Why I need music in my life and my go-to playlists and songs

This post was inspired by a request from a good friend of mine who asked if I’d write about the music I’d been listening to this year, during various COVID-related lockdowns and restricted periods. That request came some time ago and I’ve been mulling over just how to address this. I came to the conclusion that my listening habits haven’t changed as a consequence to what has happened in 2020 – they’ve remained largely the same.

Music has been a constant in my life and is vitally important to me. I try to listen to as much new music as possible though there is always a pull back to favourite songs/albums which is impossible to resist most of the time. Much of what I listen to depends on my mood and what I need music to do for me at any given point. Before we start, I’ve written about it in previous posts but I really do despise the term ‘guilty pleasure’. Why should we feel guilty at admitting to liking something, just because it may not seem hip or cool to others? I have a very basic rule when it comes to music (or films, television shows, books, comedy or anything else which I have a passion for) – if I like it; if it makes me feel something (as the very best music or art should), then it’s fine by me. Hence I make no apologies for any of the songs or artists I reference here.  

To prepare writing this post, I scrolled through the playlists on my phone, iPod (yes – I still have an iPod Touch!) and my Amazon Music account. I like a huge and eclectic range of music and to summarise every playlist and every song would result in a post rivalling the Encyclopedia Britannica in length. To ensure this post remains a little more succinct and readable, I’ll summarise what I believe are my main go-to songs, albums and playlists.

I won’t turn this into a political post but I’ve found myself getting angrier with the world we live in over recent months. As a result, I often need music to defuse those feelings and have frequently been turning to my Moody and Cool Stuff playlist. Yes, I realise that title is really poor, but it does a good job of summing up the content for me. This is a playlist primarily featuring songs that were clearly written either when the artist was angry about something or in a fairly dark place (or at least trying to invoke a sense of darkness and foreboding). Songs such as U2’s Bullet the Blue Sky, Don Henley’s I Will Not Go Quietly, Lenny Kravitz’s Mr Cab Driver, Steve Earle’s Amerika V.6.0, Radiohead’s Just, Robbie Williams’s Shine My Shoes, Alison Moorer’s Like It Used To Be, Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down, Little Big Town’s Tornado, Foo Fighters’ The Pretender, Mark Ronson & Miley Cyrus’ Nothing Breaks Like a Heart, and Sam Fender’s Play God always hit the spot. On occasion they increase rather than reduce the anger but that’s a story for another post…

On the flip side of that, I often need a playlist to make me feel good, to make me smile and to make me sing; to make me dance around the kitchen when there’s no-one else around. This is when I turn to either my Pop or Feelgood Songs playlist. It’s nigh on impossible to listen to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky, Take That’s These Days, The Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling, Jools Holland’s Enjoy Yourself, Katrina & the Waves’ Walking on Sunshine, Annie Lennox and Al Green’s Put a Little Love In Your Heart, or most songs from the Abba, Bee Gees, Duran Duran, Take That, Pink, Lightning Seeds, Kylie, Robbie Williams, Girls Aloud, The Bangles, or McFly back catalogues without raising a smile and singing like a loon. I’ve always loved really strong female vocalists and my Here Come the Girls playlist also frequently gets an airing at times like these.

Then there are times when I need a fire in my belly. When I need a playlist to drag me kicking and screaming into the day and forcing me to get active. I always listen to my Workout playlist at such times. Made up, rather predictably for those who know me, primarily of rock music (accounting for around 66% of the list), this is the playlist that crushes my laziness and actually makes me want to hit the rowing machine or throw some kettlebells around. It’s impossible to sit still to this collection, which is why I find it so effective. Songs such as the aforementioned Foo Fighters’ The Pretender, Guns n’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle & You Could Be Mine, Extreme’s No Respect, Weezer’s Hash Pipe, Motley Crue’s Smoke the Sky, Skid Row’s Monkey Business & Slave to the Grind, Ozzy Osbourne’s Tomorrow, U2 & Green Day’s The Saints are Coming, Faith No More’s From Out of Nowhere, and Living Colour’s Cult of Personality never, ever fail. Non-rock/metal entries in this playlist which also always hit the spot include Kacey Musgraves’ Stupid, OneRepublic’s Love Runs Out, Chris Isaak’s Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing, Sheryl Crow’s Heartbeat Away, The Zac Brown Band’s Uncaged, The Eagles’ Get Over It, Elton John’s All the Girls Love Alice, Tom Petty’s Running Down a Dream, and Jennifer Ann’s haunting cover of Mad World.

