“Be Still” by The Fray
In the early hours of the morning, band member Isaac Slade got a phone call from his younger brother who was having problems sleeping. Slade calmed him down enough to go to sleep, and later that morning, Slade grabbed a guitar next to the bed and started playing this lullaby. As a huge fan of The Fray, I will admit that this is perhaps not the best song they have ever written; it is repetitive, simple and quiet. But it is also one of their most powerful songs. Slade’s love for his brother radiates through the lyrics and is a hauntingly beautiful, simple melody accompanied by the piano. Slade’s message: “If you forget the way to go/And lose where you came from/If no one is standing beside you/Be still and know I am.”
“Sometime Around Midnight” by The Airborne Toxic Event
The most perfect song about heartbreak ever written. It’s a simple but moving song about that awful feeling of seeing the person you love out with someone else. After a brief instrumental introduction from various string instruments, the song is broken down to a simple bass and guitar riff with light percussion in the background. The simplicity of the music is transformed into desolation by Mikel Jollett’s vocal performance, which paints the perfect picture of midnight-hour drunken loneliness. He sings in second person, forcing listeners to feel his increasing distress as the night progresses. More instruments are added verse by verse, and Jollett’s performance becomes more and more impassioned as memories begin to overwhelm him. In the climactic moment, he can only yell over the full range of instruments that “You just don’t care what you look like, the world is falling around you.” The song winds down, returning once more to the single riff before quietly ending and leaving behind an incredibly cathartic silence in its wake. Genius.
“This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” by Sparks
This song is just silly and ridiculous and fun. I first encountered it while watching the movie “Kick Ass” (which, as a side note, has one of the greatest soundtracks of all time). Because the lyrics are mostly nonsensical, I don’t understand half of what goes on in the song. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome. The energetic, upbeat rhythm from the drums and guitar riffs are contagious. The “shootout” in the middle of the song adds a fun theatrical element to the song, as does the generally dramatic performance of the lyrics. But perhaps my favorite part of the song is the vocals, and that is solely because this song is sung by a man. I have seen YouTube videos of them performing this song live, and I still cannot believe that the high voice in the song does not belong to a woman. Maybe that’s why I can’t stop listening to this song.
“Come Out and Play” by The Offspring – I will admit that I only own the “Greatest Hits” album from The Offspring, but it’s hands down one of the best greatest hits albums of all time. Every song on there is gold, including “Come Out and Play.” This song has everything great about The Offspring and 90s punk rock: heavy guitar, iconic solos, strong percussion, attitude and half-yelled, slightly off-key vocals that for some weird reason work. It’s a great song to pump you up so you can beat the crap out of your 10-page paper due in two hours.