Have you ever wondered which songs you’ve played ad nauseam on Spotify? I’ve been a Spotify user since 2012, became a paid subscriber (premium user) in 2016. Yet, until recently I had no idea, data-wise, which songs and/or artists I listened to the most on Spotify’s streaming music platform. After doing some online digging, I found a database that detailed my Spotify music preferences.
Below are my top 50 ‘most played’ Spotify songs (ranked #50 to #1), which includes links to the songs and artist biographies along with commentary. At the bottom of the article/song rankings is a playlist which includes the songs on my ‘Top 50’ list.
My Music Streaming Services
Besides Spotify, I do listen to and discover music via other video and music services such as YouTube, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, AccuRadio and iHeartRadio. Nevertheless, Spotify became my streaming music service-of-choice, primarily because of its then (2016) huge music catalog of over 30 million songs. Note: As of September 2018, according to CNET, Apple Music has the largest music library at 45 million songs, with Spotify in second at 35 million songs. Since I’ve become a heavy listener of streaming music, I don’t purchase or download music as much. As a result, I’m an inconsistent iTunes user (e.g. purchasing or saving music on my Mac Laptop or iPhone) and I rarely purchase music CDs.
Gathering the Data
One of the drawbacks with Spotify is that ‘readily accessible data’ about individual streaming data (e.g. what songs or artists you’ve listened to the most) is not available on Spotify. Other services such as Apple Music’s iTunes readily provides such data, but for whatever reason, Spotify has this information on lockdown. The only data you do see on Spotify is how many times a song has been streamed (listened to for at least 30 seconds) per individual.
You can find out what were your top Spotify songs for the most recent year via Spotify’s ‘Wrapped Feature‘ playlist, but unfortunately, the service doesn’t do a similar individual playlists for your ‘most played or popular’ songs. Therefore I had to find other means to retrieve this inexplicably and needlessly ‘top secret’ Spotify data.
There are several website out there that claim to do what Spotify can’t (or won’t) do for its listeners. I decided to use this website (copy/paste 126.96.36.199:8080/public/top into your URL/browser) since I’ve seen it referenced on social media and several websites (e.g. Reddit, AltPress, Twitter). It’s simple to use since it only requires you to log-in to your Spotify account to get your desired data. The website provides you with a list of your top Spotify songs/tracks and artists over a four-week, six-month and long-term (years/all-time) period. The only drawback, albeit a notable one, is that for these data retrieval sites, including the aforementioned one, is that they don’t provide you with how many times you’ve played X-songs (data that is readily provided by iTunes). Therefore, you have to trust that the algorithms used by these non-Spotify data-gathering sites are providing you with accurate information about your Spotify listening preferences.
My Spotify Music Preferences
Overall my Spotify ‘Top 50’ list does reflect my varied music interests such as hiphop, neosoul, alternative rock, rhythm & blues, country, folk and electronic music (e.g. Sampha, Rihanna, Hozier, Blackmill, alt-J, Chris Stapleton). The occurrence of multiple-songs by X-artists on the list is probably due to 1) the fact that my Spotify library (200+ songs) isn’t as extensive as my iTunes library (3500+ songs) and 2) my Spotify library includes mostly songs that have been released within the past ten years, again, unlike my iTunes library which has songs from the 1930s to the Present.
As for whether any of my ‘Top 50’ Spotify songs were deemed ‘popular,’ some did make Billboard Magazine‘s ‘Top 100’ during its release year, such as ‘What You Know’ by T.I. and ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ by Chris Stapleton. However, according to my rudimentary calculation, at least 80% didn’t make that particular chart cut. What can I say? I find my music my own way.
There were a few songs on the list that I’m sure made the list simply because it followed a song that I really liked and for whatever reason, I didn’t immediately ‘skip’ over it or hit the ‘stop’ button after I heard my selected song. This phenomenon most assuredly explains why there are five songs by the Norwegian group, Wardruna, on this list (I don’t like them that much). Overall, I would estimate that over two-thirds of the songs on my Spotify ‘Top 50 Most-Played Songs List’ are ones that I did and still do enjoy listening to regularly, some probably a tad obsessively such as ‘Incomplete Kisses’ by Sampha.
This list is chock-full of information and links for your music knowledge and pleasure. You can either breeze through the list or do a deep-dive. My hope is that you will discover new songs and artists to add to your music library, and maybe inspire you to take your own ‘Spotify’ music journey.
Note: Make sure to visit the ‘Music‘ category on this site for additional music commentary.
50. Heartbeat (Chase & Status Remix) – Nneka
I have Pandora to thank for helping me to discover Nneka. I love how her music is a wonderful mesh of styles (neosoul, African/Nigerian, hiphop). Plus her vocals are just aching, yet also soaring. I like the original ‘Heartbeat’, but this mix takes the song to a level that’s just in-your-face with its awesomeness. The guitars, the keyboards, the thumping beat along with Nneka’s vocals just makes this an epic music moment that is worth numerous repeats.
49. Broken Halos – Chris Stapleton
I’m a bit surprised that this Chris Stapleton song is on the list. I really like Stapleton, but when I think of his music, this song doesn’t come to mind. It’s a good song that shows-off his mix of country and bluegrass style along with his strong vocals. However, I don’t think it’s one of his stand-outs, though music critics and fans have said otherwise. Then again, there are A LOT of music acts where this song would be a career and musical highlight.
48. Ledges – Noah Gundersen
Gundersen’s music has a quiet, neo-folk, gospel, pop style that I like, especially his crisp and distinctive vocals. This isn’t one of my go-to songs by him, but I do enjoy listening to it. His hoarse vocals, the guitars, soothing lyrics and the soaring fiddle at the end all come-together nicely.
SG Lewis specializes in chill, moody songs that have an upbeat quiet-storm vibe. This song exemplifies SG Lewis’ cool style, which JP Coopers’ wonderfully smooth, soulful vocals ably support. I also love the piercing guitar and soft piano work that adds to the song’s soothing vibe. Though this ‘Shivers’ album version is good, the live version is superb.
46. Restless – Nneka
Interesting that this song by Nneka is ranked higher than ‘Heartbeat’ (song #50 on this list) though I do prefer the latter. I can only assume that the higher ranking for this Nneka song is due to the fact that it was a more recent download, hence I inadvertently listened to it more. Nevertheless, I really, really like this song. The way it starts out acoustically lets you hear Nneka’s characteristic, emotive vocals. Plus, the lyrics such as “there’s darkness surrounding my world” are just heartbreakingly personal. When she starts wailing “You don’t need me no more. Now my work has been done. And I set you free” – it leaves me kind of gobsmacked.
45. To Be Alone – Hozier
Hozier’s music has a deep and ominous undertone which is a perfect match for his vocals. He has other semi-upbeat songs he’s known for such as ‘Work Song‘, but I think his more intense songs really show-off his musical prowess. His live versions of his songs are almost always better than the album versions, as with this song (which is definitely not a knock against his albums). The lyrics to this song are something else such as: “You don’t know what hell you’ve put me through. To have someone kiss the skin that crawls from you.” Don’t be surprised if you find yourself listening to more than just a few of his songs.
44. A Formal Invitation – Cold Specks
Canadian Ladan Hussein (AKA Cold Specks) has a singing style that’s gloomy, intense and personal. Her music is a combination of soul, blues, country and world. As you can see, she’s hard to pigeon-hole, though she describes her sound as “doom soul.” The first time that I heard Cold Specks was on an episode of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ in which they played ‘Lay Me Down‘ a wonderful acoustic blues/folk song by her. ‘A Formal Invitation’ definitely shows-off her self-defined music style.
43. Fehu – Wardruna
You may have heard this Norwegian band’s music before if you’re a viewer of The History Channel’s ‘The Vikings‘ series. Wardruna’s vocals and music are intense, melancholic and muscular as they honor their Old Norse roots. With ‘Fehu’ you get a deep mix of drums, chanting, fiddles and wind instruments – most of them homemade by the band. Think of the crap that you hear at those pseudo folk festivals and imagine what music of the early 9th-11th Centuries might have sounded like, but with a full-fledged band. That is Wardruna. Once you hear them, you might find yourself in a melancholic state or wanting to fight, drink and pillage.
