27 Songs for a 27th Birthday
I love birthdays. I always have. I know plenty of people say birthdays are always a source of anxiety or stress, but if anything, my birthday tends to calm my anxiety rather than trigger it. While I’m always a little skittish at being the center of attention, there’s something really nice about your friends and family reminding you that they do, in fact, love you the same way that you love them. I dunno! “Nice” is the word for it.
Earlier today, at 2:25pm on Thursday, May 27th, 2021, I officially turned 27. It’s what they call my “golden birthday,” one where your age corresponds to the day of your birthday. I’m a sucker for symmetry, so I’m very into the whole “golden birthday” idea. I’m also a sucker for making lists, so I figured: why not stretch out this especially symmetrical year to its limit?
So here are 27 songs that I, a newly minted 27-year-old, am especially grateful for today, the 27th day of the month. These aren’t necessarily my 27 favorite songs of all time or whatever, this is just an eclectic list of 27 songs that I love right now. Happy birthday to me!
(I’ve individually linked them all on Spotify, but here’s a link to the playlist of the whole batch, if you want it.)
- “The Brady’s” (Tank and the Bangas, 2013)
This song is so deliriously joyful. The things that lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball does with her playful, octave-hopping voice delights me to no end, and the song’s lyrics are simultaneously goofy and romantic. It’s such a blast, and that “na-na-na-na-na” in the chorus is an instant earworm.
- “caleb” (ozello, 2019)
I’m more than a little biased with this one, but I’ll take any chance I have to scream about how much I love this band (and this song in particular). Full transparency: I have friends in ozello. That doesn’t take away from the fact that “caleb” is a thunderbolt of a song: melancholy lyrics on top of a perfectly headbangable beat, beautifully and achingly performed by lead singer Jeofry Wages. Listen to it!
- “drivers license” (Olivia Rodrigo, 2021)
Every now and then, an uber-popular song will come along and I will go all-in on it. It happened with “Uptown Funk,” it happened with “Despacito,” and now it’s happening with “drivers license.” Once I gave in and actually listened to this song, I was completely won over by Rodrigo’s anguished belt and her expressive lyrics. The heartbreak is palpable! It’s a genuinely great power ballad.
- “Fast Car” (Tracy Chapman, 1988)
There’s a post on some social media platform (either Twitter or Tumblr, I can’t remember which) that says something along the lines of “Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ isn’t a song, it’s an incantation.” That’s basically how I feel: both Chapman’s gorgeous, reedy voice trickling over the plaintive, literate lyrics and the long, long wait before the transcendent chorus hits for the first time make this into a genuinely hypnotizing experience. It’s a masterpiece.
- “Fields of Gold” (Eva Cassidy, 1996)
This song has haunted me for years. While Sting’s original rendition of the song is undoubtedly great in its own way, I much prefer Eva Cassidy’s reinterpretation, which forgoes the original’s “let’s get it on” tone in favor of something more mournful. Cassidy, whose life was tragically cut short the same year she recorded the song, fills the beautiful lyrics with profound meaning. It’s stunning.
- “Fine Line” (Harry Styles, 2019)
Somewhere in the world, my sisters are rejoicing. I’d be lying if I said I’d wrung any particular meaning out of the lyrics to this song, but I do find it incredibly compelling from a musical standpoint. From the dreamlike verses to the thrilling, repeated fanfare at the end, I keep coming back to this thing. Just don’t ask me what it’s about.
- “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (Yola, 2019)
No disrespect whatsoever to Elton John’s original recording. I’m a little obsessed with this cover by British singer-songwriter Yola. Everyone knows the song — it’s a rich, evocative piece of storytelling — but hearing Yola rip into the song’s finale makes it feel almost brand new.
- “Half of the Way” (Vulfpeck & Theo Katzman, 2018)
I don’t really know how to put words into my feelings for this song. It’s just so infectious. I am so happy when I’m listening to it.
- “Harrison Ford” (Darlingside, 2015)
I’ve kind of had a major Darlingside moment this year. Their songs are so varied in style and I love trying to decipher their dense, literate lyrics, but no song of theirs has delighted and confounded me more than “Harrison Ford.” It was the first song I heard from them, and I was instantly hooked by the jangling guitars. The lyrics are deliciously bonkers, too, which always helps.
