Sunday, February 19, 2017

Top 100 Songs: 25-11


25. "Medley: Give/Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" by Third Day (2003) - Prev. #18
The only medley to make the Top 100 and this one is EPIC. Featured on Third Day's second album devoted to worship songs, this medley mixes Third Day originals, hymns, and even a U2 song to create a 7 minute masterpiece. One of my ultimate go to songs during personal times of prayer and worship.

24. "Hotel California" by The Eagles (1977) -Prev. #86
- I've never quite understood all the Christian conspiracy theories about the demonic messages in this song. A quick read of interviews with Henley, he's not shy about telling the story behind the song, reveals the song's intended messages. I suppose that only feeds the conspiracy theorist though, "What else do you expect him to say?" That said, the distinctive sound of the guitars in this song combined with the somewhat cryptic lyrics creates a kind of mellow and haunting atmosphere. For some reason it always makes me think of twilight (the time of day, not the film) and the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King's The Shining. If that weren't enough, the song was really fun to play on Rock Band/Guitar Hero as well!

23. "You Found Me" by The Fray (2008) - Prev. #5
We all desire to put our feelings into words, to give them expression, to name them. My blog is but one manifestation of this desire and also a great example of how often I fail at giving those feelings proper expression. I believe the best songs, the most personal songs, are able to tap into those deep feelings, come alongside us, and expose their name. "You Found Me" is one of those songs for me. 

We all feel distant from God at some time in our lives (in different ways and in different intensities), but I think we have all essentially experienced it. Many times we feel abandoned by God, giving rise to anger, bitterness and frustration. I felt this intensely before I became a Christ-follower and have even gone through seasons of it after becoming a Christ-follower. This feeling is so powerful at times that it can mentally and spiritually paralyze us and put us in a state of arrested development (very similar to the immaturity mentioned in "Wake Up"). One of the great powers of this feeling lies in our inability to give it detailed expression that prevents us from dealing with it directly. 

"You Found Me" gives expression to this feeling. The singer imagines that he one day bumps into God on the corner of the street and is able to ask him anything. The singer's response to God reveals someone who feels not just distant from God, but abandoned by him, "Where were you, when everything was falling apart?" When our singer dealt with insecurity, loneliness and even death in his life, God seems to be on a leave of absence. Have you ever felt this way? I know I have. 

There is no answer from God in this song. The song offers no pat replies, no logical retorts, no scripture verses. The minister and Christian in me ache to give heaven's response to our singer's questions and accusations. I think many Christians have even written this song off because it lacks a proper biblical reply. I think that misses the point of the song, and ultimately misses the immense value that this song offers to us. 

The song is not about getting a reply from God. The song is all about the cry unto God; the accusations, the anger and the bitterness, "You never send me no letter, you got some kinda nerve, takin' all I want". The immense value of this song is not in giving us the answers that we need, but in articulating and expressing the questions we all ask, but rarely name. The only thing as powerful as getting the real answers we long for, is clearly understanding the real questions we face. "You Found Me" is a song that gives words to the most troubling questions in my soul. Scanning the Psalms found in the Bible, it seems to me that "You Found Me" has a lot more in common with them than many might initially think.
The Fray

22. "I Am Found in You" by Steven Curtis Chapman (1997) - Prev. #10
Steven Curtis Chapman (or as his best fans call him, S-C-Squared) in the Top 10? I've got to be kidding right? Sure, he's written some cheesy songs and he doesn't have the most updated sound, but he has also written some of the best contemporary Christian music of the last thirty years, and this is my favorite of that bunch. It's my favorite because it has meant a lot to me personally, in a way that only a song can express exactly what your soul is feeling during a difficult time. To understand that, you are going to need to know a little more about me.

I entered into a very difficult period of my Christian faith beginning in the Fall of 2003 that lasted nearly two years . The initial excitement and momentum of my commitment to Christ in the Fall of 2001 had begun to wear thin and I began to ask serious questions that I had taken for granted in the early stages of my faith. I was in need of seriously rethinking how I understood many of the  fundamentals of my beliefs; faith, prayer, and salvation being the big ones. I know now that a life of commitment to Christ will always have seasons of rethinking and questioning (faith is strengthened by a furnace not by a couch), but in 2003 this was my first serious crisis in faith.

Despite entering into a time of crisis, I knew that it wasn't going to be a fatal to my faith. Why? Despite feeling and knowing that my faith was lacking vital understanding, I knew I had already gained more in two years with Christ than 16 years without Him. Where else could I go? 

You might be asking, "Ummm, congrats overcoming that season and all, but I've been reading for several paragraphs and I don't see where the song figures into this story?" First, thanks for the compliment! Second, the song figures into the story right here. "I Am Found In You" popped onto my radar during this difficult season and put into words the feelings and attitude that I've been trying to describe to you above. 
Verse 1:The sun sinks low and here I go
Wrestling with the questions that refuse an answer
This path of faith can be a place
So barren of what I understand
I can hear the voice of fear
Saying let me show you another way
So I cry out my Lord, Jesus
It's in Your love for me
I find all that I need 
Chorus:
So where else could I turn
And where else could I go
You have given me life
You have made me whole
You have rescued my soul
So where else could I go
For I am found in you 
In Christ I was found and now in Christ I am bound. One of my favorite quotes of all-time comes from C.S. Lewis, "I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun. Not because I see it, but by it I can see everything else." It was through Christ and Christianity that I  understood the world truly, that I understood myself truly. I had serious questions when it came to faith, prayer and salvation (with a host of other minor questions), but who in their right mind would leave behind all that truth because they could't make sense of a few doctrines? Why cut off the nose to spite the face?