42. In the Night of Wilderness – Blackmill
Blackmill isn’t a group, but one-person, an electronic music producer named Robert Card. Blackmill specializes in a type of electronic music genre called melodic/chill dubstep. His digital music soars in that you hear so many types of sounds (piano, nature, violins, guitar, keyboard, etc.) that helps create his transient, soothing and relaxed, yet sexy music. This song is a prime example of Blackmill’s wonderful music catalog.
41. Slow Dancer – Noah Gundersen
This the second of three songs by Gundersen that is on this list (previous one is at #48). ‘Slow Dancer’ feels like a road song with a bit of a Tom Petty vibe to it. I really like how quiet the song starts, then you hear the words “Call me a snake and a liar. I will be the fire that keeps you warm” then the rest of the instruments and background vocals just smoothly join him at just the right time. A nice gem.
40. Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene – Hozier
I didn’t expect that this Hozier song would be on the list, let alone be the higher ranked of the two songs (the other is at #45). There are other songs by him that I could’ve sworn I listened to more (Run, To Be Alone, Work Song), but the algorithm I used to create this list says otherwise. What makes this song notable is the call-and-response, gospel sound to the song. Plus, Hozier’s vocals are always crisp and personal. He never short-changes his songs, in that you don’t feel as if they’re filler in order to meet an album quota.
39. What You Know – T.I.
When T.I. came on the scene in the early 2000s, rap stars still mainly from the East and West coasts. Southern rap wasn’t on most people’s music radar, until T.I. came along. ‘What You Know’ is a slick, layered rap jam with a hard beat that will have you nodding your head in appreciation. I also really liked how it seamlessly combines Roberta Flack’s ‘Gone Away‘ and Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe‘ in that the songs weren’t just used as background with rap lyrics lazily thrown over it. This song and ‘The Way We Ride‘ (another cool song) shows-off T.I.’s smooth, yet tough music style in a nutshell.
38. Living Signs – Cold Specks
The opening ‘waw-waw’ sound of the guitar sets the tone for ‘Living Signs’ which is kind of a definitive track of Cold Specks’ music style. It’s not one of her stand-out songs, plus it’s pretty short, in that it barely lasts two-and-a-half minutes. Yet, the dark and gloomy lyrics mesh well with the slightly ominous vibe of the music, both gives you a good sense of what you’ll get from Cold Specks. I don’t consider it to be one of my favorite songs by her (though it’s the second of three songs by her on this list, the previous one is at #44), but it’s still a solid one.
37. The Love You’re Given – Jack Garratt
London musician Jack Garrett is a singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist whose vocals and music style are a mix of R&B, pop, neosoul and electronic music. As soon as he starts singing “I’ve been trying to give you my love. But you won’t let me, won’t let me” you will find yourself nodding your head to the beat of this slinky jam. The song starts out as kind of an achingly sweet lament about a relationship gone wrong, surrounded by a quiet beat, but around the 3:25 mark, it segues into a louder, scratchy, techno jam session. Yet, it all somehow flows quite sinuously.
36. Blood On Me – Sampha
I’m forever thankful to Solange’s ‘Don’t Touch My Hair‘ or I might not have ever heard of Sampha. His work on the aforementioned song is what turned me on to this talented dude with his truly original style. He looks like a teddy bear, but his vocals are raspy and higher-pitched than you would expect. His music is hard to define in that he incorporates a variety of genres such hip-hop, rap, neosoul, pop and electronic music. This song jumps-out at you in that it has a quiet intensity, as shown in the chorus “I swear they smell the blood on me. I hear they’re coming for me.” I have annihilated Sampha’s catalog in that I’ve yet to hear a song by him that I don’t like, which is why this is the first of three of his songs that are on this list.
35. Soul Sista – Bilal
It’s always disappointing when you hear a song by an artist and think ‘They’re going to be big’ and then it doesn’t happen. ‘Soul Sista’ has a wonderful and loving message about the beauty of Black Womanhood, especially for our darker-skinned sisters. The video, music and lyrics all admirably work together for a song that wraps around you like silk. Bilal’s aching, 70s-style of singing captured the essence of a truly sexy R&B song. Sadly, his entrance onto the music stage seems to have been his career highlight. Though he still puts out music, it’s nothing as original as this song.
34. Old Knives – Cold Specks
I’m kind of flummoxed that three songs by Cold Specks are on this list, since I haven’t listened to her music in awhile. At least this one is the highest ranked of the three (others are at #44 and #38), and deservedly so. I just love how deep and ominous her voice sounds on this song. Her band plays along well: the funereal of the guitar; the soft, but pointed drums and the quiet, streaky horns in the background.
33. Out My Mind, Just In Time – Erykah Badu
I’m sure that this song was a bit of surprise for Badu fans, if you know her primarily from her Grammy-winning debut album, ‘Baduizm.’ The beginning of it may remind you of some of her previous r&b/neosoul tracks, but then starting at 2:35 it gets beautifully trippy with such poignant lyrics as “Never knew. I was blind. What it through. I can’t see there. Mama say. Let there be. Easily. Said and done. I can’t feel. I am numb. Bitter dream. Fruit so raw. Winter cold. Let me out.” The quiet drums, piercing guitars, spacey sound of the keyboards – the music just matches perfectly with Badu’s dreamy, psychedelic vocals. This 10+ minute song is worth every second.
32. Milk & Honey – Celeste
Celeste’s music and vocals have a jazzy sound to it with a mix of R&B and electronic music. Yet, ‘Milk & The Honey’ is like warm caramel that coats over you, but the lyrics tell a bit of a different story. The beginning of the song sounds soft and gentle, but the opening words are of pain: “You should thread carefully in my shoes. Would you rather it be me instead of you.” Her vocals, the music and lyrics make for a hypnotic song.
31. Cold Game – Maverick Sabre
This is the first of three songs by Maverick Sabre that are on this list. As much as I love Maverick, seeing this song on the list slightly made me question the algorithm I used to create it. I’m not saying that it’s not a good song, but it’s not even close to the several songs by Maverick that I’ve listened to endlessly. That being said, what I do like about this song is that it reminds me of the 1970s soul/R&B music that I heard growing up, such as Curtis Mayfield or New Birth. Of course, Maverick adds his own style to the old school vibe with his usual singing and bits of rap verse. It’s the kind of song you listen to while you’re laying around contemplating the universe as it’s raining outside.
30. Hallucinations – dvsn
This was the first song by dvsn that I ran into the ground. The duo (producer/vocalist Paul Jefferies and lead vocalist Daniel Daley) are so damn talented, which is why this is the first of two of their songs that are on this list. Whenever I get in my ‘Whatever happened to R&B Music?’ funk, I put on this group and everything is alright with the music world again. They specialize in R&B love songs that make the soul ache whether from happiness or hurt, especially with lyrics like “Tryna rewind ’til we’re back where we started. Yeah that’s all I want.” Daley’s vocals on this beautiful song are sweet and heart-rendering, the music production by Jefferies is tight and slick in that nothing sounds out-of-place. If you don’t have this group in your music collection, you’re missing out.
29. Warm – SG Lewis
This is SG Lewis’ second song on this list (the other is at #47). The fact that Sampha, one of my favorite artists, is the lead vocalist on this song is surely one of the reasons why I like it so much. Also, I’m a fan of SG Lewis, a producer, songwriter and DJ who, according to AllMusic, specializes in “emotive, atmospheric approach to dance-oriented, electronic-based music.” That’s a pretty apt description. ‘Warm’ just makes you want to close your eyes and just let it wrap yourself around you. It’s a supple and appealing song.
28. Tennessee Whiskey – Chris Stapleton
I stumbled across Chris Stapleton, thank goodness, via a WordPress blog that I follow. Before then, it had been quite awhile since I had listened to country music. Most of it sounded too pop-like and homogenized for my liking. Maybe because my idea of country music was influenced too much by my mom (Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams, etc.). Must admit, I debated whether to give Stapleton a listen, but I’m so glad that I did, which is why this is the second of three songs he has on this list (previous one is at #49). ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ gives me the old-style country music vibe that I remembered, without it feeling like an imitation. It’s a nice, bluesy number, which amazingly isn’t my favorite song by him (we’ll get to that one later), but it still shows off his fabulous vocals very well. I never fail to sing along to the lyrics “You’re as smooth as Tennessee Whiskey. You’re as sweet as strawberry wine. You’re as warm as a glass of brandy. And honey, I stay stoned on your love, all the time.”
