Friday, July 13, 2018

30 Day Song Challenge (All At Once)

It’s been a while since the last time I wrote anything outside of work or D&D notes. I wanted to get back into the habit of writing a few months ago, though, so I found a nice softball topic: this “30 Day Song Challenge.” I didn’t see any reason to spread this out into 30 days, so I just did the whole thing at once.

And then I promptly filed it away and never did anything with it. And I absolutely did not get back into the habit of writing.

Anyway, I found it again and figured now is as good a time as any to post it. Enjoy this 30 day song challenge.





1. A song you like with a color in the title


Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra


Is this prompt implying that I don’t actually need to like the rest of the songs I’m going to pick for this challenge? That’s silly. I don’t want to talk about any songs I don’t like. That would also make this “challenge” too easy. (Not that it’ll be difficult anyway, but still.)


Also, to further increase the challenge, all of the songs I choose will be from different bands, just for the sake of enforced variety.


Anyway, I was first introduced to ELO via another band, Five Iron Frenzy, who covered the ELO song Sweet Talkin’ Woman on their album Quantity is Job 1. Obviously, I’d heard ELO songs before then, but I didn’t really recognize them as such; rather, those were just some of the countless, unidentified songs I’d hear sometimes on the radio.


I listened to the original, ELO version of Sweet Talkin’ Woman and decided that I liked the Five Iron version way better, so I didn’t look into ELO any further at the time. It wasn’t until years later that I bought an ELO compilation album on a whim, which happened to also be titled Mr. Blue Sky. Naturally, Mr. Blue Sky was the first track on the album, and I was immediately hooked.


I like lots of ELO songs now, but Mr. Blue Sky was the first one to really made me start paying attention to them. For that, it holds a special place in my heart.


2. A song you like with a number in the title


Seven Ways to Sunday by Westbound Train


I was first introduced to Westbound Train when they opened for Reel Big Fish at a concert in New Orleans in 2006. It is the dream of every opening act that people will then go and look them up after the show, so to that end they were quite successful.


Seven Ways to Sunday is from their album Transitions, which is, in my opinion, their strongest album to date. However, my favorite song from them is Bigger Things in Mind, which is from their album Five to Two.

Generally, Westbound Train has a smooth, mellow, jazzy vibe I don’t hear in a lot of ska bands. I don’t listen to as much ska these days as I used to, but I do still listen to these guys pretty frequently.

Sadly, it's been nearly 10 years since their last album, so I assumed they were defunct. According to their Facebook page, though, they're still performing shows! They deserve to be more popular than they are, in my opinion.


3. A song that reminds you of summertime


Mississippi Squirrel Revival by Ray Stevens



This is honestly the only Ray Stevens song I know. I believe the mp3 of this song was given to me by a friend a long time ago, and it’s been a part of my song collection ever since. To this day, I can still recite the whole song from memory, and I have, in fact, busted it out in front of friends just for fun.


The story of the song explicitly takes place in the summer along the gulf coast, featuring kids running around barefoot, all of which recalls to me summers from home when I was a kid.


4. A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget


Walk of Life by Dire Straits




This is a tough one. There’s nobody I’d really rather forget.


That said, there is someone who sometimes makes me feel sad when I think about them, so that’s about as close as I can get. Specifically, I feel sad when I remember Douglas Adams; more specifically, when I remember that he’s dead.


In the fourth Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, we get to see Arthur Dent as his happiest. He returns to Earth, meets a woman, and teaches her to fly. As they get close, the book makes reference to a specific part of a record by Dire Straits, and the reader is supposed to know what record he’s referring to. Apparently, it’s supposed to be super romantic.


Curious, I started listening to Dire Straits. I still haven’t explored their discography enough to know what record Adams was referring to, but a few Dire Straits songs have, in fact, made their way into my playlists. And almost every time I hear them, I recall that Adams is the reason I started listening to them. And then I remember he’s dead, and I get a little sad.


I still don’t actually want to forget him, though.


