Friday, March 17, 2017

Top 100 Songs: 10-1



10. "Make My Life a Prayer to You" by Keith Green (1978) - Prev. #39
- Keith Green has written many memorable Christian songs and I think this is his best. The quality that makes this song so special is it's ability capture the often contradictory emotions of striving to live devoted to Christ. Faith in Christ is joyful, but it's never perfectly embodied in this life; there are struggles and failures that always seem to weigh down genuine faith. Green's emotive performance and stream of consciousness lyrics speaks powerfully and directly to my own faith experience.
Make my life a prayer to you
I wanna do what you want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise 
Well I wanna thank you now
For being patient with me
Oh it's so hard to see
When my eyes are on me
I guess I'll have to trust
And just believe what you say
Oh you're coming again
Coming to take me away

9. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) -Prev. #88
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's cover of Garland and Armstrong's classic tune manages to exceed both in my book (and my list too!). I find the song's opening evokes the melancholy longing of Garland's tune without having to deal with the cultural trappings of that 1940's film ballad. In a something of a contradiction, I can't explain it, despite the core of the song being quite melancholic it's also quite mirthful to me. Is mirthful melancholy possible? Is that a thing? If so, I think it's the kind of thing I gravitate to in art quite often.

8. "I Saw Her Standing There" by The Beatles (1963) - Prev. #5
"One, Two, Three, FAH!" is how "I Saw Her Standing There" begins and for the next 2 minutes and 56 seconds it is a rocket that just never slows down. I can think of few other pieces of popular music with this much energy from beginning to end. An energy that puts a smile on your face (just as much as "I Want to Hold Your Hand") and forces you to get up and dance. Other songs make you want to dance and sing, this song makes you UPSET if you don't get up and dance. That's the kind of song it is.

To me, this song embodies everything that made the Beatles the most popular band on earth in 1963. It's not just a pop song, it's a pop song that really does rock. Listen to this song and tell me that guitar, the bass, and the drums aren't doing a lot of great work here; filling out the song and beckoning you to move to their sound. The vocals are great, the harmonies are great, and there are a few moments, like the scream halfway through and the incredible bridge, that kick this song into another level.

The song doesn't have the depth of "Strawberry Fields Forever", the heartbreak of "For No One", or the nostalgia of "In My Life", but it contains one of the most potent ingredients of life, the sheer JOY of infatuation. The early Beatles songs were great at bringing that joy to the listener, but "I Saw Her Standing There" pumps it directly into the veins. To package that emotion and feeling in this rocket of a song, is why it's their best to me and why if I could only have one Beatles song, it would be this one.
"I Saw Her Standing There" by The Beatles

7. "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King (1961) - Prev. #6
I will make this commentary short as the greatness of this song doesn't really need a lot of explanation. This is a beautifully simple song about how we can go through the toughest of times as long as we stand by each other. The song is accompanied by a very simple but effective arrangement that features an incredibly memorable repeating bass line that once it enters your head, won't leave for a couple of days.

I can't hear this song without thinking of two things, 1) The film Stand by Me and 2) The music video set to this song that was on the Lion King VHS I had growing up.

Here is a great alternative version of "Stand By Me" featuring different street performers from all over the globe.
Alternative Version: "Stand By Me" from Playing for Change

"Stand By Me" by Ben E. King


6. "About Today (Live)" by The National (2004) - Prev. #9
There are two ways in which I am impacted by this song. The first way is through the film Warrior that came out in 2010. I remember watching the film (which was my #1 film of 2010 BTW) and hearing this song play during the incredibly powerful final scene (which I didn't link to, in case you haven't seen the film yet). The final scene in Warrior moved me deeply. It was a wake up call for me to become a "warrior" of Christ-like love. No matter how strong I was, it was ultimately love that disarmed even the bitterest of enemies.  Like all great music in films, the song was immediately imprinted on that final scene for me. I cannot listen to this song without thinking of the scene. That's one reason this song makes it to this top ten.

The second impact of this song is in the lyrics and the delivery. The lyrics tell the very basic story of two lovers who are drifting apart and slipping away. 
Today you were far away
and I didn't ask you why
What could I say
I was far away
You just walked away
and I just watched you
What could I say
How close am I to losing you
Tonight you just close your eyes
and I just watch you slip away
How close am I to losing you
Hey, are you awake
Yeah I'm right here
Well can I ask you about today
I love that the singer takes action to awaken his lover and ask her "about today". The song is so simple that it can be easy to miss just how well it magnifies the importance of the little decisions that enable us to drift away and apart from each other. It's an incredibly touching song that is filled out perfectly by a very passive, but supportive accompaniment. The opening guitar riff sounds for a moment as if it will launch off into the direction of a U2 song, but when the acoustic picking comes in, it becomes its own thing.

"About Today" by The National

5. "Son of Man" by Phil Collins (1999) - Prev. #3
 Have you ever received a message from someone in the most unlikely of ways or from a source that surprised you? Perhaps it was a Facebook message from your grandparent, or a letter in the mail from your old boss, or maybe even a phone call out of the blue from someone you knew in High School?

