Do we choose our favourite songs, or do they choose us?

In an entry on one of the blogs I read, the author mentioned a song, and referenced it as one of three favourite songs. This has caused a good deal of contemplation: to the point where I sat down and tried to list, then limit, my favourite songs (because it got a little crazy there for a while – my last.fm favourites list shows this problem. And I’ve trimmed it down several times).

So I must ask – how does one choose one’s favourite songs, and then be able to limit them?

I have songs I could listen to without ever-growing tired of them… Are those my favourite songs? I have songs I associate with people, places, events, times of day, periods of intense emotion: joy, sadness, anger, depression. I have entire albums that I absolutely adore. How does one pick and choose? Is one favourite more weighted than another? And surely, mood and scenario must play a part in this. I mean, how can this be done? Would it be songs you’d want played at your wedding? Even then, that’s got to be mutually chosen, especially for the first dance. (And for the record, I have never been able to answer this question, and probably will never have to). Or the song you want played at your funeral? (I’ve not a song per se, but there’s a poem I decided on many, many moons ago, and that hasn’t changed. It’s mildly lyrical, being poetry and all… does that count?)

Or is it the first song you immediately think of, and then those that flurry quickly to the surface soon afterwards? And recent favourites? What about them? I know I’ve heard songs and immediately been struck by them, and they invariably end up in the favourites pile.

If we’re going the first song you immediately think of, followed by a deluge of others, my top ten looks something like (in order of pen to paper): Sting, Dire Straits, Billy Joel, Rosy Tin Teacaddy, Nick Cave, INXS, Regina Spektor, The Decemberists, Hera, Tori Amos.

With the exception of the songs by INXS and Regina Spektor, my top 10 are ballads. Huh.

If we look a little further (in no particular order, and I’m just picking 15 of the less embarrassing artists), there’s a little Annie Lennox, some Eric Clapton, a smidge of Enya, Shihad, Carla Bruni, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, David Bowie, The Eagles, Placebo, Garou, One eskimO, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle – even Brooke Fraser. And they all tell stories. And they’re mostly fairly classic in their lyricism and composition.

How much of that tendency towards the story and the ballad is nature, how much is nurture? How much of that is Classic Hits and Solid Gold on the radio in the hall of res, and whilst studying? And how much of that is happenstance and chance? (Also, I haven’t included classical and choral, that could be interesting practice within itself).

One thing I can say about these songs, is they’re definitely not saccharine or peppy by any measure of the imagination. I’ve always been a bleak person (hey, I think this song is quite bright and cheerful, despite lines such as “When the cities are on fire / With the burning flesh of men”)… but I must wonder about the psychology of music choices and the reflection on personality and attitude being mirrored in what we favourite, and what we listen to.

Take for example, the first song that came to my mind. No, I’m not going to tell you anything about it other than it’s Sting. It was one of those songs that, the first time I heard it, it raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Only a few songs have done that, yet, as I cast an eye over the list of songs represented by the artists I’ve mentioned in this post, only one other song here had that impact. So, what makes that Sting song the first thing that immediately comes to mind when I need to pick a song, any song? What does it say about the others that they could be mutable to this seemingly constant song?

How does one choose favourite songs. That one song, and the 24 others listed, are a mere drop in the bucket for me. So please, dear reader, what is your secret? Then maybe, just maybe, I’ll let you know what those songs are.

Time to ponder some more music…

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