“You know her life was saved by rock and roll.”
– Velvet Underground
(Note: The author is in no way to be confused with a certified psychologist or anyone else with the least bit of mental health qualifications. Those individuals typically offer sound advice, not advice on sound.)
Maybe your life was saved by rock and roll. Or baroque chamber songs. Or Tuvan throat singing. Or even the sound of a guy banging a frozen cod against a wheelbarrow. Who’s to say what music is anyway? Regardless, you may be one of us human beings, of such tender emotional receptors, for whom music seemingly offers salvation. Or at least, salvation of the moment.
Can music “save” your “life”? What do I mean “save”? What do I mean “life”? What do I mean “mean”?
I don’t really know. But you know what I mean. All these questions! Can we get started? I’m dying to hear some music!
Instead of a primer on the healing properties of music (a subject I believe long researched, preached and practiced), let this serve as a bibliography of musical therapy, or a Suggested Listening List for both the moods you are in and those you wish to trigger.
These are songs for times when your “heart” tells your “brain”: I’M IN A FUNK! PLEASE SEND FUNK! (I couldn’t find any funk songs listed here – ed.)
Because sometimes when you’re sad, you want to stay sad for a while, and listen to sad music. Or else you’re tired of being down and need some happy songs to get you out of bed to eat something and rinse out those wine bottles.
“Nothing’s gonna happen. Nothing’s gonna change.” – Randy Newman
Ah, sad songs say so much! So let’s wallow. What’s worse than someone telling you to cheer up? Please leave me for a minute in my deep rut of hopeless despair! Right? Lost love, a change in weather, or the sudden and inevitable realization that mankind is a flea on the universe’s scruffy withers may be culprits of your present lowery emotions. I think the reasons are less important than the willingness to overcome them. Once you’re alone in your room, where the solitude too can be such a healer, spin these solemn singles for the morose topping on your pity pie.
I’ll not comment on these songs, short of offering a lyric. These are weighty, depressing songs. You think you’re in a bad mood?
1. Living Without You – Randy Newman
“Time to face the dawning gray of another lonely day”
2. My Curse – Afghan Whigs
“Temptation comes not from hell but from above”
3. Chorus 8 – The Feebs
“Love comes in many forms that you may find so distasteful”
4. I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore – Dusty Springfield
“The talk is so loud and the walls are much too thin.”
5. Trouble – Cat Stevens
“Trouble, oh trouble can't you see, you have made me a wreck, now won't you leave me in my misery”
“Get me away from here I’m dying.” – Belle & Sebastian
And then there are those times when you feel you’ve mined the core of sadness of all its wealth and need to cheer up already (yeah, that’s right, what about it?). Positivity! Unbridled jubilation! Release the hounds of adrenal! Escort your endorphins to the surface in the chariots of rock! Dance, all right? If you can’t dance, dance anyway. But please stay where you are – dance alone, behind closed doors. You don’t need to bring anyone else down with your rhythmless jerking and that thing you’re doing with your arms! Herewith, odes to joy! Loud, lively songs of unstoppable momentum!
1. Move On Up – Curtis Mayfield
“Remember your dreams are your only schemes, so keep on pushing”
Two knocks on the snare, then POW! The horns burst to life! The performance is so strong, the message isn’t even necessary, but Mayfield doesn’t care, and his commanding falsetto overwhelms all resistance!
2. What is Life? – George Harrison
“I’ll try my best to make everything succeed”
From George’s first solo album, loud and moving, with Phil Spector’s signature production sounding more like a “ball” of sound as it rolls your heart from hell to heaven.
3. You Are the Light – Jens Lekman
“Yeah, I got busted, so I used my one phone call to dedicate a song to you on the radio.”
Lekman throws this vehicle straight into gear! The trumpets bleat and punch, with a Funk Brothers steady beat pulsing under handclaps and terrific reverb!
4. Mo Money Mo Problems – Notorious B.I.G.
“I’m bigger than the city lights down in Times Square”
For the purpose of positive soul-jarring, I require songs that tear the silence. This song accomplishes the task with an immediate crashing wave of cymbal, bass and piano, courtesy of a remixed sample of Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out.” Rushing to the shore with Nile Rodger’s choppy guitar, Mace, Puff Daddy and B.I.G. swallow the world for the next four minutes. Take a deep breath!
5. Birdhouse in Your Soul – They Might Be Giants
“My story’s infinite, like the Longines Symphonette, it doesn’t rest”
Epic, majestic! With lyrics that very well might contain the history of mankind, “Birdhouse” tickles as it rockets you on a journey through the comet’s tail, before dropping you into the sweet midnight of a satisfied dream. Try it – this is an over-the-record-store-counter medication.
“Despite all the computations / You could just dance to that rock 'n' roll station.”
– Velvet Underground
Music: An aural aspirin. We run to our radios in our frustrations, knowing the salve of moody vibrations is some mighty juju. And we utilize it subconsciously as well, turning on the stereo as a diversion while we seek ways to examine our momentary predicament. But the diversion seeps into our thinking and indeed “soothes the savage breast.” The petty irritants of our day-to-day lives are lost in the music. The tunes, the lyrics, the performances, even the idea of music can heal our wounded psyches.
My emotional altitude of choice, when the soft mallet of ennui descends, coasts between the former choices of musical healing. Between the wallow and the wound-up, I find comfort in the ironic and the absurd, in the songs that celebrate the doom and hopeless of it all, or better, live beyond it.
1. Subspace Biographies – Robert Pollard
“I am quail and quasar, I pick you up on radar”
That’ll jar you from reality for a few minutes. Darn right I’m a quail!
2. Little Private Angel – Jack Logan and Bob Kimbell
“My little private angel says ‘Don’t take it so seriously’”
OK, I won’t. At least, until the song ends. Hit repeat!
3. New York City Rhythm – Barry Manilow
“[S]omehow I survive / It's got to be the New York City rhythm in my life”
An ex-patriate from the Empire State, I get all nostalgic while this song distracts my attention from my current blues period.
4. Wonderland – Big Country
“I am a working man / I feel the winter too”
I love any kind of “I am” song. They fit me with an armor of confidence, not to be confused with a suit of greater-than-thou, which will win no hip fashion show.
5. So What’cha Want – Beastie Boys
“I’m as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce”
Mike D., MCA and the King Ad-Rock will not fail you in your climb to a higher mood. Unless you hate rap, which so many do. Hey, your loss. But how can you resist Hammond organ, Bonham bass drum, and grinding horns cranked to aim “the beat” at enemies of life? The words pour from their mouths like pool water rushing past the curbs of defeat.
And keep the music at your fingertips. Or fresh in your memories. The weight descends without warning, but we can find strength and healing in song.