But it isn’t always full-on music that I need. We all need some chillout time and my Acoustic playlist is my default option. Featuring original songs and stripped back covers, it is perfect easy listening, whether on a Sunday morning or late at night. Highlights I always seek out in this list include David Gray’s Sail Away, Ray LaMontagne’s Trouble, The Black Crowes’ She Talks to Angels, Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, Sheryl Crow’s Home, Take That’s Patience, Pink’s The One That Got Away, Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua’s version of What a Wonderful World, Kacey Musgraves’ Slow Burn, Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up, Massive Attack’s Teardrop, Oasis’ She Is Love, Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), James Vincent McMorrow’s wonderful version of Wicked Game, Bad Company’s Seagull, Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler, Queen’s live version of Love of My Life, Status Quo’s Living On An Island, Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, James Taylor’s Fire and Rain and many more. It is absolutely one of my favourite playlists. It soothes the soul and calms the mind – something which is invaluable to me in what is a frequently busy and full-on life.

The final playlist I’ll delve into is the one titled Motivational. Like the Workout list, though not necessarily relating to exercise, this is the playlist I turn to when I want a productive day. These are the songs I need to hear to ensure I get stuff done rather than sitting on the couch all day. Basically, the playlist I need to pick me up by the scruff of the neck and give me a damned good shaking. This is certainly an eclectic playlist and doesn’t necessarily include entries that will make sense to many, but it works for me. Favourites here include Chris Rea’s Set Me Free, Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life, Little Mix’s Little Me (remember – no such thing as a ‘guilty pleasure’…), Sigma & Paloma Faith’s Changing, Ella Henderson’s Giants, Emeli Sande’s Sparrow & Survivor, Des’ree’s You Gotta Be, Kacey Musgraves’ Follow Your Arrow, Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten, Gun’s Won’t Back Down, and Garth Brooks’ Against the Grain.

There are, of course, many other playlists. My Indie list is fairly self-explanatory and is certainly one to boost the spirits, particularly as much of the content takes me back to those halcyon days of the mid-late 90’s. My Rock & Metal playlist is also self-explanatory and revisits perhaps my favourite genre. It’s certainly one I tend to revert to when I plug in the guitars and turn to the heavier tones! My A.O.R. playlist may not fit the true definition of Album-orientated Rock (i.e. the likes of Boston, Journey, Survivor, Foreigner etc) but it’s the name I have given to my playlist featuring classic/legendary artists who I love, such as Elton John, Rod Stewart, Squeeze, Chris Rea, Sheryl Crow, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel, Jimmy Barnes, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Fleetwood Mac, Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Simple Minds. My Covers playlist is a real treasure trove of genres, whilst my Film Songs list is a great family listen (the rock entries aside!) and we also weave a little quiz into it too.