27. We Exist – Arcade Fire
The lyrics to the song are stark and pretty fierce. It’s about being yourself, facing your fears and being accepted. Arcade Fire’s style is layered in that their vocals and music overlap, in that neither one or the other is ever truly in the background. They have a pop sound (though their lyrics aren’t light-hearted) that plays a lot with electronic music. I do like this song, but my appreciation for it really starts at the 2:22 mark, when it kicks-ass with its operatic, electronic sound. It just intensely pounds away as the vocals and lyrics speed along and become more epic. When they sing “Let ’em stare! Let ’em stare! If that’s all they can do! But I’d lose my heart, If I turned away from you.” It’s not a loud song, but it packs a wallop.
26. The Line – dvsn
Oh my goodness, this song is just so damn luscious to the ears. The lyrics are so tender and dvsn’s vocals are incredibly beautiful and heartfelt. Guess you can tell that I just LOVE this song. This is the second song by dvsn on my list (the first one is at #30). Sadly, you don’t hear R&B music like this more, though that hasn’t stopped dvsn from rewarding their fans and attracting new ones with their producing and vocal talents. This song always takes me to church in that whenever I hear it, I have to stop myself from singing to it with my eyes closed, swaying softly while raising my arms in rapture. This is an alluring song from beginning to end. Hell, even the live version is fantastic. I hope this group sticks around for awhile.
25. All the Things She Said – Simple Minds
I’m not sure if I would’ve ever guessed that this song would’ve made this list. It is one of my top songs by Simple Minds, but I didn’t think I listened to it this much. Some of you probably remember them from their bigger hit ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)‘ from the movie ‘The Breakfast Club.’ Others are probably thinking that if any Simple Minds song is on a music list, it would’ve been the aforementioned one. What can I say? I gotta be me! As for ‘All the Things She Said’ the lyrics are what I think about, such as “Through the eyes of God, you never know what hate is” which has still stuck with me. The music on this song is typical Simple Minds in that it has a mini world music vibe to it, along with some heavy use of synthesizers. The background vocalist, Robin Clark, always adds needed heart and heat to their songs. Though it’s the oldest song on this list, it’s still a good one.
24. Helvegen – Wardruna
This is the second of four songs by Wardruna that are on this list (previous one is at #43). I’m not sure how this has happened. I’m guessing it is because when I listen to one song by them I have the tendency to just let most, if not all of the songs on the selected album play. ‘Helvegen’ reminds me of a funeral procession, though not exactly a mournful one. The Norwegian-to-English lyrics have a lot of weight to them, like this section: “Who shall sing me, Into deathsleep sling me. Whence I on the path to Hel go. And this track I tread. Is cold, so cold, so cold.” The Gregorian chant-style vocals really makes the song reverberate, along with Wardruna’s usual, yet original folk-style music.
23. Oh Miah – Blackmill
Blackmill is another music find that I discovered via Pandora. Electronic music has a lot of genres and subgenres. Yet when it comes to chill electronic music, you can’t do any better than Blackmill. So it wasn’t a surprise to see that Blackmill has two songs on this list (the other is ranked #42). ‘Oh Miah’ is a soothing and sensual mix of atmospheric sound, with vibrating vocals and a dreamy electronic backing (keyboards, synthesizer, electric guitar). If you’re going to take a dive into Blackmill’s music catalog, you can’t go wrong by starting with this sublime track.
22. Wolves – Kanye West
There are songs by Kanye West that I like, but I’m not a Kanye fan. As a result, here’s another song on this list that I’m not sure how it made the cut. Again, just because I’m surprised it’s on the list, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve to be here. I’ve always liked the robotic, stop-and-start sound of the song, which goes well with Kanye’s calm, yet reflective rap style. Also, the hollowness and stark techno sound are nicely-complemented by Vic Mensa and Sia‘s backing vocals. It’s a somber song, lacking the usual antsy and bravado that infiltrate most of West’s songs, which makes it float around in your head a little longer.
21. Fast Lane – Bilal
The first time I heard this song was on an episode of the long-cancelled NBC Show, ‘Boomtown.’ I completely forgot that I liked it, when out-of-the-blue it wiggled its way back in my head. I was so happy about it that I played this song on Spotify quite a bit. Interestingly enough, when I think of Bilal, this isn’t the song that comes to mind (it’s actually another song by him, ranked #35 on this list). Though at times I think the song tries too hard to be all things (R&B, hiphop, old school), it’s still a good musical outing by Bilal and for those coming to his music for the first-time.
20. Number One – Koven
Koven is a good group to start with you if you’re an electronic, melodic music newbie. The vocals (Katie Boyle) and production (Matt Rowat) make for a good, electronic music version of alternative rock with an anthem feel to it. The lyrics to the song are straight-forward such as “No thought for anyone. Not giving a damn who you step on. Looking out for number one. The only thing that matters to you is what you want”, but Boyles’ vocals puts some nice, splendid-sounding heat to them.
19. Drunk On Your Love – Brett Eldredge
This is definitely a feel-good song about love. The chorus is just joyful: “I woke up, up still drunk, drunk. On your love, love, on your love, love, love. Now I know whyy, I’m feeling so high, high. ‘Cause I’m still drunk, drunk on your love, on your love, oh yeah.” I’ve gotten looks when I’ve blasted this song while driving my car, the ‘That black chick is listening to country music!’ type of stares. Whatever, a good song is a good song, doesn’t matter the genre. The sweet-sounding harmonica and guitar along with Edredge’s full-of-warmth voice is why I’ve yet to get tired of this song, to my husband’s distress.
18. Man of the Year – ScHoolboy Q
This must be a good rap song, because the female-butts-bouncing-in-slo-mo video (not the one above) didn’t deter me from it. SchHoolboy Q has a bit of a fast rap style that kind of side-swipes you, in that it may take a few listens to fully grasp what you’re hearing, lyrics-wise, let alone trying to rap along with him. Luckily, his melodic style is catchy, which means you’ll eventually pick-up on all the words that are flying at you. The sample he uses (‘Cherry‘ by The Chromatics) helps set the beat and mood for this song, with Schoolboy’s rap bouncing readily along with it.
17. Let Me Go – Maverick Sabre
This is the second of three songs by Maverick Sabre (a previous one is ranked #31) that are on this list. It is also the song that truly turned me into a big Maverick Sabre fan. I love the retro, 1960s James Bond-theme music sound of it, aided by its samples of Issac Hayes’ ‘Ike’s Rap II‘ and Simon Haseley’s ‘Hammerhead.’ Of course Maverick’s one-of-a-kind singing and rapping style adds to the slickness and coolness of the song. I really like the verse “You made me feel, you understand. With you I won’t be, a better man” in that the simple word “won’t” changes the whole meaning of what seems like a typical song verse. I honestly don’t get why he’s not as well-known as he deservedly should be. His music style crosses a lot of genres, yet he still puts his own stamp on it. Plus he can actually sing and rap, normally it’s one or the other. On a side note, the video for this song is pretty good, in that it tells a story from beginning to end. You don’t really see music videos do that anymore.
16. Cigarettes – Noah Gundersen
Another repeat artist on this list (previous songs are ranked #48 and #41). Gundersen is such a strong lyricist, combine that with his earnest vocals, you get a fantastic song such as ‘Cigarettes.’ Yes, he’s metaphorically comparing a woman he loves to cigarettes (“Once you had me, you don’t have me anymore. I don’t crave you in the morning or at the company store. I don’t use you to escape, in my fingers out the door. Once you had me, you don’t have me anymore.”), but the song is more than that. It starts kind of quietly, with a mournful harmonica and an acoustic guitar, Gundersen and a female background vocalist. Then at 4:30 it kind of crescendos in which other instruments follow-along with Gundersen until the end of what’s a sad, yet also kind of uplifting song in that the protagonist has finally moved on from an unhealthy love. Gundersen’s vocals are the shining moment of this song, which he never fails to put to excellent use, especially live.
15. Come Fly Away – Maverick Sabre
This is the third and highest-ranked song by Maverick that is on this list (others are at #31 and #17). It was the first single he released from his contemplative second album, ‘Innerstanding.’ He actually sings a lot more on this album, which is a bit unusual in that he normally bounces back-and-forth between singing and rapping in his songs. From what I can tell, he hasn’t used any samples as well, it sounds just like a band in the background. The song is about life and how it can beat you down, which he laments with his strong vocals during the chorus (“Come fly away somewhere. Been here for days wanting. And nothing has changed for you. You’re tired and you don’t want to live like this.”). This is another song by Maverick Sabre that I’ve played endlessly. It’s that good.