5. A song that needs to be played loud


Hammer to Fall by Queen




Really, almost any Queen song benefits from being played loud. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think Hammer to Fall is mine.


6. A song that makes you want to dance


Delta Lady by Joe Cocker




Ah, dang, I’m already dipping into Joe Cocker. I was hoping to hold on to him to be used in a pinch.

It can’t be helped, though. Frankly, nothing fits the bill for this prompt quite like Delta Lady. There are parts of this song where I’m pretty sure the spirit of Joe himself enters my body and compels me to shake my booty.


7. A song to drive to


A Proper Story by Darren Korb




Also, the rest of the Bastion soundtrack.


When I think of driving, the first image that comes to mind is the seemingly endless stretch of desert along Interstate 10 between San Antonio and El Paso. It’s just hundreds of miles of dusty road, most of which you can speed through at 80mph.


The folksy Bastion soundtrack just really fits that stretch of road in my mind. Usually when I drive long distances I prefer to alternate between podcasts I can listen to or music I can sing along with, but when I’m driving along that stretch of highway I’ll often switch to the Bastion soundtrack and just enjoy the way it all fits together for a while.


8. A song about drugs or alchohol


One Last Drink by Enter the Haggis




Though I’m not much of a drinker, there are a lot of songs I like that involve alcohol. (Drugs, for whatever reason, don’t often come up in the music I listen to.) I had a few strong contenders for this one, but I’m strategically going with One Last Drink since I’m not sure where else I’d be able to use Enter the Haggis.


Enter the Haggis is a Canadian rock band that adds Celtic elements to their music. A friend passed their albums on to me a long time ago, and they’ve been in my playlists ever since. Though oddly, for some reason I never looked into them further independently.

I just checked, and apparently they’ve released several albums since then. I should check them out.


9. A song that makes you happy


Let’s Groove Tonight by Earth, Wind, and Fire




Most of the music I listen to makes me happy, but this song has a special place in my heart. I’ll explain why in a moment, but heads up that it involves high school/teenage drama. You have been warned.


Shortly after we graduated from high school, my then-girlfriend abruptly decided we should take a break from each other. I was confused, but I didn’t want to press the issue, so I agreed to a hiatus.


Shortly afterward, I happened to run into her at the mall… while she was on a date with some other guy.


I didn’t take it well. I’d never had my heart broken before, and it was rough. I kept myself more or less together until I got home, at which point I allowed myself to break down. Lots of tears and sobbing. It wasn’t just the loss, I think; I just felt betrayed. I’m not one to get angry, so instead I just got sad.


I continued to feel sorry for myself for several days. Then, while I was at work stocking shelves at a grocery store, the music system started playing Let’s Groove Tonight. I was pretty familiar with the song, but I'd never heard them play it in the store before. The oddity was enough that it snapped me out of my malaise.


Abruptly, the world was once again a happy place, full of color and life. I danced my way up and down the aisle as I did my work, and that was that. I was over it.


That girl and I ended up getting back together shortly afterward, but then we broke up again a few months later. The second time was much easier than the first.


10. A song that makes you sad


It’s Quiet Uptown from Hamilton: An American Musical




Much like Joe Cocker before, I feel like I’m shooting myself in the foot by using Hamilton this early in the list. Still, no song brings the tears quite like this song, so it just has to be this one.


The effect only really applies if I listen to the song in context. Without the setup of the rest of the musical, or at least Blow Us All Away, it doesn’t quite have the same impact.


The final two songs of the musical can also have this effect, but it’s never as concentrated as it is with It’s Quiet Uptown. Notably, the song that follows this one begins with James Madison still sniffling and wiping away tears, desperate to change the subject.


Also, when I saw the show in person, the cast on stage also all had tears in their eyes by the end of the song, despite having been performing this song almost daily for over a year at that point. I happened to lock eyes with Lin-Manuel Miranda in a moment when we both had tears in our eyes, so it was pretty unforgettable.


