If someone asked you to name the top 10 songs that have made you who you are at this very moment, right now, could you do it? Could you easily identify and compile that list?
When Nancy over at Midlife Mixtape asked me these questions earlier in the week, I laughed to myself at first and was like "Pffft, please. Do Doves Cry?!" As I began scrolling through mental playlists of music I've loved and have been moved by over my 32 years of living however, I started wondering if Prince was a purple liar and doves really don't cry at all. Y'all. It was HARD (and for this music junkie, panic inducing) to try and pinpoint a list of 10 songs max that have helped define & refine who I am at 32; a woman living up to my neck in words and paint and kids and ravenously consuming music for sustenance as I do. There are so many songs that have ingrained themselves into my being consciously and subconsciously there's no way I could name them all or narrow it down to just 10. But I'm going to attempt to make a valiant effort here based on different aspects of my lived experience thus far (and for the sake of length, because I could write about this all day.) Ready? Let's rock.
1. "Un Amor"-Gypsy Kings. I'm starting off with this one because I'm listening to it right now as I type this and I'm missing my husband who's in California. (More on this in a forthcoming post) My husband and I both love the Gypsy Kings, he gets emotional when he hears it, it's an achingly gorgeous song, and I walked down the aisle to it. My wedding day was stress free and just...as generic as it sounds, it was joy and love, warmth and life. Even with it being unexpectedly cold initially, it was perfect. My husband and I always talk about how much we loved our small, intimate wedding, how much of a fucking celebration it was for the two of us and our boys. If I could go back and relive it I would. When I hear this song, especially when marriage and parenting are exhausting and infuriating, it takes me back to that day. It grounds me and helps me breathe as I continue to get used to "wife" being interwoven throughout my identity. It reminds me of how much he loves me. Cheesy, but true.
2. "Cleva", "My Life", "Bag Lady"-Erykah Badu. I'm cheating by including three songs together as one but I'm not sorry because they're all on the same album: Mama's Gun. I received this album as a Christmas gift when I was 18. I also got a Creed album in that glorious stack of CD bounty under the tree, but we won't talk about that. Anyway... Mama's Gun was an album that became a safe space for my mind to hide in when necessary. It became an anchor for me as I not only started processing trauma from my childhood, but as I continued to experience it as a young woman entering young adulthood. 18, 19, and 20 were excruciatingly painful years for me as I tried to start extricating myself from the impact and grasp ahold onto any sense of self that was emerging as I did. That album and those songs in particular helped me start gathering the courage to find who I was underneath years of abuse, and fight for myself.
"Pack light...let it go, let it go, let go...I betcha love could make it better...Girl I know, you can't stop crying..." (Bag Lady)
"I'm cleva...and I really wanna grow, but why come, I'm the last to know? Said, I'm, alright with me, said I'm alright with me, said I'm alright, YEA, said I'm..." (Cleva)
"Every now and then I
Want to throw my hands up in the sky, Cause one day I know I'll be flying high
And I know yeah I got to get down
On my knees and pray, Cause in heart I know I'll see that day
When my freedom comes along
I'm gonna run child, Cause I know that I'll go far oh, oh
Can't let nobody kill my soul and bring me down
And they know who they are, oh my life...
My life...sho ain't been too easy, my life, the life I wanna live, my life, you're gonna go through changes, my life, no turnin back now..." (My Life)
3. "Get Into the Groove"-Madonna, "Dance With Somebody"-Whitney Houston
I was born in 1982 so I was very young when I first heard these tracks. They were the songs that I remember made my young body vibratory and consumed by a desire to get lost in the beat, my body, arms, and legs instantly synced to their rhythms, to freedom. Dancing has always been an escape for me and like painting, is another creative outlet I use to express myself. These two songs help me discover that as a child.
4. "Lyte As A Rock"-MC Lyte. This was the song that introduced me to hip-hop. Of course Run DMC and other hip-hop artists were out before she was, but I wasn't aware of them yet. It was the song that made me fall in love with hip-hop, which introduced me to the concept that you can use art to tell a story-YOUR story. My stepdad took me to go see her, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and Salt N Pepa in concert in Philly when I was like 7 or 8 and it blew my mind. I saw first hand the power of a woman expressing herself uninhibited, fully embodied and rooted in who she is, and unapologetic about it. It set the foundation for how I express myself through art and words now at 32, and as a young Black girl it gave me confidence to use my voice, to be vocal about my ideas and opinions.
5. "Jesus Freak"-dc Talk. As I've shared before, this song and album of the same name helped shape my identity as a young Christian. It combined my love of rock with my faith, giving me a way to worship and connect that I found expressive freedom in.
