A culture is defined by its music. Likewise, our choices in music define us and reflect our inner feelings.
As a senior, I’ve been exposed to a great deal of music in my life. Although my tastes are somewhat eclectic, I tend to lean toward pop and instrumentals.
In this article, I list my ten favorite songs – generally in no particular order. They come from different eras of my life, but all represent melodies that have stuck with me over time.
Each song is accompanied by a player bar1, which you can use to listen to the version of the song I like best.
Lara’s Theme (Somewhere My Love)
This is, without a doubt, my favorite song of all time. It has also been called “the most beautiful melody ever written.”
The song comes from the 1965 movie Dr. Zhivago, an epic tale set during the 1917 Russian Revolution and the civil war that followed in 1918-1922. The movie was based on the novel of the same name by Russian expatriate Boris Pasternak.
It is the story of forbidden love. In the movie, Dr. Yuri Zhivago is played by Omar Sharif. Zhivago is pressed into service in the army and is serving in a field hospital. In due course, the married doctor falls in love with the beautiful nurse Lara Antipova (Julie Christie). Lara is also married, to a leader of the Revolution. The movie’s overall plot involves Lara’s uncle’s search for the child of Yuri and Lara.
The movie came out at a special time in my life and the theme song, played here by the Ray Conniff Orchestra and Singers, has remained with me.
This song has been recorded by at least 50 different artists, as different as Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Conway Twitty. English lawyer and lyricist Frederic Weatherly initially wrote the lyrics in 1910. He set the lyrics to the melody of a popular song of the day, but it didn’t quite match. In 1913, his sister suggested some modifications to the lyrics, which were designed to fit the rhyme and meter of a popular song, Londonderry Air.
The song is often used at funerals, although some critics oppose this use because the lyrics are not liturgical.
For several years, my favorite version was by the group Celtic Woman. Then about three years ago, my friend, Joe Rice, asked me if I had heard Eva Cassidy’s version. I had never even heard of Eva Cassidy, but I quickly fell in love with her version of the song – the one presented here.
Tall Trees in Georgia
In addition to liking Eva Cassidy’s version of Danny Boy, above, I have also some to like her versions of several other songs, including Songbird.
Tall Trees in Georgia is a song of hers that I had never heard before, but the lyrics spoke to me. They remind me of the actual events of a relationship from years ago – one which didn’t come to full fruition.
In the 1960s, there was no one like The Beach Boys. They recorded numerous songs, some whimsical and some very heart-felt. Good Vibrations, to me, falls somewhere in between, but it’s a melody that drifts in and out of my head from time to time. And each time I think of it, the melody and lyrics bring me right back to 1966.
By chance, it was also released on my first day in the career that would span most of my life.
Roy Orbison didn’t look like a rock star, yet countless musicians of the 1960s and beyond looked to him as a role model. The first record I ever bought for myself – a 45 rpm single – was Orbison’s Only the Lonely.
It only took one listen to In Dreams in 1963 for it to become imbedded as a favorite. As with many of my favorite songs, there is a theme of lost love. But more than that, the operatic ballad arrangement of In Dreams may have led me to later appreciation of opera and classical music.
The New Christy Minstrels were a folk music group founded in 1961. In 1964, member Randy Sparks wrote Today, a haunting ballad – the kind I really enjoy – and it became a hit for the group. One reviewer at the time called in “achingly beautiful.”
It remains a hit with me.
There were few folk singers that compared to John Denver. He wrote Annie’s Song on a ski lift in Aspen as an ode to his wife, Annie Martell Denver. It’s a beautiful love ballad.
Although he apparently didn’t realize it at the time, the melody he chose for the song was that of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Second Movement. Maybe the classical music lover in me is one reason I like this song.
I had heard of Roger Whitaker most of my life and heard a few of his songs. I was never really taken with anything he sang. Then in 1997, a secretary in our organization passed away. She and I had been friends and her son and husband asked me to be a pall bearer.
At the service, they played this song. She had selected it to be played at her funeral when she knew she was dying. Since I first heard it there, it has become one of my favorites, even though I still don’t warm to anything else Whitaker has done.
Although the songs listed so far all have lyrics, I also like pure instrumentals. Hymn by Vangelis stands out among those. There is something very haunting about this melody. Even though it reaches a thundering crescendo at the end, I’ve often played this at night to go to sleep.
I would be remiss in not including this song for two reasons. First, I really like it. But the second – most important – reason is that it was written by my son. He wrote this when he was about 16 – he’s 45 now – and he’s performing this version. Notably, he is unaccompanied. He recorded all of the different instruments using an electric grand piano and then mixed the tracks himself.
Although he is no longer in the music business, I’m very proud of his musical accomplishments.
What About You?
What are your favorite songs? Do they represent your early life or somewhere in the middle – or is your list, like mine, a cross-section of your life.
Share your favorite songs list in the comments below.