By, Phoenix Robertson
Music is the soundtrack to life. It has the amazing power to be able to apply to so many people across the globe, but also give you the feeling that a song was made just for you. As someone who loves to both create music and listen to it, I have a variety of songs that I listen to help me get through my busy weeks. Keep reading to learn about my top five favorite songs that I’ve been listening to so far in 2023.
“Rocky Mountain High”, Rocky Mountain High
This is one of my absolute favorite John Denver songs. This song reminds me of summertime and the feeling of absolute freedom. The wind blows swiftly through my hair and the sunlight is warm on my skin. Overhead eagles fly and trees tower, like the mighty cathedrals of earth. The water, the sky, the Sun, the dirt, and the animals alike live in harmony and speak a language of peace and understanding. Humans walk among nature and learn to live in coterie with it. The fictitious boundaries of humanity mean nothing. The only thing that matters is safety and the joy of understanding that you are where you are supposed to be. You do not live without fear, but instead you live with understanding. This song is what it feels like to have your soul, the very essence of your being, smile at you and give a sweet smile to your life choices.
John Denver’s excellent use of imagery also makes this song a genuine joy to listen to. I have never visited the Rocky Mountains before, but in lines like “I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky” I feel as though I’m actually underneath a canopy of trees and I’m gazing up at a rapturously blazing sunset. Denver’s use of metaphors and similes throughout the song also add to the brilliance of the ballad. Throughout the song, Denver references life under the metaphor of life hanging on “by a string.” This string breaks when the main character of the song leaves his city life for the simple joys of the mountains. This comparison is intended to show the fragility of all life and it can be broken.
This song was released in 1972 by John Denver and is considered one of the official songs of the state of Colorado. The song is available to listen to as a part of Denver’s Rocky Mountain High album.
“Five Years”, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
I first discovered the magic of David Bowie during the COVID-19 lockdown. I was swept away by his stunning personality, fashion sense, and general mentality on life. I became inspired by his ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and to make everyone feel like a character in one of his songs. This song, while not my favorite by David Bowie, is one that I feel best demonstrates these abilities.
The story told through “Five Years”, a song that was released in 1972 on his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, tells how Bowie believed that people would behave if they suddenly learned that the Earth only had five years left before it was to be destroyed. Upon first listen, I interpreted this song at face level, and thought “Wow, that’s depressing.” Throughout the song, Bowie makes observations about that state of the world and how people would choose to treat each other. He gives examples of sighing mothers, children playing in the streets, and hypocrites who shame others, then preaching and begging for forgiveness. Despite the sad and slow tones of the song, I have come to believe that it was meant as a bittersweet reminder of how beautiful life is. When all of the characters learned that the world only had five years left,they stopped to think about how wonderful their lives really had been. Bowie expresses this through the frequent use of the phrase “Never thought I’d meet so many people.” As with many things that Bowie did throughout his life, he was able to flip the hypothetical end of the world into a moment of near joyous reflection.
This song is very special to me because I am someone who tries to find the good in others, in myself, and in the world, even when it all seems like it’s burning down. I really love the sentiment of this song, specifically how it is expressed in the line “That’s all we’ve got.” These words are so simple, but carry so much meaning. “That’s all we’ve got,” could be what a detective says to the chief of police when investigating a multi-million dollar bank heist. It could be words accompanied by a smile to express joy. It could be words quickly stated and laced with displeasure and hatred. I interpreted this phrase as one to remind me and everyone else who listens to “Five Years” that you never know how much of anything you have or how long something will last. Every moment is important. Every person is important. Everything is important.
“Rebels”, Southern Accents
“Honey, don’t walk out… you know you won’t feel this way tomorrow!” When I read these words I can practically hear Tom Petty’s voice in my head and the twangy strums of his band’s guitars. Petty has been a staple individual throughout my life. I first knew him as Lucky on Mike Judge’s King of the Hill, a show that I’ve watched for as long as I can remember. Then I realized that “that guy that talks a lot like Lucky, but sings” actually was Tom Petty. Wow, it’s like I never saw his name on the credits before.