6. "Si Te Vas"-Shakira. Growing up in Texas, Latin American food and culture were peripherally a part of my life, but it wasn't until I met my 10th grade Spanish teacher that I fell completely in love with it. My previous teachers were great at teaching me the language, but not really the heart, blood, and comprehensive history of the culture both in Spain and Latin America. My 10th grade teacher, however, changed that, exposing my class to what the textbooks didn't teach and giving us as much of an immersive experience as she could in 50 minutes every day. While we worked in groups or in our workbooks, she would play music from Spain, the Caribbean, and Latin America, pushing my knowledge of Spanish-language music beyond the mariachi style and Tejano I'd always heard. She always gave us the historical background of each country's music but also exposed us to current artists who were popular. My favorites she highlighted that year were Latin pop and rock acts like La Ley, Juanes, Thalia, and Shakira. The first time I heard this song, particularly the Unplugged version, I felt it. It (and Shakira) gave me the desire to actually sing in Spanish, not just listen, and when I did, I felt the soul of the music and lyrics. I enjoy singing Spanish language songs far more than English ones and Spanish, especially when singing them with my husband (who is Puerto Rican). (I also seriously recommend listening/watching Shakira's MTV Unplugged-it's the perfect primer for her pre-English crossover albums which are stellar.)
7. "Young Fresh & New"-Kelis. When I first saw Kelis, I instantly said to myself "that's me." Her rainbow colored hair, her style, the way she expressed herself through music...she represented how I felt as a young Black teen in love with hip-hop & R&B, but also loved rock and was a nerd. She was (and still is) quirky, outside of the box, unrestrained, bold, fierce, colorful and unapologetic about who she is as a woman and artist. When I heard this song for the first time, I was hooked and it became one of the declarative anthems of expression of my teen years.
8. "When Doves Cry"-Prince. My mother claims this is the first song that I actually sang along to at 2 years old and that I would lose it from excitement whenever the video played on TV. I basically take this as evidence that I was born a Prince fan and that I was born with Purple Funk encoded into my DNA. I'd dig if I could a picture and the video, but Prince is very B613 from Scandal like about his content being available online, so an embed-able link cannot be found at this time.
9. "Stomp"-Kirk Franklin feat. Salt. dc Talk and Christian rock helped me express and connect with my faith the most as a teen, but "Stomp" by Kirk Franklin finally made me use gospel music in the same way, it helped me feel God in gospel music. I say finally because while I had been exposed to Kirk's earlier work and gospel artists like James Cleveland, The Winans, Take 6, and Fred Hammond by my Mom, I just couldn't really relate to it...it was..."old". But this? Game changer. When this came out I suddenly had more than Christian hip-hop artists G.R.I.T.S to listen and bump to. It ushered in a new direction in gospel music geared at young people and eventually lead to some of my favorite gospel/christian hip-hop/worship artists like Tye Tribbett, Flame, Lecrae, Israel Houghton, MaryMary, and others putting out albums. It also lead to my using praise dance as a form of worship in church during my late teens and mid-20's.
10. "Purple Rain"-Prince. Prince is my musical foundation. Listening to his music growing up exposed me to funk, R&B, rock, pop, jazz, the blues...Listening to him introduced me to artists like Sly & The Family Stone, Jimi Hendricks, Bo Diddly, Little Richard, BB King, Mavis Staples, Chaka Khan, Sheila E, Zepplin, Stevie Wonder, Larry Graham, Maceo Parker, Rolling Stones, The Who, The Doors, The Time, The Police, KISS...and it enabled me to love artists like U2, Toni Tone Tone!, Guns N Roses, Eric Leeds, En Vogue, No Doubt, Nikka Costa, Glen Hansard, and so many others. The list is exhaustive because of what his artistry exposed me to musically. Purple Rain is special to me because it is the first song that made me cry while listening to it. The guitar-it's the guitar solo that cuts right through me. Doesn't matter if I listen to him perform it live or the recording, I'm crying and singing by the end of the guitar solo and the rest of the song. It helped me realize in my teens that I'm an empath, which explained so much about how I experience music and life in general. It's the song I want played at my memorial service. Again, Prince has B613 agents that ensure his content isn't widely distributed online, and I don't have time to crawl through the Internet's tunnels to find a link, so instead I'm going to just leave you with his guitar solo here. If your soul doesn't feel it, I don't think you're human. (And yes, Petty, Winwood, and Lynne are iconic and fabulous...but Prince obliterates this solo in the best way possible. Because he can.)
So that's it. I feel like I'm leaving so many out. But there are my 10, Nancy! I wrote this as part of a fun blog hop with other music junkies like mahself. Check out the songs that made them by clicking on the links below and then tell me what songs made YOU in the comments!
The Songs That Made: