Fifteen Songs to Rule Them All

A few weeks ago, a co-worker offered up a challenge: define my musical life in fifteen songs or less, with no two songs by the same band.


Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  That’s certainly what I thought as I sipped my coffee and considered the idea.  I mean, it seemed to me that I’d already done part of the work when I was putting together my What Will You Be Listening To? article, musing about what I might be listening to one day as I grow even older and more crotchety in a seniors’ home.

When I really started digging, though, it was much harder than I expected.  I mean, what criteria does one use to choose music that has defined them?  Worse, for the bands that I’m truly enamored of, how do I choose one song to represent their entire body of work?  And how do I organize the final product?  While we’ve become a society largely focused on adding single MP3s to our MP3 player, rather than enjoying the unique flavour that an entire album in its correct order can bring, I still can’t fully abandon the need for a narrative, a chronology, or at least a justification (if only internal) for the order in which I place songs.


What I came up with was nothing less than the musical chronology of my life.  From the music of my father’s 1950/60s childhood that he insisted was, in fact, the only real music, through a musical journey of discovery led by a best friend, to the solid, core artists that set the musical foundation of my adulthood, and finally the somewhat lighter artists that have soothed me since.  Only artists and songs that have entered my sphere, be it on tape, CD, or MP3, and never really left; they have lingered on my playlists, disappearing only occasionally, and never for long.

While these criteria did mean disqualifying many great artists, and even entire genres like the quirky and humourous (think Jonathan Coulton, The Lonely Island, or Monty Python), ultimately I think the list is stronger for it.

Without further ado, I present:


Fifteen Songs to Rule Them All

The Early Years

  1. Brown Eyed Girl         —          Van Morrison
  2. Paint it Black               —          The Rolling Stones
  3. Smooth Criminal       —          Michael Jackson
  4. Imagine                         —          John Lennon


Discovery and Wonder

  1. Paul Revere                 —          The Beastie Boys
  2. No Fair Fights             —          Prick
  3. Daughter                      —          Pearl Jam


The Golden Years

  1. Dolphin’s Cry              —          Live
  2. Ænima                           —          Tool
  3. Stitches                         —          Orgy
  4. Judith                            —          A Perfect Circle


Growing Old and Mellow

  1. Bring Me to Life          —          Evanescence
  2. Wave Over Wave        —          Great Big Sea
  3. Hurt                                 —          Johnny Cash
  4. Hallelujah                     —          Jeff Buckley

Precious Songs


Consider the gauntlet thrown down: no more than 15 songs, only one song per band.  What songs make the soundtrack of your life?


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