Favorite songs redux

Way back in 2004, I posted a list of my favorite music.

There've been some additions to the list since then, and more of the songs are available via the iTunes Store, and I wanted to add annotations. So here's an updated list.

These are only my five-star favorites; there are also about 2500 four-star songs in my iTunes. So some of my favorite performers and songwriters aren't represented on this list at all, 'cause I rated all their songs as four stars instead of five.

Links may be specifically to the US iTunes Store; apologies to those of you who are elsewhere.

Some of the iTunes Store previews, unfortunately, don't include the catchiest or otherwise best bits of the tune.

This list is in alphabetical order by performer, with some slight variations as appropriate.

Chester Nimitz Oriental Garden Waltz
Austin Lounge Lizards, Highway Cafe of the Damned
Probably the only a cappella waltz I've heard performed by a bluegrass band, and certainly the silliest.
If I Had $1,000,000
Barenaked Ladies, Gordon
Infectiously fun and charming.
Dick's Maggot
Bare Necessities, English Country Dances
Instrumental. My favorite of the pieces I learned to waltz by. In addition to loving the tune, I love the little variations and the way they hand it off from one instrument to another each time through.
Video Killed the Radio Star
The Buggles, The Age of Plastic
Catchy synthpop, and I find the words and tone evocative, nostalgic without being maudlin. It's this specific version that I like: the breathy half-kitschy “oh, oh” bits, the filtered lead vocals, the repeated “you aaaaare a radio star” bit at the end of the lyrics section, the instrumental parts after the lyrics end.
When I Go
Dave Carter with Tracy Grammer, When I Go
As with many of Carter's songs, I don't entirely understand this, but I find the imagery and lyrics extremely evocative and compelling, and I love the tune. And the mood is (for me) a good mix of acceptance with raging against the dying of the light. The “hope that someone wise is listening” line especially always chokes me up.
Fast Car
Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
I find this mesmerizing and compelling and sad and, just a bit, at the end, hopeful.
The Galway Rover
Cherish the Ladies, New Day Dawning
I love that in this song it's the woman who's roving and the man who stays at home; but that wouldn't be enough to make it a favorite without the tune and the singing. I like other songs from this album, but this song is the real standout for me.
Lui Collins, Moondancer
My favorite quasi-religious song. I'm not a terribly spiritual person; this song (and some others like it) is about as close as I get to prayer. Singing along with the audience on this at a Philadelphia-area concert in 1990 or so may've been one of the high points of my life.
Two Pterodactyls
Lui Collins, North of Mars
Totally charming and sweet. And I'm a sucker for forgiveness. Lyrics are from a poem by Jane Yolen.
Wildflower Song
Lui Collins, Baptism of Fire
My favorite love song. Catchy and joyous. Makes me grin every time. I especially like the way it shifts from cautious cynicism into joy.
Fiddler's Hymn / Yankee Reverse
Cross Country, Never Grow Old
Another semi-secular hymn. The first song I taught myself a harmony part for, because I love the way the voices weave in and out on the chorus. And I like the play on words of “I draw the bow and I feel my heart fly.” The instrumental part at the end is lovely too.
Cold Missouri Waters
Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell, Cry Cry Cry
Heartbreaking and haunting. Courage and regret and a compelling story. I slightly prefer this version to James Keelaghan's original, but I really like a bunch of Keelaghan's other original songs; looking up who wrote this one was what led me to his music.
Brown Gal
Echo's Children, A Dancing World
One of my favorite poly love songs, whether or not it was intended that way, with a rousing seagoing tune and great harmonies. And, for once, a bass part.
Common Things
Echo's Children, A Dancing World
Another wistful love song. I especially love the little up-and-down bit in the music at the end of each verse.
Low Among the Roses
Echo's Children, A Dancing World
Yet another love song, but a more practical-minded one than most.
Ain't Life a Brook
Ferron, Testimony
Most of Ferron's stuff doesn't, alas, do much for me, but I love this song, specifically this version of it. Haunting and sad and lovely, and I love the wistful forgiveness/reconciliation/understanding at the end.
Finlandia (Live Version)
Indigo Girls, Rarities
I heard them perform this with Joan Baez at the one Indigo Girls concert I went to, at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. My favorite patriotic song, and this is a particularly nice rendition of it, with gorgeous a cappella harmonies.
Digging for Some Words
Juluka, Scatterlings
This was the first CD I ever bought, before I owned a CD player, and this song was the main reason. I like other Juluka songs too, but this is by far my favorite.
Cold Is the Night
Kallet, Epstein, Cicone, Angels in Daring
