Musical Milestones: 10 Songs

Remember when I wrote about that album by Squeeze? It was for my friend Nancy’s project, Midlife Mixtape, all about the music we love as adults. Well, she’s at it again, and this time she’s requesting mixtapes on a theme of “the songs that made me” — significant music from various stages of life. OK, I’m in.

The only rule was a 10-song maximum, so here goes —

1. I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen

SPRINGSTEEN_BORN-IN-USA_12x12_site-500x496Look, I’m as surprised as you are. But really, when I thought about my earliest musical memories, this is where my brain landed. Specifically, this was the first tape case (yeah kids, I said tape) in which I discovered the liner notes. Remember those? The little accordion-folded papers tucked into the plastic cases? Having discovered that the lyrics to all the songs were printed right there for me to read, I pored over them while listening to the songs again and again. I vividly remember sitting on my pink carpet in fourth grade, puzzling over this: “Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife baby edgy and dull and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul.” Why would someone do such a thing? Why a dull knife? Why is six inches the right depth for a soul-valley? What the hell, Bruce? I have been obsessed with song lyrics ever since.

* * *

2. Twist and Shout by the Beatles

To this day, this scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remains one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever. In fact, I wanted to hear this song so badly after seeing the movie that I mustered all the bravado I had in my little 6th grade self and called my radio station to request it. I TALKED TO THE MAN IN THE RADIO, PEOPLE. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to me, at 11, it was, and I remember that every time I hear it. This is the soundtrack to my getting up the nerve to ask a stranger for what I wanted.

* * *

Then for about a decade, my favorite song was “whatever’s on the radio.” Fast forward to the mid-90s:

* * *

3. This Time of Year by Better Than Ezra

awareIn college, I discovered Aware Records, the label that produced these awesome mix CDs of new artists (we’re up to CDs now, whippersnappers). Many of the bands I saw during my young adulthood were groups I discovered on these things. This song in particular always makes me think starting back to school on campus in August. If I play it on a fall day and close my eyes, I can pretend I’m sitting on a patio drinking cheap beer with the people who are still my best friends many years later. This is a touchstone tune.

* * *

4. Hold My Hand by Hootie and the Blowfish

Speaking of college, here’s a memory for you: It was 1994. A little band from South Carolina called Hootie was playing in the gym. We’d heard they were going to be on David Letterman the very next night. Somewhere up front near the speakers, some crazed fan was waving his Solo cup in the air and hollering, “HOLD MY HAAAAAND” again and again and again. “Who is that fool?” I wondered. Ladies and gentlemen, that fool is now the father of my children.

* * *

5. Colorshow by the Avett Brothers

When Americana started gaining more mainstream popularity a few years back, a friend of mine introduced me to the Avett Brothers, and I drank up those albums like water. They’ve never put on a show that hasn’t been a blast. The Avetts were one of the very first bands I was able to enjoy along with my children, who loved this music even when they were very little. I gave my son a philosophical lecture about elementary school once with these song lyrics: Be loud. Let your colors show.

* * *

6. Awake My Soul by Mumford and Sons

True story: I was bowling with a bunch of friends one night several years ago, and in the lane next to us was this group of English dudes who looked vaguely familiar. I went up to the bar and asked, “Do you know who those guys are?” and the bartender said, “They’re in some band that’s playing in a little theater around the corner tomorrow. Mumford and Company?” and I was like, “MUMFORD AND SONS? I’M GOING TO THAT SHOW,” and he was like, “I guess” and I went back to my friends like, “YOU GUYS THAT IS MUMFORD AND SONS,” and they were like, “What?” because this was about a month before any radio stations were playing them here, and somehow I was the only fan in our whole group. I was very dissatisfied that no one shared my excitement. Anyway, I went over to the band, and I said, “um hi hello are you mumford and sons i love your music so much i really just love it and do you like bowling ok great i’m coming to your show tomorrow at that little theater and i really hope you guys get like really successful and famous and stuff ok bye sorry bye” And they did. Probably because of that pep talk. So this one actually changed their lives more than mine. You’re welcome, guys.

* * *

brandi7. The Story by Brandi Carlile

We’ve talked about Brandi before. A bunch.

* * *

8. You Are My Sunshine by The Civil Wars

Well, the Civil Wars are no more, but they left us some good music. I always liked this version of Sunshine. Also, I sing this to my daughter every night before she goes to sleep; so even though it’s a really dark song (I mean, really dark — listen to it), it makes me happy. (When skies are gray.)

* * *

IMG_06269. Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves

Here’s a great song about going with your gut. I listened to it a lot when I switched to a new city / new job / etc. last year. Also, it’s just a delightful song. If you don’t like it, I can’t explain what’s wrong with you.

* * *

10. Blow It Out by The Features

I keep thinking I’ll reach a point where I’ve played this too many times and it gets old, but that time has not yet come. We play it a lot in our kitchen these days, and it’s by a great little Nashville band, and it just very much feels like a theme song right now.

* * *

So, there are my 10. Thanks for asking, Nancy. If you want to see the other mixtapes her friends have drummed up on this theme, you can catch them here:

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog
Butterfly Confessions
Good Day, Regular People
The Flying Chalupa
Elizabeth McGuire
Elleroy Was Here
Midlife Mixtape
Up Popped a Fox
When Did I Get Like This?

What are your musical milestones?

penguins_square_1 (1)

Obligatory book plug:
17 more days until Penguins with People Problems comes out! I’d be really glad to see you when the penguins and I hit the road to sign books. You can PRE-ORDER IT right now wherever you normally buy books (Amazon, B&N, etc.), or — if you like to support indies (yeah!) and want an autographed one — from the bookstore where I work.


  1. That Kacey Musgraves song is great. It will be shaping people’s lives for a long time. It’s helping my 19-year-old college kid daughter. Love the Better Than Ezra

  2. My comment disappeared! I love the story about your husband. The Story almost made my list too. I’m On Fire though…I must duel you with guns at high noon on that one. That song drives me crazy in the not good way for reasons I’ve never been able to articulate!

  3. I really liked the Features song. I’m going to download that one. Holy crap! The Civil Wars broke up? Where have *I* been? What a drag. Better Than Ezra, mm hmm. And Mumford. We have very similar taste in music!

  4. Great list! I love the Hootie story. And bowling next to a not-yet-famous Mumford and Sons?!!!! Oh my gawd!! So jealous. Thank you for the pep talk. You’ve improved all our lives by making sure they have become the rock gods they deserve to be! 🙂

  5. I laughed out loud, “Who is that fool?” “That fool is now the father of my children.”
    Fabulous! Thanks for the belly laugh.

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