On The Music That Cheers Me Up

I listen to music. I listen to music a lot. Music makes the work day go faster. Music makes the words flow. Music lets me shut out the world and just write. At the office, I put on the headphones. At home, I crank up the stereo. And I just go. It's how I roll.

My musical tastes, as I mentioned a few days ago, tend to be Scottish and Anglophiliac. There are some American bands and musicians I listen to — Carbon Leaf, Tom Petty — and I'm even as passionate about them as I would be of, say, Travis (a Scottish band). But, there's a textural difference because American music and everything else. Maybe I'm in a musical rut, but it's a rut that makes me productive and makes me feel good, so Scotto-Anglophilia isn't such a band thing to be. :)

Like many writers, I have certain music I listen to in order to help put my mind in certain emotional spaces. Some writers base their music choices, especially if they're listening to film soundtracks and scores, on the emotional feel of the song; if it's a pulse-pounding orchestral movement, this would fit best at getting into an action sequence. My choices are a little more practical; they're largely keyed to memories. Maybe it's a song I listened to at a happy time in my life, and I'm trying to get back to that moment — or rather, how I felt at that moment. Maybe it's a song I associate with a dead friend, and I'll avoid it at all costs because the song summons unwelcome memories.

When I feel down, what music do I listen to to feel "good"? It's a good question. I don't know, and I'm not sure that my last.fm profile is any sort of help.

The bands at the top of my personal charts are all mainstays at I return to time and again. Elbow. The Beatles. Carbon Leaf. Oasis. The Leisure Society. Coldplay. I could see someone saying that half of those are good for making one's self feel depressed. My old boss at EB Games, for instance, thought that Coldplay was downright "depressing" to listen to. (I won't share his opinion of Norah Jones. Let's just say that we had an… interesting store inventory that one time.)

The top songs aren't entirely helpful, either. The Leisure Society's cover of George Harrison's "Something" is a downright joyful song, and listening to it does make me happy. Elbow's "The Stops" at number two, though, is not any sort of joyful song; it's a song Guy Garvey wrote about a traumatic break-up. Number three, James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" is an unfortunate artifact of linking iTunes to last.fm; iTunes kept track of how many times a song was played, and I didn't listen to much music, except for the occasional single track I'd buy, through iTunes, saving my musical needs for Windows Media Player or WinAmp. In short, I haven't listened to this song in at least a year, if not two. Number four is in the same boat. Number five, Carbon Leaf's "Tip Toe," isn't joyful, either; it's another break-up song, and I happen to have it on three different custom Carbon Leaf playlists that I'll sometimes listen to at work, hence its higher-than-usual number of plays. After this is Trans Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Canon," some more Leisure Society, some more Elbow, even Radiohead's "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" (a starkly moving song based on the experiences of a World War I veteran in the trenches of France). In general, looking at the list, I see depressing stuff. Certainly nothing that cheers me up when I'm feeling down.

So, what do I listen to when I'm feeling down?

I am really fond of Christmas music. Especially off-beat Christmas music. I like Beatle-esque Christmas music (and have three albums of such). Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics always brings a smile to my face. As offensive as the song is, I can't help but be amused by "Do They Know It's Christmas?", the charity song that raised money for starving people in sub-Saharan Africa. I especially like Celtic Christmas music, just instrumentals, with panpipes and harps and things of that nature. In spite of my heathen-ness Christmas music just makes me happy. Even if it's overtly religious, I'll listen to it. I enjoy Christmas music, and I'll gladly listen to it year 'round.

Sometimes, I need nonsense to feel better, and in moments like that I'll turn to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band or its spiritual descendent, The Rutles. Even though he can be a little ponderous at times, George Harrison's post-Beatles catalog is often quite fun to listen to; Brainwashed is an absolutely lovely and tremendously joyous album, in spite of its composition in the shadow of Harrison's own impending death. Duran Duran's Greatest is another good choice, as is the 80s New Wave Party Mix CD I picked up on the cheap at Target a few years ago. And Oasis usually makes me feel good, too.

Absolute worst case scenario? Well, there's my guilty pleasure listen, which I won't share. But what I will share is jazz. I have a couple of jazz public radio station streams on my computer desktop, and jazz is my ultimate feel-good last resort.

"There are always possibilities," to quote Admiral Kirk quoting Spock, and I have possibilities when I need cheer-me-up music. It's not a coherent playlist, but when I need a pick-me-up, there are musical styles I can turn to.

Maybe I'll turn to Carbon Leaf's new Christmas album next. ;)

4 thoughts on “On The Music That Cheers Me Up

  1. Linus and Lucy. I have determined, through extensive testing, that it’s physically impossible not to smile when listening to that tune.

    And why won’t you share your guilty pleasure with the class? I’m a loud, proud Hanson fan, and nothing you listen to could be more embarassing to admit to than that! Which reminds me, Hanson also cheers me up. Not Mmm-Bop, though. I’ve been over that song since at least 1998.

    1. I have a wall clock that plays “Linus and Lucy” on the hour. It’s fun. :)

      Not all of Vince Guaraldi’s music brightens the day. His “theme” for Charlie Brown (as a character) is a little depressing, as befits the character. His “Joe Cool” theme is sprightly, though.

      And my guilty pleasure? Oh, alright.

      Avril Lavigne.

  2. I’ve got no beef with Avril Lavigne. I could probably live the rest of my life without hearing Complicated ever again, just because it was so overplayed, but she’s nothing to be embarassed about. If you’d said Barry Manilow I would have been a bit weirded out, but not Avril. :)

  3. I probably shouldn’t feel weird about liking Avril’s music; even David Tennant likes listening to Avril Lavigne. (He’s said that she would be one of his desert island choices.) But it just feels weird to like listening to Avril.

    I vastly prefer her second album to the first. And even though Eragon the movie was utter tosh, her song for it wasn’t bad at all.

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