The Most Powerful Songs in My Life

Music is an important element in every culture in the world, & I strongly believe that it is the greatest art form because of its potential to influence our lives.  Think about it: we listen to music in the car, at home, at the gym, & even at work sometimes.  And we carry around ipods so we can listen to music wherever we go.  What other art form so transcends our daily lives?

A few years ago I got the idea to write down what I considered the most powerful songs in my life.  Not necessarily my FAVORITE songs but the songs that I feel like have had the greatest impact on my life & capture the ideas that I believe are most important in life.  Today I was thinking again about the power of music in my life, so I decided to revisit that list & update it just a bit.

I would love to hear what songs have most influenced you & why, so please feel free to comment & share your thoughts.

Please note these are in no particular order.  I only numbered them so I wouldn’t lose count.

I’ve included links to YouTube for each song because I’m awesome like that.  🙂

  1. I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack: This is such a simple song but the words are so powerful.  Every time I hear this song, it makes me stop & really think about how I’m living.  The metaphor of “I hope you dance” is so perfect for expressing the need to live actively rather than passively letting life pass us by.  I also love the fact that this song reminds us of the importance of standing in awe of nature, taking a chance on loving others, & never letting our hearts grow bitter. hope you dance
  2. Fifteen by Taylor Swift: You can go ahead & laugh at me for having Taylor Swift on this list but I seriously love this song.  I’ll be the first to agree that her voice is far from perfect & that everything she’s released over the past two years or so has been absolute CRAP, but to me that does not diminish the power of her song-writing abilities earlier in her career.  In this song she expresses exactly what it’s like to be a teenage girl.  She captures the feeling that we all had in high school that this is your whole life & every little drama that comes along feels like the end (or beginning) of your world.  Yet she reminds us that in the end most of these things are but insignificant trifles in a life full of so many things so much bigger than we ever dreamed at fifteen.  She reminds us that despite what we thought as teenagers most of us had no idea who we really were then, much less how to really love another person.  I love how this song encourages girls to aspire to be so much more than the high school quarterback’s girlfriend even though when you’re fifteen that seems like the epitome of success.  In this song she also encourages us to think twice before making any big decision & reminds us that time can heal all wounds, two very important life lessons.
  3. Life Ain’t Always Beautiful by Gary Allen: This is yet another very simple but profound song that speaks of both the extreme joys & sorrows of life.  As the song teaches us, life isn’t always beautiful but the hard times & the changes give us strength & wisdom so that at the end of the day, life really is a beautiful journey.  I think Gary Allen’s deep gravelly voice perfectly demonstrates that something that isn’t perfect can still be wonderful. aint always beautiful
  4. Best I Ever Had by Vertical Horizon: When I first discovered this song I listened to it over & over & over again.  This is such a sad but beautiful song that expresses the sorrow that so many of us have known in life when we have lost someone we love, whether through the end of a relationship or through death.  Initially I thought of this song as strictly about the loss of a romance but the more I listen to it, the more I believe the emotions expressed in this song could easily be translated to the loss of any loved one.  The song speaks of how we so often don’t realize the value of a relationship until it’s over.  I prefer the Vertical Horizon version simply because that’s the one I knew first but the Gary Allen version is hauntingly beautiful also.
  5. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (all four movements): There’s a reason this is Beethoven’s most famous work.  All four movements of this symphony are truly incredible.  The first & most famous movement is simply awesome.  The simple four-note theme begun in this movement is continued throughout all four movements, though cleverly disguised at times.  I’ll never forget hearing the third movement for the first time in a music class freshman year of college & how vividly the piece conjured up images of knights & castles.  To hear the transition into the fourth movement when the key switches from the angsty (Did I make up that word?) C Minor to the victorious C Major is truly heart-stopping.  Beethoven’s greatest strength as a composer was his ability to, without words, capture all of human emotion in his music, & I believe this piece is the greatest expression of that ability.
