sadness in his voice.
“It Don’t Come Easy” — Ringo Starr — This 1971 hit was one of several by Starr; this one was credited to him but had been written by Starr and Harrison. It’s a good one for Starr (Richard Starkey) whose parents had split up when he was four, and he never saw much of his father after that. His mother worked as a cleaning woman and then a barmaid to support them. “Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues.
And you know it don't come easy,” he sings.
“Live and Let Die” — Paul McCartney & Wings. I suspect this soundtrack tune for the James Bond movie didn’t go well with other ex-Beatles, especially John Lennon. But it sticks with you, enough for Guns N’ Roses to have done a cover version. It taps into the grandiose orchestral sound of other Bond anthems, but it just has that hook that reels you in. It’s thought to have changed the game for Bond movie title tracks, with rock artists like Duran Duran, Chris Cornell, Madonna, and Sheryl Crow later doing recordings.
And four more…….
“Blow Away” — George Harrison — 1979
“Instant Karma” — John Lennon — 1970
“Another Day” — Paul McCartney — 1971
“Watching the Wheels” — John Lennon — 1980
Songs to burn onto your playlist for a really good long drive:
(Feel free to look them up on Youtube)
“Everybody’s Talkin’” — Harry Nilsson
“Well Alright” — Buddy Holly and the Crickets
“Witchita Lineman” — Glen Campbell
“Street Fightin’ Man” — Rolling Stones
“Sirens” — Pearl Jam
“Everybody is a Star” — Sly & the Family Stone
“Hey Jude” — The Beatles
“Waterloo Sunset” — the Kinks
“Tunnel of Love” — Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” — Bob Dylan
“Talk of the Town” — the Pretenders
“Sunset People” — Donna Summer
“Wishing Well” — Terence Trent D’Arby
“Kiss” — Prince
“That’s Alright Mama” — Elvis Presley
“Walkin’ After Midnight” — Patsy Cline
“Boogie on Reggae Woman” — Stevie Wonder
“Ray of Light” — Madonna
“Jackie Wilson Said” — Van Morrison
“The Kids Are Alright” — The Who
“Blue Spark” — X
“Ole Man Trouble” — Otis Redding
“White Lines” — Grandmaster Flash
“Bring the Noise” — Public Enemy
“Time After Time” — Cindy Lauper
“The Pretender” — Jackson Browne
“Somebody To Love” — Queen
“Nobody’s Fault But Mine” — Led Zeppelin
“Help Me” — Joni Mitchell
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” — Elton John
“Superman” — R.E.M.
Best Albums of the 1980s that you may not have heard
Artists United Against Apartheid — Sun City
REM — Murmur
The Replacements — Tim
Husker Du — Candy Apple Grey
David Lindley — Win This Record
Talking Heads — Speaking in Tongues
Richard and Linda Thompson — Shoot Out the Lights
X — Los Angeles
VU — Velvet Underground (recorded in the ‘60s and finally released by the ‘80s)
Public Enemy — Bring the Noise
Los Lobos — By the Light of the Moon
Nebraska — Bruce Springsteen
Prince albums, songs, and videos
My 12 favorite albums
Layla — Derek & The Dominos
Darkness on the Edge of Town — Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Beggar’s Banquet — The Rolling Stones
Heat Treatment — Graham Parker and The Rumour
Bring the Family — John Hiatt
The Clash — The Clash (1977 — British version)
Tommy — The Who
Los Angeles — X
OK Computer — Radiohead
Blonde on Blonde — Bob Dylan
Revolver — The Beatles (British version)
The Doors — The Doors
My favorite country rock songs:
(in no particular order)
Johnny Cash — “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
Steve Earle — “Feel Alright”
Jimmie Dale Gilmore — “Where You Going”
Lyle Lovett — “If I Had a Boat”
The Flying Burrito Brothers — “Cody Cody,” and “Wheels”
Willie Nelson — “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”
Linda Ronstadt — “Blue Bayou”
Dolly Parton — “Jolene”
Lucinda Williams — “Right in Time”
Hank Williams — “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”
Bob Dylan — “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”
Joe Ely — “She Never Spoke Spanish To Me”
Garth Brooks — “Rodeo”
Roseanne Cash — “Seven Year Ache”
Lynyrd Skynyrd — “You Got That Right”
The Byrds — “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”
Defining high school songs for me and my classmates
“The Groove Line” — Heatwave
“My Sharona” — The Knack
“Cars” — Gary Numan
“How Deep Is Your Love” — Bee Gees
“We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” — Queen
“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” — Michael Jackson
“Pop Muzik” — M
“Bette Davis Eyes” — Kim Carnes
“Jessie’s Girl” — Rick Springfield
“Heart of Glass” — Blondie
“Come Sail Away” — Styx
“Back in Love Again” — LTD
“You Better Run” — Pink Floyd