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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Wang

My favourite songs of all time

In recent times, I compiled a list of all the songs that I would consider to be my "favourites". From that starting point, I identified my all-time top 20 favourite songs and created a playlist.

My all-time top 20 favourite songs include songs from different genres, different eras, different languages, and different themes. I will go over some of the reasons I like each of them.

Note 1: I am not writing this to break down the songs musically nor am I dissecting them lyrically. Similarly, I will not mention any profound insight about the artists nor about the backstory of the songs.

Note 2: One of the major perks of knowing multiple languages is that you have more content, including music, that you can appreciate on a genuine level.

1. Vienna by Billy Joel

This is undoubtedly my favourite song of all time. I love the way each phrase of the melody flows; it is very catchy and beautiful. What I like the most about it is how much the lyrics speak to me. This is my favourite line: "you can get what you want or you can just get old." This line captures the essence of a sentiment that I have always connected with. It doesn't get better than a beautiful song speaking my truth in such an eloquent manner.

2. Comfortable by John Mayer

This is a lesser known song by John Mayer from his 1999 EP, Inside Wants Out - the first official collection of songs released by him. I am a big fan of his music as well as his songwriting. For me, it is often the acoustic guitar songs that I like more out of his works, such as this song. What makes this song really stand for me is the storytelling; I love the way he reflects on the happiness and comfort of a past relationship, even in the simplest moments, and then expresses how the new relationship just doesn't quite measure up, despite everyone around him approving of it. All the different elements of the song come together to put me in that scenario and allow me to feel how it would be like, which is incredibly powerful.

3. Amorfoda by Bad Bunny

The next song is a Spanish pop piano ballad, which is very different from his famous Latin trap/reggaetón sound. I love how he captures the vibe and emotions of being heartbroken in this song. A particularly powerful moment of this is when the song keeps building up and he hits me with this line: "Preguntándole a Dios si en verdad el amor existe," meaning "asking God if love really exists." I find this powerful because it is literally questioning a higher power about the mere existence of love, showing the depth that a man could fall in the grief and the emotional pain of heartbreaks. I also like it a lot because I find it ironic, in the sense that I appreciate heartbreaks because they feel meaningful, make the relationship that ended feel even more meaningful, and confirms the existence of love in a way with the grief and emotional pain. If I don't experience powerful emotions after a relationship ends and have my heart broken, that is when I would question whether I was in love or even whether love exists.

This song is also special because it really made me love his music. I was a fan of the genre of music he was a part of and I was a fan of his early works. However, it is this song that took it to the next level and made me explore his music more, which is great because all of his most successful albums and all my favourite albums of his came out soon after this song.

4. Prima di ogni cosa by Fedez

I first discovered this song when I started looking at Fedez's works after I saw him with Mika, one of my favourite artists, as judges on X Factor Italia. This is an Italian pop piano ballad, which is very different than the rap and hip hop music he usually makes. It is very clearly dedicated to his newborn son at the time, expressing his feelings on entering fatherhood and speaking on all the precious first moments that they will share together. Once again, I have a favourtie line of lyrics: "vorrei insegnarti tutto quello che non ho imparato," which means "I would like to teach you everything that I didn't learn." Parenthood is one of the greatest responsibility anyone could take on and always ends up being one of the most significant part of one's life, thus it is something that I have thought a lot about and considered from many different perspectives. This song and that line in particular allow me to place myself from a viewpoint that can easily and clearly see all the beauty of parenthood - of fatherhood.

5. Dear Marie by John Mayer

Musically, I like this song for reasons that are very similar to those for the other John Mayer song mentioned. This song tells somewhat of a different story, but one in which I am captivated by again. It is all about what life was like in adolescence and how people go down different paths. When he asks "Marie" all these questions about how she used to view him, how she would view him now, and what life advice she might give him now, it makes me think about how different people from my past might answer them about me. Generally speaking I don't care about what their opinions may be but thinking about these questions and their potential answers is a tool to access other perspectives on my journey so far, how I have changed, and how my life has changed.

6. 不再年轻 by 贰佰

This is a Chinese song with the title meaning "No longer young." I love the mood and tone of this song, largely due to the brilliant mix of emotional instrumentals and his raw and simple vocals. There are many lyrics that speak to me in this song. One of them is this line: "多少人重复着别人的生活," which means "how many people are repeating other people's lives?" This is an interesting question with a lot to unpack. It is something that I have thought about and pondered upon from different perspectives and in different points of my life. It is also a question that tends to come up while I think about other concepts related to life, society, and philosophy.

