This post continues from an old one, which dealt with songs that defined me when I was young. Here I will focus on the last 20 years. God, that makes me feel old!
U2, “One” / “Stay”
Achtung Baby is U2’s last good album, and almost every song on it is great. “One” stands out from the rest of the album because it’s emotionally raw and acoustically pared down, with Bono’s voice stripped bare. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my favorite of the three video versions – the second one, directed by Mark Pellington, with slo-mo buffaloes – so I thought of the next best thing from the same era, the Wim Wenders-inspired video for the achingly beautiful “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” from the otherwise disappointing Zooropa.
Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb”
The Division Bell came out in 1994 and held some amazing songs, such as “High Hopes” and “Keep Talking,” but the real tour de force for me personally was The Wall, which I discovered in 1996. Everything about this album is Roger Waters-masterminded, except for 3 songs which were David Gilmour’s contribution. One of them is “Comfortably Numb,” and if somebody forced my hand I’d probably say it was my favorite song of all time, but I usually refrain from such statements. Whatever else it may be, it’s certainly Gilmour’s best guitar solo.
Shakespeare’s Sister, “Stay”
I need to be taken out on a stretcher after some songs, that’s how much emotion and energy is wrung out of me when I hear them. The fabulous vocal counterpoint of “Stay” does that to me. What a powerful, unique song.
Sting, “Why Should I Cry For You?”
Sting’s definitive 90’s album is Ten Summoner’s Tales, with hauntingly beautiful songs such as “Fields Of Gold” and “Shape Of My Heart.” My personal favorite, however, is 1991’s Soul Cages, a somewhat dark, introspective album about grief and the passage of time. “Mad About You” and “Island Of Souls” are incontrovertible masterpieces here, but the song that defined me was “Why Should I Cry For you?,” which from production down to the lyrics is just utter perfection for me.
Crowded House, “Fall At Your Feet”
This New Zealand/Australian band passed easily under the radar for most people, although the single “Weather With You” received heavy airplay in Europe. My introduction to them was the 1996 compilation album Recurring Dream which showcased the best songs from their decade-long career. I love almost every song on it, none more so than “Fall At Your Feet,” one of the most perfectly composed ballads ever.
The Cure, “Pictures Of You”
This is not one my very favorite Cure songs, but it carries the most emotional significance. I first heard Disintegration in 1998, as a gift and an auditory induction of sorts, from the person who later turned out to be the love of my life.
Sisters Of Mercy, “Ribbons”
This is another song that ripped through me right from the opening chords, and although it wasn’t the first Sisters song I’d heard, it was the one that got me into the band.
Depeche Mode, “Home”
This is a song of pure pain, powerfully rendered by the use of violins. The lyrics, too, always struck really close to home – no pun intended. For a band boasting so many excellent songs, this is certainly one of their best.
Edwyn Collins, “A Girl Like You”
This is another song calling for a stretcher afterwards. It’s Edwyn’s voice, it’s the guitars, it’s the percussions, it’s everything.
The Verve, “Bitter Sweet Symphony”
Urban Hymns is hands-down one of the best albums of the 90’s. It contains several songs that will be emotionally relevant in perpetuity, such as “Lucky Man” and “Sonnet,” but the one that I’ve always related to on so many levels is “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” a song of pain, defiance and endurance.
Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”
I remember waking up one morning around 7 o’clock in late spring of 1998, in the sun-drenched room of my host family’s house in Ohio, to this song on my radio-alarm clock. Admittedly, I was more open to soppy love ballads at that point, but it was nevertheless love at first hearing.
2000 – present
Pearl Jam, “Nothingman”
Vitalogy was on heavy rotation for me around 2001, but for some reason, this song struck the deepest chord and stayed with me beyond some others that I loved on this album.
A Perfect Circle, “Rose”
Mer De Noms was the gateway to Tool for me, and it left me in stunned silence the first time I heard it. I always thought “Rose” captured perfectly who I was at the time – this Hamlet-like, torn figure full of fear and doubt and indecision.
I explained the significance to me of “Schism” and Lateralus in an older post, so I won’t go into it again here, but it’s still a great excuse to let you (and me) watch the mind-blowing video for it.
Massive Attack, “Unfinished Sympathy”
There are many songs that remind me of my first great love, but this one explains perfectly how I felt in its aftermath. The title captures the essence of how I still think about it today.
Placebo, “Pure Morning”
I don’t know what I like better, the outlandish lyrics or the aesthetic perfection of the video for this stupendous song. I never really got into Placebo beyond their album Without You I’m Nothing, which contained some really good songs, so to me “Pure Morning” remains the highlight of their opus.
EKV, “Par Godina Za Nas” (A Couple Of Years For Us)
Ekaterina Velika (EKV) is the best band to have come out of ex-Yugoslavia. If they had written their songs in English, they would’ve made it big in the UK and Europe, I’ve no doubt. Penned in the late 80’s, this song turned out to be eerily prescient, both politically and in terms of the fate of the band itself. Beyond that, it’s the bass line that slays me each time.
Santigold, “L.E.S. Artistes”
If there was ever a personal anthem for me, it’s gotta be this song. The lyrics and overall mood of the song have defined almost an entire decade of my life since the song came out in 2008. Fierce and defiant as the woman who wrote it, this is the ultimate song about (female) self-empowerment.
What are some of the songs that have defined your life?