June 19, 2021
personal

50 Songs For My 50 Years Of Life

It’s weird turning 50. As a kid, I thought it was the marker of old age. At this stage in my life, I don’t think that at all. I don’t feel old. I feel weathered, hardened, and experienced.

That kid was wrong.

But that kid always loved a good tune. Always. And he still does.

As I look back on 50 years, I find myself in contemplation mode. I’ve taken the time to think about 50 songs that have enriched my 50 years of life.

These songs are me. I play them often for various reasons. Maybe it’s because of someone or due to something I witnessed. It may simply be because of a riff or bassline.

Maybe it’s because it’s the song I played after firing someone. Seriously.

Whatever the case, here are the songs that helped enrich my 50 years of life, with a short anecdote as to why. (No artist was repeated, which made the exercise very difficult! And there may even be a bonus list of 50 at the end of this page.)

Title

Time

Album

Artist

1 Grace, Too

5:35

Day For Night

The Tragically Hip

If I was stranded on an island and had only one Hip song to bring with me, it would be this song. The most glorious bass line and harmony between Gord and Paul. Simply divine. I have a top 50 of Hip songs, but that wasn’t the exercise!

2 The House of the Rising Sun

4:30

Retrospective

The Animals

One of the first songs I learned to play on the piano. I love playing this song live with our third goat (who sings it masterfully) as well as my father-in-law.

3 Dear Prudence

3:55

The Beatles (White Album)

The Beatles

It may not be the most famous or popular Beatles track, but put on a pair of headphones and be taken away by a glorious ensemble of simplicity.

4 Present Tense

5:46

No Code

Pearl Jam

The power of this song is its rise from a singular note into a full-fledged concoction of frenzy. Eddie’s lyrics constantly remind me to live for now, always in contemplation of tomorrow.

5 A Long December

4:55

Recovering the Satellites

Counting Crows

Adam has one of the best voices out there, but his lyrics are not far behind. Read the lyrics – it’s a fab confession. Best line: “If you think that I could be forgiven I wish you would.”

6 Come As You Are

3:39

Nevermind

Nirvana

Smells Like Teen Spirit might be the anthem of grunge but Come As You Are shows Nirvana’s supernatural musicianship. Simply sublime.

7 Stand By Me

3:03

Stand By Me

Ben E. King

I had the 45 growing up—or at least my father did—and this track was played over and over again as a pre-pubescent. The simplicity, the bass line, King’s voice, etc. (As a bonus, I might add John Lennon’s cover of this song for you to check out.)

8 Bobby Jean

3:48

Born In The U.S.A.

Bruce Springsteen

The year is 1984 and I’m 12 turning 13 when this album came out. It’s an enormous record with countless hits, but Bobby Jean was not among them. I continue to play this song because it reminds me of friendship. In Springsteen’s case, it was about Stevie Van Zandt, and so I substitute Stevie for the many friends that have come and gone in my life.

9 The Maker

4:14

Acadie

Daniel Lanois

In a word: brilliant. Lanois’ entire 1989 album, “Acadie” is worth your time, but “The Maker” is a song that makes you question your faith.

10 What I Am

4:56

Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

I probably hum this song three or four times a year without the song even being on. It’s that ingrained in my wee little noggin’.

11 Hasn’t Hit Me Yet

5:14

Five Days in July

Blue Rodeo

A Canadian staple. “Down in the middle of Lake Ontario” always gets me, because I grew up on Lake Ontario. Shout-out to everyone I know in Ontario.

12 Never Let Me Down Again

4:50

Music for the Masses

Depeche Mode

The opening of this song hooks you in for a wild ride of melodic darkness, with the brooding lyrics and voice of Dave Gahan sucking you into an entirely different realm of murky weirdness.

13 New Sensation

3:42

Greatest Hits (INXS)

INXS

The guitar riff of this song is near-mythical. Michael Hutchence’s voice pairs to the guitar riff like a delectable charcuterie does to a fab rosé.

14 Laid

2:37

Laid

James

Classic GenX song from a relatively unknown band hailing from Manchester, UK. Reminds me of Denise.

15 Rhythm Nation

5:31

Rhythm Nation 1814

Janet Jackson

Oh how I wanted to be on the road with Janet Jackson during the Rhythm Nation tour. Or maybe it was the video. In any case, this song reminds me of my last year in high school.

16 Hotdogs And Hamburgers

4:05

The Lonesome Jubilee

John Cougar Mellencamp

At its core, this song is about racism, in particular ignorance against First Nations. When I play this somewhat unknown song from “The Lonesome Jubilee,” I remind myself to continue my education around First Nations, their past and history, and how our reconciliation will never truly be over.

