One can’t subsist on a diet of new music alone. Okay, you could, but I don’t recommend it—imagine how many songs and albums you would miss if you firmly planted your playlists in the current year with no exceptions. I love year end wrap up lists about music that came out this year—but what about the scads of other music you listened to?
Here’s page one from my musical scrapbook of 2012: These are the Top 5 songs I listened to in the beginning of the year, the ones that shaped my monthly soundtracks and that I couldn’t stop playing if I tried. For the full lists for each month, click the months/song titles below.
January: “I’ll Try Anything Once” by Julian Casablancas
I became really exhausted by insincerity and apathy this year. How embarrassing for me, right? What a gee shucks, fresh off the turnip truck sentiment (…why is it always turnips?). But there it is: I like sincere people who care about things. I want to be more like that, not less. And (oh, the cringe worthy vulnerability here guys, I can hardly bear it) I think I got really in touch with that sentiment when I heard this song.
The Strokes, whose tour bus I once trailed after a show with fellow moonstruck girlfriends (all of us far too innocent and curfew abiding to go full out Pamela De Barres, we simply followed the bus as long as we could and then went home), were my late high school rock icons. They were loud and oddly sexy; I screamed and jumped through their show, finally understanding the squaking, convulsing crushes my middle school friends used to have for every boy band du jour. Almost a decade later, I heard this fragile, bare bones song—so soft and spare, with nothing but Julian Casablanca’s voice and a keyboard. The lyrics are mostly straightforward, sagacious (to a confused, slightly lost 20something) life advice: “10 decisions shape your life, you’ll be aware of 5 about” and “There is a time when we all fail/Some people take it pretty well/Some take it all out on themselves.”
I listened to this 100 times, at least. I liked the weariness, and how different it sounded from The Strokes I knew years ago. I too was feeling weary and changed. I was growing tired of writing borderline mean jokes that don’t mean much. I was tired of pretend opinions and sound bites. I started wondering who I actually want to be and if I’m becoming that. It was earnest and it was deeply uncool; but, most of all, it was a relief, the kind that warrants a million cheesy similes (my favorite is “like a breath of fresh air”).
It’s a year later, and I’m still wondering.
In Songbook, Nick Hornby says writing about how and where you heard a song is for the birds (my words, his bird-free sentiment), that if you really love a song it doesn’t matter how and where you heard it. I say Nick Hornby is a fool (*gasp*): when a love is new, you tell it’s story, and I fell in love with Etta James last winter. It took two distinct listens to become hooked on this song. The first time: at a smoky bar the size of my closet under the train tracks in Tokyo, where I sat spellbound under a chandelier. The second time: at a shoe store in San Francisco, delirious with the flu, buying very expensive high heels for a business trip I was too sick to go on. Both instances had wildly different levels of glamour and health, but shared one thing: They became moments frozen in my memory because I heard that song and had to hear it again, as soon as possible, as much as I could.
Dusty Springfield makes the word groovy sound seductive. That feat deserves it’s own accolades. “Spooky” is a luscious ridiculously sexy song that is very 60s without being dated, very slow and jazzy without veering into smooth jazz or lounge lizard territory. It’s an odd defiant miracle of a song, refusing to be any of the things it’s supposed to be, sort of like the spooky little boy Dusty is singing to. I love the full stops and snaps, the echo-ey moment at the end, and most of all Dusty Springfield’s light, soulful voice.
In honor of year end wrap up season, one of my favorite TV moments of 2012 was Jane Krakowski playing Dusty Springfield in the live 30 Rock last season.
*Featured in “Top 5 Songs for a Foggy Day“
I missed this song when it had a moment a few years ago. When I heard it this year, the timing was perfect: San Francisco was experiencing a handful of rare, summery days and all I wanted to do was lie around in the park with friends, drink wine, and listen to something cheerful with a fiddle.
I love those songs that get so tied into the weather that it’s impossible to untangle them. It’s brisk and drizzly outside as I write this; Christmas is around the corner and I head back East tomorrow. But as I listen to this song on repeat, I want to throw the windows open, slip into a sundress, invite everyone I adore over for dinner. I have an unquenchable craving for the green capped, seven dollar Vino Verde I swill from April through August.
Honorary Mention: “Day Dreaming” by Aretha Franklin
Love, travel, day dreaming, and Aretha Franklin? All my favorite things, all at once. “Day Dreaming” perfectly represents the swooning, butterflies in your stomach part of love. The theme of sitting around, daydreaming about someone you love who will sweep you off to some exciting elsewhere is charming and matched well by the dreamy flute and electric piano. Why don’t people ever use lines like this in their wedding vows: “I want to be what he wants, when he wants it, whenever he needs it/When he’s lonesome and feelin’ love starved, I’ll be there to feed him/ Lovin’ him a little bit more each day.” How great would wedding ceremonies be if everyone swapped Corinthians for some Aretha Franklin lyrics?
Fun fact: Rumor has it this song is about Dennis Edwards, from The Temptations.
*Featured in “Songs for When You Need to Get Away“