Notes From the Road: My Top Ten Playlist
Rolling Stone Magazine recently asked various singers and musicians to pick their “Top Ten Songs.” Some picked their 10 favorite songs of all time, some picked what they considered the 10 “best” songs of all time, and some picked the best songs by a particular artist.
I figured I’d pick my list of “Ten Songs That Influenced Me The Most” as I started playing guitar and writing songs.
1. Sweet Virginia, Rolling Stones. A great sing-along song, great shuffle beat, and simple chords that everyone can strum. We all wish we could be there in the studio, gathered around a mic, clapping and singing along on this one. Joyous, a gospel-country feel.
2. Ophelia, The Band. This song showed me that you can have all kinds of major chords, and move them around in a catchy, melodic way. A great, funky New Orleans-style tune.
3. Roll Another Number for the Road, Neil Young. Another great, singalong, country shuffle. And also, it has a simple repeating chord progression.
4. Soul Rebel, Bob Marley. The falsetto hook melody just slays me. One of the most beautiful, unreal songs ever written and recorded. Plus, the "ah-ah-ah" harmonies are a great hook.
5. Jimmy Jazz, The Clash. A cool song, and easy to play. It has this swing beat that I love (a bit reggae-ish, a bit New Orleans shuffle).
6. Brand New Second Hand, Peter Tosh. Just a repeating chord loop (so basic), with a great chorus phrase and a distinct verse melody. Inspired lyrics--simple images. Even the "tra-la-la" doo-wop vocal part is a hook. So musical.
7. Sexy Sadie, Beatles. Interesting chords that showed me you could break a few "rules" and still make a beautiful melody. A unique song, and just incredibly interesting. There's a catchiness to the song, too. Side note: A friend of mind once pointed out that this song demonstrates the great "width" of Lennon's falsetto.
8. Stay Free, The Clash. For starters, this track has an interesting ska chording at the intro and during each break that somehow makes total sense to me. But it also works its way through very standard folk-rock chords, in different variations, to make a melodic progression. The lyrics really showed me something, too--no poetry, no fancy metaphors. Just a simple story, very plain language, that paints this great, complete picture. The ending chokes me up.
9. Mellow My Mind, Neil Young. This song just has a great mood, a great melody. You can't miss with these kinds of chords, which are a great intersection of all that makes folk, country, and gospel so singable and pretty. I learned two great things from this song:  your vocals don't have to be great, they just have to convey the main melody,  simple phrases can convey so much-- they may not make literal/linear sense, but they should intutively feel "right."
10. A Message to You, Rudy, The Specials. I heard this song before I ever heard the original version by Dandy Livingstone. But I give the Specials' version particular credit because it's so cleanly and tightly recorded. Great hook, great melody. And once again, all you need is a simple repeating chord loop. You just have to vary the melody and phrasing in a natural, inspired way, in order to make an engaging song. PS: everyone wants to sing along to this song. And that's really what it's all about.
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