17 God

4:11

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

John Lennon

Lennon’s song got me thinking as a very young boy about beliefs, courage, and what I stand for. Lennon is one of my idols. (U2’s God Part II isn’t bad either.)

18 Drawn To The Rhythm

4:12

Solace

Sarah McLachlan

Sarah’s voice shot out of a canon inflicting my impressionable heart the very first time I heard this song. It’s a song that is like a Gregorian chant, urging you to sway with the wind. Reminds me of Auntie Les.

19 Love Will Tear Us Apart

3:26

Total

Joy Division

A sad song written before Ian Curtis’s suicide spoke of his mental unwellness and marital issues. I didn’t really understand the song until my early 20’s, but it’s meant a lot to me ever since.

20 The Valley Town

3:41

Mountain Meadows

Elliott BROOD

I’ll never forget the 2010 Vancouver Olympics belting this song out in a cramped, makeshift venue as the band gave out cookie sheets just prior to launching into it on stage. The vibe was palpable, the noise made from those sheets ridiculously loud. For my little bro, Adam.

21 Beds Are Burning

4:16

Diesel and Dust

Midnight Oil

The Oil. Australia. Hard rocking. Likely the first environmental song that I ever listened to, and I became a fan of them (and environmentalism) right away. A shout-out to all my McGill mates.

22 Rockin’ In the Free World

4:42

Neil Young: Greatest Hits

Neil Young

The tragedy of drugs and addiction and how it can screw up children. The song rocks, but Neil Young’s lyrics are what makes it.

23 Hounds Of Love

3:03

The Whole Story

Kate Bush

If I love Sarah McLachlan’s “Drawn to the Rhythm” then I absolutely adore Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love.” There was a time in the ’80s when I would play the song on a cassette recorder or Walkman and then rewind right away to play it again. I might do that 10 times.

24 In Your Eyes

5:24

Shaking The Tree

Peter Gabriel

From the opening note, I feel like Peter Gabriel is whisking me away to a psychology session dedicated to love.

25 You and Whose Army?

3:11

Amnesiac

Radiohead

One of the deepest bands I adore, “You and Whose Army” is a song I often play on piano. It’s about politics, power, and betrayal. So, so good.

26 Raspberry Beret

3:33

The Hits/The B-Sides (Disc 2)

Prince

When Prince decides to record his version of Sgt. Pepper, how can I not fall in love with the tune? It’s extraordinary.

27 Sowing The Seeds Of Love

6:19

Tears Roll Down

Tears for Fears

When Tears for Fears record their version of Sgt. Pepper, again, how can I not fall in love with the tune? Simply outstanding.

28 Dear God

3:36

Dear God

XTC

It must have been the child’s voice that got me listening to this song at first, or maybe it was the mysterious video, or maybe it was a follow-up to Lennon’s God track, but it definitely got me humming and thinking. Bonus: the Sarah McLachlan cover of this song is also a delight.

29 Rhymin & Stealin

4:08

Licensed To Ill

Beastie Boys

There is much I love about the Beasties—and arguably better Beasties songs—but when this song leads off the Licensed To Ill album, I’m hooked for life. When I go for long bike rides, this song is almost always on the list. This reminds me of my man, Bryan Acker.

30 Who Stole The Soul?

3:50

Fear Of A Black Planet

Public Enemy

The band taught me much about racism. In this track, Chuck D is discussing how white people leave neighbourhoods. “Yo, they say the Black don’t know how to act / ‘Cause we’re waitin’ for the big payback […] When the Black moves in, Jack moves out.” Chuck D not only tells it like it is, but he was also (and is) prescient. Much to admire about his writing and music. A big thanks to my friend Kendall Knights for introducing me to P.E. back in the late ’80s.

31 I’m Bad

4:52

All World

LL Cool J

This. Just. Rocks. A heavy beat, riveting bass, and rhymes that are raw and emotional.

32 I’ll Wait

4:40

1984

Van Halen

Hard to believe that within a few months, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and Van Halen’s “1984” released. Eddie Van Halen’s prowess for the keyboards (finally) emerged on this album, yet the campy song “Jump” gets all the attention, it’s “I’ll Wait” that did me over. The keyboarding is brilliant. David Lee Roth’s lyrics don’t get in the way of Eddie or his brother’s drumming. I still play this probably at least once a week.

33 Limelight

4:20

Moving Pictures (Remastered)

Rush

 

Speaking about drumming, “Limelight” spotlights not only Neal Peart’s otherworldly drumming, as the principal lyricist of the band, the song also highlights Peart’s other distinct talent: writing incredible lyrics. “Living on a lighted stage approaches the unreal / For those who think and feel / In touch with some reality beyond the gilded cage”

 

34 Radio Ga Ga

5:43

Greatest Hits, Vols. 1-2

Queen

 

Queen was one of four bands on constant rotation in my home growing up. Radio Ga Ga was an instant classic for me, even before it became famous at Live Aid at Wembley. (But Live Aid also was the moment when I figured out how to raise my hands in the air and clap twice during the appropriate moments of the song. I still do that today, even if I’m alone.) This reminds me of my sister.

