I adore YouTube, but sometimes it gets me in trouble. I go to watch one thing and it snowballs into hours and hours of fun. Yesterday, I felt like digging in the crates and ended up pulling out some of my favorite cry-inducing songs. I love when a song is well-written and executed so that you can feel the emotion. These next four songs remind me that music has the power to penetrate hearts and minds and word choice is EVERYTHING. Somebody pass me a tissue, please!
“Always rearranging the wreckage of her life/Ever holding tight/To the hope that she’ll be free”
Forget tears, this song right here is bawling status. It’s headphones on, lights out, fetal position, on repeat until I can pull myself together (or can’t breathe because thy ugly “snot cry” has me congested) status. When I hear this song, I feel like Roberta Flack when the stranger was killing her softly with his song, telling her whole life. “Angel,” featured on Chaka’s FUNK THIS album, is like a beautiful poem I wish I’d written. The lyrics are actually pulled from a poem that Chaka wrote during a dark period of her life. I find myself returning to this song again and again when I’m going through my own dark periods because it so precisely captures how I feel and somehow makes me feel hopeful at the same time. When the church folk say, “Sometimes, you gotta encourage yourself!,” I believe THIS is what they mean. I play this when I need to minister to myself…to that “angel deep inside of me.”
“Lord I’m lost I can’t my way/I’m dealing with the struggles in my day to day/My soul is weak and I wanna be strong/I try to run away, but I been running too long”
I miss classic John Legend; the John Legend before the global success. Recorded live at Brooklyn, New York’s Knitting Factory, his rendition of Nina Simone’s “Motherless Child” is full of so much raw emotion and soul. I fell in love with this version the first time I heard it. It speaks to that nagging restlessness and despair that I too often feel, but to hear it now as an actual “motherless child” the words are so much more significant. Little known fact: A picture of John Legend hung over my mother's bed in her room at my aunt's house. She loved that man! For a hot second, I considered having someone sing "Motherless Child" at her funeral but quickly tossed that idea. Her homegoing wasn’t about comforting me, but about celebrating and remembering her. Instead, an amazing songstress sang my mother’s favorite song, “At Last,” by Etta James and it was the perfect choice.
“So I was the one with all the glory/While you were the one with all the strain/A beautiful face without a name for so long/Beautiful smile to hide the pain/Did you ever know that you’re my hero”
I am a sucker for a big, beautiful, soaring ballad and Bette Midler killed this. She generously left a nice blueprint for Celine Dion and Toni Braxton to follow. “Wind Beneath My Wings” is now another song that reminds me of my mama when I hear it. My mother never asked for much or
demanded much from life or others (including from me). Sometimes, I feel like her contentment was a gift and a curse, but her ability to “turn the other cheek,” “forgive and forget” and “expect the best” are now the very clichés that I strive for in my own ways. When Bette goes into worship at the end singing “thank God for you”, I feel that. I can’t help but give thanks for the one person that loved me unconditionally.
*Honorable Mention: Ledisi, “Shine”– This is kind of like the contemporary, soulful version of “Wind Beneath My Wings”. It makes me feel more joyful than sad, but sometimes the tears come without warning when I hear it.
"You got a fast car/Is it fast enough so we can fly away/We gotta make a decision/Leave tonight or live and die this way"
Maybe I've gotten overly sentimental in my older age, but my heart aches for the woman in this song. Her life is such a fascinating story that may or may not have a happy ending. She always does what she has to do, never giving up hope for things to get better, but "better" seems to always dangle just out of her reach like a carrot. Sometimes, I play this over and over and close my eyes to see it, like I'm watching a movie. Sometimes, he gets in his fast car and flies away.