The song “Son of Man” by Phil Collins became one of those unlikely messages in the summer of 2001. Even crazier, I immediately felt as though the messenger was none other than God himself! I’m going to give you a second to let that sink in…I know…you are now starting to rethink everything I’ve ever written right? Perhaps you are hoping that I had told you this on the front page of my site in hopes that you could spot the crazy before you devoted your time right? Allow me to fill in some of the details for you in hopes that you haven’t already written me off as one step away from shaving my head and joining a monastery.

In the summer of 2001 I had just graduated high school and was awaiting my big move to Tallahassee in order to begin attending Florida State University. Along with all the external changes going on, I was also going through a lot of inner turmoil as well. For several years prior I was apathetic toward God, Christ, and spiritual things in general. Although I might have called myself an atheist, I essentially believed that spirituality was unimportant, irrelevant, and confused.  I say “confused” because I had many questions about God that I felt no one was able to answer. Those feelings began to change in my senior year of high school as I began to ponder two important questions, “What was the purpose of life?” and “What is a good life?”
I graduated from Rockledge High School in May 2001

I tried answering those questions as best as I could, but I found it an impossible task unless I turned to the existence of God. Admittedly, I was not intellectually mature enough to properly explore every reasonable response; yet, in my intellectual and spiritual struggle to answer these questions I kept coming back to the necessity of God. I didn’t know God, I’d never experienced him or heard from him, and I still had a lot of confusing questions that needed answering. Still, I slowly began to open up to the possibility of God and began to offer up prayers to test and see if he really existed. 

It was in this context that I felt God answer me through the song “Son of Man”. I remember the moment so vividly; I was mowing our lawn on a hot summer day listening to the Tarzan soundtrack on my CD Walkman. I had heard the song many times before, but when it came on this time, I was immediately stopped in my tracks for some reason. I didn’t hear an audible voice speak to me, but I immediately sensed something that seemed to say, “Listen to these words, they are for you.” This came completely out of the blue (I might've been thinking about roller coasters or something) and was the first time I had ever experienced anything like it.   Here are the lyrics of the song, with my thoughts in the parenthesis…

Verse 1 :
Oh, the power to be strong
And the wisdom to be wise
All these things will come to you in time
On this journey that you're making
There'll be answers that you'll seek
And it's you who'll climb the mountain
It's you who'll reach the peak
(I was so impatient for answers, this was comforting and felt like God telling me I was on the right path)

Chorus:

Son of man, look to the sky
Lift your spirit, set it free
Some day you'll walk tall with pride
Son of man, a man in time you'll be
(Although the lyrics are somewhat generic, I felt strongly this was confirmation that my pivot towards God was a correct ‘look to the sky’)

Verse 2:
Though there's no one there to guide you
No one to take your hand, but with faith and understanding
You will journey from boy to man
(WOW, I felt like there was no one who could answer my questions and this seemed like acknowledgment of that. The answer the song suggests is faith and understanding. It couldn’t have been more spot on!)

Verse 3:
In learning you will teach
And in teaching you will learn
You'll find your place beside the ones you love
Oh, and all the things you dreamed of
The visions that you saw
Well, the time is drawing near now
It's yours to claim it all
(Even then, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher of some kind. Looking back at the first two lines here are incredibly accurate of how I have come to understanding in my faith.)
Does this mean that I believe with 100% certainty that God spoke to me through this song? No, I don’t think that. It is possible that is was just a perfect storm of coincidences. I'm fine if someone wants to believe that. What I find more interesting, more important, is that in the middle of mowing the lawn, with about as distracted a mind as one could have, I sensed that this song was a message from God to me. It could've been a coincidence, just a false pattern from a pattern recognizing animal. I didn’t immediately fall to the ground and accept God. No, it was like some kind of immediately personal moment that held me for the few minutes the song lasted. After the song ended, I continued on mowing the lawn and just pondered what the song might mean, and if I was crazy for what I was feeling.
Hanging out with friends before class at Rockledge High School

It wasn’t until several months later and after another incident of answered prayer (which I will get to explain in my #1 song) that I would eventually become a believer in God and a follower of Christ. Over the years since that incidence, I find that what I felt in that specific moment and the song's lyrics themselves have only been confirmed and that’s why if I were given only 5 songs in my life, this would be one. I would encourage anyone reading this blog to open themselves up to hear from God. My journey began with feeble prayers to a God that I wasn't even convinced existed, yours can start there as well.
“We are all of us more mystics than we believe or choose to believe…We have seen more than we let on, even to ourselves. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some subtle turning of our lives, we catch glimmers at least of what the Saints are blinded by; only then, unlike the Saints, we go on as though nothing has happened. To go on as though something has happened, even though we are not sure what it was or just where we are supposed to go with it, is to enter the dimension of life that religion is a word for.” –Frederick Buechner
"Son of Man" by Phil Collins


4. "Hurt" by Johnny Cash (2003) - Prev. #26
- My appreciation and admiration for this song has only grown since its release. The equally powerful video accompanying the song achingly portrays a man taking stock of his celebrity life as he nears death. Given five songs to live on, I'd want this penetrating and sobering acoustic gem from Cash.

