Five Songs That Changed My Life

I’ve been loving Take 5 with Zan Rowe (there’s also a podcast on Apple and Spotify). In each episode an artist – actor, musician, um, ex-footballer – shares five songs that have affected them deeply. It’s intriguing to learn why they choose each song and moving to witness the memories and emotions their choices elicit. 

I wondered what my five songs would be. About 12 seconds later, I had my list.

1. Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac (written by Stevie Nicks)

When I got married, I was alarmed by the way Craig would bounce out of bed, happy to go to work. I, by comparison, would fantasize about getting hit by a car on the way back from lunch – nothing serious, just enough to be hospitalized for a few weeks to avoid having to return to the office. Clearly, something was wrong with one of us.

Gypsy was my bellwether song. 

Whenever I’d heard that song in my twenties I would feel elated – the sweet melody, the sense of this joyous, gypsy spirit. But I was becoming numb; years in a financial services career for which I was temperamentally, psychologically, and constitutionally ill-suited was taking its toll. Also sartorially – they did not like me to wear pink. Gypsy would come on the radio (yep, FM!) and I’d feel nothing. I knew things were not right.

I left corporate life, did a psych degree, and learned I was an introvert (at the far, far end of the scale – you can just make out my scores on the horizon if you squint). I started working alone and from home, savagely curtailed my social life, and embraced my weirdness. 

I knew things were getting better when I’d hear the song and feel the old stirring of pure pleasure. Like Stevie, I too was back to the velvet underground. To the gypsy that I was. 

2. Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel

The songs I truly love say just what I feel. The music matters, but it’s the words that grasp my shoulders and shake me. 

Most of my adult life has felt like shedding scales to find out what is underneath, what is true for me. Discarding all the expectations and conventions and everything I cloaked myself in to fit in, to feel loved. I think there may be one or two of you who feel the same…

Solsbury Hill has such a lovely tune, a gentle rhythm that gains momentum as it reaches its climax. But it’s those verses about giving up what you know for what you might find – the open doors soon to be shut, the friends thinking you’re a nut – that have stayed with me. They’ve been my personal anthem as I’ve wrestled the voices (many in my own head) shouting their incessant SHOULDs at me.

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

― Joseph Campbell

Like Peter leaving Genesis for a solo career, in my own small way I’ve given up a tree-lined path for a shrouded trail. But I trust, eventually, the eagle will take me home.

3. Tear In Your Hand by Tori Amos

Tori’s blend of evocative classical arrangements, poetic lyrics, and rending vocals have made her perhaps my favorite recording artist ever. Other people’s songs I could hear a couple of times and I’d know them, I’d possess all their mysteries. Sure, I might enjoy additional listenings, but they held no surprises. 

But Tori… Songs like Yes Anastasia were like nothing I’d heard before, burning so low I didn’t feel the flames until I was singed. With each new listening came deeper secrets.

Many of Tori’s songs have become part of my soul, but I’ve picked Tear In Your Hand because it makes something so beautiful out of getting rejected. I still shiver recalling those maybes in a cold room, my hands cut up, knowing there are pieces of me you’ve never seen. 


4. Overkill by Men At Work (written by Colin Hay)

Overkill perfectly evokes the sense I often have of being at odds with the world, and sometimes with my own mind. It reminds me we are not our thoughts. Ghosts appear and fade away. All the mental shenanigans with which we torment ourselves – it’s just overkill. 

If you love this song too, you must watch this. Have a tissue handy.  

5. Arc Of A Diver by Steve Winwood

Steve is another favorite with many songs I adore, but Arc Of A Diver is the one that most makes my skin tingle. 

Ostensibly it’s a love song. But to me the song is about creative expression, about being an artist – he sings about and to his muse. Writing a song when she is there to translate, when she makes him stronger – it’s as elegant and effortless as a diver’s arc. Having struggled for decades to find my own creative voice, this song is a wonder to me.

Then again, we all know I overthink things, so maybe she’s just a cool bilingual chick who is also his personal trainer.   

Regardless, it’s gorgeous, poetic, stirring. And with a structure that doesn’t quite go where you’d expect. And he plays all the instruments.

How about you? What are your five songs? Please tell me – I really want to know.

And if you’re game, tell me why!

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez.

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Bonjour! I'm an introvert, minimalist, and award-winning author. I've managed to make a mess of most things and a minor success of a few. My books are: How To Be Elegant • How To Be An Introvert In An Extrovert World • How To Be Thin In A World Of Chocolate. Read more about me here. To stay in touch, follow me on Instagram or sign up for my delightful dispatches.

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