It’s hard for me to believe now, but there once was a time when the amount of websites I visited was outnumbered by the Top 8 on Myspace. This short list included the likes of a more innocent Facebook, an ESPN with fewer hot takes, and a less irrelevant Yahoo Mail. Oh yeah, and a flourishing PureVolume.
Of course I’d enjoyed music up to that point, but it was never something I thought about after I turned off the radio. The discovery of PureVolume shifted me from a passive listener to someone who sought out artists and songs. PureVolume didn’t traffic in the high-profile bands, but it did provide a crafted look at who a musical group was and how it was constructed. From that moment I felt like music finally became more personal to me.
From then on, my birthday and Christmas wish lists were dominated by CD requests, and by far my favorite time of the week was watching VH1’s Top 20 Video Countdown on Saturday mornings.
Stated briefly, life was never better.
To this day music plays an important role in my life, as evidenced by the fact that Spotify is far and away my most used app. For that reason, I found myself these days thinking about music in terms of how it relates to humans both on a collective level and a personal one, and more specifically why certain songs stick with us and others don’t.
For now I’ve got more questions than answers on that topic, so as I ponder possible explanations I thought I’d compile a list of the songs I’ve found stickiest from the time I fell in love with sound.
Matt Nathanson – Come On Get Higher (2007)
This is both a beautiful song and catchy as hell. Matt Nathanson has a knack for writing about storybook love in a way that feels grounded in some kind of reality. This one has lasting power.
Jason Mraz – I’m Yours (2008)
The most easygoing song of the aughts, and it might still hold the title a decade later. I routinely used it as an instant cure to whatever was causing me stress in that moment. This song is an anthem for anyone, and that’s a special thing.
Papa Roach – Scars (2004)
This song’s chorus combined with my general angst ensured this tune stayed in my rotation as long as anything I was listening to at the time. Why is it so cathartic to turn a rock song all the way up, roll the windows down and belt it out?
All American Rejects – It Ends Tonight (2006)
I would’ve had no trouble putting three or four different AAR songs on this list, but settled on this one because I’ve always been a sucker for anything resembling a ballad. Also, in my head this is how my voice definitely sounds when I sing.
Paolo Nutini – New Shoes (2007)
Like many songs on this list, I credit VH1’s Top 20 Countdown for the introduction to Paolo Nutini. He may be singing about a pair of new kicks, but this feel good tune is like slipping on a pair of comfy old slippers.
Hoobstank – The Reason (2004)
A good chunk of the music I was prone to gravitate toward stemmed from a place of sadness. But I didn’t really think of this song as depressing at the time, rather I saw it as a song about change, and how the tears that accompany that can be positive and cathartic.
Daniel Powter – Bad Day (2005)
This song entered into my consciousness when it was used on American Idol as the contestant elimination song. From there it stuck as the song I could use to buoy my mindset on the days where I felt like life was eliminating me. It’s an anthem for those of us who need to be reminded once in awhile that one bad day does not make a life.
Matchbox 20 – Unwell (2002)
There have been periods of my life where I don’t recognize the reflection of my brain. It’s both a confusing and lonely feeling, but to this point it’s never been permanent. Does everyone experience these ebbs and flows?
Five For Fighting – 100 Years (2003)
This song is just a certified banger. The Battle For Everything is a terrific album as a whole, and 100 Years is its crowning jewel. Lots of songs can’t hold up to the standards of the future, but this one is timeless.
Jack’s Mannequin – Bruised (2005)
The whole of Jack’s Mannequin’s album Everything In Transit directly corresponds to a very specific moment in time for me, specifically the summer of 2006 I spent in Australia. Whenever I want to travel back to those memories I just sit back and start the record from the top. I chose Bruised as the representative because it so perfectly captures how I felt at the airport the moment I was leaving the friends I’d made while down under.
Motion City Soundtrack – The Future Freaks Me Out (2003)
Chiefly my memories associated with this band revolve around it as background music while I played hours and hours of online poker and ate copious amounts of goldfish crackers while drinking liters of Gatorade. Too much information?
Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue (2003)
My memory might betray me, but as I remember it there wasn’t a teenager alive who didn’t recognize this song when it was played. Gotta award some points for being ubiquitous.
Gavin DeGraw – Chariot (2003)
This one is a slightly deeper cut than most on this list, but I wanted to make sure I included a piano-pop song since I’ve always been a sucker for it. I love how triumphant Gavin DeGraw makes the instrument sound.
Plain White T’s – Hey There Delilah (2005)
Still one of the best love songs ever written as far as I’m concerned. Love doesn’t have to be flashy to be effective, it just needs to be sincere.
Augustana – Boston (2005)
I really love how this song ramps up. The passion in the writing comes across effectively, and it works wonderfully as a standalone single. The occasional desire to move somewhere brand new in order to start over anonymously is one I share.
The Fray – How to Save a Life (2005)
Regret is a fairly common theme musicians draw on when writing lyrics, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it sung about in this way. The perspective in the songwriting combined with the musicianship on the instruments makes this a song that could easily be released today and make the charts.
Mat Kearney – Undeniable (2004)
The album Bullet was one of the first I can remember specifically requesting for Christmas, and when I got it there was a solid six months where it rarely left my CD player. I used to know all the words to this song, including the rapping!
James Blunt – You’re Beautiful (2005)
I’d be curious to learn whether this song has remained in people’s collective consciousness all these years later, because at the time it was as big of a hit as anything that had been released. I think ol Jimmy Blunt was really playing on our vanity with this one. I really am beautiful, aren’t I!
Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars (2006)
This song comes into its own in the final third, when it finally hits another gear and gets loud. It goes from a soft love song to a passionate one. Passion is good.
Seether feat Amy Lee – Broken (2004)
This song came into focus for me when it was featured on The Punisher soundtrack. The combination of a rock song featuring a beautiful female voice singing a catchy hook is still undefeated.
Bowling For Soup – 1985 (2004)
Another band that I learned about through the Video Countdown. Reliably a good group to blast in the car, and the song even appealed to the people who were driving us around in those cars at the time!
Avril Lavigne – Complicated (2002)
I think Avril Lavigne was my first favorite female voice. She had the benefit of universal popularity in my family, so her music got priority if we were all in the car. I’m not embarrassed by any of this.
Chad Kroeger, feat. Josey Scott – Hero (2002)
It’s not the cool thing to say, but I’ve never been a Nickelback hater. This particular song, featuring the band’s front man, came into my purview when it was featured on the first Spiderman movie’s soundtrack. Great movie, great song!
Switchfoot – Dare You To Move (2003)
This song was always good for fooling myself into thinking I could sing, with a simple chorus that sits in an achievable octave. I love the tunes that assist me in forgetting I’m tone deaf.
Now that I’m on the other side of it I wonder aloud whom this list written for? I began by simply looking for an excuse to stroll down a musical memory lane, but by the time I finally finished compiling the playlist I’d listened to the songs so many times that I’m now sick of them. I guess it just feels satisfying to broadcast the stuff you love in the hopes that you’ll find others who love it too. Does that mean this was just written for me?
If that’s the case, it’s fair to ask what I learned while revisiting these songs. For one, popularity is never owned, only rented. Another note is that creativity is most fruitful when it’s a competition against yourself, and that notion should be looked at as freeing.
On a slightly larger scale, I found myself reflecting on the adage that you die twice, once when you stop breathing, and again the final time your name is uttered. After its initial release, the lifespan of most songs is in the hands of its most devout fans. We keep them alive as long as we can, but perhaps music is never meant to outlive the people it was written for; our music is now, theirs is later.
Music is a reflection of who we were and who we are, after all; it doesn’t have the benefit of foresight. These moments we’re in feel long right now, they feel important right now, but when we look back at them they all exist as one within the past’s neatly stitched fabric. A song can be adored for decades, but as the world changes it’s increasingly difficult to be relevant without also changing. A pulse isn’t necessary in order to die.
In the end though, the only thing I can say I know for sure is the minute I publish this list I’ll instantly recall numerous songs that I should’ve added. Unfortunately perfection only exists in our minds, and I’m at peace with the list’s inevitable inadequacy.