The constant reminder of no longer being young is another key element of the song that makes me love it so much. I have always felt old, not as in mature but rather literally old. I don't mean old for my age either; I mean I feel old straight-up. My body feels young, which is awesome, but I feel old overall. The constant reminder in this song connects me more intimately with that feeling of oldness.

In short, I love how this song packs so many thought provoking and emotion inciting lines in such a musically sophisticated way.

7. Hier encore by Charles Aznavour

This is an absolute masterpiece, no matter how anyone looks at it. This is unsurprising, as it is by one of the greatest French artists ever. It would be a prime example of the chanson genre, which is lyric-driven and poetic, somewhat similar to the cantautore genre in Italy. I love the somber tone of the song, as he reflects on how he wasted his youth and how terribly things have played out. The sense of chagrin, especially in the French sense of the word, is conveyed so intensely that I feel it wholeheartedly as if I were an old man who had ruined his 20s. I love it when songs spark powerful feelings within me and lets me see life through the eyes of someone completely different.

8. Un velero llamando Libertad by José Luis Perales

This is a Spanish pop song from 1979. It has a catchy melody and great drum and bass parts. What I love the most about it is the story that it tells. The essence of the song that speaks to me is perfectly captured by the line, "Su corazón Buscó una forma diferente de vivir," which means "his heart looked for a different way to live." My heart has definitely felt that sentiment. It cannot be overstated how much I appreciate living in a way that really works for me and how much I appreciate the spirit of leaving aspects of your life and going after ones that are more suitable for you.

Interestingly, there is a meme in the Spanish speaking world based on this song. It uses the small segment of the song that says, "y se marcho," which means "and he/she/it left." There would be a short clip of someone or something falling or breaking away and that segment of the song would play.

9. I Love Her But She Loves Someone Else by Sting

I have loved this song ever since it came out in 2013. I was just starting to explore my musical taste around that time. I discovered many rock bands, including The Police, which Sting was the lead singer of. I randomly checked out his solo career and found this masterpiece. The lyrics are about dealing with unrequited love. Though I was only thirteen years old, I craved feeling many of the emotions conveyed in this song.

I was absolutely taken by the first phrase of the song: "when a man of my age shaves his face in the morning, who is it that stares back and greets him?" This, once again, goes back to me always feeling old. It also ties into my obsession with developing a profound and intimate understanding of who I am as an individual. Over the past decade, this song has never failed to speak directly to my soul.

10. From Paris With Love by Melody Gardot

This modern soft jazz song is simply gorgeous. Melody Gardot's voice is one of my favourite ever. Every word she sings draws me in; it is incredible. The melody, her phrasing, and the sophisticated instrumentation combine to capture this vibe that I just love. It makes me feel like I am the protagonist of a romance movie sitting in a Parisian café about to meet the love of my life.

11. 春天里 by 汪峰

This is a Chinese rock song by one of the greatest Chinese rock singers, who is also a veteran coach on the Chinese version of The Voice. The title of this track means "In spring." It is another fantastic storytelling song, in which he reflects on how his life has changed over the years and how his perspective has changed with it. I love how emotionally affected I am by his romanticism of the period when he was a young, single, and broke musician. In the first two verses, he sings about how little he had and how unfortunate his situation was, but also how happy he felt despite those circumstances. It is the classic romanticized story of the starving musician. Yet, from those people who have lived it and embraced it, whether they ultimately made it or not, the feelings of freedom and happiness that are cliché of these stories are often real and in some ways, unrivaled. In fact, he sings about all the negative feelings that came with growing older despite becoming successful, finding love, and having kids in later parts of the song. Then, he wishfully asks to be buried in that spring of his youth when it is all said and done. I love the way he is able to capture the essence of his lived experience of this classic story and share it with someone like me, who has never lived it and will never live it. The songwriting is sublime.

12. Chega de Saudade by João Gilberto

This is one of the most iconic bossa nova songs. I love the genre of bossa nova in general. Not only do I love the overall sound and vibe of it, but also I appreciate the history and culture of it. I love that it is a combination of samba and jazz. Samba, itself, is interesting, in the sense that it emerged as a Brazilian folk music based on African rhythms and percussion that came with African slaves. With some similarity, jazz was born in New Orleans based on blues, which came from the work songs of African slaves, and syncopation, which is a derivation of African rhythms.

What makes this so special to me, as opposed to other legendary bossa nova tunes, is the fact that it was the first song of the genre that I listened to regularly in Portuguese. I had known "The girl from Ipanema" but that was at least partly in English in the versions I had first listened to. When my friends were playing it for Jazz combo, I fell in love with it and started to listen to it regularly.

As the last thing, I want to especially highlight my love for the bossa nova guitar parts with their intriguing strumming patterns and chord voicings that contribute significantly to the unique sound and vibe of the genre.

13. If I Told You by Darius Rucker

Darius Rucker is by far my favourite country singer of all time. He was also spectacular in his band, Hootie and the Blowfish. I am actually a fan of his debut solo album as well, which was in the R&B genre. This song makes the list over his more catchy songs because of the sentimental storytelling. The constant questions of doubt that he asks relate to a very common thought that exists even in me. It is about wondering if someone would love you despite the things about you that aren't easily loveable.

There are two lines in particular that I love:

1. "If I told you all the stupid things I've done I've blamed on being young but I was old enough to know I know." This is a reminder to always live intentionally and not do "stupid" things. Making intentional decisions based on who I am and what I want is an essential part of my lifestyle.

2. "What if I told you I don't plan on staying here. My dreams are million miles away." This speaks so close to heart and so true, as I know that my dream is to be in the most suitable place for me to live in the long-term, which I already figured out and it is far away. It is something that I plan so many things around, including career, finance, and relationships.

14. I Wish You Love by Nancy Wilson

I am a lover of jazz vocals in general. Nancy Wilson has made many songs that I enjoy listening to. I fell in love with this song when it was featured as the opening tune of the French romantic comedy, "Amour et turbulences." The vibe of this song is the definitely the main draw. The overlapping melodies of the various horns in the background, perhaps even more than the vocals, set the mood. The lyrics are great as well. I have always been a fan of stories where relationships do not work out, despite the couple being in love with each other. They often tell a more realistic and complete story, thus also a more relatable story. The added positive sentiment of wishing the person you loved, perhaps still love, the best, makes this song even better. When you truly love someone, you want them to have what they ultimately want, even if that isn't you.

15. La Vie en rose by Édith Piaf

This is a legendary song by a legendary singer. It is a masterpiece amongst masterpieces. It is the crème de la crème. It is such a powerful and beautiful love song. The raw emotions of her voice could only be matched by Billie Holiday, who is probably my favourite female vocalist of all time.

This song is also nostalgic and sentimental to me because Édith Piaf's songs, including this one, are one of the reasons I fell in love with the French language.

16. Closed On Sunday by Kanye West

This is my favourite Kanye song from my favourite Kanye album. I love religious imagery and references in art, including music. I think it is really cool that he did a gospel album. The idea of centering the song on a fast food restaurant chain that closes on Sundays due to the founder's religious beliefs is absolutely brilliant. There is also a lot of wordplays that really appeals to me. I want to especially point out this line: "you're my number one, with the lemonade." Having a double entendre with one of the meanings being a menu item in a song like this is so fun and refreshing. I think I just appreciate his new take on a timeless concept of using religious imagery.

17. If I can Dream by Elvis Presley

Elvis was essentially my original "favourite musician". He is an all-time great and a pop legend. This song stands out to me because it is filled with so much power, hope, and inspiration. The lyrics are preaching change and remain incredibly meaningful and relevant to this day. The way he sings those words has a compounding effect on the power of the lyrics. Sometimes, the mood calls for an uplifting and inspirational song, and this is one of the best there is.

18. Sympathique by Pink Martini

This is the first French song I ever learned and understood. That alone holds a lot of sentimental value. It also happens to bring a lot of nostalgia, as I heard it time again and again all throughout high school, whether it was in class or by myself. It also captures what France and French music felt like to me, before I learned more about them and before I actually travelled to France.

Thinking about it, it contributed a lot to the development of my love for language learning. I, for the first time, understood and consumed actual cultural content of a language I wasn't surrounded by. It allowed me to know that it was both possible and interesting. I have learned a lot about other languages and their culture since then. Listening to this song is like reliving the first step on that wonderful journey.

The song is also beautiful without attaching anything else I mentioned. I love the vibe of it.

19. Didn't I (Blow You Mind This Time) by The Delfonics

I love the old school soulful R&B sound. I think it doesn't get any better than this. I first discovered this song when it appeared in the Tarantino movie, "Jackie Brown". Every time I listen to it, not only do I appreciate how good it sounds, but also I think of all the great Tarantino movies, which contributes to the listening experience.

20. Amore che vieni, amore che vai by Fabrizio De André

This is a song made by another all-time great. Fabrizio De André is a legend in Italian music. He is a talented cantautore, whose lyrics are eloquent works of poetry. This song is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, both lyrically and musically. His voice is capable of both telling compelling stories and captivating hearts. I could never get tired of listening to his tone and phrasing in this song.

From my favourite songs, there are probably a few reoccurring themes. One of them is experiencing true love and also genuine heartbreak. Another would be that I feel old and I look back at my youth, despite still being young. The last obvious one would be that I focus on walking my own path, having no regrets, and avoiding wasting my youth.

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