"I Am Found in You" reminds me that there is no alternative for me other than Christ, no matter the storms and the questions that remain. "I've been found in You (Christ), now I'm bound to you. By the love that You've shown, It will not let me go". 
Seeing Steven Curtis Chapman play at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago

21. "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon (2014) - New Entry
- The most recent entry on this list, especially to score a spot in the Top 25. It can often be hard to find clean songs on the radio these days, but when you find one that is clean, incredibly catchy, dance-able, AND joyfully infectious, you have something special. If "Happy" got me through writing my thesis after grad school, then "Shut Up and Dance" got me through my first year of teaching at a public school.

20. "Everlong" by The Foo Fighters (1997) - Prev. #37
 I know it's not heavy metal and you hard rock fans will roll your eyes at this statement, but I feel like this song kicks my butt every time I listen to it. It blows me away how the vocal and instrumental intensity just ratchets up as the song progresses until I eventually feel like I completely lose myself in the song. One of those "put on the headphones and press them to your ears" songs for me.

19. "Ordinary People" by John Legend (2005) - Prev. #81
I found this song at a very important time of my life. In 2005, I was working at Best Buy and the other employees would play hip-hop and R&B radio stations all day long in the warehouse. Seriously, how many times can one hear 50 Cent's "Candy Shop"? Most of the time, the songs were filled with nothing but sexually explicit lyrics, vulgarities, and celebrations of vanity. I had almost had enough and was almost ready to just condemn the whole genre when "Ordinary People" by John Legend came on the radio.

What a breath of fresh air! Beautifully played and sung, here was a passionate and intelligent R&B love song. In the tradition of grounded love songs like "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys and "Something" by The Beatles, "Ordinary People" completely made me look at contemporary R&B with new eyes. To this day, I think "Ordinary People" is not only a great R&B/soul song, but stands up to and bests the genre-defining Al Green's "Let's Stay Together".

18. "Wonderwall" by Oasis (1995) - Prev. #59
- Coming out right in the middle of the decade, Oasis came at the tail end of the death of grunge and right before acoustic guitar driven rock reached radio saturation in the second half of the 90's. No acoustic guitar rock song has bested it since. This song feels like it captures and combines the best elements of The Counting Crows songs "Mr. Jones" and "A Long December".Catchy, impossible not to sing along with, and my favorite acoustic driven rock song of all-time. 
Wonderall

17. "Piano Man" by Billy Joel (1973) - Prev. #13
The epitome of what I earlier in this list called a "Cheers" song; a song that produces a heavy atmosphere of melancholy, memory and nostalgia. There is something about the piano and harmonica here that paints a picture of people and times gone by...also the song is about a guy singing in a bar so there's also that element too.

16. "Be Thou My Vision" by Various Artists (1912/1919) - Prev. #2
For "I am Found In You" I described a period of my life as a Christ-follower where I lost much of my enthusiasm and began to be paralyzed by questions that struck at the foundations of my faith. Do you know one of the things that can make a difficult season like that even worse? How about if instead of doubts and difficulties, all of your friends are finding joy and excitement in their faith? Yep, that will do it.

This situation all came together for me in December of 2003 at an annual Christian conference held for college students in Atlanta. Hundreds of students were at this conference and nearly every single one of them were bursting with joy, especially those from my campus ministry. Me...I was just trying to get through it without having a spiritual breakdown. I would try and involve myself in singing, but just as quickly as I would start singing, doubts would flood my mind. As soon as I would start trying to engage with the conference speaker's main points, incredibly critical and skeptical charges would burst forth. It was a very trying few days.

Finally, before the last service on the last night of the conference I was ready to just give up...not on God...but on the conference. Clearly, nothing was going to happen, I probably shouldn't even attend the last service. Contrary to everything I was thinking, I decided to attend the final service of the conference. Before the start of the service I decided to push through my doubts and criticisms and just sing, listen, and engage like I hadn't all weekend. 
My view during the worship service. One of the most powerful nights of worship that I've ever had. (Salt 2003 in Atlanta)
After a few songs, "Be Thou My Vision" was played. I know that I'd heard the song many times before yet, this must have been the first time I had HEARD the song. After the first verse, my eyes began to well with tears.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

By the time the second verse was being sung I felt so overwhelmed that I had to find a place to lie face down on the floor. The feeling that overwhelmed me was something that I had never felt before and only experienced a few more times since. This was an incredible spiritual impression that seemed to say to me, "Don't worry Kyle. You are on the right track. Don't worry. Keep going." It was an impression that not only spoke to me, but carried with it such great strength and truth that it immediately put to rest my worries and feelings of being left out of what God was doing in everyone else. It was the most comforting and calming experience of my life. Not physically calming, but mentally and spiritually.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one. 

