Music has been a big part of my life. Today, I follow new releases no way near as much as I did throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, but I hear that’s a common thing. Apparently, very few people add new acts to their personal canon once they’ve reached the age of 30. So, what follows are (in no particular order) 25 songs that have had a particular impact on me.
Please note that this is not a “Best of” type of thing or a list of recommendations. It’s just personal history. I have made no attempts to make the list more diverse or politically more sound than it is. It reflects the environment I was socialized in, with all its faults and shortcomings. This is, for better or worse, a personal blog.
Wolfgang Ambros, Die Blume aus dem Gemeindebau (1977)
“Austro-pop” is an actual thing, and I grew up with it. Hard to pick a favorite, but this would be it. “Jö schau” by Georg Danzer is a close second.
Grauzone, Eisbär (1981)
“Neue Deutsche Welle” in pop was also an actual thing. The artist international listeners will be most familiar with is Nena. Behind Nena, there were numerous other acts, and this song was one I particularly liked. Simple, sad, and very male.
Bruce Springsteen, The River (1980)
I’m not sure why I got Bruce Springsteen’s live LP box set in 1985, I wasn’t a huge fan. But I guess with five records in one box it was a special release at the time. “The River” grew to be my favorite, I listened to it many nights while falling asleep. Still my favorite Springsteen song by far.
Don McLean, American Pie (1971)
There’s a few classics I really like, this one in particular, always have to stop when I hear it. America’s “A Horse with No Name” sort of falls into the same category. Terrible cover versions have been recorded of “American Pie” over the years, none coming even close to the original.
Soft Cell, Tainted Love (1981)
The early 1980s was all about the pop charts for me, and while there were many forgettable songs, some were not. Adam Ant was my first pop idol, “Stand and Deliver” the tune. Plenty of acts followed that I believe stand the test of time: Bronski Beat, the Eurythmics, the Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran. “Tainted Love” stood out in many ways. And in this case, there are good covers, too, ad they are not the most famous! Check out the renditions by the inventive Spanish combo Broken Peach and the German hipster duo Milky Chance. Hell, even the Scorpions did a pretty good job.
Alphaville, Forever Young (1984)
This is to throw in a second tune from the era, probably with a bias, as it’s a German band. “Big in Japan” was very good, too.
The Cure, Killing an Arab (1980)
I always thought I never really liked the Cure, until I found out that it was mainly the people who liked the Cure who I didn’t like. “Killing an Arab” has a special place in popular music history. Capturing the essence of a novel in a two-and-a-half-minute song is a feat.
Peter Krug, Fire in the City (1965)
In late high school, as I became culturally and politically aware, I dug through the 60s and was fascinated by this tune on the B-side of the first Country Joe and the Fish EP. I still find it to be a remarkable piece of songwriting, and the fact that Peter Krug has recorded little else makes it all the more intriguing.
The Pogues, Young Ned of the Hill (1989)
A wonderful song that allows you to let the closet nationalist hang out without feeling bad about it.
Geto Boys, Mind Playing Tricks on Me (1991)
I listened to a lot of hip hop in the early 1990s, and, funnily enough, my two favorite songs are by a band I otherwise didn’t particularly like. But both this one and “Fuck a War” are fantastic.
Earth Crisis, Firestorm (1993)
Earth Crisis were always a touch beyond my political comfort zone, and the lyrics to this song are terrible. Yet, I never felt as pumped up by any other straight edge song – or any song, for that matter. Without doubt the anthem of the radical animal rights and environmentalist movement of the 1990s, which was highly influential on me.
Fellow Travellers, Freedom to be Poor (1992)
The only song that’s on an album listed under albums. A candidate for my favorite song ever.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy, I See a Darkness (1999)
No better song for the dark moments, and a steady companion for many years.
Iggy Pop, Passenger (1977)
A tune I always liked that took on special meaning when I embraced the traveling lifestyle.
Manau, La tribu de Dana (1998)
Would rank even higher on the cultural appropriation scale than House of Pain (see albums), but aroused curiosity and helped me revive my French. Came out when I spent much time in French-speaking territories.
Magic System, Premier Gaou (2000)
This song was all over West Africa when I traveled there in 2001: busses, markets, restaurants, everywhere. No other song is, in my mind, so inseparable from a specific travel experience.
Cornershop, Brimful of Asha (1997)
A close second would be Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha”, which was incredibly popular with the Indian community in Fiji, where I spent a fair bit of time around the turn of the millennium. It really stood out among the mainstream pop I got to hear otherwise.
Rammstein, Engel (1997)
Whether you like Rammstein or not is a very controversial question among German-speaking radicals. I do. It’s not gaining me extra points with a certain crowd, but hey, life’s complicated. This is the song I listened to most often.
Jeans Team, Das Zelt (2006)
Less controversial, this is kind of a German indie-lefty one hit wonder. “No god, no state, no work, no money”, can’t go wrong with that.
Frank Turner, The Road (2009)
Another travel-themed song, and, for purely biographical reasons, I have a soft spot for travel-themed songs. Sweet video, too.
Trampled by Turtles, Wait So Long (2010)
When, with the onset of the new millennium, you had to be in all the relevant online networks to keep up with new music, I pretty much lost touch. Since then, I’ve been relying on coincidence and friends’ recommendations to discover new stuff. Among the plenty of good tracks that came to me that way, this one stands out.
Movits, Fel del av gården (2008)
My first favorite song in Swedish. Very likable band, hailing from the far north.
Kitok, Paradise Jokkmokk (2014)
My all-time favorite song in Swedish. Sámi, small town, the Arctic circle, it’s all there. Works best with the video.
Parov Stelar, Booty Swing (2012)
I don’t like electronic music unless it’s done by Austrians. Electro swing for the ages.
Wet Leg, Chaise Longue (2022)
One recent release indeed made the list. Kinda like an indie revival tune. Couldn’t stop listening to it when I first heard it, and, again, watching the video, or a live performance, makes for the best listening experience.
(January 1, 2023)