It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to keep a log of my favourite songs throughout the year, roughly one a month. As a songwriter especially, it’s nice to look back and see which songs I loved and played obsessively throughout the year. It was hard to choose this year – there were multiple choices each month and sometimes I couldn’t choose, as you’ll see – but here are the songs that had my heart singing.
1. Family Tree by Caylee Hammack
I first heard Caylee sing this song at a Tin Pan South show in Nashville, just a vocal and guitar and she immediately had the whole room singing along. It’s so fun and you can’t help feeling like you know the people she’s describing, the members of her family. And then the chorus is – hopefully – relatable, whether it’s your blood family or your chosen family. It’s super catchy and such a feel good song. Plus the arrangement and production are really unique and interesting.
Some swing a little higher, some’ll just hang low
A few of us are on fire to get out, and some just wanna stay home
But it don’t matter, ’cause the roots run deep
And ain’t nothing gonna shake our family tree
And ain’t nothing gonna shake our family tree, ooh
2. Lady Like by Ingrid Andress
Another song I first heard at Tin Pan South, this one a few years ago. But this year, I was lucky enough to see Ingrid twice, both times in London. Every time I see her perform it, it seems like she’s fitting more and more into her skin, not that I ever would’ve called her uncomfortable when performing this song. But she just seems stronger and more confident and it’s beautiful to see. The whole song – the lyrics, the melodies, the production – is so cohesive, like every puzzle piece fits perfectly together. It’s a great pick-me-up song, one that can totally change your mood around, from feeling low to feeling badass. Also, Ingrid is one of the loveliest artists. She’s also so grateful that I’ve come to a show and so supportive of my endeavours to be an artist. I don’t think I’ll get to see her when I’m in Nashville in March, which I’m really gutted about, but hopefully another opportunity will come up.
Woah, I could bring you to your knees and
Get you kicked out the Garden of Eden
Untamable, unframeable, Mona Lisa, oh
Kiss you like a whiskey fire
Turn around, leave your heart in a riot
Lipstick in a cigarette pack on the dash
I’m a lady like that
I’m a lady like that
3. Great Ones by Maren Morris
It took me a while to get used to the new Maren Morris album, I think because I was so attached and so familiar with the first one (not that other people weren’t – I just don’t adjust to change well). But now I love it so it was freaking hard to choose a favourite. But there’s something about this one that just feels extra special. The production is fantastic and the lyrics are just beautiful. The line ‘The myth of me and you’ really sums it up for me because the song sounds like a myth, like a legendary love story, and I can’t help but hope for something like that, even though I’m not sure that’s possible.
You just fell out of the sky
The best things come when you don’t even try
Lightning in a bottle doesn’t happen twice
The kind of gospel that saves you just in time
The myth of me and you
Is fiction turned to truth
Most loves don’t make it through
But the great ones do
4. How Do I Get Close by Nick Wayne
A third song I first heard at Tin Pan South and it was just stunning. Nick Wayne has such a beautiful voice, unreal high notes and gorgeous low notes, and the emotion just pours out of it and out of his lyrics, even if, personally, I would write it differently. He writes in particular details that I’ve never heard anyone else pick up on but there’s a simplicity to the lyric so that you don’t feel that you’re being overwhelmed with imagery. I learned a lot from listening to this song.
How do I get close to you
There ain’t nothing I won’t do
I used to know that I was your home
Now I’m in this house alone
Wondering how do I get close to you
5. She Used To Be Mine by Sara Bareilles
I’ve long loved this song and during this part of the year, when I was desperately depressed, I learned to play it on the piano and sang it everyday, sometimes multiple times. It helped somehow to focus on something that I love so much, even if it made me sob over the keys. It creates this stillness in me, this clarity, that brings all of my emotions to the surface. Waitress and this song mean so much to me and they got me through a really hard time. And now that things are a bit easier, they bring me joy as well.
She’s imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine
6. What If I Never Get Over You by Lady Antebellum
From the moment I heard this song, I was in love. I related it so strongly to an experience I went through in my late teens that took me a long time to get over and at the time, I didn’t think I’d ever get over it. I’d never had that sort of experience TO get over before so I didn’t personally know that you could get over something like that, not really. Not truly. So the song instantly felt like it could’ve been written for me. It’s a beautiful song: lyrics, melodies, build up, harmonies, and so on. It definitely got me more into Lady Antebellum.
It’s supposed to hurt, it’s a broken heart
But to movin’ on is the hardest part
It comes in waves, the letting go
But the memory fades, everybody knows
7. Love Wins by Carrie Underwood
I’ve wanted to see Carrie Underwood live for years and I finally got to in July and she was even better than I thought she would be. She’s an incredible performer and her voice is even better live than it is recorded and it’s amazing recorded. It was really hard to choose a favourite song but this one was so positive and you could feel it lifting your soul. It doesn’t take in all of the complexities of the world we live in, of course, but we all need – we will always need – songs that inspire us, inspire kindness and compassion.
I, I believe you and me are sisters and brothers
And I, I believe we’re made to be here for each other
And we’ll never fall if we walk hand in hand
Put a world that seems broken together again
Yeah I, I believe in the end love wins
8. Cruel Summer by Taylor Swift
I am obsessed with this song. It’s chaotic, intense, and emotional, with both classic (“snuck in through the garden gate”) and unconventional imagery (“in the glow of the vending machine”). It’s easily one of Taylor’s best songs and I’m pretty sure it’s my favourite on ‘Lover’ (although that’s a tough call because it’s such a great, interesting, and diverse album). I’m fascinated by all the layers in the lyrics and the production is practically mythical and the bridge is a classic Swift/Antonoff work of art, building from the chorus and exploding like a firework. Then it drops back to the chorus to remind us of the core of the song, of the story, before taking off again. And then it ends suddenly. There are so many details in this song that I could write a dissertation dedicated to figuring them out and that is… awesome.