14. Hunger of the Pine – alt-J
English band alt-J’s sound is a mix of indie rock and folk with sometimes a hint of electronic music (dub and pop) via their synthesizers. Don’t let the latter use give you the impression that they’re heavy music samplers. In ‘Hunger of the Pine’ the only sample you hear is Miley Cyrus singing ‘I’m a female rebel’, the rest is all alt-J. According to band member Gus Unger-Hamilton, “The lyrics [to ‘Hunger of the Pine’] mainly suggest the idea that missing someone — pining — can be a physical pain much like hunger.” The song has a stark and futuristic vibe with slightly uncomfortable lyrics, all of which makes it worth a listen.
13. Without – Sampha
I’ll refrain from waxing poetic, again, about how much I listen to Sampha, which is exemplified by the fact that this is the second of three songs (previous one is at #36) of his that are on this list. I just love his mix of R&B, pop and electronic music that flows with his soft, yet raspy vocals. The samples he uses are so seamless that sometimes I forget that they’re samples and not an actual band. ‘Without You’ is about someone in love with another, but not sure how much they should show it. It has such pointed lines such as “I can’t stay forever. But if this would go straight. I conquered the catastrophe.” A lot of people are still sleeping on this talented artist. Here’s your chance to no longer be one of them.
12. Isa – Wardruna
This the third of five songs by Warduna on this list (previous songs are ranked #43 and #24). I honestly can count on one hand how many times I’ve purposely selected this song via Spotify or on my iPhone because I wanted to listen to it. So if I had to pick any song on this list that I’m completely confused about how it made the cut, it’s this one. When I looked at my Spotify downloads I see that it follows ‘Laukr’ (#10 on this list), so I can only assume this is another song that I just let play after hearing the song I chose to listen to. ‘Isa’ isn’t a bad song, it hits all of the usual musical notes (hypnotic vocals, atmospheric vibe, New Age/Norwegian folk sound) for this band. It’s just that they’ve done better ones.
11. Work It Out (Live) – Tye Tribbett
The main reason why I love this song is that it never fails to lift my spirits. I’m religiously-ambivalent and I’m not a fan of a lot of the new gospel music. The lyrics to ‘Work It Out’ aren’t exactly original theme-wise, if you’ve listened to gospel music over the years (“The enemy tryna make you feel like pain will be (always). But you know like I know that trouble will never last (always). So hold ya head up high. God is on your side. And He loves you. And He cares.”). However, Tribbett and his background vocalists put a lot of emotion and gusto into this song, which adds to its inspirational tone. Plus, you have to give Tribbett props for making great use of trap music style for a gospel song, definitely not a style you hear in gospel music. Note: I stumbled across this video by Lifeline Dance Ministry, who do a wonderful dance set to this song. The women kick-butt and the audience loved it.
10. Laukr – Wardruna
This is the fourth Wardruna song on this list (previous ones are ranked #43, #24 and #12). It is also the first song I had ever heard from Wardruna. I was watching The History Channel’s ‘Vikings’ and this mournful song came on. The show barely went to commercial over before I hit-up my laptop to find out the name of the group. This song is all about sorrow, which you hear in the brief lyrics (Danish to English translation): “Laukr is water tears from the eye waterfalls from mountains drops from ice waves on water. The waves rock me and deeply, I fall asleep.” The song has an end-of-days feel to it, yet it’s somehow not depressing
9. Wait For It (Hamilton Soundtrack) – Leslie Odom, Jr.
Odom, Jr. deserves all the kudos in the world for his stellar rendition of this lyrically intricate song written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the Tony Award-Winning Broadway musical, ‘Hamilton.’ I’m sure when Odom first saw the words to this song, he probably thought ‘There is now way I’m going to be able to sing this without f*cking it up!’ Well, maybe he didn’t think that exactly, but I’m sure that sentiment has crossed the minds of vocalists when tackling this song. Luckily for Odom, it became one of, if not the biggest song from the musical. Odom’s vocals are so clear, crisp and soaring in this song. He starts kind of slow and gentle, but when he gets to the part “I am the one thing in life I can control” is when you really recognize how special his voice is and the song. ‘Wait For It’ and Odom, are a show-stopper, plain and simple.
8. All Hands On Desk – Tinashe
Tinashe can sing and dance, and has been pretty busy putting out music. Yet, she hasn’t come close to re-capturing the pumpin’ vibe on this R&B/electronic music jam. I must admit the captivating video (wide-screen shot of dancers in cargo holds, the choreography), at first, did increase my interest in the song. However, in the end, her crisp, sexy vocals and the catchy beat ruled the day. Plus, I love singing the chorus: “All hands on deck. All in front all in the back just like that, like that. Imma blow your mind take it out on the floor like that, like that. Imma blow your mind like that.” It’s a song that will get you moving whether you’re in the dance club or home alone remembering the last time you went to a club.
7. Nara – alt-J
This is the second of two songs from alt-J on this list. I would’ve never guessed that two songs from alt-J would be on this list, let alone one of them being in the Top 10. Of the two songs, I actually prefer ‘Hunger of the Pine’ (#14 on this list) over ‘Nara’, not that the latter is musically inferior to the former. Lyrically, this song, which seems to be about a love between two men, is less dense than most songs by this group. As for the vocals, I really like the high falsetto parts, which make for a nice contrast to the semi-eerie music. If I was going to introduce someone to alt-J’s music, this song wouldn’t be the first one I would play for them. I’m not sure if it’s a good representation of their music catalog, but it’s definitely not a bad one either.
6. 4 Degrees – ANOHNI
It’s kind of weird to enjoy a song that’s about the annihilation of nature due to global warming (“I wanna hear the dogs crying for water. I wanna see fish go belly-up in the sea. All those lemurs and all those tiny creatures. I wanna see them burn, it’s only four degrees”). Yet, Anohni somehow accomplishes such a feat on this song, with her soft and lilting singing-style, which somehow isn’t drowned out by the glorious techno bombast of the layered horns, drums and keyboards. It’s a nice mash-up of pop, dance and electronic music with a serious message that doesn’t get lost, mainly due to Anohni’s haunting, yet succinct vocals.
5. Doesn’t Matter – Andrew Huang
Huang is an unknown and unsigned music artist and video producer. According to his website “[Huang] has released over 2,000 songs in a massive range of genres. He is perhaps best known for the strange feats of musicianship which have earned him over 1.3 million subscribers and 170 million views on his YouTube channel.” So, how did I first hear about Andrew Huang? I was on Soundcloud, letting music play randomly, when I heard ‘Doesn’t Matter’, which immediately caught my attention. The pumping sound right at the beginning sets the tone for the entire song. It is a funky, electronic music jam, that will have your head-nodding and body-popping.
4. Kiss It Better – Rihanna
Rihanna’s music never really made a mark with me until I heard several tracks from her ‘ANTI‘ album. It’s a really strong album, and ‘Kiss It Better’ is stellar. Her reedy vocal style blends really well with the soaring electronic music on this Prince-like song. You can tell she really likes this song because her vocals are a lot firmer on here than I’ve heard on her previous songs, especially when she sings (or practically laments): “I’ve been waiting up all night. Baby, tell me what’s wrong. Go on and make it right. Make it all night long. Man, fuck your pride. Just take it on back, just take it on back babe. Take it back all night. Just take it on back, take it on back. Ooh do what you gotta do, keep me up all night (all night). Hurting vibe, man, and it hurts inside when I look you in your eye.” It’s ridiculous that this song wasn’t a massive hit, because it’s a damn good one.
3. UruR – Wardruna
The last and the highest of the five Wardruna songs that are on this list (others are at #43, #24, #12 and #10). I like this group, but I don’t love them, though the algorithm used to create this Spotify list would claim otherwise. However, what it did get right, data-wise, is that this is my favorite Wardruna song. It has a trance-like, stealth vibe that is really compelling, along with the call-to-arms horns, resonating drums and deep, chanting vocals. Whenever I listen to it, I find myself stomping along to the beat as I close my eyes and let the song take me away to wherever Wardruna emotionally-goes when it plays this song.