The Blues and Country playlists features hundreds of songs from two genres which I adore, whilst my When I Was a Kid playlist holds a really special place in my heart as it includes all my favourite songs I remember first hearing as a kid. My mum and dad played a huge part in influencing my musical tastes and music was huge in all our lives. My eclectic taste absolutely come directly from them and the music I heard as a kid was certainly wide-ranging. Queen, Status Quo, Kenny Rogers, The Pretenders, Big Country, Cliff Richard, James Last, and the Stars on 45 records were all frequently played and I used to eagerly await each new week to see which new 45’s would make their way onto the turntable. New singles were bought pretty much every week and albums almost as frequently. It wasn’t just my mum & dad who influenced me though. I am an only child though I particularly remember my 2 elder cousins being well into their music. Their bedroom walls were covered in posters as diverse as the punk bands of the time (Release the Bats, anyone?!) to Kim Wilde (though I suspect Kim may have been there for more aesthetic reasons!). Because of them, I first found artists I still love to this day, such as The Cult and Steve Earle. Additionally, time with my nan and grandad introduced me to wonderful music from a golden age. Hearing those classic Dean Martin, Perry Como, Michael Holliday, and Don Williams albums introduced me to songs I doubt I’d have otherwise heard – songs I still love today (Dean Martin features heavily in my Rat Pack and Crooners and Christmas playlists).

Despite the varied playlists, containing thousands of songs in total, there are a core few that span many different playlists and are played regularly as they are my absolute favourites. Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game is my favourite song of all time. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, Big Country’s In a Big Country, The Foo Fighters’ The Pretender, Kacey Musgraves’ Oh, What a World, Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler, Oasis’ Live Forever, Emile Sande’s Sparrow, Squeeze’s Tempted, Jeff Beck / Rod Stewart’s People Get Ready, Elton John’s Rocket Man, The Divine Comedy’s Mother Dear, Steve Earle’s My Old Friend the Blues, Status Quo’s Living on an Island, Bon Jovi’s Who Says You Can’t Go Home, Blind Melon’s No Rain, and Don Williams’ You’re My Best Friend are played at least once a week, often many times more. My wife and daughter laugh at me for having an Absolute Faves playlist featuring 524 songs (as things stand right now) and claim that I use the phrase ‘oh, this is one of my favourite songs’ far too often. Perhaps I do, but that’s how important music is to me.

I’ve mentioned listening to albums a lot here and I’m acutely aware that, in common with many people these days, I rarely listen to full albums from start to finish anymore (unless it’s an album I’m listening to for the first time). The tendency is to listen to individual tracks, or playlists on shuffle mode, and the classic album seems to be more and more confined to a bygone era. That is a real shame as many of the greatest albums were designed and constructed to provide a listening experience over the course of an hour or so. To take the listener on an emotional journey; to provide peaks and troughs; in many cases, to create a story across a dozen or so songs. I want to get back to that and have already started to build a collection of my favourite albums on vinyl, ahead of buying a turntable (certainly before Christmas). This was prompted by a weekend away with some friends a few years ago. The house in which we were staying had a record player and a collection of albums and I was immediately transported back 35 years. The sound was rich and warm, the feeling of placing that LP on the turntable was wonderful and listening to full albums reminded me so much of what I’ve been missing. I only wish I’d kept all my old vinyl, though hindsight is a wonderful thing.

So, time I wrap up this lengthy thread, that is if anyone has actually made it this far. I could have carried on for pages and pages and pages – this is only a snapshot of what music means to me. I’d be completely and utterly lost without it in my life. When I’m happy, I turn to music. When I’m down, I turn to music. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with something, I turn to music. When I need inspiration, I turn to music. When I need a fire in my belly, I turn to music. I always have music playing. My wife and daughter laugh at me as I pop in some earphones when I take out the bins but the way I see it is that this is a 3-4 minute task – that’s an opportunity to listen to a song. Why wouldn’t anyone do that when the alternative option is to be listening to nothing but the sound of bin wheels over paving stones? The same logic applies to any task in life taking longer than a minute or two – to me, it’s crazy not to have music playing almost constantly. To me, music is as essential as sleep, food, water and the air that we breathe. As the quote in one of the attached images (a card from a wonderful ex-work colleague who knows me very well) says, music makes my world go around.

As always, thanks for reading, take care and, in the words of the wonderful Doobie Brothers, listen to the music…

Best wishes.

Mick

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