Gonna kick things off with...CD recs! This whole post is kinda short on songs but real long on stories and extras.
CD Rec: Cities 97 Sampler 16 (2004)
[it got long so I am putting it in a spoiler cut]This is somewhat niche, but for most of my life a local radio station put out an annual album for charity composed of acoustic performances by however many adult-contemporary musicians they could get to record for it. I never paid it much mind, even after I started listening to the station, due to the amount of unimportant Dude Bands. But I found a bunch in a thrift store for 99 cents each and took a chance on the ones with multiple songs I already love (in fact, am now wondering in that hoarding-brain way if I shouldn't have bought them all, because they are apparently niche yet desirable enough that they still sell online for $5+). Anyway!
Highlights for this one, based on songs whose originals I already know and love, include Sting (Fields of Gold), Dido (White Flag), Alanis Morissette (Ironic, with the lyric change and meeting his beautiful...husband), Keri Noble (Talk to Me), Sarah McLachlan (Angel) and Five for Fighting (100 Years), but turns out when you strip them down to acoustic style, even the solo men and dude bands I dislike or am indifferent about – as collected by a radio station that plays my style of music – are incredibly, eminently listenable. I only fell In Love with one newbie, but as a collection... let's just say I played it straight through while only skipping 1 track out of 16 (“Snow Days” by Trip Shakespeare), and then I played it again and again because it was so pleasant to have on in the background.
CD Rec: Cities 97 Sampler 21 (2009)
Second verse, same as the first. Not quite as good, as the dread garbage of 2010s radio is bleeding in, but I love the road trip theme. Highlights (whose originals were previously featured on my list) include Ingrid Michaelson (Maybe), The Fray (You Found Me), Matt Nathanson (All We Are), and the first 4 numbers below. Off we go!
1. Rob Thomas – Her Diamonds
She's down in it
She tried her best and now she can't win
It's hard to see them on the ground
Her diamonds falling down
Listen, you know what I like? Metaphors for tears. You know what else I like? Songs about supportive guys with sad girlfriends (edit: or wives. you know what I mean). I am specifically hooked on the acoustic version, so thank heavens I was able to find an actual link to it.
2. Erin McCarley - Pitter-Pat
Pitter-pat, the angel on my shoulder
Is haunting me tonight
Sampler 21 was low on women so I let them all take precedence. This little chorus just caught my ear every time. It reminded me of my heyday in 2006 when I was rounding up ALL the young female coffeehouse singers slinging free downloads on indie artist sites. The original version is good, but I linked to a pretty-close-to-what-I-hear acoustic version above.
3. Meredith Fierke – Train's Song
1, 2, 3, you're calling on me
You're calling me out again
I'm pretty sure I heard it before
But I'll hear you out again
What a cool, haunting sound. Even the non-acoustic version isn't much less acoustic. This doesn't sound like a radio hit at all, except maybe on one of those niche folk music stations, and that is why I love it.
4. Snow Patrol – Crack the Shutters
Crack the shutters open wide
I wanna bathe you in the light of day
And just watch you as the rays
Tangle up around your face and body
Man, Snow Patrol! There's a blast from the 2007 past. I don't love all the imagery, but this is such a joyous and optimistic chorus. (Though for once in my life I do NOT care for the piano in the original -- it is too loud and intrusive compared to the Studio C performance that relies on acoustic guitar instead and seems to have more texture to his voice. Couldn't find the Studio C performance anywhere though)
5. Damien Rice (preferably ft. Lisa Hannigan) – Volcano
What I am to you is not real
What I am to you, you do not need
This is the one from Sampler 16. To be honest, I feel like I don't trust this dude; I seem to recall something about him being a jerk to his former singing partner? Probably doesn't help that it happened to catch me on a day I was scrolling through a Goodreads lists of student/teacher YA novels and the lyric “she's still too young” kept floating out of the background (the lyric is “too young to treat,” but I heard “too young for me”), so somehow that's what the song became about in my head. But I also cannot resist the cello humming mournfully over the melody. Also, I suspected that the album version would be better and OH HEY LISA HANNIGAN. Yeah, that's better. (This version sounds exactly like what's on the Cities 97 CD, except the CD tragically does not have a female part.)
6. ATC – Around the World (La La La La La)
Inside an empty room
My inspiration flows
Now wait to hear the tune
Around my head it goes
So, I've never heard of this group. I had no idea what to expect when it started. But it definitely wasn't the enchanting music that poured out, something that made me think of Alice in Wonderland at first and then just as quickly decide that what it really sounds like is an Emilie Autumn song. Amazing. It literally took me 2 seconds to fall for this song and less than 20 to declare myself in love.
7. Samantha Mumba -- Gotta Tell You
Don't wanna love you if you don't love me
Don't wanna need you when you won't need me too
I am embarrassed to include this because it has no redeeming qualities beyond its catchy pop music, but it pairs very well with the above. And in case you're wondering, what happened with both is that I checked out "Now That's What I Call Music! # 6" for a specific song, and so many songs I like were on there that I let it play straight through & then accidentally fell in love with a whole bunch I never heard back in the days of 2001, when it was possible to listen exclusively to Classy Radio (adult contemporary) over the airwaves. This is so 2001 pop!!