3. "One" by U2 (1992) - Prev. #21
- Like "Hurt", my love for this song has considerably grown over the last 5 years: the soaring and reflective vocals, the considerate and complex take on love/diversity/unity, and the incredible guitar backing. It's so good.

2. "Shout (Parts 1 and 2)" by The Isley Brothers (1959) - Prev. #12
I'm surprised that this song came in at #2, as I don't know if I expected it to even crack the top 10. Yet, this perennial wedding classic is unrivaled in its genre. This song represents the pinnacle of a genre that has numerous entries on this list - the song that is pure fun. More so than "Happy" or "Shut Up and Dance", nothing brightens my mood or entices me to dance than this song. Apart from this song, there is only one other song I wouldn't want to part with more.

1. "Amazing Grace" by Various Artists (1779) - Prev. #1
"God, if you are real, then please reach out and grab me. Show me that you are real," was the simple prayer I whispered into the empty air my first night at Florida State University. I offered the prayer, despite being a declared atheist, while on the verge of slipping into the same depression that destroyed my nominal Christian faith in high school. Alone in my room, I voiced my desperate cry to God. 

The next day, while walking through the student union, a hand reached out and grabbed my shoulder. It was a member of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship inviting me to their big barbecue event that night. I smiled, always a shy person, signed their email list and made my way back home. Hours later, I began to suspect that this invitation might be an answer to my prayer the night before; could God "reach out and grab me" through this member of Chi Alpha? In one of my first real acts of faith, I trusted that this was an invitation from God, visited the barbecue, and experienced the presence of God for the first time in my life. Within a week of my whispered prayer, I decided to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior, to aspire to know God more fully, and to serve him in any way He desired.
A picture of me arriving to my dorm room (Osceola Hall) in August of 2001. It was this night that I prayed for God to reveal himself to me and "reach out and grab me". It was due to his amazing grace that he answered, and I am where I am today.

As I sit here typing the story of how God "reached out and grabbed me" I remain amazed that the whole thing ever happened. One might be able to get a meeting with a local mayor, a congressman might be even harder. A state governor is nearly impossible to meet and one doesn't even consider meeting a President or a King. I wasn't just requesting a meeting with God (the creator of all things, alpha and omega, one and only...yeah...that guy), I was also asking him to do something for me. If HE truly existed and HE truly was the transcendent, omniscient, omnipresent, and sovereign Lord, then who was I to make a request of God?

I was an immature 18 year-old who had in the year previous declared himself an atheist. I was a teenager who willingly indulged in activities and thoughts I knew to be contrary to what God wanted (or in Christian parlance, I was a sinner). I was a teenager who had been given nearly every advantage (all my physical needs met, all my wants met, great parents, plenty of friends, and a wealth of life experience), yet squandered it. Here I was, wrecked and reaching out to a God I didn't even know if he existed. Sure, I'd had moments in the months prior that seemed to point towards God (one of them is detailed in under song #5), but that was months ago, and it was still uncertain if that was just a coincidence. Why would God answer a feeble and desperate cry from a young and immature sinner that wasn't even sure if he existed?

Because God is love, that's why (1 John 4:8). It was by the grace of God that he answered my prayer that night. 
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

We all of us have gone astray from God. We all of us have turned and lost our way (Isaiah 53:6). No other song than "Amazing Grace" better embodies the one thing that transformed my life and the lives of billions all over the world; the grace of God. Grace opens its ear to desperate and feeble cries, it turns its eye upon the sick and the hurting, and it welcomes and embraces the prodigal. Grace warns us through God's prophets and through his commands. Grace sent the Son of God in humanly form to heal and to teach. Grace willingly crawled upon a wooden cross to be crucified and buried in order to make a way for us to return to God. Grace now offers Christ's Spirit to those willing to confess and believe. How amazing is the grace of God! 


T'was Grace that taught...
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed. 

Through many dangers, toils and snares...
we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far...
and Grace will lead us home.

As I've updated my top songs list, I still cannot think of one song I'd prefer over this one. It seems that the right song has a way of bypassing our natural defenses and striking us right to our cores, our very souls. This is a song that does that for me. If I was only allowed to have one song for the rest of my life, or for another million lifetimes, then I can think of no better song to have.



Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

p.s. If forced to pick a version of the song, I would have to say that I most enjoy Angela McCluskey's. It's a slow and powerfully emotional rendition. I especially like the very simple (most renditions get too flowery) piano accompaniment. One of the great surprises of the song is that it can be given a very a soulful treatment like McCluskey's or it can be played fast and joyous like THIS version by Mumford and Sons and still retain it's power. For the grace of God seems to invoke gratitude that sends one to their knees, but also gratitude that impels one to dance! Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the instrumental version on the bagpipes is also extremely powerful.

"Amazing Grace" by John Newton

The Lord has promised good to me...
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be...
as long as life endures. 

When we've been here ten thousand years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun.

Feel free to share your thoughts!

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