Staff Top 10
Top Ten Knee-Jerk Reaction Songs

never fall in love with an idea. If the one you’re with isn’t doing their jobs, there’s always, always, always another. It’s the same with songs. You fall for one and invariably it becomes sullied with something or someone that ends up not doing their job and boom—you have to move onto another. The right song creates not only a memory, it creates a visceral reaction. The way seeing syrup seep down a stack of pancakes causes a reflexive growl in the belly, the bass line of a song incites screaming into empty air, creasing into tears, or grinning like a mad person. Just the opening notes of certain songs can dredge up memories I have spent years repressing.

Some think of songs acting as Bodhisattvas. In Buddhism these are beings that are enlightened, and they come back to help others. Songs act in the same way, helping to translate unspeakable emotion into tangible communications. Others use music as an escape. Palliative, prescriptive music that ideally will make time stop—it helps unbind the listener from qualities of time that they are bound to.

Irregardless of how you utilize music and integrate it into your life, songs cause reactions. It’s natural to make links—especially if music forms the architecture of your life. Some people say scent provokes the strongest memory reactions, but if that is true—why did scientists research how the brain links music to memory? Yes, scent is important—but music? Its affirmations, sanctuary, blood and skin; it inhabits and nests, thrives and rots.

Songs lodge in your head, and in a moment, can morph from exaltation to desperation. After one bad break-up, I could no longer listen to an entire band’s catalogue, which super-sucked because they not only had a big catalogue as a band, but it also knocked out their respective solo stuff. One of my friends got angry with me and said “Don’t let anyone take away something that belongs to you like that.” But it is a fool’s errand to try to stop the associations. You can only juggle it into an empty mind file, shift gears, and love something new. Besides, a broadly engaged mind is the source of a happy life. Or is it the source of ADHD? Either way, it’s about engaging those knee-jerks.

Peter, Paul, and Mary - Leaving On a Jet Plane
Reaction: Weeping

“Kiss me and smile for me. Tell me that you’ll wait for me. Hold me like you’ll never let me go.” C’mon! It’s the definition of tragic. It makes me want to crumple over bent knees into heaving soundless sobs. Perhaps it is because I have experienced airport goodbyes, relationships being kept apart by the obstacle of geography—one’s love life static, fenced in by perpetually ironic open brackets. Concurrently knowing what you want, yet not being able to sustain it because distance fosters the unknown.

Faithless - Don’t Leave
Reaction: Fallibility

Patrick Marber, in his play Closer wrote that the human heart “looks like a fist wrapped in blood” How can something so porous as love become so hard? Why do we do cruel things to the people we adore? My cruelty was cheating. I dropped a bagful of kittens into his river and I despised myself for it. I was horrified at my cruelty; it made me wince in my sleep. Even though it happened a long time ago, it still haunts me that I could behave in such an unacceptable way. Because nothing that mattered is ever a long time ago. The day after, I listened to this song over and over again. The song ask a key question “Where does the all the love go? Where’s the love gone to?” It leaches away, like blood from a fist.

The Clash - Janie Jones
Reaction: Awe

I love The Clash. And since this is the first track off their first album (UK version), it made sense for it to be the trigger song. Political in a pure, as opposed to partisan way, and masters at blending in their strong black/roots reggae influences, they lived the music they made. Plus they just look so very cool. Hedi Slimane (designer for Dior Homme) utterly steals their style. I didn’t get into them until later in the game, but when I did, I fell hard. I even own “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” on 10” vinyl. It takes some big punk rock balls to follow-up a seminal double album with a god-damn triple album. But that is exactly what these big cajoned lads did. And who isn’t in love with rock-n-roll whoooaaa…

Jet - Are You Gonna Be My Girl
Reaction: Disgust

This band is awful. If I hear one more relentlessly mediocre band doing the retro garage rock shuck-n-jive, somebody is gonna pay. One of my editors used to refer to any band that played this style of music as “jet-like shite.” I had the great misfortune to meet Jet. Emitting a palpable whiff of charlatan, they are dirty (and not in the good way), pocket-sized spazzes; thin as tracing paper and just as substantial. And this song? Am I the only one who realizes the opening is a direct rip-off of “Walk Like an Egyptian” and the rest of it is Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”? Stop insulting us by regurgitating instantly recognizable classics and get back to your real calling of asking us if we want fries with that.