8. Jennifer Lopez -- Love Don't Cost A Thing
SEE ABOVE. (It also features timpani, my great weakness.)
9. Everclear - AM Radio
Things changed back in '75
We were all growing up on the in and the outside
This one does not sound like early 2000s radio, it sounds a good deal older (to match its nostalgic content), but it's so dang catchy and weird that I love listening to it anyway. This one has some lyrical redemption. Also, I feel like I have to add the disclaimer that I was definitely obsessed with their song “Wonderful” back in the day, but always assumed they were a 1-hit-wonder
10. David Hayes - Mandy's Song
I remember the way you used to be
When you were here with me
I finally booted up an MP3 player I bought at a garage sale, and it had a few surprises! Mostly boring. But then there was this acoustic-guitar-laden number with a girl's name, which as we all know is my greatest weakness, even more so than timpani. I especially love the female voice that takes over on the final repetition of the last line.
I can't find the lyrics anywhere on the internet, so here they are as best as I could hear. I'm not a hundred percent sure on the prepositions in the chorus (it's vs. as), but otherwise I am pretty confident.
[lyrics!]Well it must be the weather
'Cause I can't fall asleep
But it's not because of you
'Cause I am lying here
Listening to your voice
But you're not speaking to me
As unforgettable the way as you looked at me
As undeniable that you're beautiful, I'm free
And I remember the way you used to be
When you were here with me
My mind's my enemy
It's always listening
To secrets my heart no longer keeps
I try to leave you out in the breeze
Cause I can't see
What you found so wrong with me
11. Alicia Keys - Underdog
She's riding in a taxi back to the kitchen
Talking to the driver 'bout his wife and his children
On the run from a country where they put you in prison
For being a woman and speaking your mind
Only one song at the Grammys bent my ear*, but it was worth it. Every lyric is spectacular (look at all these little stories!), the music video’s pretty (someone tell me who the blonde girl at the beginning is because despite hand tattoos her screen charisma is BONKERS), and acoustic guitar features prominently. I'd say it's her best song ever.
*Update: fine, 2 songs.
12. Gary Clark Jr. -- This Land
Paranoid and pissed off
Now that I got the money
Fifty acres and a model A
Right in the middle of Trump country
I was trying VERY HARD not to listen to this because it's got F-bombs and N-words and I know for a fact that when you hear words repeated enough, they filter into your vocabulary no matter how bad you know they are. (People love to say “if I knew a word was a slur I would simply not ever sing it; rip to gina rodriguez but im different,” but the F-word was worse than a slur to me growing up, and yet look at me after exposure to The Internet.) There is entirely too much risk that I will sing along someday subconsciously.
Unfortunately, it is a hard vow to stick to because this is super incredibly catchy music whose genre I can't even define (it's like...rock and calpyso/reggae at once?) as well as being one of the few Angry Political Songs that feels truly earned.
13. David Francisco – Lionheart
You have the heart of a lion
There is courage inside of your bones
MAN does this sound like it was written expressly for use in a movie. I can also all but hear Glee covering it as a New Directions group song/closing number. Very inspirational.
14. MUNA – Number One Fan
So I heard the bad news
Nobody likes me and I'm gonna die alone
In my bedroom
It's like Lady Gaga, but since I don't know her [edit: them], in my ignorance I can just enjoy the techno-pop! (This and the above were pulled off a much more recent Now That's What I Call Music! CD)
15. Bad Bad Hats - Midway
Midway between the end and the start
I cried like a baby, I tore you apart
Running from garbage on the radio, I turned in desperation to the indie station that I am always unwilling to admit might have better stuff, and it was playing this fairly catchy girlband (or at least girl-led band) with the CATCHIEST chorus, shown above. Honestly, I have somehow played it like 60 times this month, often on loop??
16. Heather Nova - Heart and Shoulder
I'm powerless to change your world
I'm powerless to stop the hurt
But I'll give you my heart, give you my shoulder
Checked out the Felicity soundtrack for the studio-polished version of Puddle of Grace (a forever-fave since 2006!), found this addictive number from the provider of my beloved London Rain.
17. Hanson - I Was Born
I don't want a ticket to the same routine
I want to see the sights unseen
I want the extraordinary
Late-breaking entry at noon on the last day of the month, because someone linked me to the music video with all their kids joining in and honestly, this is just exactly the kind of happy feel-good song we all need right now.
...and that's it. I've mostly been rediscovering a lot of old music, courtesy of this game I randomly decided to play 5x on Tumblr (but also secretly played at least 20 more times, the results of which are logged on my computer...waiting...)
List Extra: Felicity Theme (original) – it's 78 seconds of female vocals and prettiness. If it were longer it would be on the list. WHY IS IT NOT LONGER.