I’m drunk in the back of the car
And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar (oh)
Said “I’m fine”, but it wasn’t true
I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you
And I, snuck in through the garden gate
Every night that summer just to seal my fate (oh)
And I screamed for whatever it’s worth
I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?
9. The One by Kalie Shorr
This choice was the hardest. I was obviously going to choose a song from Kalie’s (long awaited) album but I wanted to choose every single one, each for different reasons. It’s an incredible album. I could’ve chosen Messy, F U Forever, Alice in Wonderland, The World Keeps Spinning, Big Houses, Gatsby, Vices, Lullaby, Angry Butterfly… practically the whole album. I could’ve chosen the few remaining that I haven’t listed. I don’t honestly know why I chose this one, why this one is the one (well, if I’m honest, one of a couple) that catches me in the chest every time but it does. It brings me to tears in moments. The instrumentation, the production, Kalie’s vocal and melodies, the emotion, the lyrics, even the specific arrangement of the words… They’re beautiful. They’re stunning. They’re heartbreaking.
This album ties with ‘Lover’ for album of the year for me. Sometimes I can’t listen to it because the emotions are so overwhelming, so blinding in their clarity. She’s brutal in her honesty but the vulnerability is heartbreaking. The imagery is so powerful, emotional and literal. I’m rambling. I don’t know if the songs were written or arranged chronologically but they sure do sound it and you can feel the emotional journey like the movement of ocean waves. There’s heart aching confusion, hollow vulnerability, visceral anger, self sabotage, growth, incredible strength… It’s one of the most emotionally compelling albums I’ve ever heard. It’s an origin story. I’ve always been a sucker for an origin story.
You were always supposed to be my seatbelt when we crashed
Answering the questions that I didn’t have to ask
I was supposed to be the concrete heart that couldn’t crack
Yeah, you were always supposed to be on my side of the war
Tell me what the hell were the last five years for
Now we’re just broken hearts and slamming doors
And you were supposed to be the one
You were supposed to be the one
10. I Can Love You From Here by Liberty’s Mother / This Isn’t Love (feat. Sam Jackson) by NADINE
I’m including two songs for this month because they were both played at the same event. I went to my tutor’s EP launch (released to raise awareness about baby loss), the title track of the EP being ‘I Can Love You From Here.’ Sophie (Liberty’s Mother being her artist name) performed the whole EP but the title track will always be special to me. It’s the first song I ever heard her play and it’s about how her daughter died the day before she was born, about how to love someone after they’ve died. It almost always reduces me to tears because of how strongly I relate to it. No one teaches you what to do with the love you have for someone when they’re gone – especially when it’s sudden.
The other song was performed by NADINE, who Sophie had invited to play a set at the launch. ‘This Isn’t Love’ is a song of hers that I’ve heard live several times now and absolutely love. But this time, she performed the newer, duet version with Sam Jackson and it was amazing. The guitar jack didn’t work so they stepped off the stage and performed acoustically, out of the spotlight and practically in the dark, and it was magical. Their voices fitted together beautifully and it was such a special one-of-a-kind moment. I felt so lucky to be witnessing it. The rest of her set was incredible too and there were several other songs I could be listing here, more amazing, special moments, but this one was the first of the show.
11. club by Kelsea Ballerini
I really like Kelsea Ballerini and while I liked ‘Homecoming Queen?’, I was a bit skeptical about a twenty six year old singing about high school. I much preferred ‘club’, despite being the person least likely to be found in a club. The melodies are so catchy and I really like the lyrics, the message that you don’t have to go out and get drunk to have fun. It’s been played many a time when I need a pick-me-up. Plus I love the video. The only thing that bothers me about it is the line ‘so what’s wrong with me?’ because it implies that there’s something wrong with not wanting to go to a club, despite the message of the rest of the song.
Yeah I like my friends, yeah I like tequila
I like puttin’ on a dress and dancin’ with my feelings
I could be the life of any party
I can play along with anybody
I don’t wanna go to the club
I don’t wanna watch everybody around me try to hook up
And say stuff they don’t mean
And get drunk and get cheap
So what’s wrong with me?
‘Cause I don’t wanna go to the club
12. Graveyard (Acoustic) by Halsey
I love the original version of ‘Graveyard’ (the darkness in the lyrics, the urgency in the rhythms, particular production choices – when some instrumental/electronic parts were used and when they were pulled back or out completely) but there’s something about the acoustic version that just sounds so magical to me. The slower tempo gives it a more introspective feel and I love the sound of the electric guitar. Something about it just connects deep inside me and it feels like I can breathe more easily. And on that note, the gasp that follows the bridge in the original version seems to be replaced with an exhale, like a letting go of the situation, of the person, and that small detail profoundly changes the song somehow.
You look at me
With eyes so dark, don’t know how you even see
You push right through me
It’s gettin’ real
You lock the door, you’re drunk at the steering wheel
And I can’t conceal
So there you have it. My songs of 2019. As I always say, there could’ve been so many more but I’ll stop there. I hope you liked reading this as much I liked writing it but now I have a monster of an essay to finish. Yay for me.
EDIT: If you’d like to listen to all of these songs, I made a Spotify playlist: