20. “Every New Day” – Five Iron Frenzy (Our Newest Album Ever!, 1997)
Perhaps the most glowing thing I can say about “Every New Day” is that my favorite version of the song isn’t the one on Our Newest Album Ever! No, my favorite version of “Every New Day” comes from within “On Distant Shores”, the closer of The End Is Near, Five Iron’s
final last album from 2004. It behooves me to point out that it was, at one point, their final album, because the insertion of “Every New Day” at the end of the album tells you the power of that song. Among a discography that included songs decrying injustice to Native Americans, discouraging listeners to move to Colorado and desperately trying to convince some unknown deity that these are not my pants, “Every New Day” stands out emphatically. It’s the common theme that ties together the career of Five Iron Frenzy, and even as they continue their comeback, it still speaks to their message: “only You can make every day seem so new.”
19. “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)” – Eels (Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
Eels are a perfect example of how not to continue a musical career into a second decade, that is to say, they haven’t been vaguely listenable since the mid 2000’s. But around that time, they dropped Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a lengthy double LP that represented every good thing Eels had done in their expansive career. “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)” is a beautiful tribute to the joyous and carefree moments in life, a song so stupidly bubbly and upbeat that you won’t even remember why you were listening to the melancholy Eels in the first place.
18. “Can’t Fight This Feeling” – REO Speedwagon (Wheels Are Turnin’, 1984)
The only song to ever make me utter the phrase, “I AM A KARAOKE GOD,” to myself/kind of out loud.
17. “Lay ‘Em Down” – needtobreathe (The Outsiders, 2009)
At first listen, “Lay ‘Em Down” sounds like the perfect campfire song. There’s stomping, clapping, acoustic guitar and rousing group ending. But it doesn’t just sound like it; it really is. Like a good campfire, “Lay ‘Em Down” acts as an invitation and an encouragement. It’s an invitation to community, to acceptance and to relief. And it’s an encouragement that, even in the midst of every trouble, you don’t have to fight the world by yourself.
16. “Deathbed” – Relient K (Five Score and Seven Years Ago, 2007)
If I’ve learned anything over the course of writing about all these songs, it’s this: it’s difficult to write about a piece of music when you have trouble listening to it. Make no mistake, this may be the single hardest piece of music to listen to on the entire list. It’s absolutely stunning, don’t get me wrong. But in the 11-minute frame of the Five Score and Seven Years Ago closer, Matt Thiessen crafts a gutting story of sorrow and loneliness that I can only relate to in my darkest moments. So why do I sit through it every time? Because of the last 4 minutes. Wrap yourself up in this song and stick around for the ending. And grab your tissues. You’ll need them.
15. “When I’m Sixty-Four” – The Beatles (Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967)
At the height of The Beatles’ star power, fans were graced with albums like “Please, Please Me” and “A Hard Day’s Night.” But at the height of The Beatles’ musical opulence, fans were confused, yet mesmerized, by albums like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” It’s always a task to describe why the Liverpool Legends were so revolutionary. Perhaps one of the easiest ways is to point to Sgt. Pepper’s: it’s nearly impossible to name another album so original and so freaking enjoyable. To me, “When I’m Sixty-Four” is the heart and soul of the album. You’ve never heard a song like it, ever. The fact that it’s so darn catchy? Unfair.
14. “Concerning Hobbits” – Howard Shore (The Fellowship of the Ring: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2001)
I’m a big fan of movie scores. A big, BIG fan. Among my favorites are all of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores. It’d be hard to name a favorite movie score, but there’s no doubt as to which track is my favorite. “Concerning Hobbits” is special among the vast works of Howard Shore’s imagination because it stands out in a giant way by being so delicate and small…just like the people of which it speaks. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien describes hobbits as being folk who take pleasure in the simple things of life: food, drink and relaxation. In other words, hobbits have a zest for life. And “Concerning Hobbits” is the perfect anthem for such a people. There’s a delight and happiness in this tune that can’t be found elsewhere. A delight for a soft flute solo or a chorus of strings…for music itself.
13. “Mr. Blue Sky” – Electric Light Orchestra (Out of the Blue, 1977)
It’s difficult to quantify the impact of “Mr. Blue Sky” when you’re not outside in the middle of a spring morning. But I will say this: it’s December and the temperature outside is below freezing. And as I sit here listening to Electric Light Orchestra’s ode to blue skies, pretty faces and beautiful new days, it feels like Mr. Blue Sky is shining down on me. Even if my eyes tell me differently, my soul (yes, my soul) is transported to a world of eternal sunshine. Quite simply put, it’s the happiest song ever written.
12. “Martha, My Dear” – The Beatles (The Beatles [The White Album], 1968)
I should start this summary by saying I’d have no great rebuttal should anyone argue that there are much better Beatles’ songs out there than “Martha, My Dear.” It’s not a pop anthem like “Love Me Do” or “Eight Days a Week.” It’s not a somber masterpiece like “Norwegian Wood” or “Eleanor Rigby.” And it’s certainly not as grand as “A Day In the Life” or “Hey Jude.” I’d just contend with this question and leave you to your opinions: Is there a song in the Beatles’ catalogue that is more categorically Beatle-esque? Think about it.
11. “American Pie” – Don McLean (American Pie, 1971)
If music is just poetry with a melody, no man or woman ever matched the level of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” The music is undeniably simple over the course of the song’s eight-plus minutes, but it’s a tune that has achieved the type of immortality that reaches the minds of those who don’t even understand music. As a child, I knew the words to the chorus before I knew anything about my own tastes in music. And as it reaches people of every generation, the poetry pays its dividends. There are a lot of metaphors packed into the few verses, and many of them are distinguishable. But many aren’t. And while decoding every line of every verse could get tiresome, the song’s earnestness makes it impossible to stop paying attention. You hang on every word out of McLean’s mouth, hoping for anything that may give you closure on this great mystery of a song.