11. A song you never get tired of


Nothing to No One by This Is Me Smiling




My musical playlists don’t really rotate; rather, they refine and grow. There are some songs and bands I used to like that have since been shuffled out, but there are others that have stubbornly stuck around for about as long as I’ve been choosing my own music, and I don’t see them leaving any time soon.


In short, there’s a lot of music I don’t get tired of.


That said, this one’s an interesting case. I happened upon the band This Is Me Smiling nearly ten years ago when I saw a friend advertising that their album was pay-what-you-want (read: free). So, I went ahead and checked it out, and I fell in love.


Unfortunately, the band died in apparent obscurity. However, some of the members went on to start a new band, called Any Kind, and I like it just about as much as This Is Me Smiling. They're still not as popular as I think they ought to be, though.


12. A song from your preteen years


Coffee Break by Keiichi Suzuki (from EarthBound)




I don’t plan on using a lot of video game soundtracks for this challenge, but I will when it fits better than anything else. In this case, I don’t really have a lot of memories of music from my preteen years, but I do know that it was around that time that I started playing EarthBound. That game would go on to change my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined even a decade ago, much less the 20 years ago when I first played the game.


This song in particular is one of the most memorable tracks in a collection of memorable tracks. It’s both trippy and uplifting, and if you’ve played the game you can’t help but see the encouraging words scrolling up the screen as you listen to it.


13. A song you like from the 70s


Across the Universe by the Beatles




It came out just a few months into the 70s, but it counts.


Honestly, I only recently listened to the last two Beatles albums, Let It Be and Abbey Road, so while I was familiar with the music, they hadn’t been in my playlists before. I’m glad I rectified that.


Across the Universe is another strong contender for “a song I never get tired of.” Good thing I didn’t think about it at the time, or else I wouldn’t have had such an easy choice for this one!

Interestingly, there are a lot of people who just really don't like those last two Beatles albums. I do, though, and I'm not ashamed.


14. A song you’d love to be played at your wedding


On the Shoulder by The Smoking Popes (from At Metro)




Oh right, this challenge assumes I’m 15 years old. Ah well. Since I’m already married, I’ll change it to “a song I would have loved to have played at my wedding.”


We had a live band at my wedding, and I wouldn’t have traded them for anything. That said, if I’d have just made a playlist or something for it, I think I’d have liked to have played this song.


It would have been an appropriate song to dance to with my wife: starting off pretty slow and romantic, but with building emotion. The song also borrows lyrics from The Stone Poneys, which I feel are appropriate. The lyrics make it clear that while we’re tying our lives together, we’re still quite different people. Yet even so, we can’t really imagine life apart from one another.

Apparently the song is actually a love song to a guitar. Go figure.


Honestly, ever since I started listening to music on my own I’d sometimes hear a song and think, “oh, that would be a good wedding song!” I kinda kept a mental list for a while. However, none of them made an appearance at my actual wedding, and that’s okay. It was just a fun thing to think about.


As a side note, I don’t know how often grooms get up to sing in their wedding band, but when the band unexpectedly invited me up to sing Paradise Line, I did it. (I’m pretty sure half of the point of wedding receptions is the embarrass the bride and groom; the other half being food and photography.)


15. A song you like that’s a cover by another artist


No Easy Way Out by The Protomen (covering Robert Tepper’s song from the Rocky IV soundtrack)




I love it when bands play covers that surpass the original. This is exemplified by Joe Cocker’s covers of Beatles songs, but there are a lot of other great examples out there.


The Protomen have as many covers albums as they have albums of original music, and it’s all pretty excellent. I highly recommend their album The Cover Up, which is entirely covers of 80s music, all pulled together under the conceit of the album being the soundtrack to a movie made in the band’s alternate, dystopian universe.


That said, while there is a version of No Easy Way Out on The Cover Up, my first experience with their cover of this song was on their Father of Death single. They’re different recordings, and I think I like the Father of Death version better. It’s got this quiet, slow build that I like a lot. Which makes sense since the Father of Death version was created as a single to be played on the B side of a vinyl record, while the Cover Up version was created as part of a cohesive album. In short, the one designed to stand alone stands alone better than the one designed to be a part of a greater whole.