- “Human” (The Killers, 2008)
“Are we human? Or are we dancer?” It’s no secret that the chorus of this song is about as incomprehensible as possible, but I genuinely cannot stop listening to it. It’s worth noting that one time a few weeks ago I was listening to this song at the gym and I swear I had a moment where I figured out what the chorus meant. I think I still have it figured out; I’m just physically incapable of putting it into words. Maybe that means I’m dancer after all!
- “Jackie and Wilson” (Hozier, 2014)
I’ve been madly in love with this song for at least six years now. It’s just so romantic! One lyric always sticks out to me: “No other version of me I would rather be tonight.” Beautiful stuff. Hozier’s a hell of a storyteller.
- “LA Devotee” (Panic! at the Disco, 2016)
First off, this song absolutely rips. Brendon Urie’s impossibly high voice is thrilling almost all of the time, but pair it with the relentless drive of this song? Forget about it. Secondly, this is seemingly the only song that makes running on a treadmill tolerable for me. Just play it a few times in a row, be sure to run in time with the tempo, and dramatically lip-sync along if no one else is around and bam, you’ve run a mile. That, my friends, is a lifehack.
- “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” (Dolly Parton, 1977)
The hard-won feeling of hope that’s dyed into this song is so, so special. “Clear Blue Morning” has some of Dolly’s most beautiful lyrics and also features one of her most impassioned performances. I distinctly remember hearing the chorus for the first time and involuntarily letting out a groan that sounded like I’d been punched in the gut. That’s still how it makes me feel. But, like, in a good way.
- “The Luckiest” (Ben Folds, 2001)
I’m a simple man! I hear the piano introduction to “The Luckiest” and I suddenly get very emotional. I love a lot of Folds’ music, but, however lukewarm this take might be, this song might be the crown jewel in his body of work. Also worth mentioning: I like to joke that we’re related. I have this bit where I say “Uncle Ben!” if he ever comes up in conversation, which is always funny and absolutely never gets on my friends’ nerves.
- “My Girl” (The Temptations, 1964)
It’s profoundly unfair that this perfect song is less than three minutes long. I’m pretty sure I love everything about this song, from the “hey hey hey”s to the brass instruments fanfaring after each line, but this song will always have a special place in my heart for sentimental reasons: apparently my parents would change sing this to me as a baby, but change the words from “my girl” to “Elman.” Isn’t that sweet?
- “Rio” (MIKA, 2015)
The lyrics to “Rio” certainly lean towards the sad side of things, but the infectious chorus and MIKA’s bright voice give it a pitch-perfect summery vibe. I highly recommend putting this on while driving around with the windows rolled down. Bonus points if you have a starfruit smoothie in hand. It’s a great experience.
- “Run Away with Me” (Carly Rae Jepsen, 2015)
Hot take: this is as perfect as a pop song could possibly be. It’s got everything you could ever want in one: an irresistible beat, dizzyingly joyful lyrics, and the best opening saxophone riff imaginable. I love this song so much it hurts.
- “Silly Games” (Janet Kay, 1979)
I was introduced to this song by way of the film Lovers Rock, one of the five Small Axe films that director Steve McQueen made for the BBC last year. The song, which is prominently featured in the film, was a chart-topper in the UK but didn’t seem to make nearly as much of a splash in the States. It’s a shame: Kay’s ethereal voice is an absolute treasure, and it’s beyond thrilling to hear her wail away on the song’s climactic high note. (Also, please go watch Lovers Rock. It’s on Amazon Prime and it’s incredible.)
- “Sunday Candy” (Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, 2015)
Some days, I think “Sunday Candy” is my favorite song of the 21st century so far. Performed primarily by Chance the Rapper and Jamila Woods, the song is irrepressibly joyous, culminating in the utterly celebratory finale. It’s impossible for me to listen to it without smiling.