2. Fire Away – Chris Stapleton
I played this song so much that my then-preteen song knew most of the words, which was not something he was trying to achieve. Stapleton’s vocals on this song are sorrowful and sincere that you almost forget that he’s accompanied by a band. Right from the beginning, the lyrics set the tone for the song: “Honey load up your questions and pick up your sticks and your stones. And pretend I’m a shelter for heartaches that don’t have a home.” The rest of the song tells a story about someone who has taken an emotional beating from a loved one and/or has put them through the wringer. Yet, they’re still trying to stick around, to be there for them to the very end. ‘Fire Away’ shows why Stapleton has been crowned the savior of country music, though it’s a crown he doesn’t want. He’s a talented singer and musician, not just a country artist, which is exemplified by his gritty cover of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares to You’ – and the fact he has three songs (others are at #49 and #28) on this list.
1. Incomplete Kisses – Sampha
When I first decided to take on this musical task, I had no doubt that this song was going to be at the top of the list. If it wasn’t, I would’ve called total bullsh*t on the algorithm and this article would’ve never existed. This is the third song by Sampha on this list (the other two are at #36 and #13), though I’m mildly surprised that there weren’t a few more since I listen to his music a lot. However, ‘Incomplete Kisses’ is the one I’ve constantly come back to, and for good reason. There is a softness to this song in that it makes me feel good whenever I hear it. Musically, the electronic-piercing keyboard sound adds to Sampha’s gentle vocals and tender lyrics. I’m sure my family can’t wait until I finally get tired of it, though I honestly don’t see that ever happening.
PLAYLIST: My ‘Top 50 Most Played Songs’ On Spotify
Does iTunes truly reflect what we listen to on a regular basis? I decided to find out if that was truly the case.
I have had an iTunes account for several years. I almost exclusively use it to upload, purchase and play songs randomly. I don’t bother with much else regarding iTunes, which maybe it would be disappointed to hear (but I doubt it).
I am not much for playlists, since my patience level for such endeavors are minimal at best. As a result I have barely paid any attention to any iTunes self-created lists such as its Genius Playlist, Recently Played or its tracking of my ‘Top 25 Most Played’ based on my iTunes Library.
I finally decided to check my ‘most played’ list to see what songs iTunes data had determined to be my Top 25 versus what I thought would be on the list.
I was very surprised to see that a bunch of my popular artists were MIA from the list. Sade. Blind Willie Johnson. Depeche Mode. Maverick Sabre. Sam Cooke. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Movie Soundtrack (don’t ask). Nneka. Tori Amos. Journey. Florence & the Machine. Marc Cohn. Note: I do listen to some of these artists outside iTunes through other apps such as YouTube, Pandora, Soundcloud and Spotify.
Even more surprising was that there are songs on the list that I had no idea that I listened to that much. Also, there were a few that I’m sure made the ‘most played’ cut simply because I just didn’t skip over it after hearing a song I had previously selected. All that being said, most of the songs on the list are ones that I do enjoy listening to regularly; some a tad incessantly.
Below are my top 25 ‘most played’ songs (ranked #25 to #1) along with commentary, links to artist profiles and songs for your listening pleasure.
FYI: I did my best to find videos that were free of advertisements. Initially I had planned to use music sharing app such as Soundcloud or Spotify or WordPress’ audio files set-up. Unfortunately, Soundcloud and Spotify didn’t have most of my songs in their respective catalogs (no surprise there) and WordPress’ system didn’t mesh with my desired visual aesthetics for this blog post.
Time to start the countdown or as Referee Judge Mills Lane from ‘Celebrity Death Match’ would say “Let’s get it on!”
25. ‘Hiroshima’ (2002) – Bryan Ferry
I am a big, big Bryan Ferry fan. I would have been absolutely shocked if one of his songs hadn’t made this list. This is easily my favorite song from his album ‘Frantic.’ I listen to a lot of Ferry’s solo music and a good portion of his work with his former group, Roxy Music. But this song is the one I play the most. It is spacey, oddly robotic, yet soaring at times. It doesn’t get its due from Ferry fans.
24. ‘Darshan’ (2001) – B21
Not surprised this song made it on this list. I first heard it while watching the movie ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’ It’s one of two songs that I really like from a solid movie soundtrack. Its exuberance will get your hips moving, even if you don’t know the Punjabi lyrics. It makes me smile, especially when I’m dragging my feet. The day when I will be able to sing the lyrics to this song successfully will be a good one.
23. ‘Murder’ (1997) – Alana Davis
I didn’t think that I listened to this song this much. Davis is most known for her song ‘32 Flavors‘ but to me she is much more than that. The lyrics and vibe (fingers snapping, simple guitar strumming) to this song are strong; soaked in feelings of dread and paranoia. It makes for a heady mix. Too bad she was a bit before her time musically. Davis probably would’ve made a bigger music mark in our current digital music age.
22. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ (1995) – Radiohead
I like this group, but I wouldn’t have guessed that one of their songs would have made this list. Then again I do sing to this song whenever I hear it because of the poignant and quietly raging lyrics. I especially like when lead singer Thom Yorke’ voice starts to rise, then falls as he sings “But I can’t help the feeling. I could blow through the ceiling. If I just turn and run.” It is a great song from a solid sophomore album.
21. ‘Ruiner (Live, 2009)’ – Nine Inch Nails
‘Ruiner’ is a recent download/addition to my iTunes account, a song that I have played almost obsessively. So its addition to this list is a given. This is a live 2009 version that I recently discovered via YouTube, which has now become my preferred version of this song. Hell, it’s almost coming close to being my favorite NIN song, but I still enjoy ‘March of the Pigs‘ a bit more. Whenever I hear this version of ‘Ruiner’ my head and body rocks out hard while I sing the lyrics along with NIN founder/lead singer Trent Reznor.
20. ‘Rain On Me’ (2003) – Ashanti
I haven’t listened to this song in a while, so seeing it on the list was unexpected. I had assumed that ‘Only You‘ would have made the list, since I do prefer it over ‘Rain.’ Nevertheless, I can’t complain about this song making the cut since it is a good one. Plus you can’t go wrong with sampling The Look of Love‘ by Issac Hayes. Ashanti doesn’t have a strong voice, but she puts it to good use on this track.
19. ‘How Much I Feel’ (1978) – Ambrosia
There is no doubt that I play this song way too much, which iTunes has confirmed. Unfortunately, 1970s soft rock gets a bad rap, which has caused many to overlook some of the great songs that came out of the era and genre. This song has it all, harmonizing vocals, heartfelt emotion and lyrics that tell a love story starting from the middle to the end. I love the part when David Pack sings, practically laments “Then you both realize. Just how foolish you’ve been. And you try to make amends. But you’re better off as friends.” That is some serious songwriting.
18. ‘Rolling In the Deep’ (2011) – Adele
I thought this song would be in a higher slot since I ran it into the ground and then some. I had to deselect it from my iTunes Library so that I wouldn’t end up causing the song to wear out its welcome. Adele has had other hits, but this is still my favorite. I just love the 1960s vibe to it and the toughness of her vocals. She sounds like a woman, not a girlish pop star or some manufactured boy band singing and prancing obliviously about like show horses. Adele is simply fierce.
17. ‘Inner Smile’ (2000) – Texas
Definitely a ‘go-to’ song for me whenever I need a mood pick-me-up. It’s also another song from the ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ movie soundtrack. It’s simply infectious and should have been a big hit in the United States. Guess an English band named ‘Texas’ that sings pop/R&B was probably a hard sale in the States. That’s too bad because it’s a damn good song that you can sing and dance to and will make you feel better afterwards.
16. ‘Fallen’ (2003) – Mya
Not sure how this song made the list. I’m not saying that I don’t like it, but I don’t like it this much. I’m positive that this song’s addition to the list is pure happenstance in that it’s just been played randomly by iTunes. Nevertheless, it’s a nice song that has an atmospheric vibe to it, which sadly, isn’t a style you hear much of in the R&B/HipHop music world. Mya can sing, but really hasn’t been provided enough songs to show off her vocal pipes.
15. ‘Safe From Harm’ (1991) – Massive Attack
Another recent iTunes addition so I’ve had it in heavy rotation, therefore its mention on this list is pro forma. ‘Safe from Harm’ is a moody, sexy song – a Massive Attack specialty. This song is in a tie with ‘Joy Luck Club‘ as one of my top songs by them. I’ve had it on replay for quite some time. Shara Nelson’s vocals are strong and sexy and Robert Del Naja’s rap is crisp and hypnotic, both a perfect match to the music.