  6. Nessun Dorma from Turandot by Puccini: Forgive me if I sound crude, but those of you who appreciate music as I do will understand my meaning here.  This piece is my musical orgasm.  Those last few notes at the end of the piece never fail to send chills throughout my whole body & have quite often brought tears to my eyes.  Words feel so inadequate to express the glory of this piece.  If you don’t know it, listen to it NOW, & I hope you’ll experience it as I do.
  7. Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas: Yes, I have a Disney song on here.  I’ve never been a big fan of the movie, partly because it’s so historically inaccurate, but I have always loved this song.  In today’s fast-paced, technologically advanced world, it’s extremely important to remember the beauty & frailty of nature & that the world is not a limitless supply of resources to fulfill our desires.  Yes, we have smart phones that can do more than computers from ten years ago.  Yes, the internet has connected the world in ways that our ancestors never even dreamed.  None of this is bad, but what is it worth if we destroy our Earth?  We must never lose touch of the joy & knowledge that can be found in a simple walk through the woods or gazing at a flower.  As the song points out, we are all connected to each other & to the Earth, and thus all of our actions ultimately affect everyone else as well as this planet we inhabit. of the wind
  8. How Can I Help You Say Goodbye by Patty Loveless: I remember hearing this song as I drove back to my hometown on a break from college one year.  I ended up with tears streaming down my face more than once as the words of the song kept running through my head & I thought of how much I missed my grandmother.  This song has been special to me ever since.  Perhaps it seems odd to like a song that can so easily make me cry (it still does sometimes), but I love it because it covers all of the major losses in life that we all experience at some point or another: loss of a childhood friend, loss of a spouse or romantic partner, & loss of a parent.  I love how the song highlights the importance of learning to say goodbye & that it’s ok to grieve when you’ve lost someone important.  Yet it also reminds us that eventually we must learn to put the past behind us while always cherishing the memories we’ve made.
  9. Bleed Red by Ronnie Dunn: This is one of those songs that I fell in love with the first time I heard it.  The whole theme of this song is that we are all human beings who experience pain, joy, sorrow, & pleasure.  We all make mistakes, we all bleed red.  As the song says, “If we’re fighting, we’re both losing.”  In a world filled with turmoil, strife, & incessant war, I can’t think of a better message. red
  10. Born This Way by Lady Gaga: To me this is the ultimate “feel good” song.  If you feel down on yourself, listen to this for an instant “pick me up.”  The message of this song is that regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual persuasion, etc, we are all beautiful creations & should thus be confident in our existence.  I think that’s something we all need to be reminded of once in a while.
  11. I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt: Here’s another song I fell in love with the first time I heard it.  Bonnie Raitt’s hauntingly beautiful voice combined with the jazzy piano phrasing makes this song unforgettable.  You can clearly hear the pain in her voice as she comes to the realization that so many of us have had to understand in life: you can’t make someone else love you no matter how much you love that person.
  12. Sangre Por Sangre by Hellyeah: Well, here is yet another song I fell in love with upon first listen.  The musical composition is nothing short of brilliant & the message makes it all the more powerful.  This song is not for the faint of heart for sure, but the band’s name alone ought to tell you that.  In any case, the lyrics so brilliantly describe how war & violence inevitably only lead to more war & violence & how futile this cycle really is.  The singer has stated that he wrote this song initially after losing a friend to murder, but he has also stated that the song has larger implications for wars & violence across the globe.  The visuals in the music video are a bit gruesome & haunting but they only serve to reinforce the power of this song.  I can never listen to this song just once; I have to listen to it two or three times in a row.  There’s just so much to absorb that once is never enough to take it all in.  (And just to clarify, the song is not in Spanish; there is only the one phrase “sangre por sangre” which means “blood for blood” that is in Spanish.) por sangre
  13. 100 Years by Five for Fighting: This song talks about all the major stages of life & how each one is beautiful, terrifying, & wonderful all at the same time.  It also highlights how quickly life passes by & how important it is to enjoy every minute of it.  To me, this song also encourages us to never forget the vitality & strength of youth no matter how much the responsibilities of life seem to weigh us down as we age.