- “Take Me Back to Manhattan” (Rosemary Clooney, 1994)
I’m a huge sucker for Cole Porter and this song might just be my favorite of his. It’s got his trademark playfulness in the lyrics, but there’s a deeper, sadder sense of longing running underneath. Clooney was 66 when she recorded this, and her deeply felt interpretation stands tall in my mind as the definitive rendition of this song. And that instrumental break! It instantly makes me feel like I’m in a smoky lounge.
- “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” (Talking Heads, 1983)
One of the things I learned in 2020 is that I am — apparently — a huge David Byrne fan. I can’t imagine there were too many days in the last year that I didn’t listen to this song. This particular live performance from Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense tour is my recording of choice. I just love everything about it: the instrumentation! Byrne’s voice! the lyrics! It’s so achingly romantic!
- “This Year” (The Mountain Goats, 2005)
All things considered, I’m doing pretty well at the moment. I’ve had much harder years. Still, no matter how challenging the day, “This Year” is a balm for the soul. The repeated, mantra-like chorus eventually becomes an impassioned scream of resilience. If you’ve never shouted along to the chorus in your car, I highly recommend it.
- “Toe Jam” (David Byrne’s American Utopia, 2019)
This utterly incomprehensible song was first recorded in 2008 by the Brighton Port Authority with co-writer Byrne being credited as the featured singer. It’s this recording, however, from the live cast album of Byrne’s Broadway show American Utopia, that I can’t stop listening to. The entire album is a blast (and Spike Lee’s concert film of the show is even better — it’s streaming on HBO Max and you absolutely must watch it), but for some reason, I keep going back to “Toe Jam.” The truly bizarre lyrics take a backseat to the exuberant performances from Byrne and the eleven world-class musicians accompanying him, and the result is weirdly magical.
- “Ue o Muite Arukō” (Kyu Sakamoto, 1961)
If I ever commit to making a list of my all-time favorite songs, I’m positive “Ue o Muite Arukō” will be on it. I’ve listened to this song so much over the years that basically every second feels like a warm hug: the xylophone, the whistling, the brass, and especially Sakamoto’s crooning performance. The song, which translates into English as “I Look Up as I Walk,” is one of the best-selling international singles ever. It was a cultural phenomenon in both its native Japan in 1961 and again a few years later in America, where it was erroneously titled “Sukiyaki,” a completely unrelated Japanese word. It does a disservice to the gently heartbreaking lyrics, which you can read here.
- “Us” (Lindsay Mendez & Marco Paguia, 2013)
I sincerely love Regina Spektor’s lovely original recording of “Us” (and like any good millennial, I first became familiar with it through (500) Days of Summer), but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Lindsay Mendez’s cover. This cover shaves an eighth note off the original song’s meter, beautifully morphing a simple 4/4 into 7/8, and Mendez’s astonishing vocal acrobatics bring Spektor’s lyrics to new life.
- “You Go Down Smooth” (Lake Street Dive, 2014)
For my money, Rachael Price, the lead singer of Lake Street Dive, has one of the most distinctive and fascinating voices in pop music today. “You Go Down Smooth” gives her plenty of opportunities to show it off, especially in its instantly memorable chorus. And those thrilling background vocals! In a catalog full of catchy songs, “You Go Down Smooth” might just be the catchiest. It’s a real gem.
- “You Were on My Mind” (Lucius, 2016)
This old chestnut has been around for nearly sixty years and has been recorded by so many artists over the years. Something about this cover is especially compelling to me. Maybe it’s the voices of singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, whose voices mesh together so naturally you’d think they were destined to sing together.
And one to grow on:
28. “The Planets: Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” (Gustav Holst)
I love the whole Planets suite, partly for sentimental reasons and partly because it’s just a jaw-dropping musical achievement, but the wildly famous chorale portion of the “Jupiter” movement is the cherry on top of the whole thing for me. Listening to a really smart, measured interpretation of that section is like watching a balloon be filled to its absolute limit with air: somehow, even when you think the music has reached its biggest and loudest and most climactic moment yet, there’s somehow still more to come. Something about that thrilling chorale is overwhelmingly emotional for me.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading this! I hope my list helped you discover or rediscover a great song. Have a lovely Memorial Day weekend.