Folks (or one person reading this),
One of my favorite end-of-year rituals is to reminisce on all the music that accompanied me along these twelve months of being alive. Since the age of 14, I have tracked most of my virtual listening on Last.fm. First through my hefty iPod classic (R.I.P.) and in later years through the wonder that is Spotify, which also crafts end-of-year retrospective playlists for its multitude of users.
And it all really puts things into perspective. Like, wow, I was listening to very morose stuff back in March and oh, I listened to far too many 80’s love songs to stay positive and feel peppy. Having a look at all these lists and charts online, there are a few key songs that truly defined my life throughout this unpredictable year. Here is a list of them.
1. Buzzin’ Fly – Tim Buckley (Jan-Feb)
Just like a buzzin' fly
I come into your life
Now I float away
Like honey in the sun
This 2018, I greeted the new year by working four consecutive eight-hour shifts at my old job as a cashier at a supermarket. On the fourth day, New Year’s Day, I was sent home early. My sleep deprivation had heightened my usual anxiety and the bright white lights had me deliriously tapping my collarbone with my index finger, repeatedly counting in my head 1, 2, 3, hoping it would be of some relief (it wasn’t.)
Frustrated, I later decided to get the damn panic attack out of my system at a supply closet, but the panic laughed right at my face, saying “that’s cheating! You’ve gotta leave this room to let me out. This place is too quiet. I like the endless faces and James Blunt song playing from the roof.” And so, I followed its orders and the panic let itself go, erupting in front of an audience of customers and coworkers.
“Buzzin’ Fly” is one of the songs I would often listen to on my way to work when I worked early shifts, my anxiety being at its worst in the morning. There is something calmingly diurnal about its soft bells and flowing rhythm, which during this chapter in my life was a steady reminder that my exhaustion would melt away by the end of each working day.
2. Words – F.R. David (Jan)W
Well I'm just a music man
Melodies so far, my best friend
But my words are coming out wrong
I reveal my heart to you
And hope that you believe it's true
For my 22nd birthday, my siblings and I munched on some giant celebratory burgers and later watched Call Me By Your Name. After seeing the trailer, which was loaded with beautiful shots of the Italian countryside and a baby-faced Timothée Chalamet with a sweet little song by Sufjan Stevens playing in the background, I was sold. The film, set in the late 80’s, is a homosexual love story between its two protagonists.
To be frank, the actual love story didn’t do much for me (Armie Hammer has serial-killer eyes) but it’s soundtrack blew me away. I often fantasize of a life as a music supervisor for films like this one, fixated with the 80’s. Call Me By Your Name’s soundtrack perfectly captures its sensual Mediterranean setting with loads of summery italo-disco and heartfelt songs like this one, which is perhaps the best-fitting in the context of the film. Chalamet’s character Elio lives through its lyrics, which tell the story of a gifted “music-man” who is clueless at expressing his affection for the one he loves. And the song is so effective in its earnestness that it moves me every single time I listen to it, leaving me soft and mushy.
3. Greetings to the New Brunette – Billy Bragg (Mar-Apr)
Here we are in our summer years
Living on ice cream and chocolate kisses
Would the leaves fall from the trees
If I was your old man and you were my missus
From the very first listen, “Greetings to the New Brunette” has filled me with memories I’ve never had. Ones of little girls with lush long hair enjoying ice cream cones by the harbor while seagulls fly freely on a breezy English afternoon.
In this song, British folk legend Billy Bragg sings of a loving relationship as it faces several ups and downs and life-changing decisions. Bragg’s stream of consciousness singing and special guest Johnny Marr’s divine plucking guitarwork make every second of the tune worth savoring. One scene leads to another and it’s like you’re living through these charming characters; the neurotic protagonist, his love “Shirley,” and those who disapprove of their union. The song ends with Bragg sending greetings to the “new brunette,” their newborn son, tying it with a warmly sentimental bow.
4. Storms – Fleetwood Mac (Feb-Mar)
So I try to say goodbye, my friend
I'd like to leave you with something more
But never ever been a blue calm sea
I have always been a storm
Graduating from college is an inevitable turning point in one’s life. You might think you’ll get your well-earned piece of paper and nothing else about your life will change. But just around the same time I was preparing to say goodbye to my life as an undergrad (and manically applying to grad school), life had a bigger lesson for me to learn.
“Storms” is a song about grief. This Stevie Nicks track from the band’s chaotic masterpiece Tusk shows off her husky voice and poetic words. Here, she sings about feeling misguided and blue, wanting to say goodbye to something but knowing how much emptier it will leave her feeling.
Every hour of fear I spend
My body tries to cry
Living through each empty night
A deadly call inside
This year, I grieved the end of my childhood and of many friendships I made in college. I found myself leaving so much behind without even realizing it and it weighed down on me all year.
I learned that no two relationships are alike, each one laid out in your life to teach you a lesson, whether lifelong or a more shortlived one, and that is fine. 2018 was a year of loss that allowed me to shed those old leaves and rebuild myself, leaving me fully in charge of my life. Scarier things have happened.
5. Our Lips are Sealed – The Go-Go’s (Summer)
It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games, people play
Our lips are sealed
This summer I revived my Rob Sheffield obsession by reading his sophomore book, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, which devotes its first chapter to the Go-Go’s signature song, “Our Lips Are Sealed.”