This song tells the unique–yet very general–story of many people. As you probably could’ve guessed based on the album title on which this song appears, Southern Accents, this song focuses on telling a story that many Southerners identify with. This is the story of having to overcome difficulties based on where you are from, and needing to protect your family and your legacy. While the idea of the traditional Southern identity is often very problematic as it usually emphasizes the importance of slavery, a key aspect of the history of the United States and the history of the South, I appreciate Petty’s traditionally non-traditional take on Southern identity.
One of my favorite lines in “Rebels” is “I keep coming back, but it’s so hard to kick it. I was born a rebel.” These lines to me demonstrate the struggles associated with trying to become your own person when there are constraints in place that are trying to keep you from growing. Oftentimes individuals may feel hindered by their origins and their history. They may feel as though they cannot achieve what they want to achieve because someone like them cannot acquire or become such a thing. Petty expresses these ideas through the song by emphasizing the implied boundaries that can come with being authentically yourself. He also disproves the legitimacy of these boundaries by describing how these boundaries are created by people in power who want to keep this power for themselves, so they oppress others to support themselves. Petty also does a great job of discussing the historical oppression of individuals based on their home in lines like “Even before my father’s father, they called us all rebels, they burned down our cornfields and left our cities level.” I really like the way that this song is able to address such large societal issues without making the song hard to listen to or too heavy and philosophical. It was fantastically written and compassionately performed.
“Rebels” was released in 1985 by Tom Petty and the HeartBreakers on their album Southern Accents.
“You Never Can Tell ”, St. Louis to Liverpool
“You Never Can Tell” is a song that was written by Chuck Berry and was released on the album St. Louis to Liverpool in 1964. I like this song if nothing else because of the feel-good vibes and upbeat pace. The stories of young people making their way in the world, beating the odds, and living their best lives is always a heartwarming one to me. This song goes through the major life events of a couple that gets married and has to struggle to stay alive. I find it captivating how the song is told in a very circular way, where the couple returns to the place that they were married and the elderly people that were present at their wedding saying that “You never can tell,” what is going to happen in someone’s life. I’ve been listening to this song since late 2022 and I still take it at face value, a story about perseverance, love, and staying alive. Not all songs have to be profound and world altering;sometimes all you need is a song to dance to.
“Paciencia Y Fe ”, In the Heights
“Paciencia Y Fe”, translating to “patience and faith”, is a song sung by Olga Merediz in the movie-musical In the Heights. This song tells the story of Merediz’s character in the film, who immigrated to the United States in the early 1940s because of civil unrest and lack of job opportunities for her mother in their home country of Cuba. Throughout the song, Merediz describes the difficulties that her character and her character’s mother faced when they came to America, such as being told that they needed to speak English, work harder, and her own questioning of if she ever should have left Cuba.
This song resonates a lot with me, not because I can relate to the story of immigrating to a new country or having to escape civil unrest, but because of the feelings that Merediz expresses in this song. She exudes sentiments of homesickness, appreciation, and persistence. I felt this particularly in the lines “The days into weeks, the weeks into years, and here I stayed, paciencia y fe.” I have certainly had moments throughout my life where I questioned myself, especially in instances when the going gets tough. Oftentimes when you confront others and ask them about how they have managed to struggle through the difficult parts of their lives, they ignore that life has ever been hard or respond with statements that make you think they are invincible. Well I have news for everyone on Earth. No one, no matter what they may say, is invincible, and I appreciate the way that this song acknowledges the difficulties that come with staying alive. Life is hard. No matter who you are or where you come from, life is hard. As Merediz, or as she is known in the film, Abuela Claudia, says in the song, “to reach the roof you gotta bribe the supa [superintendent]… but ain’t no food in La Víbora.” This reflects the debates Abuela Claudia had to make throughout her life of which challenges are worth it. Would she have preferred to stay in a country where her mother would have gone without a job and her without food, or come to a country where she knew it would always be near impossible for her to achieve her dreams? I adore this song because of the way that it tackles these major issues in such a fluid manner with wonderful lyrics and storytelling ability.
In the Heights was released in 2021 and was directed by Jon M. Chu and was inspired by the musical, In the Heights.
Thank you for reading this article and I hope that you all will consider listening to a few of my favorite hits. Comment down below what your favorite songs are!