14. ‘Love Rears Up Its Ugly Head’ (1990) – Living Colour
I honestly can’t recall the last time I’ve listened to this song, yet it’s somehow in my top 25. This act was way before it’s time. Hell, they’re probably still before their time. People just couldn’t get their heads around a Black music group that played a mix of alternative rock, heavy metal and hip-hop. ‘Cult of Personality’ is still their biggest hit, but I don’t think it represents them well as this song does. When Corey Glover, the lead singer, starts wailing “Oh no, no, no, no. Not that again…” along with the loud and striking guitar work – you will recognize this group’s awesomeness.
13. ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ (1994) – Brownstone
Another ‘high song rank’ surprise. Then again I do have a weakness for good cover versions (the 1979 original was written and sung by The Eagles) such as this one. What makes ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ a stand-out is that Brownstone makes this song their own. If it wasn’t for the lyrics you would think it’s an original. There are various versions of this song, but this one (official video version – not on the album) is the best. I love when contralto Nichole Gilbert starts semi-scatting the lyrics then repeats in a deeper voice the line ‘Why don’t you please tell me why’ near the end. It’s too bad the original line-up of this R&B group (from their debut album ‘From the Bottom Up‘) didn’t remain intact. Brownstone would’ve put a lot of female group acts to shame. They were full-throttled, talented women (not sex kittens or wannabe adults) who could sing their asses off.
12. ‘Remedy’ (1992) – The Black Crowes
Was a tad surprised that this song by the Crowes made the list. I thought that ‘Sometimes Salvation‘ would have made the cut instead. However, after ‘Salvation’ this is one of my top songs by them. ‘Remedy’ is a bluesy, rock song that is stripped down to its basics: strong lead vocals, slinky backing vocals joined by a tough guitar sound. This song is from their should-be-considered-a-classic album ‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion‘ one of the rare albums I can listen to in its entirety.
11. ‘The Main Thing’ (1982) – Roxy Music
I absolutely knew Roxy Music would be on this list! ‘The Main Thing’ is from their ‘Avalon’ album. The album title/song was a big hit, but I gravitated more towards the quiet, brooding, techno sound of ‘The Main Thing.’ The song is short on actual lyrics but long on creating a sound that is eery, like a drug-induced Gregorian chant. People either get Roxy Music or they don’t. If you’re a member of the former you are lucky indeed.
10. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ (1977) – Fleetwood Mac
Of course this song made this list. If I had to pick a song that sums up what I love about Fleetwood Mac it would be this one. Stevie Nick’s scratchy and evocative singing. Lyndsey Buckingham’s crazy guitar work and backing vocals. Mick Fleetwood’s pounding drum work. John McVee’s deep bass strumming and Christie McVee’s harmonizing adding depth to Nick’s vocals. It all comes together on a distinctive song that keeps ramping up until the band just leaves it all in the dust (pun intended).
9. ‘Life’s What You Make It’ (1985) – Talk Talk
I simply like the lyrics and the piercing, soaring guitar work on this song. Therefore I listen to it a lot, hence its placement on this list. The lyrics aren’t that complex, “Baby, life’s what you make it. Celebrate it. Anticipate it. Yesterday’s faded. Nothing can change it. Life’s what you make it” nor lengthy. Yet, the way Mark Davis Hollis sings the words somehow adds more significance to them. Makes you pause and think after the song is over.
8. ‘Homesick’ (2009) – Ryan Kickland
This song is stark and beautiful and will stick around with you long after you’ve heard it. I was watching an episode of ‘Justified’ a few years ago when I first heard this quiet, twangy, fantastic song. I love Kickland’s haunting vocals and the simple, yet sad sound of the guitar. This is a woefully overlooked song that deserves a long moment in the sun.
I’m not a Minaj fan since she raps with too much manufactured braggadocio and not enough heat. Yet, I must really like this Minaj song since it made the Top 10. The best parts of ‘Moment’ is when she’s not rapping because then she is letting you know what she’s feeling. Hell, Drake out-raps her on her own song. Nevertheless it’s a jam that I like listening to, especially when I’m driving in my car with the windows down.
6. ‘Out of My Head’ (2013) – John Newman
I have become a John Newman fan over the past eighteen months. I would’ve been shocked if one of his songs hadn’t made this list. Though I did think that his acoustic/live version of ‘Not Giving In‘ would’ve beat out this song, but apparently I was wrong. Newman has a distinctive singing style which inexplicably have caused some people to assume that he’s a black guy. The ethnicity assumptions are a result of Newman’s music style, which is heavily-influenced by old school R&B. This song has a semi-epic orchestral feel to it that goes well with his mournful vocals. Love the song’s chorus: “To shut out feeling lonely; I get out of my head. Lost everything around me. Not dealing with it well. To shut out feeling lonely; I get out of my head. Why would you want to love somebody when love hurts in the end?” Hope he sticks around for a bit.
5. ‘Hide and Go Seek’ (1967) – Bunker Hill
Hill’s song gets me nodding my head every single time, which is why I listen to it almost daily. I just love the exuberance of the song, Hill’s energy and the back-and-forth response he has with the back-up singers. The lyrics are basic and goofy such as “Went down the road. The road was muddy. I stubbed my toe. My toe was hurting. Who all hid (yeah). If you ain’t hid. You better holler Billy goat (baaaa).” I’m forever thankful to the movie ‘Hairspray’ (1988 original directed by John Waters, not the 2007 remake/musical version) for helping me discover this freakin’ wonderful song.
4. ‘Love Me Again’ (2013) – John Newman
I have played this song so much that eventually my preteen son knew most of the words and came to like it. Therefore I had no doubt that it would be on this list. It was the first song I ever heard by him and turned me into a Newman acolyte. It starts out strong with the words “Know I’ve done wrong, left your heart torn. Is that what devils do? Took you so long, where only fools gone. I shook the angel in you!” and just keeps getting better. The Motown vibe and his throwback, yet original vocals makes for a very good song that you will have on repeat.
3. ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ (1982) – Frida
I was really shocked to see this song on the list – let alone ranked this high – though I did play the hell out of it for a while. This was Frida’s (Anni-Frid Lyngstad), formerly of ABBA, big solo hit. I have always loved the vocals and drums (courtesy of Phil Collins from Genesis) on this song. This song popped into my head out of nowhere a year ago, so I downloaded it. It definitely has a 1980s song vibe, but don’t let that deter you. When Frida sings the words “I know there’s something going on” and you hear the drums banging along with her, you will think ‘This is a cool song.’
2. ‘Dying For Your Love’ (2011) – Frank Ocean
I thought that this song would have topped this list because I have yet to get enough of it. I have played this song so many times back-to-back; just leaving the repeat button on to make it easier for me to listen to it almost continually. It has a gorgeous, dreamlike sound aided by Ocean’s soporific vocals. The song’s hooks are so personal: “On the same side of the battle. I’m on the front line of disaster now. All make sense, I’ve put it together. Guess what we have doesn’t matter. You have me dying. Every night, just because. You have me fighting. Every night, to prove my love. Cause we never get enough of fighting. In the club, I’m dying for your love. I don’t know what you want. You got me fighting. Every night, to prove my love.” This is his best song though he has other strong, potent and more well-known contenders.
1. ‘Earned It’ (2015) – The Weeknd
My number one Most Played Song’ according to iTunes! As much as I like this song the fact that it’s my ‘most played’ has me flummoxed. I haven’t listened to it regularly in months. I can only deduce that its placement on this list is because of its heavy play rotation; some of it purposely, most of it by random. This song is from the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey’ which I haven’t seen nor do I own the soundtrack. The first time I heard this song was on Pandora and the rest is history. I like the overlapping orchestral instruments, the soft and emotional vocals with a mild techno/auto-tune sound. Not sure if this song has long enough music legs in that I won’t eventually discontinue listening to it. But for now iTunes has spoken about its musical hierarchy and tenacity.
So – that’s my list. What’s on your iTunes ‘Top 25 Most Played’ list?
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Sometimes I think I’m becoming an old music snob, kind of like my mother. A lot of artists are more about visuals than actually playing their music. Fans end up going to concerts where the artist or band is playing along with their recorded music and their music videos are a part of the concert decor.