David Bowie - Young Americans
Reaction: Possibilities

Spending my senior year of high school in upstate New York, we used to regularly drive down to New York City blasting this in the car since it was the only thing we could all agree on. We were just discovering Bowie and thought we were so cool. Middle-class suburban kids slumming it in the East Village, seeing people shooting up, snorting lines, licking booze off each others thighs; boys with boys, girls with girls, boys who looked like girls with boys who looked like mooks—it was a rollercoaster for sheltered eyes pried wide. We realized we were impoverished by our homogeneity, and it planted the seeds of wanderlust—a wanderlust that continues to thrive and will hopefully never be sated.

Beyonce - Crazy in Love
Reaction: Sparring

My boxing gym is an armpit; subterranean with no windows, sweat dripping on the walls with sky-high ceiling fans worthlessly circulating hot air. But they have their priorities right with a booming sound system. And this song was on the first time I was asked if I wanted to spar. Three rounds of three minutes is how long a sparring match lasts. About the same amount of time it takes a stick of Juicy Fruit gum to lose its flavor. My muscles turning into water, and body aches so bad I could sell them to science. In boxing, there is an intimacy that isn’t sexual, but nurturing. Every girl wants the same thing: a good man in her corner. I was lucky enough to have two. Moses wraps my hands for me, testing my mettle by proclaiming milk-skinned white girls as the worst “bleeders”. But he also whispers in my ear during rests between rounds that I am his “leche chica”—and not to let him down. Raphael, my other trainer, places the back of his hand tenderly under my chin as he holds my drink bottle lightly above my lips so the liquid’s thin trickle doesn’t spill down me. He dotingly holds the ice pack on my left eye to stop the cherry of the bruise’s flush from spreading too far above the eyebrow. They love that I try. I love that I fail and they still believe.

Carole King - I Feel the Earth Move
Reaction: Childhood

“Tapestry” by Carole King was the soundtrack to my childhood. It was a heavy-rotation album for my parents, so I was bound to love it. The album helped shape my childhood optimism and fresh-faced goodness; the optimism I still carry to this day. One of my mom’s best retorts, when I would whine with bad mood was “don’t worry, now you can see the moon”, which is from the last line of a Japanese poem: “The barn burned down / Now I can see the moon.” I breathed most of the songs on “Tapestry” but for some reason this one stuck out. I am always amazed at how big the piano sounds in it—like masticating teeth. It takes me back to a time when my biggest worries were what was for lunch and if my hippity-hop was inflated to maximum capacity. A barefooted girl, sun glinting like mica through the trees, warming up a body dressed in bows and pastels, like a birthday cake with legs. Upon first hearing this song, I was so young, I didn’t even understand it was about boys and love. I thought it was about the environment.

The Jesus and Mary Chain - Just Like Honey
Reaction: First Love

My first love was everything I wanted in a boyfriend, before I ever had him. His eyes: two black stars in a white sky. People who looked like him always had someone in the same way that people who looked like me always carried something to read. But he moved his hip into me first and I ended up being the firefly in his honey jar—he punched holes in the top so I could breathe. This song had to be linked to him—I adore the Jesus and Mary Chain, and I adored him. Especially this song; it sparseness belies its full-throated sensuality; cymbals crashing, bass line burning, female vocal lingering high in the air. Deep love and deep loss—it’s all there is a few simple notes.

Most everything from DFA Compilations #1 and #2
Reaction: Sex

You could park a ‘72 Buick in the erotic space this stuff creates. The DFA team is all about geeky Caucasian boys getting all sexified. Modern day bam-chicka-bam soundtrack inheriting Andrew Weatherall’s erogenous crown. Persimmon plump, post-punk and uplifting house, lewd winks of viscous breaks over and over again. Plus, a certain type of person tends to listen to this and that is the certain kind I person I tend to want to get all sexified with.

Vince Guaraldi Trio - Linus and Lucy
Reaction: Instant smile

This song never fails to cheer me up. It reminds me of a specific someone that I don’t want to forget. And how can you be sad with visions of Snoopy and Dolly Madison cakes dancing in your head? My close friend Dan is a jazz pianist. He has CDs and does tours—the whole shooting match. He hates anything by Guaraldi because he hates the idea that this is considered jazz. But this is also a guy who loathes Van Morrison because of the crimes he feels Morrison routinely commits by utilizing pop saxophone (Dan calls it schmaltzaphone) in songs like “Moondance”. It is apparently never a fantabulous night to make romance beneath Dan Cray’s skies. Dan also didn’t know the difference between Jim Morrison and Morrissey. Three months later, when I stopped laughing, he explained to me that “educating yourself about jazz is exhaustive. There is no room for anything else.” I think he just has some kind of mental block about people whose last names are either Morrison or a permutation of Morrison. He dismisses this explanation with a sour look on his face. I told him to pop on “Linus and Lucy” and get his jazz self over it.

By: Hope Zabriskie
Published on: 2005-04-15
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