This is my Help playlist. I play it when I need a boost, a way to get through the day, a little grace from the universe. I’m musically eccentric, as you’ll see, but every one of these songs has lifted me up in one way or another.
I threw the playlist together at one point, something else that’s completely obvious. Those of you who remember the heyday of mix tapes will recognize the total lack of artistry when it comes to song order, musical and emotional transitions, variation of intensity, and consistency of genre. It’s rough, in other words. That bothered me at one point, but now I kind of like it that way.
Things don’t need to be perfect to be wonderful.
It’s also…incomplete. Some of you will be shocked to see no Toad the Wet Sprocket on there, but then again, fear constitutes an entire album of help on its own. I might stick the Indigo Girls classic “Galileo” on there and Blur’s “Tender” has been asking for a spot. And my new obsession, Pentatonix, has a great candidate in “Run To You.” That’s another drawback to playlists (as opposed to mix tapes)—there’s no definite end point.
Kind of like life, folks. The to-do list is never done. We just have to love what we’ve got.
1. Elohai N’Tzor (Pink Martini)—I’ve mentioned this before. It’s a beautiful prayer arranged into what may be the most gorgeous music I’ve ever heard. If I just have time for this song, I’m already soothed, calmed, uplifted, inspired, and much happier.
2. Hallelujah (John Cale)—Everyone has their Hallelujah. This has been mine since college.
3. Vincent (Don McLean)—Of course, this story doesn’t have a happy ending, but I like to think that the depth of our struggles might relate to the depth of our love for the beauty of this world and its people.
4. Down to the River to Pray (Alison Krauss)—I love the music, the voices, the lyrical repetition, and also the more metaphorical repetition. Spirituals connect me to generations of people who’ve needed to be lifted up—and that feels much better than going it alone.
5. Come Unto Me (Sweet Honey In The Rock)—First of all, these women named their group superbly. All the smooth, delicious shades of amber liquid pour through their voices. And then, this song is my promise. For years, I’ve looked forward to resting when my time comes.
6. Pushing the Needle Too Far (Indigo Girls)—Well, kind of a no-brainer here. I first thought of the main image here in a shooting-up sense, but my husband pointed out that it probably refers to a speedometer or pressure gauge. And isn't that what’s wrong with the world today?
7. This Is Not Goodbye (Melissa Etheridge)—Because “everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”
8. Running Through Fields (Sister Hazel)—This song connects my heartstrings not to history and many people, but to one person’s heartbreak and ability to make art of it. It also takes me back to when I first heard it, a time when I found much goodness in my life.
9. The Girl With The Weight Of The World In Her Hands (Indigo Girls)—If “Come Unto Me” is my idea of heaven, this song describes my struggles on this earth. I can see what this girl gets wrong and yet, still, I sometimes slip into it. I’m constantly working to leave this girl behind.
10. You Don’t Have To Walk Alone (Roger Day)—Because we don’t. We don’t have to walk alone. And this song reminds me of the miraculous time when my husband taught me that.
11. Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own (U2)—U2 has been such an integral part of my life that their music sometimes simply becomes a soundtrack, a background. Then I’ll listen to some lyrics for the first time all over again (if you know what I mean) and I’ll want to run around and show them to people. “See how awesome this is? Look at the poetry! See what they did there?” So, yes, Bono, you can take some of the punches for me any night. You rock.
12. How Can I Keep From Singing? (Enya)—Well, Enya. Plus history! I love the ecumenical lyrics, connecting the singer—and the listener—with all people who’ve fought the good fight.
13. Angel (Sarah McLachlan)—The beautiful madness and comfort of angels—just what I need on those days. And a gorgeous voice!
14. Prayer of St. Francis (Sarah McLachlan)—We said this prayer at our wedding. It still offers the best guidance I know of for living with each other on this earth.
15. Yes It Was (Sweet Honey In The Rock)—Well, the voices in this group produce a physical sensation of peace in me every time. And then the refrain “Was it all for the army of love? Yes, it was.” That’s the good fight, folks.
16. This Is Love (Mary Chapin Carpenter)—This song goes with an incredible memory. One night our newborn daughter simply would not stop crying. Her daddy held her so I could escape to the shower for twenty minutes. I returned to find him rocking her as this song played on repeat. And every time it came on, she calmed a little more. Could there be a better song for family?
17. Lightning Crashes (Live)—This song grabbed me the first time I heard it. It pulls my spirit outside my body for some reason. Debate about the lyrical story rages, but I like the poetry. Life comes and goes. And it has the word “placenta” in it—how many Top 40 artists can pull that off?
18. I Run For Life (Melissa Etheridge)—I know Ms. Etheridge wrote this as an anthem for breast cancer survivors, but it works beautifully for other illnesses, including depression. And when I’m running errands, running the kids to school, running the vacuum, etc, I feel MUCH more like a badass if I’m singing at the top of my lungs, “I run for life!”
19. Finale B (Rent)—Okay, intensely horrendous emotional, musical, and genre transition here. But I’ve always loved musicals and Rent takes me back to three years when I hung out with an amazing found family and we made art. And every time I hear the words of this song, I learn from them. “I can’t control/My destiny/ I trust my soul/My only goal/Is just to be…”
20. Amen (Sweet Honey In The Rock)—One of my favorite series of books features a wise man who prays the ultimate prayer. In the end, we find out that the prayer is “Yes.” Amen is another way of praying that prayer.
Yes, Amen, Let It Be. Oops—that’d be another great song on here.