6th November 2023
It’s always impossible to make a list of your favourite songs, especially if you are anything like me and love specific genres and eras more than others. I had a long list to choose from but these 10 are undoubtedly the top of my pops (a very current reference). Some artists you may know, some you may not and if any take your fancy you can go deep and enjoy this mismatched gang of misfit songs in a Spotify playlist that you will find at the end.
Is there anything more joyous than the opening of this song? Arguably one of Paul Simon’s most famous and recognisable works, ‘You Can Call Me Al’ is 4 minutes and 40 seconds of pure nonsensical greatness. Ever since I first saw the music video (starring Simon and SNL legend/terrible curmudgeon Chevy Chase) I have loved this song. The deftness of the bizarre lyrics interwoven with Simon’s signature borrowings from Afrobeat music makes for an unadulterated sing a long classic. I can’t count the amount of nights out spent in the Jacaranda screaming ‘don’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard’ at my perplexed friends.
To me, this is the greatest love song ever written. If I was to ever get married, I would fight my partner tooth and nail to have this as a first dance song. Lead singer David Byrne once claimed it’s a ‘love song made completely of non-sequiturs’ and its disjointedness is what makes it the perfect piece of music. It’s an aberration for Talking Heads, not only in content but in its composition too — there is a skew away from their usual arty ironic style. Despite the fact the song’s gentle melody was created by each band member switching instruments to create something unique, it still retains a sense of sincerity and seriousness. It’s a masterpiece that’s made even more iconic by its performance in the absolutely amazing 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. I can go through periods where I’ll just watch it on loop on YouTube because it’s a song that lends itself so well to performance, especially when that performance is the beautifully weird Byrne doing a wonderful kind of ballet with a floor lamp.
Just to contradict myself with my previous definitive love song declaration, I’ll never get enough of Thom Yorke crooning about love on what is the best Radiohead record of all time (and quite possibly one of the best albums ever made) In Rainbows. I cannot resist the wavering falsetto that you hear on this song and the slow strum of Jonny Greenwood’s guitar. Don’t get me wrong, I love the abstract high concept vibe that all of their pre 2007 music has but the more down to earth, human approach that the band took here is just, for want of better words, intimate and enrapturing. Yorke really gets to showcase his wonderful voice here; I mean it’s hard not to be lured in as soon as you hear the seductive opening statement of ‘I don’t want to be your friend/I just want to be your lover.’
Vampire Weekend are a band who have been with me through thick and thin since I first heard the jaunty guitar riffs of ‘A-Punk’ all the way back in 2008. They broke through the mid to late 2000s indie NME generation bubble (that I’m proud to be a part of) and have stayed a constant favourite of mine for going on 13 years. To me, their absolute best song though is ‘Diplomat’s Son’ taken their second album, 2010’s Contra. The song has been described as a ‘sublime slice of digital dance hall’ by the Guardian and features lyrics by former member Rostam Batmanglij that grapple with sexuality, relationships and how you express the emotions that are caught between the two. It’s a personal song but it isn’t just limited to singular experience. You can listen to Ezra Koenig’s wonderful voice and Rostam’s great lyricism and take what you want from the song. You can make it personal to you as it’s all about taking chances, having regrets and revelling in the experience. It’s as resonant to me now as it was when I was 16 and hearing it for the first time or now that I am 26 and listening to it for the thousandth.
Has a song about the gut-wrenching nature of loneliness ever made you want to just get up and dance? If not, I suggest you give Mitski a listen. This deceptively up-tempo single from the amazing 2018 album Be the Cowboy is a rare modern choice for me, but I cannot resist the contradictory clash of lyrics and music that ‘Nobody’ offers. Throughout all three of the laugh a minute lockdowns we have been through, I have constantly found myself drawn to listening to this song despite the fact it’s a constant reminder of how lonely being trapped in one place away from society is. There is something to appreciate in the contradictory darkness it offers, with the rejection of pity but the longing for closeness that is evident in both the lyrics and Mitski’s voice. I can never get enough of sad songs; I live for the melancholy but there’s just something so special about sadness mixed with joyous danceable musical arrangement that just needs to be appreciated.
As with most of the bands and artists I have chosen for this list, it seems impossible to choose just one favourite song out of discographies full of greatness. Yet, ‘Velouria’ has always been the standout Pixies song for me. Usually, I’m a stone-cold proponent of their two most notable albums Doolittle and Surfer Rosa but this song from the album Bossanova just takes the band to new heights for me. I can never actually pinpoint what it is that I love so much about this song. Is it the unconventional use of the theremin in the background? Is it the great opening guitar riff? Is it lead singer Black Francis’ switch from gentle singing to screaming the words ‘Velouria’? It’s just perfection from start to finish, a flawless piece of music by one of the most classic alt rock bands there is. I wouldn’t say it’s explicitly a very joyful song but whenever I listen to it, it makes me happy — the power of the Pixies I guess! (Plus, I am dying to one day request this on a night out and moodily dance to it but the chances of it being played is just a case of wishful thinking).
Yes, another Talking Heads song but I’ve spaced it further down the list so it doesn’t look like I’m playing favourites. This is a real joyful and optimistic piece of music, right from the funky opening chords it exudes a sense of happiness in its instrumentation. The lyrics on the other hand are up for interpretation. Are we being asked to suspend our anger at the government and enjoy our surroundings and our ‘loved ones, loved ones’? Or is it an ironic take on our constant failed attempts to distract ourselves from governmental madness? In my opinion, it’s a bit of both. There’s a duality that’s evident within the words and music, sometimes you can just enjoy the song, sometimes you can appreciate the sarcastic lilt of Byrne’s voice and sometimes, on occasion, you might just be able to stop worrying about the government for just a second while you listen.
This is a favourite plucked straight out of all those years I spent religiously reading NME. A real classic song that I constantly forget about and then as soon as it comes on shuffle I’m transported back to being one of those pretentious teenagers who constantly talks about a band but then says ‘oh, well you’ve probably never heard of them.’ It’s dancey, it’s arty, it’s a fast-paced treat of word play delivered in such a frantic tone by lead singer Tunde Adebimpe. You can feel the band having fun on this song, on an album populated by, as the music website Consequence of Sound would say, ‘dystopian futures and romantic apocalypse’. This track offers a break for you to appreciate the manic fun of the late 2000s indie dance scene. And come on, you can’t help but love a song that inexplicably features the line ‘I see you figured in your action pose, foam injected Axl Rose.’
I cannot count the number of times in my life that I have listened to this song. I go through stages where all I want to do is listen to Rilo Kiley, they are my kind of easy listening music. There is always something so enticing about the California cool alt-pop of Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett. Their music is drenched in love, joy, sadness and heartbreak and for some reason this is a constant source of comfort to me. This song in particular, the title track from the 2004 album of the same name, is just a treat to listen to. With a title that references the poem ‘Meditations in an Emergency’ by my all-time favourite poet Frank O’Hara, the song itself in a meditation of how you should break with tradition to enjoy and appreciate real love. You can’t help but feel a little uplifted by the optimism of the defiant lyrics, the rejection of conventional societal norms and the hopeful tone of Lewis’ voice. Don’t get me wrong, I primarily deal in sad indie music but from time to time it’s nice to venture into the more optimistic side of things.
Billy Joel yelling historical facts at you with some extremely jazzy music in the background, what else do I have to say?