The Guardian in the U.K. is inviting people to submit six songs that shaped your life, and the setup piece from a week ago is really smart. Eric Clarke writes about the recent crescendo (to borrow a term) of books on and interest in why music is and how it works on us. More than others, he grasps the complexities of the question:
Rather than searching for the holy grail of a mathematical or acoustical explanation, it seems more fruitful – and actually much more interesting – to think about the rich and complex manner in which music is embedded into social functions. This happens in microsocial and macrosocial ways: music can make its appeal at the level of whole nations (national anthems at the Olympics remind us of that) and individuals. This isn't to give up on the idea of some kind of psychological explanation for the extraordinary power and reach of music – quite the opposite: but it is a reminder that music's psychological impact needs to be understood in relation to the constantly evolving cultural context within which we make, consume, contemplate, and are absorbed by music.
To his credit, Clarke reminds the readers that "songs" can also be "symphonies," but the way the poll is worded biases us heavily toward SONGS, rather than works, pieces or tunes. I couldn't find a home for Charles Mingus doing "Fables of Faubus" or the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto or Bach's Cello Suites, and they all made me.
That said, my six? The official interface for Six Songs of Me is HERE, but I'll just jot 'em down by category.
1. First song you ever bought: It was an album not a song, and I'm probably repressing some bad choices in those very early years to look cooler, but the first record I remember buying and latching on to in a big way was Santana's Moonflower album - a double live LP that included "Black Magic Woman" and "Europa," a golden instrumental by Carlos with a long, lingering melody that completely killed me. I used to practice my drums to this album with headphones on. God bless my Mom for putting up with that.
2. What song always gets you dancing? Dancing has never been central to my love of music, but I'll play. And here it's less a song than a genre. The one style of music that compulsively makes me move inside and out is zydeco. The syncopation of the rub board is for me utterly invasive and transporting. Pick any great artist - Boozoo Chavis or Chris Ardoin - and I'll shake it.
3. What song takes you back to your childhood? Wow, CHILDHOOD? I was lucky enough to hear Sgt. Pepper played in our house when I was in first grade, and I can't help flashing back to the house we rented in the DC suburbs where that took place whenever I hear "A Little Help From My Friends."
4. Your perfect love song? "Come Live With Me" by Ray Charles. Sure, I love "At Last" as much as the next guy, but this song shredded me the first time, fiftieth time, and last time I heard it. Chills, tears, the whole thing. A perfect record, which I discovered on the best country & western box set. It was a centerpiece at our wedding.
5. What song would you want at your funeral? Oh heavens. That's too much pressure. "Freddie Freeloader". Hah.
6. A song that makes you you. You know, as much as I love folk and roots music, the single song that revealed to me more about what I value in music than perhaps any other was the title track of Steely Dan's Aja album. It was heavily arranged and composed, with room for improv. It's constructed intricately and with deep knowledge of jazz. The lyrics are blazingly smart and unlike anything else. I memorized every note and nuance of that track my junior year summer in college. The whole album stands as a masterpiece. On the folk side, Doc Watson performing "New River Train." It's my musical hero playing the first bluegrass/folk song I ever learned to perform on the guitar.