6 Songs on a Playlist: The Music I keep going back to

“What music do you like?”

It’s a great conversation starter. At a party, in the pub, on a first date; we all have a curiousity for what kind of music makes people tick. It tells us a lot about a person, a psych evaluation in one simple question. What do you listen to?

I’ve listened to tunes in my room for as long as I can remember. We’ve come a long way since then, but at the time I thought a double tape deck and a radio were the very latest in technology, all crammed into a massive plastic shell with speakers the size of my head. Streamlined wasn’t the 90s aesthetic. I was having a wee browse of some of the new compact Panasonic Wireless Speakers, with multi room audio and streaming abilities, and had a giggle over the fact that if I’d wanted to play something in multiple rooms when I was a kid, I would have had to crank up the volume to 10 and walk away.

When I was a teenager, I loved the music that made the memories I look back on today. The first song I ever slow danced with somebody to (Stay – Shakespear’s Sister). That tune I heard through tinny speakers at the hot dog stand when I went on my very first date (Stay – Lisa Loeb), or the one my friends and I always played whilst getting ready for a school dance (All That She Wants – Ace of Bass). My first concert (Janet Jackson), my second concert (Rolling Stones), and the first song that ever made me cry (Cats in the Cradle – Ugly Kid Joe). I even remember the first band I introduced my friends to, convinced I was the coolest kid in the world (Nerf Herders).

When I was sent to boarding school, the only thing that got me through was mixtapes I’d made or that my friends sent me, played over and over again in my room until our dorm monitor came in to make me turn it off. There are songs that have emotional significance for me. That dance, that date, that Blue Jay parade. The birthday party, the tearful airport goodbye, my first day at uni.  I’ll belt out these songs at the top of my lungs, off-tune and off-key.

Hey Jealousy – Gin Blossoms

Tell me do you think it’d be all right
If I could just crash here tonight
You can see I’m in no shape for driving
And anyway I’ve got no place to go
And you know it might not be that bad
You were the best I’d ever had
If I hadn’t blown the whole thing years ago
I might not be alone

That whole Gin Blossoms album was on permanent loop when I was banished to boarding school; between this and Metallica, my dorm neighbours must have been going spare. Ask me if I gave any fucks, antisocial little shit that I was.

I hated that school. I hated being away from my friends, thousands of miles from home, in a town where no one spoke English or French. The 18 months I was there were the longest of my life. I lived for the holidays, when I could go back to Toronto. We didn’t have mobile phones back then, and even though the internet existed we weren’t allowed to use it at school; I wrote long letters and got even longer ones back, promising to break me out of that hellhole.

Enid – Barenaked Ladies

I can get a job I can pay the phone bills
I can cut the lawn, cut my hair, cut out my cholesterol
I can work overtime I can work in a mine
I can do it all for you
But I don’t want to

This song reminds me of being home sick from school, drinking ginger ale (Canada Dry, of course), and watching the anglicised version of Sailor Moon on YTV. Before ‘One Week’ came out, before BNL became as big as they are now, these guys were a Canadian homegrown band we all listened to in Toronto in the early 90s. We were in primary school and had no idea what half the lyrics meant, but we learned them anyways – and it was always a sense of achievement to get all the way through *that* verse in Enid in a single breath. Such innocence.

Fun fact: I once phoned my friend Chris and asked if he wanted to go see BNL in Glasgow. It took a full day before he realised I was talking about a band. Same friend was also confused about why I kept talking about Meat Loaf.

The Only Time – Nine Inch Nails

I swear
I just found everything I need
The sweat in your eyes the blood in your veins are listening to me
Well I want to wrap it up and swim in it until I drown
My moral standing is lying down

I’m a musical anomoly. I’ll have ‘Barbie Girl’ on the same playlist as Nine Inch Nails, with a bit of Ace of Bass and vintage Metallica. When I first moved to Edinburgh, someone I’d met a couple times offered to show me around after we bonded over a shared love of NIN and Marilyn Manson. They lent me a copy of Long Hard Road Out of Hell, and I gave them Pretty Hate Machine; even after they moved to New Zealand, they didn’t lose track of it, and still to this day remember this was my favourite song.

I have no idea where I left my keys, but I won’t ever forget we spent 12 drunken hours trying to identify the track Cryptorchid on Antichrist Superstar. It’s strange the memories we retain.

Lost Together – Blue Rodeo

Strange and beautiful
Are the stars tonight
That dance around your head
In your eyes I see that perfect world
I hope that doesn’t sound too weird

I am such a Canadian stereotype.

My high school decided to hold prom my Freshman year in the carpark, where they’d cleared space to build a gym. The whole thing was so casual that the girls wore sandals and sundresses, and the boys wore dark jeans and sandwashed silk button-down shirts. Some kids from the school we shared a bus stop with peered at us over the fence, and it looked like a fight was about to start, so the DJ our guidance counsellor had hired whacked on a slow song to try to do some damage control. The boys sheepishly shuffled back to their dates. Crisis averted.

Blowing in the Wind – Bob Dylan

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?

This was probably the first “grown up” song I ever learned the words to. I grew up on Sharon, Lois, and Bram, and graduated onto Bob Dylan. My Grade 3 class sang this for Spring Festival, a bizarre school-wide performance of kiddie choirs making an attempt at understanding the lyrics of Dylan and Cat Stevens, very literally. We had no idea of the significance for the civil rights movement, or its later use as a war protest anthem.

Everyday – Buddy Holly

Everyday, it’s a-gettin’ closer
Goin’ faster than a roller coaster
Love like yours will surely come my way

I was always the kind of kid who read books way more advanced than was strictly recommended. I found the first book in a series by Eileen Goudge about a high school beauty pageant turned deadly. The series? “Who Killed Peggy Sue”. Who the hell was Peggy Sue? That’s where Buddy Holly came in. I’d had a huge crush on Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens in the 80s semi biopic La Bamba, and I’d vaguely heard of the name. Before music streaming existed, I bought a Buddy Holly CD from the big HMV on Bloor and listened to the whole album over and over again until I knew all the words.


* This was a collaborative post, but all opinions (and hilariously random playlists) were mine. The memories are mine as well.



  1. Ah, some great songs and brilliant memories! Will have to think about what mine would be and why!

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