It seems as if most of the singers and musicians are self-conscious or hyper-aware of how they look on stage and to their audience. You can practically see them wondering ‘Do I look cool? Do I look sexy? How does my voice sound in comparison to the album version?’ Music acts are so manufactured nowadays why people bother to cough-up hundreds of dollars to see them live (or lip-synching live) is beyond me.
Yet there are artists out there who understand that playing live is about their performance and the music.
Below is live concert footage of talented singers and musicians that I’ve come across over the years. These artists understand that fans did not come to hear them sing along to pre-recorded tracks or to look like they stepped off a photo-shopped magazine cover. These musicians came to play and thank God for that.
GARY CLARK, JR.
Gary Clark Jr. is an original blues man who somehow combines B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Gil-Scott Heron and Howlin’ Wolf into his own style. He not only sings the blues like he’s lived them he also plays a mean-ass guitar. He’s only been around a few years, but his profile is on the rise. In 2010 he played at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, a one-day event held in Chicago. A lot big name guitar artists were there such as Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Robert Cray and Johnny Winter. Yet, Clark stood out amongst the famous crowd. His cover version of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights” is distinctive and incredible. After he’s done kicking ass on stage, he quietly says “thank you” to the crowd. He makes you want to say “No -thank you!”
Fleetwood Mac was the artist and supergroup of the 1970s. Most of their songs have been relegated to soft rock stations, but at one point in time they were the biggest act on earth. The five-person band had three major successful songwriters in Christie McVie, Lyndsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, which is practically unheard of today. Until Michael Jackson’s Thriller surpassed it, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors (1977) album was the biggest selling album of all time. It spawned several hits such as “Go Your Own Way,” “Don’t Stop,” “The Chain,” and “Gold Dust Woman.” However, before Rumors the Mac had another hit “Rihannon” a song written by Nicks about a Welsh witch. The album version is good, but this 1976 live version is excellent. Nicks vocals are very fierce and impassioned (starting at the 4:50 in the video) and the band plays off of her vibe, speeding along to the very end. Very few artists perform like this anymore.
MARY J. BLIGE
As an artist, Blige’s music output is uneven at times, in that I don’t think her songs really match up to her vocal talent. However, her live performances can sometimes make lyrically-weak songs seem epic, which was the case at the 2002 Grammy Awards. Mary J. Blige decided to perform “No More Drama” which is not a great song, but it was her latest R&B hit at the time. Initially she starts out kind of sedentary, probably thinking about the audience in front of her since Grammy audiences are notoriously quiet and polite during performances. Yet midway through her set Mary seems to forget about who’s she singing to and just goes for it (starting at 2:17 in the video) . When she sings” You demons get out my face. Go get out of my mind. I’m about to lose my mind. Lord help me!” it’s like she’s wailng and praying for strength. She makes you feel the words. At the end of her performance the Grammy audience stood up and clapped – one of the few times I’ve seen this happen. Mary deserved their honor and respect.
By the time George Micheal performed with Queen in 1992 at Wembley Stadium in London he was already a musical superstar. From his days with Wham to his solo work, he was pop and R&B friendly who happened to have an amazing voice. Yet many singers would have been scared sh*tless to be asked to play with Queen as a stand-in for Freddie Mercury, especially at a tribute concert to honor the passing of Mercury who had died of AIDS. Plus the concert was to be broadcast live to over 76 countries with an audience of almost a billion. A lot of pressure, but George was up to the task. His version of “Somebody to Love” was respectful of Freddie Mercury, but it was still all George. His voice sounded clear and joyful which the band obviously appreciated. George knocked this one out of the park. I’m sure Freddie was impressed.
In 1992 Cohn’s self-titled first album did very well. It sold over a million copies. He had a top 2o hit with “Walking in Memphis and two other top 100 hits off the album. He finished up the year with a Grammy for ‘Best New Artist,’ which can be a good or mostly bad thing. Unfortunately for Cohn, a Grammy didn’t help his later albums and he has never come close to his initial success. But he’s still out there writing, singing and performing for his diehard fans. One of his most popular live songs is “True Companion” which is about meeting, marrying and committing to the love of your life. The 2009 version he did in Utah is one of my favorites. It has a quiet, earnest beauty about it that is simply wonderful. It really allows you to listen to the lyrics so that you really feel him singing the song. An understated, heartfelt performance by a real artist.
The ‘Queen of Soul’ is known for “Respect” and “Natural Woman” but those songs don’t really symbolize what Aretha Franklin can do with her voice. Her voice is powerful, but it is also a host of other levels like pain, sorrow, love and anger. Her songs that have more of a gospel flair to them are her best stuff such as “Never Loved A Man.” The first few lines of the song start as “You’re’ no good. Heartbreaker. You’re a liar and a you’re a cheat. I don’t know why I let you do things to me.” You know exactly where she’s coming from and how she feels, especially the way she stretches out certain words. This 1967 two-plus minute live version gives you just a snippet of what she probably would’ve done with this song if she was given a more time, but songs weren’t too lengthy back then. Too bad for her audience and for us.
Like many of his fans, I became aware of Stanley’s talent via the “O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. Ralph Stanley, a bluegrass artist and banjo player won the 2002 Best Male Country Performance Grammy for his performance of “O Death.” Though the album version is great this 2008 a cappella version he did at a festival in Clintwood, Virginia is even more honest and chilling. All you see is 85 year-old Stanley on stage, grasping his hands while wearing a white cowboy hat asking the grim reaper to spare him for another year. Amazing.
I have always liked Pink‘s voice, but most of her songs just do nothing for me. In fact, I think most of the crap she sings is not worthy of her voice. Pink’s voice is raspy, full of strength, hurt, fun and heartache. It’s too bad most of her music, as popular as it is, just doesn’t measure up to what she could bring to the table. Though I’m sure her bank account is very pleased with her pop success. She really knows how to vocally turn lemons into lemonade. Yet, once in awhile, she shows us that she is the real deal, especially when her song choice is an even match for her vocal prowess. I’ve seen this happen only once with her, when she sang a cover version of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” at the 2007 Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. With her voice it seems like it would be an obvious fit for Pink, which it is. But she makes it all her own while still respecting Janis’ version of it. An awesome feat indeed, which the audience knew by giving her a well-deserved standing ovation.
I became a fan of N.E.R.D. (Nobody Ever Really Dies) the first time I heard “Sooner or Later” – a good song that has a Beatlesque/70s guitar vibe that I really like. This funk, rap, hip hop and rock bank is made-up of three members with writer/producer Pharrell Williams being the driving force of the group. I used to like the album version of “Spaz” until I came across this live version. It’s not a great version of the song in that they took it to a another level. What I really like about this version is the energy of the group and the audience. It has an excitement and rawness to it that makes the album version truly pale in comparison. It makes me wish that I had been at this concert. I would’ve jammed my ass off!
MTV has sucked for years, though that wasn’t always the case. There used to be a time between its 1981 beginnings up until the early 1990s that I used to look forward to watching the channel. I discovered a lot of artists as a result of MTV, one of them being Billy Squier.
Squier is a rock musician who wore jeans, t-shirts, had semi-long, curly hair who loved to play music. He wasn’t pop-happy, narcissistic, misogynistic, conflicted or full of angst.
His music was enjoyable and easy to rock out to whether you were at home, driving around or hanging out in a bar. He wrote songs mainly about men, women, relationships, love and sex that had good hooks and strong lyrics. He had a distinctive voice and was handy with a guitar. His big hits included “The Stroke,” “In the Dark,” “Everybody Wants You” and “My Kind of Lover.” He’s one of the artists who helped start me on my ‘inner white boy‘ music journey.
It’s kind of amazing that he was successful during the 80s given he was in the era of music video stars such as Michael Jackson, Madonna and Duran Duran. Squier’s videos mainly showed him singing with his band live or lip synching with his band. Straight-forward videos for a nothing-too-fancy-up-and-coming rock star.
Then came the “Rock Me Tonite” video off of his 1984 Signs of Life album. The one time he attempted to do a stylized dance video and it was a cringe-worthy disaster.
I remember the first time I saw it. I thought he looked ridiculous. His dancing was weird and out of character. The layered pink and white shirt he wore in the video looked like it came from the Flashdance movie set, which he then proceeded to rip off his body. I’m not sure if David Lee Roth or Mick Jaggar at the height of their strut-worthiness could’ve pulled off that video let alone Squier. The video was a misstep, but I decided to overlook it because I liked Billy Squier. Unfortunately many others didn’t do the same though the song was and is still his biggest hit.