I love almost all of this album, but this song most of all. How many times can I say phrases like “gorgeous a cappella harmonies” in one list?
Down to the River to Pray
Alison Krauss, O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack
I think more or less the first thing I said after I left the theatre was “I need to buy the soundtrack album.” There are other songs I like on that album, but this is the one I love.
I Will
Alison Krauss, Now That I've Found You
I much prefer this cover to the original. Can't remember whether I knew about Krauss before O Brother or not; it's fairly likely that Arthur had played me some of her stuff before that. (She does sing the song, but oddly, the iTunes preview has only an instrumental bit.)
Can't Help Falling in Love
Lick the Tins, Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack
I don't especially like most versions of this song, and although I loved the movie as an impressionable teen, most of the soundtrack doesn't do much for me. But I do love this admittedly odd cover, for no reason I can understand.
And From Now On
Mariposa, First Light of Dawn
Still more gorgeous harmonies. Sadly, the album doesn't seem to be available anymore.
Wish You Goodnight
John McCutcheon, Nothing to Lose
A lovely and hopeful sort of lullaby.
This Island Earth
The Nylons, Happy Together
I can take or leave most of this album, but this song is great. Another joyous secular hymn, another a cappella song.
Hill Street Blues theme
Mike Post, TV Guide: 50 All-Time Favorite TV Themes
Instrumental. I suppose my reaction is partly nostalgia for the first TV show I really loved, but even when I was first watching the series, this tune was part of what I loved about it. Now that I'm re-watching the series, in most episodes I've been watching the whole opening credits sequence specifically to hear this evocative and semi-melancholy theme music.
I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)
The Proclaimers, Benny & Joon soundtrack
I wasn't a big fan of the movie, but I loved this song.
Seasons of Love
Original Broadway Cast, Rent: Original Broadway Cast Recording
I like a bunch of songs from this show, but this one is the real standout. I heard it somewhere, maybe in an ad for the show or something, before I had even heard of Rent, and it was what made me interested in the show.
Smoke in the Air
The Short Sisters, A Planet Dancing Slow
I almost watched the movie Kansas City because of this song, before I realized that it was unlikely to evoke the same feelings of melancholy nostalgia. I wouldn't have expected to love harmonica so much, but it works really well here.
Everything Possible
Fred Small, Everything Possible
My other favorite lullaby; also hopeful and lovely.
Our Town
Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin, Our Town
I much prefer this cover to the original Iris DeMent version.
Morning Has Broken
Cat Stevens, Classics Volume 24
Another hymn that nearly always chokes me up when I try to sing along, especially the third verse.
Suo Gân
George Guest, Lynton Atkinson, Robert King, Simon Keenlyside, St. John's College Choir, Cambridge & Stephen Cleobury, Silent Night—25 Carols of Peace & Tranquility
This song is the main thing I liked about Empire of the Sun. I spent literally years looking for it; I had no idea even what language it was in for a long time. (Turns out it's a Welsh lullaby.) Eventually the iTunes Store came along and I found several recordings of it. At this point I'm not sure whether I like this version or the Empire of the Sun version better.
Baba Yetu
Talisman A Cappella, The Quick Day Is Done
Written by a Talisman alum, used in the soundtrack to Civilization IV. Magnificent and joyous. I gather that the lyrics are not entirely accurate Swahili, which makes me a little sad, but I'm willing to forgive that for this song. (I'm linking to an iTunes Store version that I think is pretty close to the Talisman version.)
Shut De' Do'
Talisman A Cappella, no murmurs, no zealots
I really like the energy and the tune of this; there are a lot of Talisman songs I like (especially on this first album of theirs), but this and “Baba Yetu” stand well above the rest for me.
I See the Light
Mandy Moore & Zachary Levi, Tangled soundtrack
Tangled was my favorite movie of 2010, and this was my favorite song from it. The lyrics aren't quite as good as I want them to be, but I love the melody and the romance, and the lyrics are almost right.
Ana Ng
They Might Be Giants, Lincoln
I like this partly for the tune, partly for the lyrics that start out sounding like nonsense but have some sense behind them. And partly for evocative phrases like “I don't want the world; I just want your half.”
Cheryl Wheeler, Circles & Arrows
Just when you thought it couldn't get any wistfuller, along comes perhaps the very wistfullest of my favorite wistful songs.

I'm struck by how many of these are love songs, and how many of them are quasi-religious. Maybe what it comes down to is that wistful/sentimental/melancholy and joyous are the emotional flavors I like best in music.

Join the Conversation