20 Songs

@bradbarrish linked a playlist of 20 songs that “truly represent [his] muscial point-of-view”. I loved the idea. It’s a vague prompt, and I’m interpreting it as 20 songs that shaped my musical taste. I’ve ordered these in roughly chronological order of when I was introduced to the songs, not when they were released.

I’m also using this as an excuse to write up my memories of these songs, how I came to them, and what they meant to me. I wanted to pull this thread all the way through and add songs that are currently at the end of the threads these songs start, but the 20 song limitation wasn’t enough. That would be a fun follow-on.


  1. Jim Croce - Operator

    My Dad’s musical taste was varied, but I think he only knew four or five artists' names: Harry Belafonte, Randy Travis, Engelbert Humperdink, Neal Diamond, and Jim Croche. They all grated on me, except for Jim. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Time In a Bottle, I Got A Name. My favorite was the heartbreaking conversation Jim had with the operator when thinking of calling his ex. That’s still a resonant theme in music, some things don’t change. Simple guitar, a swelling refrain, and long car rides with my old man.

  2. Beach Boys - Sloop John B.

    Mom gave me a cassette of the Beach Boys’ greatest hits when I was 3 or 4. I listened to it so much, I stretched the tape. I begged for a replacement, and stretched that one. Had to wait for a birthday to get another replacement. Sloop John B. and Wouldn’t It Be Nice were my favorites, but if I have to pick one, it’s an easy decision.

  3. Beatles - Eleanor Rigby

    Concept Beatles are the best Beatles, and the grimy English city life that Eleanor Rigby evoked just really did it for me. The feeling of indvidualsliving in shared lonlieness is so well captured, and the string backing is perfect.

  4. Billy Joel - Downeaster “Alexa”

    Storm Front was one of the first albums I asked my parents to buy me, after hearing the single We Didn’t Start the Fire. Downeaster Alexa was hurt.

  5. Heart - Barracuda

    I don’t have a specific memory of Barracuda, but I knew all the words as a kid, and it’s directly applicable to my love of Garbage, Amanda Palmer, Tori Amos, Pretty Girls Make Graves, etc. etc.

  6. Amy Irving and Charles Fleischer - Why Don’t You Do Right?

    Like so many boys of my generation, I found Jessica Rabbit…eye opening. She turned me on to a lot of things, and one of them was smoky, sultry jazz singers.

  7. Pink Floyd - Is Anybody Out There

    I heard this song entirely out of context sitting on the floor of the living room of my childhood home, idly listening to my dad’s massive box of mixtapes and tapes of songs he’d recorded from the radio (remember how satisfying it was to get a perfect recording where you started the tape at just the right moment and the DJ didn’t interrupt with some asinine commentary), and Syd Barrett’s asking for acknowledgement resonated so strongly in me. I had no idea who it was - Dad didn’t know - but six or eight years later I heard The Wall, and everything made sense.

  8. Ramones - I Wanna Be Sedated

    Energetic beats paird with lyrics of not wanting to feel this constant energy hit close to home. That’s being a teenager.

  9. David Bowie - Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

    ”Oh! No, love, you’re not alone!” Chills. Every time.

  10. The Doors - The End

    There aren’t words for The End, so I won’t force them.

  11. Del the Funky Homosapien - If You Must

    Turned on by the Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtrack, I couldn’t get enough of Del. When I heard Deltron 3030, it floored me. Hip Hop could be crerebral and funny and fun. It seems obvious now, but this was eye opening. (Pretty sure I remember it being “Del the Funkee Homosapien” and “If Ya Must” on the game, though)

  12. Tori Amos - Datura

    A friend at summer camp let me borrow Under the Pink overnight, and I listened to it in my bunk. I liked it, but she liked it more than I did, and that fact limited how close our friendship could be. To Venus and Back, on the other hand, grabbed me immediately and hasn’t let go. It’s been nearly 20 years.

  13. The Cure - Just Like Heaven

  14. Depeche Mode - Enjoy the Silence

  15. Nine Inch Nails - Sanctified

  16. New Order - Age of Consent

    These four, together, capture my teenage industrial/new-wave romanticism. Age of Consent captured the feeling of seeing the fist light after partying all night in some black basement while listening to the other three. Which was pretty much how I spent my late teens and early 20s.

  17. Bjork - Human Behavior

    Oh man, Human Behavior opened my eyes. Before this, my only exposure to Bjork was It’s Oh So Quiet, which is great but made me think she was a “Happy music” person. Obviously, I wasn’t paying attention.

  18. Pixies - Wave of Mutilation

    I was tunred onto Pixies late, Doolittle came out in ‘89, and I didn’t listen to it until I was in high school, probably a decade later. Didn’t matter. Doolittle is timeless.

  19. Tool - Parabol/Parabola

    This is a bit of a cheat, but the crescendo between the two tracks makes it. This specific transition led me into Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Mogwai. Between classes in college, I walked into one of Baltimore’s great local record shops (Record and Tape Traders, which was apparently and dissapointingly bought by FYE) and asked the guy behind the counter if he could think of anything else that made me feel the way that transition did; like a wave crashing on me, like tension being released. He nailed it. Also, this isn’t on the playlists because Tool is regressivly keeping their music off streaming services. Hope they come around.

  20. At The Drive-In - One-Armed Scissor

    In 1999, At the Drive-In was supposed to be the future of punk. Relationship of Command was excellent, but the band dissolved, and Cedric and Omar moved on to the also-phenomenal The Mars Volta.

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