In the chapter, Rob shares stories of how he and his sisters were obsessed with the Go-Go’s. Rob specifically really wanted to either be in the band with them or date one of them. I read it and laughed while listening to the first Go-Go’s album to bring the words to life.
Around the same time, I took a much-needed trip to Gainesville to visit my friend Gabby. We kayaked, thrifted and ate lots of mac and cheese. One night, we were eager to head out to town to dance, but Gabby got unexpectedly ill. She stayed in bed sleeping, while I sat on her carpet and admired her growing record collection.
Then I saw it. The Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat hiding in her crate.
I stayed up all night with a smile on my face, not needing to go out and dance when in my hands was a perfect pop record to keep me company in this small charming town full of trees and wonders.
6. No Tears Left to Cry – Ariana Grande (Summer)
Right now I'm in a state of mind
I want to be in like all the time
Ain't got no tears left to cry
This year gave us the victorious anthem that is “No Tears Left to Cry,” Ariana Grande’s manifesto on embracing positivity and growing from our pain. It mourns the past while remaining full of gratitude for the present, our ultimate living blessing.
It was a message that many beyond me needed to hear this year. But what makes this song all the more authentic is that you know Grande is singing to herself and healing her own pain and not to a blank canvas of faces in a crowd. I felt her light inspire hope within me and my closest friendships who were also dealing with lots of anxiety and pain. Somehow, it told us all “it’s okay, we’re in it together and we’re growing so much” in a way that transcended words or music.
7. I’m Holdin’ On to Love (To Save My Life) – Shania Twain (Sep-Nov)
I don't need a shrink to tell me what to think
There ain't no missing link in my love life
It's alright, I ain't that uptight
This year, I finally got my driving license (yay!) and later on my first car (louder yay!) and it was one of my proudest moments. My car is perfect for me, small, fuel-efficient and even cute! Being from 2011, it also has a CD player, which meant I had to go shopping for some CD’s to keep me company during my travels.
I browsed across two stores with my friend Sasja and found a couple of records that would be perfect for driving. The best one being Come On Over by Shania Twain. I’d never heard the whole thing, but loved every single it put out when I was younger.
Growing up, I thought Shania Twain was the coolest woman in the planet. She had the voice of an angel, wore leopard printed outfits in the desert and rejected men who weren’t emotionally prepared for her. She never settled, but also never downplayed her vulnerabilities. And Come On Over embodies this completely, especially on “I’m Holding on to Love (To Save My Life),” where she sings about not needing the validation of the world to stay level-headed, just the love of her life by her side. And there is no better feeling than that of driving freely to pure pop-country perfection feeling like a strong and independent woman.
8. Cranes in the Sky – Solange (Sep-Oct)
I ran my credit card up
Thought a new dress make it better
I tried to work it away
But that just made me even sadder
“Did you know Solange was in Miami when she wrote ‘Cranes in the Sky?’” my friend Sasja asked me one night.
We were driving in circles for about an hour trying to meet up with another pair of friends all while still getting to know each other in her car. We’d met earlier in the year during my final semester and later reconnected through a mutual friend of ours. I immediately knew I wanted to become great friends with her.
To answer her question, I did not know about Solange’s time in Miami. Sasja explained that the cranes she refers to in the song are those you see dangling all over Miami due to its never-ending wave of construction.
Solange was living here at the time when writing songs for her masterpiece, A Seat at the Table. The album is beautifully-produced and raw and poetic in its lyrics, which celebrate black culture. When it was released back in 2016, I listened to some of it peripherally but got distracted with other stuff I was into to at the time.
It seems like me and A Seat at the Table were meant to get to know each other later on in my life, when it could most serve me. So for that I say: Thank you, Sasja.
9. John Coltrane and Duke Ellington – Big Nick (Nov-Dec)
Enough with the sadness, though. The most special event of my life this year was beginning to write full-time at my first job out of college. With that came a lot freedom and excitement. One of the first things I did with my earnings was buy a ticket to Oslo to visit my best friend for Thanksgiving, and it was a dream.
We strolled the chilly streets of Oslo in the dark winter night sky, shopped a bunch, listened to lots of jazz after chatting about my newfound love for the genre (it has become my favorite thing to listen to when I am writing at work) and watched terrible reality television.
“Big Nick” has a festive quality to it that warms my heart and instantly paints a picture in my mind of us dipping gingerbread cookies into warm spiced wine (a surprisingly delicious combo, by the way) like it was decades ago, even though it has only been a month.
10. Ask Me No Questions – Bridget St. John (Fall)
There, where the sun flies
There, where the sky is bluer still
Is where we'll be
Like most, when overwhelmed, I need to get out of my head and out of my house. Before I had a car, I would go out for a short walk around my neighborhood or ride my bike up to my favorite park by the bay and just meditate for a while and stare at the sea.
Once I had my own car though, I immediately understood what Peter Gabriel was talking about when he sang about driving off aimlessly whenever he feels the urge to “run away.” And so began my new form of therapy, driving out in time to see the sunset’s cotton candy clouds, filled with beaming hues of pink and orange.
One particular day I had this Bridget St. John song pop out on shuffle and it fit into the scene in front of me quite perfectly. Halfway through its seven minutes, sounds of birds and church bells begin to flutter alongside the delicate harmonies circling the chorus and the fingerpicking guitars strolling through the song. It feels like the perfect ending to a tumultuous day (and year), even if the turmoil is only happening in your head.