By Ryan Miller from Guster
A couple of thoughts from the entertainment industry on the songs they’ll go to bat for every time.
One moment you’re sitting there, a skin bag of water and goo clutching onto a gigantic rock hurtling through space, a temporary permutation of cells in human form. Maybe you’re lost in the humdrum: heating bills, a regrettable decision in ’98, an interminable Zoom meeting. But then, a song appears. That one song. And within that song, there is a single moment that changes everything. The four dimensions fall away, stars sizzle, and then begins your sublimation into vapor—you become the universe experiencing itself. It sure beats a quarterly report over the Internet.
If you’re this far into our Music Issue, it’s a good bet you’ve felt this transformation, this phase shift: wherein a singer releases a vowel in a certain way, a magical melodic interval surfaces, a chaotic drum fill or a single breath sends you. You are obliterated. I’m convinced that we do not choose these moments, they choose us, and these choices reveal much about our inner lives. Like, what does it say about me that 2:36 in Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” instantly blasts me into another realm? What is it about this bridge—“Let you put your hands on me in my skintight jeans / I’ll be your teenage dream tonight”—that destroys me and leaves me dead every single time? I’ll leave that navel to gaze itself.
I was fortunate to prod a few pals for their thoughts on this moment of sublimation; their responses below. I also snuck in another query about a song or band that other people take them to task for (I refuse the term “guilty pleasure” because it’s a ridiculous concept, in my opinion). I’d put a lot more faith in “personality tests” if these were two of the questions…
One song or album everyone gives you shit for liking and why you like it: No one’s given me shit for liking this song, but after this confession, someone very well might. A few years ago my friends Caroline, Trent and I started sending each other Christian rock tracks that we somewhat ironically liked. Caroline sent over a Bethel Music track called “Raise a Hallelujah” by the husband-wife team Jonathan and Melissa Helser. I had never heard the song, but in evangelical circles it’s big—the live version, which is the one Caroline sent, has 51 million views on YouTube. Jonathan Helser starts off by saying the child of a dear friend had been sick and he got word the child, Jaxon, might not live to see the next morning. So he sat down to pray and this song poured out of him fully formed. And, of course, the child lived. (In the video, Jaxon is visibly healthy and perched atop his father’s shoulders in the audience.)
The backstory, the chords, the lyrics, the aching sincerity of the vocal—it all feels mechanically engineered to raise the hairs on the back of your arms and feel the presence of the Lord. And it works! It’s not exactly a song that rewards repeat listens because there’s nothing enigmatic about it. There’s no code to crack. It’s just a straight-up prayer set against the first chords you’d learn on your first day of guitar lessons. But somehow, it makes me believe in miracles (while simultaneously wondering why God responded to this particular four-chord anthem and spared this child while refusing to spare so many others…)
Is there a single moment—a lyric, melody, drum fill, sigh, saxophone squeal, etc.—in a song that absolutely SENDS you? According to Spotify, I was in the top 1 percent of early listeners of Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license.” (I was tipped off to it by Jensen McRae, a great LA-based songwriter.) The song as a whole is devastatingly effective and it’s completely understandable why it grabbed the culture by the throat in 2021. For me, what made it an instant classic is the super anthemic bridge:
I still see your face in the white cars
Can’t drive past the places we used to go to
‘Cause I still fucking love you, babe, ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh
That bridge makes me want to punch the guy who hurt her in the face.
Raise a Hallelujah
Jonathan and Melissa Helser
One song or album everyone gives you shit for liking and why you like it: “Got To Be More Careful” from Pin Your Spin by Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen. I feel like New Orleans is our country’s most mecca-ish musical mecca, and this track represents that super slinky Nawlins swagger. Cleary is a real treasure, and this is the track I play first at many a gathering. I also sing it with my own band, and we are about to go on tour in June.
Is there a single moment—a lyric, melody, drum fill, sigh, saxophone squeal, etc.—in a song that absolutely SENDS you? It’s a swooping down, falling sound on the Koko Taylor track “Up In Flames” she did for David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. I’m not even sure what’s making that sound, but when the falling starts, I fall too. It’s the musical equivalent of that feeling of being half asleep, and a kind of horizontal vertigo (horizontigo?) makes your bed seem like it’s falling into an abyss.
Got To Be More Careful
Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen
One song or album everyone gives you shit for liking and why you like it: Nobody ever gave me shit for an album but I guess someone once gave me shit for liking Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile” I think Daryl Hall’s vocal on that song is pure magic.
Is there a single moment—a lyric, melody, drum fill, sigh, saxophone squeal, etc.—in a song that absolutely SENDS you? For me, an easy choice would be Ray, Goodman & Brown’s “Special Lady.” The intro to the drop—how they are gassing each other up and snapping and getting ready. It literally freaks me out how it makes me feel every time.
Daryl Hall & John Oates
One song or album everyone gives you shit for liking and why you like it: This always comes up when I’m touring with my Bonny Light Horseman guys and we’re passing around the aux cable in the van. (I have this vintage varsity jacket with the name “Alison” embroidered on it, so if I’m deejaying they call me “DJ Alison.” DJ Alison wants to play stuff the band will like but she also has to do her thing and introduce them to shit that was formative for her.) Here’s a song I love that was weirdly formative for me but no one else can stand: “Jessie”, by Joshua Kadison from the early ‘90s. It grabbed me as an emo 12-year-old (do we ever feel music that deeply again?) with its front-and-center piano-vocal that really spotlights the storytelling, and the story itself, which is a portrait of Jessie who is kind of a manic-pixie-dream-girl in a “trailer by the sea.” Joshua Kadison makes you fall in love with her, just as he is in love with her. As a kid I wanted to be her, and I also wanted to be him singing about her, and here I am.
Is there a single moment—a lyric, melody, drum fill, sigh, saxophone squeal, etc.—in a song that absolutely SENDS you? Okay, I’m showing my musical theater colors here, but I’m lately re-obsessed (by way of my 9-year-old) with Les Misérables. There’s a moment in “Look Down” where Gavroche, the young street urchin barricade warrior kid, goes, “Think you’re poor? Think you’re free? Follow me. Follow me!” And the first “follow me” is sung, and the second one is shouted, and I just, involuntarily, pump my fist every time. It’s the character and the situation, but it’s also the rhythm of that second “Follow me!” which is super surprising.
Photographer, Film Director
One song or album everyone gives you shit for liking and why you like it: ‘Live’ Bullet by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. I wouldn’t say that people give me shit about it, but I don’t see Seger getting the props he deserves. This record is one of the BEST live rock and roll records ever and I never hear it mentioned. But when you find someone who agrees, it’s an IYKYK moment.
Is there a single moment—a lyric, melody, drum fill, sigh, saxophone squeal, etc.—in a song that absolutely SENDS you? “I Envy the Wind” by Lucinda Williams. The entire song is one of the most incredible and unique love and lust songs, and the lyrics and melody are so intense.
I envy the rain
That falls on your face
That wets your eyelashes
And dampens your skin
And touches your tongue
And soaks through your shirt
And drips down your back
I envy the rain
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band