When I Discovered My Favorite Songs Aren’t My Favorite Songs…

While I was on a road trip with my girlfriend this summer, I bravely ceded control of my iPod. Flipping through my playlists to find one she liked, she asked me if I wanted to listen to my Top 25 Most Played playlist–a playlist automatically assembled by iTunes and which I had no idea existed. What followed was a surprising series of mini-revelations as to what my favorite songs actually were.

I think that sometimes one gets so caught up in popular and critical opinion that it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of a song more than the song itself, or that you may love one song on an album so much you forget the songs around it that you listen to just as much. So color me surprised when, looking at my music library sorted by plays, The Decemberists didn’t crack the top ten. Nor did The National, or Arcade Fire, or many other bands that I love more than Rufus Wainwright, whose “Poses” is the 6th most played track on my iPod. And my two “favorite” Modest Mouse songs, “3rd Planet” and “Night on the Sun”? They weren’t there either. Looking at “Gravity Rides Everything” sitting atop the list, I realized that “Wow, that actually might be my favorite song.” It’s a strange bit of cognitive dissonance that results from this, triggering the realization that beliefs don’t always match actions. I may claim that “PDA” is my favorite Interpol song, but the facts disagree–and such was my experience with other bands.

With perhaps one exception, I didn’t anticipate any of these songs to be here–and yet they are. They’re the favorite songs that hide in plain sight; the unsung heroes; the crushes that you never notice until someone points it outThe end result is that the next time I’m asked what my favorite songs are, I may have to see if perception matches reality.

Next time you need a playlist to listen to, peruse your Top 25; maybe you’ll be just as surprised as I was.

In the meantime, here’s what I was surprised about: my top 10 most played songs.

10) “Untitled” – Interpol

I would’ve expected “PDA”, or “NYC”, or “Leif Erikson”, or even “Length of Love”, but Interpol’s “Untitled” bests them all. I think this song reigns triumphant thanks to heavy airplay in high school — I’d play it in my car every morning, as its glimmering guitar line, crooned verse, and backbreaking bass line served as my daily ‘get pumped’ song.

9) “The Stars are Projectors” – Modest Mouse

“The Stars are Projectors” is the gift that just keeps on giving; hidden inside its 9-minute runtime is every style and form of Modest Mouse’s catalog. I’ve never think of it as one of my all-time favorite Modest Mouse songs, but every time I hear it I’m floored by the magnitude of The Moon & Antarctica‘s centerpiece song.

8) “Two-Headed Boy” – Neutral Milk Hotel

My favorite NMH song may be Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2, but I’ve actually given more attention to Pt. 1. And now that I think about it, I think “Two-Headed Boy” is the definitive NMH song, a heartrending 4-and-a-half minute tour-de-force propelled only by Jeff Mangum’s cramp inducing down-strummed guitar and by his searing voice.

7) “Secunda” – Jeremy Soule


This is the power of “study music” — it’s too hard to listen to songs with words while I’m trying to pump out papers, so I instead turn to the mammoth, 4-CD Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim soundtrack. In my four years here at Vanderbilt I’ve actually listened to this album more than any other one, with every song clocking in with at least 20 plays, including the 42-minute-long “Skyrim Atmospheres”. Who ever would’ve guessed that a soundtrack to a video game would be the most enduring musical passion of my time in Music City?

6) “Poses” – Rufus Wainwright


Rufus Wainwright’s crowning achievement is this, the title track from his second album. While I’ve always thought it’s his best song, I never realized just how much I love it on its own terms. Wainwright’s intimate and confessional lyrics–and their interaction with the dolorous music that backs them–is what makes this song so addicting.

5) “A Shot in the Arm” – Wilco


The first Wilco song I ever fell in love with is still their most played, although I could name a couple of Wilco songs that I may like more.

4) “He Would Have Laughed” – Deerhunter

This is the only one that didn’t surprise me; I fell in love with Deerhunter the summer before my sophomore year and went through a phase were I listened to Halcyon Digest with daily regularity, where I’m sure I amassed a great number of plays of this track.

3) “All We Ask” – Grizzly Bear

By far the biggest surprise of the experience. While I wouldn’t name Grizzly Bear in my top 10 (or perhaps even top 20) favorite bands, now that I think about it, “All We Ask” is absolutely one of my favorite songs. That part at the end, where all four band members sing over those beautiful, distorted synthesizer strings? Gets me every time.

2) “Gotta Start Somewhere” – Jon Brion

Ahh, yes, my Jon Brion phase. “Gotta Start Somewhere” is simply one of the most lush pop songs ever written and one of my personal favorite songs.

1) “Gravity Rides Everything” – Modest Mouse

This another real surprise. I was certain that “3rd Planet”, long my favorite Modest Mouse song, would be at the top of the list; instead, the song that immediately follows it, “Gravity Rides Everything” sits at the tippy-top. This might be the best song Modest Mouse has ever made, because it’s the song that almost infallibly wins over new fans and devotees, a pitch-perfect mixture of Modest Mouse’s wistfulness, mortality, beauty, and strangeness.