16. A song that’s a classic favorite


The Longest Time by Billy Joel




It’s hard not to sing along to Billy Joel songs. I find that this one in particular is good for karaoke.


I have two goals with karaoke: to either show off how well I can sing, or to get everyone else singing along. And since my voice closes up a bit when I sing in front of other people, the latter goal the one I aim for the most.

To that end, the Beatles and Billy Joel are pretty reliable. Keep them in mind next time you’re at karaoke.


17. A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke

If I Had $1,000,000 by Barenaked Ladies




Oh, speaking of karaoke.


I’ve actually never sang a duet in karaoke before. In fact, I don’t actually know many songs with duets, so this was a tough one.


A proper duet isn’t just a song featuring two people; it’s got a bit of back and forth, and both singers must have equal importance. That narrows the song selection down considerably.


The other aspect of this prompt is what really narrowed this down for me, though: what duet would I sing with someone in karaoke? For instance, I love Dear Theodosia from Hamilton, but it’s a song that works best in context, not so much as a karaoke song. (Not to mention that I already used a Hamilton song, so it’s disqualified anyway.) I also enjoy Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow’s duet version of Smokey Robinson’s Cruisin’, though I don’t usually go for romantic songs at karaoke.


If I Had $1,000,000 is a nice, fun song I could sing with anyone and take either role (though I’d prefer the Steven Page parts).


It’s unfortunate that I’m using up Barenaked Ladies for this prompt, though. There are a lot of BNL songs I like way more than this one. Also, they were kind of my trump card in case I got stuck somewhere, since their range of styles and subject matter means I could answer almost every single one of these prompts with a BNL song. Now I’m barely half-way through these prompts, and my trump card is already spent. Let’s see how the rest of this goes.

(Also, I didn't see an official video for this song, but the one I linked to above was super cute, so I went with that one.)


18. A song from the year you were born


The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News




A very distinctively 1985 song, from the Back to the Future soundtrack. It’s the song Marty starts to play at the beginning of the film for the battle of the bands audition, just before the judge (played by Huey Lewis) cuts them short.


I consider Hip to be Square to be one of my personal anthems but, alas, that one was released in 1986.


19. A song that makes you think about life


Dandelions by Five Iron Frenzy




I don’t signal my religion very often, in part because I’m hyper aware of the commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” While many people throughout history have interpreted this commandment to primarily mean not to swear or otherwise invoke His name in anger, I’ve always interpreted it more as a warning against attaching God’s name to causes as a way to inflate the righteousness of that cause.


Basically, I never want to use the appearance of piety to justify my actions. I know what I believe and, if people are interested, I’ll talk to them about my religious beliefs. I will not, however, shove it down their throats.


That said, when it comes to the deeper meaning of life, for me it often comes back to my faith. So far as I can tell, any search for meaning in this life tends to either dance with or dance around issues of faith; either way, it can’t help but come up.


That said, while Five Iron Frenzy has songs that cover a wide range of subject matter, it’s their messages of faith that really make them stand out; and, also, probably prevented them from ever becoming mainstream. They have several strong songs on the subject, but I think I’ve always liked this one the best. It recalls to me a time when I went through an existential crisis, and how I came out of it, even though this song wasn’t actually involved in that experience.


20. A song that has many meanings to you


Pure Imagination by various people


Originally sung by Gene Wilder in the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, this song has been adapted by many artists and bands, from Maroon 5 to Primus, and it adopts new meaning with each adaptation. Depending on how it’s sung, it can be wonderful or romantic, sad or scary, or any of a myriad other ways you might want to interpret it.


I’m partial to the Smoking Popes version, personally.


21. A song you like with a person’s name in the title


Cheer Up Charlie by Leslie Odom Jr.




Okay, yeah, this is another Willy Wonka song. But come on, how could I not choose this one for this prompt? Anyway, I said I wouldn’t reuse any bands, and I’m sticking to that rule. While the previous entry did not really specify any band (to fit the prompt), this one is specifically the version sung by Leslie Odom Jr.


I’m actually not usually someone who requires much cheering up. Except in odd, extreme cases, my mood is typically pretty stable and steady, with low highs and high lows, for better or worse.


Even so, it’s hard not to hear this song as encouraging.


22. A song that moves you forward


Bright Spring Morning by Suburban Legends




I was introduced to this band at the same time as I was introduced to Westbound Train, as they and Streetlight Manifesto all opened for Reel Big Fish in New Orleans a long time ago. In fact, I think I still have a flyer I took from the wall at that concert somewhere…


Anyway, where Westbound Train is usually pretty chill and jazzy, Suburban Legends is more energetic and pop-like. They’re also just super energetic on stage, featuring dance moves you don’t usually see in a ska band. Still, I stopped following them after they released an album that was a lot more pop than ska, which I wasn’t really into. I hear they’ve since returned to their ska influences, though.


This song in particular comes in two versions: a slower, ballad-style version, and an upbeat, rock/ska version. They’re both real good and make me want to get up and do something.


23. A song you think everybody should listen to


Victory Over Peter Bones by Reel Big Fish




Reel Big Fish is probably still the biggest current name in ska out there. They had two serious contenders for the “song about alcohol or drugs” prompt earlier (Beer and Drunk Again), but I figured I’d have another chance to feature them.


Honestly, I don’t listen to them nearly as much as I used to, for whatever reason. Interestingly, the songs that have stuck around in my playlists the best are their instrumental songs. Of those, I think Victory Over Peter Bones is my favorite. It’s a surprisingly mellow track that I don’t think people expect from a band like RBF.


I imagine that the purpose of this prompt is to suggest a song that might change people’s view of the world in some deep way. And, yeah, I think the power of song can accomplish that sometimes. However, I’m taking a more Andy Dufresne approach: if I've got the chance to let everyone listen to something, I think I’d like it to just be something wordless and beautiful. (I mean, Andy’s music wasn’t wordless, but I imagine most of the people hearing it didn’t speak Italian, so it might as well have been.)


24. A song by a band you wish were still together


Santeria by Sublime




Sublime, as a band, ended when guitarist and lead singer Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose in 1996. The band’s most famous songs (Santeria, What I Got, The Wrong Way, etc) were all released posthumously.


It’s hard to say how Sublime would have evolved if Nowell hadn’t died. Given how much radio stations continue to play Sublime to this day compared to any other 3rd wave ska band, clearly they had a lot of potential to be a huge deal. That said, would they still be the biggest ska band if they had kept going?


I’d have liked to find out.


Interestingly, the other members of the band did get back together in 2009. They couldn’t use the name Sublime anymore due to ownership by the Nowell estate, so instead they now go by “Sublime with Rome.” (Their new singer/guitarist is named Rome Ramirez.) So, you could make the case that they actually did get back together. I should give them a listen sometime.


25. A song you like by an artist no longer living


Tomorrow’s Gonna Be a Brighter Day by Jim Croce




Most people have probably heard at least some Jim Croce; Time in a Bottle, if nothing else. That said, I stumbled on Jim’s music by happenstance last year while I was making an effort to broaden my music collection, and it wasn’t until afterward that I realized that was one of his songs. Time in a Bottle is kind of like Green Day’s When I Come Around; they’re the most famous songs from their respective albums, and neither one really sounds like they fit with the rest of the album.


Anyway, Jim made good music. He was younger than I am now when he died in 1973.


26. A song that makes you want to fall in love


Left Handed Kisses by Andrew Bird




I love my wife, and I don’t particularly feel the need to fall in love with anyone else.


That said, the love songs I like best tend to be the more honest types; love, but without all the sickly sweet sap that so often pervades classic love songs. (Not to knock Paul McCartney’s desire to fill the world with silly love songs; those are also fine.)


In Left Handed Kisses, love skeptic Andrew Bird seems baffled by the fact that, despite his skepticism, he somehow found himself writing shallow, sappy love songs for someone who appears to share his disdain for shallow, sappy love songs. It’s a song that’s at once loving and mildly antagonistic, which in my opinion is about as real as relationships get.


27. A song that breaks your heart


Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure by The Weakerthans




This is a sequel to the song Plea From a Cat Named Virtute, which is about a cat trying in vain to cheer up the depressed owner who took her in. It’s a charming, uplifting song, exploring the faith our pets have in us to overcome our obstacles, as they see our inner strength in the way we give of ourselves to take care of them.


However, apparently Virtute’s man never quite comes out of it. She eventually decides to leave and take care of herself. She still remembers the man who took care of her and the things they used to do together, but… she can no longer remember her name.


Good lord, tears came to my eyes as I typed that last sentence. Sometimes I think of myself as being pretty calloused, and I’m sure I can be, but somehow this little story of an escaped cat manages to consistently choke me up.


28. A song by an artist whose voice you love


Sorry by Beyoncé




We’re almost done with this thing, and this is the first song on the list with a female lead vocalist. I’m honestly not sure why I don’t listen to much music sung by women, but I suspect it’s largely due to relatively few prominent female singers in the genres of music I gravitate toward for whatever reason. (Deeply-ingrained sexism, most likely.)


That said, I picked up Beyoncé’s Lemonade last year, and I liked it a lot. Simply put, she has a really beautiful voice.


I chose this song in particular because, seriously, wave that middle finger in his face, girl. You don’t have to put up with that.


29. A song you remember from your childhood


Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks




My parents listened (and in fact continue to listen) mostly to country music. I didn’t really take to it much, but there are a few country singers I enjoy. Garth Brooks stands out in particular as one I heard a lot as a kid and still enjoy.


I especially remember this song because in my freshman year of high school we had a foreign exchange student from Romania living with us for a while. For whatever reason, he really, really loved that song, and he’d often sing it loudly (and badly) while he staying was with us. That kind of thing is hard to forget.


30. A song that reminds you of yourself


Everything’s Alright by Laura Shigihara




This was a tough one, both because I don’t really relate music to myself much, and because I’ve already used up all of the bands with songs that might have applied.


That said, this iconic track from the game To the Moon does a pretty good job. The song itself is about the struggles of a person with autism to communicate with others, but I think it resonates with anyone who struggles with chronic awkwardness.


I’ve been told many times that I’m very difficult to read, which is a great attribute if you’re playing poker, but not so much if you’re trying to be communicative. It’s a struggle for the people around me, and I feel bad about it sometimes. Those who know me best know that I’m good-natured, helpful, and forgiving, but that’s not obvious to all of those who only see the stoic face I tend to wear without thinking.


Anyway, this is a beautiful song.


ONE LAST CHALLENGE


Earlier I said I could probably complete this challenge exclusively using songs by Barenaked Ladies. So, let’s do it.



  1. Green Christmas
  2. Testing 1, 2, 3
  3. Pinch Me
  4. Down to Earth
  5. Sound of Your Voice
  6. She’s On Time
  7. Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel
  8. Alcohol
  9. The Humour of the Situation
  10. What a Good Boy
  11. For You
  12. One Week
  13. Wonderful Christmastime (originally released in 1979; covered by BNL in 2004)
  14. I Can I Will I Do
  15. Carol of the Bells
  16. It’s All Been Done
  17. If I Had $1,000,000
  18. Do They Know It’s Christmas (originally released in 1984; rereleased with an updated B-side in 1985; covered by BNL in 2004; I’LL ALLOW IT)
  19. When I Fall
  20. Blame It on Me
  21. Be My Yoko Ono
  22. Never Do Anything
  23. Maybe You’re Right
  24. This is Where it Ends (miss you Steven Page)
  25. O Holy Night (originally composed by Adolphe Adam, who died in 1856; covered by BNL in 2004)
  26. Falling for the First Time
  27. Have You Seen My Love?
  28. Everything Had Changed
  29. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  30. Next Time

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