By the end of the second verse (above) I was weeping. If you could of heard and seen me, you would've thought I was a complete wreck. In many ways, I guess I was. The incredible directness with which I had felt the Lord's comfort at such a needed time in my life just undid me. By the end of the song and later by the end of the conference, I walked away a different person. To this day, I cannot hear this song without being reminded of the time when God powerfully encouraged me to continue my course.

To my Christian brothers and sisters, let me encourage you to continue strongly in your faith despite seasons of doubt and difficulty. You may feel on the edge of exhaustion or the precipice of total frustration,  but continue forward! Continue to put yourself in communion with Him and he will provide what you need just when you need it. "Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all"
The Christian conference (SALT 2003 in Atlanta) I was at when I was first impacted by the song "Be Thou My Vision". I'm with friends Will Sherrod and Ken Valardi.

15. "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes (1963) - New Entry
- The ultimate female group song to come out of a decade packed with them. This short pop song is an example of Phil Spector's "wall of sound" production and embodies all of the qualities that made pop female groups of the time so famous.

14. "I Dreamed a Deam" by Anne Hathaway from Les Miserables (2012) - New Entry
- Years ago I read about two-third's of Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables. It inspired me to watch the stage musical and I fell in love with it in a way I never did the novel. One of the highlights of the musical is this ballad, usually delivered like a power ballad and a crowning moment for whatever actress gets to sing it. While I have loved nearly every stage incarnation of the song, it was Hathaway's vulnerable and less "musical" version that has become my favorite. No other song emodies failed dreams like this one. Thanks to the backstory from the novel, the song has become the definitive reminder of how life can deal a raw hand through no fault of our own. 
Seeing the traveling production in Chicago in 2012

13. "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan (1965) - Prev. #4
With smartphones came a slew of new phone capabilities, like using my phone as my alarm clock and choosing any song I wanted as the alarm tone. If it could be any song, than why not pick one of my favorites? What better way to wake up than to rise to the sound of your favorite song? Terrible idea.

Want a way to ruin a song that holds great memories for you? Associate it with the worst feeling you have all day, the feeling that tells you to stop sleeping and get your butt out of bed, that’s how. Make it the sound that tears you from your peaceful slumber and intrudes on your relaxation. Think about it, how much to do you hate your current alarm tone? Now imagine that you feel that way about one of your previously favorite songs?
 

I made this mistake a couple years ago with “Like a Rolling Stone”. After just a week as my alarm tone I grew to hate hearing that opening drum and iconic electric guitar intro. I had it as my alarm tone for a week and it has taken nearly two years for my love for the song to make a comeback. How good is "Like a Rolling Stone"? Within weeks it recovered from my monumental alarm tone mistake and has continued to be one of my favorite songs of all-time. 

12. "Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys (1966) - Prev. #46
The Beach Boys' masterpiece. This song wraps their unique harmonies and distinctive sound around a song that rocks. I think this song holds up incredibly well for how experimental it was in 1966.

11. "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire (2005) - Prev. #8

"Wake Up" is one of those rare songs where its musical sound and lyrical pathos create a powerful dissonance that gives the song a character and uniqueness it might have lacked had those qualities been more congruent. The electric opening of the song gives way to several verses that begin to build tension musically through restraint and dramatically through its narrative. Finally, there is an emotional and musical release about halfway through the song when its aforementioned restraint is substituted with musical abandon (that's the only way I can think of describing it). My greatest enjoyment with this song doesn't lay in any personal connection, but just in the power of its message and sound. To share with you my love for this song, let me walk you through how I interpret it. 

The cautionary message of the song is a direct shot at those who refuse to point out ("someone told me not to cry") the things we fill our hearts and lives with when we are younger ("somethin' filled up, my heart with nothin'). The song goes on to detail a world in which we don't acknowledge those mistakes ("Children wake up, hold your mistake up, before they turn the summer into dust"), imagining a world of people who are adults physically, but remain immature children on the inside (If the children don't grow up, 
our bodies get bigger, but our hearts get torn up). The eventual outcome of this imagined world is that we all become self-centered ("We're just a million little God's causin' rain storms) people who destroy and soil the world we inherit ("turnin' every good thing to rust). 

Arcade Fire then takes this narrative one step further positing that their cautionary world having been realized ("I guess we will just have to adjust"), not only will we become "God's causin' rain storms", but we'll become God's with lightning bolts that we hurl on each other ("Better look out below!"). Pairing this narrative extension with the unrestrained musical release I mentioned in the first paragraph creates the powerful dissonance I think gives this song its unique character.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016 Leaman Awards


Explore my 2016 Awards by using the PDF viewer below.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2015 Leaman Awards


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Monday, January 16, 2017

2009 Leaman Awards


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Give this one some grace as I'd now easily pick Hurt Locker as the best film of 2009.
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2008 Leaman Awards


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2007 Leaman Awards


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