 

35 In the Air Tonight

5:36

Face Value

Phil Collins

 

Obviously, for the drum solo, this is the song for me when it comes to air drumming.

 

36 Nightswimming

4:18

Automatic for the People

R.E.M.

 

An R.E.M. song with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones? Yes, sign me up. Also, it reminds me of skinny dipping and pool-hopping in my youth.

 

37 Dirty Old Town

3:45

Rum Sodomy & the Lash

The Pogues

 

Although this is a cover version of a song from the ’40s, the song itself reminds me of all the moms and dads that have worked so hard in blue-collar jobs to feed their children.

 

38 One Tree Hill

4:43

Joshua Tree

U2

 

As you can tell, this catalogue is often not about the hits but the B-sides or songs deep into an album. Sure, I love “With or Without You” or “Where the Streets Have No Name” from “The Joshua Tree” but “One Tree Hill” is the song that reminds me of my good friend Keith Driscoll.

 

39 All Uncovered

4:36

In The Trees

The Watchmen

 

One of those Canadian bands that couldn’t stick the landing of longevity, but this song remains transcendental to me. The bass line draws you in, the guitars get you thinking, and the Daniel Greaves begs you to come along for the ride. I’m tipping my hat to Brian Coleman on this one. Good friend.

 

40 Hard Road

4:06

We Were Born In a Flame

Sam Roberts Band

 

The first time I heard this song was live in concert when Sam Roberts opened for the Tragically Hip. He had me at ‘hello.’ The song makes me think about those that have stuck by me: “Stay true to your friends / Cause they’ll save you /In the end.”

 

41 What A Good Boy

3:55

Gordon

Barenaked Ladies

 

What a tune! It’s a bit haunting but in my eyes, it’s about expectations or viewpoints that people have of others when they don’t know the real story. That is, don’t judge a book (or person) by its outer appearance.

 

42 Don’t Bring Me Down

4:05

ELO Classics

Electric Light Orchestra

 

ELO was one of those four bands always spinning round the record player, and “Don’t Bring Me Down” instantly brings me back to my childhood. This reminds me of my dad a lot.

 

43 Tweeter And The Monkey Man

5:28

Traveling Wilburys, Vol I

The Traveling Wilburys

 

A supergroup comprised of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty is one thing, but for Dylan to sing this song with everyone else backing him up is a whole other meta-level. I find the song to be about curiosity, deception, courage and resilience.

 

44 Undercover Of The Night

4:13

Forty Licks [Disc 2]

The Rolling Stones

 

A catchy number, which I only found out years later was one of the only Stones’ songs to tackle a political issue.

 

45 Travelling Riverside Blues

3:56

Led Zeppelin (Disc 1)

Led Zeppelin

 

Yes, it’s a cover song, but this Zep version has always been on a heavy rotation for me. Page’s guitar playing gets me every time.

 

46 Read My Mind

4:07

Sam’s Town

The Killers

 

The Killers have a knack for writing tunes that build with each verse to an ending that has you doing a high-intensity workout on the dance floor. “Read My Mind” has both that sentiment, as well as a repetitive piano line that just sticks in your head.

 

47 Take Me to the River

5:03

More Songs About Buildings 

Talking Heads

 

David Byrne is how I envision myself on stage if I were to be fronting a band. Although this is a cover song, Byrne and the Talking Heads take you on a mysterious journey of wonderment.

 

48 Heroes (Live)

6:34

The Bridge School Concerts, Vol. 1… David Bowie

 

Yes, there is the wonder of Bowie. Yes, there is the wonder of the original version of Heroes. But this rearranged version recorded at Neil Young’s Bridge School Concert series is as good as it gets. So Bowie. So beautiful.

 

49 Lightshow

3:36

The End of That                              Plants and Animals

 

Who the heck are Plants and Animals, you might be asking? Just listen to the song and ask yourself if you’re not immediately hooked to the “Lightshow.”

 

50 Thank U

4:21

Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie   Alanis Morissette

 

Alanis gets taken down by far too many pundits. This song—coming after the mega-breakout success of 1995’s Jagged Little Pill—grounds me, a reminder that society might have expectations for you but you’ll always disappoint society if you’re not comfortable in your own skin. Be your own person; don’t let the weight of societal expectations wear you down.

 

In hindsight, there are well over 50 songs that I go back to often. As such, here’s a second 50-song pack:

And, well, 50 more.

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