Squier has done several albums since Signs of Life, but his career has never been the same. Squier himself has blamed the “Rock Me Tonite” video for his career slide. Maybe this was just another true-to-life example of the Buggles’ song “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Then again, maybe it was just the early 1990s and the changing music landscape with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam becoming the death knell for Squier’s type of 80s rock music.
When I look at today’s music charts I can’t help but think it would be nice to see another Billy Squier – a rock musician who enjoys playing music without artifice. Luckily Squier still tours–albeit on a much smaller scale–and fans have posted snippets of his live shows and other performances (old and new) on YouTube. He’s still around and looks and sounds great to his old fans; hopefully to be discovered by new ones.
Though Squier is known for bigger hits, my favorite song by him is a 1983 live version of “She’s A Runner” which he did in Detroit. To me it definitively sums up Billy Squier and his music to his fans. It also shows why he should’ve had a larger, longer and more successful career. Sigh – damn THAT music video.
The debt ceiling soap opera that swirled around the White House and Congress has finally come to a crappy conclusion. However, the political drama has left a bad taste in in the mouths of many Americans. We have been left wondering, again, why it seems that our elected politicians are not listening to us, but are listening to the wrong people. As a result, we’re feeling down in the dumps, cynical and just a bit angry. And not just about the debt ceiling.
When you’re in a bad mood, you try to find ways to make you feel better or you may fallback on tried and true methods. I usually feel better when my husband hugs me, seeing my son happy and healthy or talking to my mom. My other bad mood busters are more mundane such as reading, walking or sitting out on my balcony late at night staring into the sky.
However, one of the easiest and quickest methods to lift my spirits (even if for only a little while) is music. Whether it’s the lyrics, the vocalist or the beat – certain songs just make me feel better.
So for those of you in need of chasing some blues away, here are several of my ‘get-out-of-a bad-mood’ songs. Lord knows we all need a moment of solace from the the debt ceiling mess, the state of the U.S. economy or whatever else that has been pissing us off these past several months – too many to mention here.
Take a listen, I’m sure one of these songs will make you feel better.
Proud – Heather Smalls http://tinysong.com/I521 When she sings the lyrics “We need a change. Yeah. Do it today. Yeah. I can feel my spirits rising” it will make you want to do some good.
Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson http://tinysong.com/I4Re The words are highly idealistic, but what’s wrong with that? Plus, he sounds like he is really feeling the words to this song, you will feel them as well.
With A Little Help From My Friends -Joe Cocker http://tinysong.com/7cow All about how you can get by, get high (it was the 60s) and gonna try because your friends will be there with you. It’s actually a cover version of a Beatles song, but this one is very different and much, much better.
Optimistic – Sounds of Blackness http://tinysong.com/oMPG “You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky.” It’s just an outright positive, mood-altering song.
Beautiful Day – U2 http://tinysong.com/xAf8 Great song from start to finish. “It’s a beautiful day. Sky falls, you feel like it’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away.” In other words, find a way to count your blessings.
Everybody Dance – Ru Paul http://tinysong.com/evt0 A straight up feel-good dance song. It takes me to my happy place.
The Pressure (Part 2) – Sounds of Blackness http://tinysong.com/gJDX “When my burdens get too heavy. He’s right there to bare the load. To give me strength and comfort anytime I need relief from the pressures of the world. I just believe.” A deeply, moving song. Note: Avoid the Part 1 version – it’s loud and terrible.
Anytime You Need A Friend – Mariah Carey http://tinysong.com/AnFe This is when she used to sing. The friend could be an earthly one or a higher being, whichever floats your boat. It makes you feel that there is someone out there who has your back.
You’ve Got A Friend – James Taylor http://tinysong.com/IcfG A quiet song, but it reminds you that many of us have people out there who can help, if you just ask.
Ain’t Nobody – Chakka Khan http://tinysong.com/AEBs A classic song about how you feel (or should feel) when you fall in love. You can hear the happiness in her voice. A sing-out-loud song.
Benny and the Jets – Elton John http://tinysong.com/qW26 “She’s got electric boots, a mohair suit. You know I read it in a magazine. B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets.” I don’t know what it means and somehow it doesn’t matter. I like singing this song – it makes me smile.
This is a different type of blog than I normally post. It started as a result of a Twitter conversation I had with a follower who mentioned that he needed to add some hard rock to his playlist. I thought about just tweeting him a few suggested songs, but it turned into this blog. I hope this helps him out and maybe a few others . . .
I grew up listening to whatever my mom was listening to on the radio or playing on the record player. Aretha Franklin. Frank Sinatra. Earth, Wind & Fire. Boston. Bing Crosby. B.B. King. Mamas and the Papas. Al Green. Joe Cocker. Mahalia Jackson. Doobie Brothers. I learned from my mom that if you like a song that’s all that matters. As a result, I do not allow genres to dictate what I listen to whether it’s hard rock, rap, punk, country, alternative, electronic dance, bhangra, salsa, trance, blues, gospel, bolero, jazz, pop classical or world.
I have been told my music tastes are all over the place. It has been described as eclectic to wacky to nonsensical. What can I say? I like what I like. I have never been afraid to admit to what I listen to though people have made assumptions in regards to my tastes based on my looks. She’s Black therefore she only listens to R&B, rap and hip hop. Yes, I do like rap, hip hop and R&B, but I can swing between a variety of music genres without batting an eye. I have gotten strange looks from people when I’m driving around in my car, windows down, listening to Sade then Tim McGraw followed by Nine Inch Nails.
One of my favorite types of music is rock/hard rock/alternative rock. I get pumped whenever I hear my ‘inner white boy’ playlist (as I jokingly call it) on my iPhone. I enjoy blasting it in on my headphones. I love hearing the vocalists yell or growl out the lyrics when they’re pissed off. When listening to the great to sometimes uneven guitar solos I wonder what the guitarists were thinking while they were recording their part. I bang my fingers to drum solos constantly wishing I could learn and play the drums like Taylor Hawkins does on the Foo Fighter’s ‘Everlong.’
I know that there are other black chicks or black guys like me whose music tastes are outside the box, but you don’t hear much about us. It’s acceptable and very cool for whites to listen to R&B, rap and hip-hop. Yet it is still viewed as odd for blacks NOT to only listen to R&B, rap, and hip-hop. If we do listen to it then we’re ‘weird’ or worst somehow ‘not Black’ – comments like these make me grind my teeth and start grumbling. Just because most white guys supposedly only listen to hard/alternative rock or metal doesn’t mean that non-Whites shouldn’t or haven’t given the genre a shot. A lot of good music gets overlooked because people stick to what they think or what others think they should be listening to instead of being open to all types of music.
Below is a list of some of my favorite ‘inner white boy’ songs to help anyone who wants to do some stretching beyond their usual music genres and tastes.
Note: I normally provide simple audio links for music listeners, but decided to go with official videos or live versions of the songs if available, just so that you can see these bands and artists in action.
So plug in your earbuds and take a listen, you’ll be glad that you did.
Updated October 5, 2016
Alice In Chains – ‘Rooster’
Alien Ant Farm – ‘Smooth Criminal’
All American Rejects – ‘Gives You Hell’
Arcade Fire – ‘We Exist’
Black Crowes – ‘Remedy’
Bon Jovi – ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’
The Clash – ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’
Creed – ‘Higher’
The Cult – ‘Love Removal Machine’
Def Leppard – ‘Photograph’
Fall Out Boy – ‘Dance, Dance’
Foo Fighters – ‘Everlong’
Green Day – ‘Holiday’
Jane’s Addiction – ‘Stop’
Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Hey Joe’
Journey – ‘Any Way You Want It’
Judas Priest – ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
Living Colour – ‘Love Rears Up Its Ugly Head’
Ministry – ‘N.W.O.’
N.E.R.D. – ‘Sooner or Later’
Nada Surf – ‘Popular’
Nickleback – ‘How You Remind Me’
Nine Inch Nails – ‘Ruiner (Live)’
Pete Townshend – ‘Rough Boys’
The Pretenders – ‘Tattooed Love Boys’
Prodigy – ‘Smack My Bitch Up’
Rachid Taha – ‘Barra Barra’
Radiohead – ‘Fake Plastic Trees’
Rolling Stones – ‘Gimme Shelter’
Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’
Soundgarden – ‘4th of July’
Staind – ‘Outside’