  14. Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls: This has been a favorite of mine for many years now.  It’s always struck me as an achingly sad song for some reason, though I’m not sure exactly why.  To me this song is all about feeling really “at home” with that one person you love & how no one else in the world can really understand you the way that person does & how you yearn for that person when you’re separated for whatever reason.  I think deep down we all have a need to be 100% open with someone, but that comes at the price of making yourself very vulnerable which is why most of us can only find that sort of comfort with one person.  “I don’t want the world to see me because I don’t think that they’d understand . . . I just want you to know who I am.”
  15. Hello World by Lady Antebellum: I’m not sure how anyone could listen to this song & not be affected by it.  It’s simply gorgeous.  I love how the song starts out very soft & gentle but gradually builds up to a thundering, dramatic finish.  It’s even more amazing when you hear it in person.  To me this song is all about rediscovering the true beauty & meaning in life which is found in the simple things that money can never buy: family, friends, etc.  We all have times in our lives when we get caught up in the day-to-day frustrations & forget the bigger picture.  This song reminds us of that bigger picture. world
  16. Sweet Dreams Are Made of This by Marilyn Manson: The first time I heard this song I was driving over to visit my then-boyfriend/now-husband one evening during my senior year of college.  It was dark outside & I remember getting goosebumps as I listened to this song.  I was both terrified & intrigued.  I was pretty sure it was a Marilyn Manson song, so part of me was screaming “He’s crazy!  You can’t like this!”  As soon as I got to a computer, I looked up the song on YouTube because it interested me so much.  I’ve been hooked on it ever since.  (Note: The real video is pretty creepy & YouTube requires you to be 18 to watch it.)
  17. Painting Pictures of Egypt by Sara Groves: This is technically a religious song, but I don’t think you need to be the least bit religious to understand & appreciate it.  This has been such a powerful song in my life that I have a whole note on Facebook about it.  (I’ll have to make a blog post out of that sometime soon.)  This song speaks about the longing to go back to an easier or happier time in life & the fear of stepping out into an uncertain future.  (The metaphor is related to the Israelites missing Egypt when they left for “The Promised Land,” in case you’re wondering about the references to Egypt.)  This is something we all experience in life at some point or another.  What we have to realize is that like an old pair of shoes, the past no longer fits us anymore so we have to try on our new shoes & move forward in life.
  18. King of Anything by Sara Bareilles: The sarcastic attitude of the lyrics combined with the infectious beat made this song an instant favorite of mine.  This is the song to listen to when you’re tired of people telling you how to live your life or what’s best for you.  After all, “Who died & made you king of anything?” of anything
  19. Justice by Rev Theory: Yet another song I loved immediately upon first hearing it.  This is just a fun hard rock song all around & it’s especially fun to listen to if you’re angry or frustrated.  (Which of course makes it a fantastic song for the gym.)  But more importantly it speaks to the need to find justice for all the many wrongs & abuses in the world.
  20. We Were Young by Honor By August: I first saw Honor by August as one of the opening acts for Third Eye Blind at a street concert in downtown Raleigh this past spring.  May I just say that they blew Third Eye Blind out of the water by a longshot?  I don’t think I’ve ever so immediately fallen in love with a band’s music the way I did with Honor By August that night.  I had never even heard of this band or any of their songs before that night, but it was evident from the very first note they played that there was real emotion & wisdom behind their music.  It’s hard for me to even classify their music, but I guess you could call it soft rock, which is not typically my favorite genre.  But as I said before the EMOTION conveyed in their music is just so REAL that you cannot help but be drawn to it.  It’s hard to pick just one song of theirs that has really impacted me because there are so many, but We Were Young has to be one of the best.  This song conveys so many truths about how we tend to rush through our lives, especially when we’re young, only to realize later on how precious each day really is.  It also speaks of how life can change so much over the years but real love will last in spite of all the changes.  I saw Honor By August again this summer & I was just as impressed as the first time.  Seriously, you need to look up this band & find a live show to attend.  You won’t regret it.
honor by august

Honor By August