It’s always nice to think that if you had a lackluster 2014, you can wipe the slate clean in 2015. A new year means a new chance to do all the things you wanted to do in 2014, but didn’t get around to. However, by the end of January, the gyms are already emptying out. Perhaps the key to making changes in the new year is to not get overwhelmed by taking on too much. As Martin Luther King once wrote: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” This is good advice for those of us who have already given up our New Years resolutions or haven’t made them at all because they seem like a waste of time or too much trouble.
To create some new beginnings in 2015, you may need some inspiration; this is where the ten songs below come in. In addition to Dr. King’s words, these songs are meant to at least inspire the desire to move ahead in the new year. The list includes tunes about letting go, moving forward, and embracing change. Maybe that means reading more, taking a yoga class, or no longer beating yourself up mentally. You don’t need to get on the elliptical in order to get in shape; just put these songs in your iPod and go for a walk instead.
10. Johnny Nash — “I Can See Clearly Now” (I Can See Clearly Now, 1972)
In 1972, Reggae artist, Johnny Nash released this single from the album with the same name. The lyrics: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone / I can see obstacles in my way / It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shiny day” are fitting for dusting the cobwebs out of your brain and making a fresh start this year. This song, from the album of the same name, made its way into the U.S. charts and hung out in the fray for a month before shooting up to number five and then number one, where it stayed for four weeks. See what baby steps can accomplish? Since then, the song has been covered by a wide array of artists, including Willie Nelson and Ray Charles.
9. Jason Lytle — “Brand New Sun” (Yours Truly, The Commuter, 2009)
The lead singer of now defunct but still brilliant Grandaddy started his solo career with
Yours Truly, The Commuter, in 2009. The second track on the album, “Brand New Sun” is an ode to embracing a new chapter in life. The song is so sweet and melodic, it could almost pass for a lullaby. An acoustic guitar starts things off with a seraphic melody before Lytle joins in his dazzling, breathy voice about running “to a brand new sun”. Listening to the song, it becomes clear Lytle was always the brains behind Grandaddy. The song paints a classic Lytle-esque panorama with a swooping score of cosmic synthesizers and a dash of Lytle’s delicate harmonies. In short, it’s a stunning pop song, one that is capable of making the dourest curmudgeon smile.
8. Pretenders — “Pack It Up” (Pretenders II, 1981)
Let’s pack our bags and burn rubber is the sentiment behind this track off of Pretenders’ second studio album,
Pretenders II. It’s a song you might want to play when you are leaving a place you really hate. The song opens with Chrissie Hynde yelling: “You guys are the pits of the world!” and then continues with her growling about “flushing out” her enemies and “burnin’ every bridge” alongside the crushing guitar of the late James Honeyman Scott, who co-wrote the song. If you’re thinking of packing it up and blowing out of an unpleasant situation, this song will fuel your engines.
7. The Carpenters — “We’ve Only Just Begun” (Close to You, 1970)
Probably the Carpenters’ most famous tune, “We’ve Only Just Begun” was originally recorded by Smokey Roberds for a TV ad, promoting a bank in California. When Richard Carpenter saw it and heard the jingle, he got permission to re-write and record it. In the summer of 1970, the song, which featured Karen Carpenter singing along with her brother’s backing vocals, hit number one on the U.S. charts and stayed there for seven weeks. It became the band’s second Gold single, trailing their smash hit, “(They Long to Be) Close to You”. With lyrics like, “White lace and promises / A kiss for luck and we’re on our way”, the song is often played at weddings. However, that doesn’t mean the tune is confined to wedded bliss. It’s a song for anyone beginning anything; it even sounds good while cleaning out the garage.
6. John Lennon — “(Just Like) Starting Over” (Double Fantasy,1980)
“Time flies so quickly” John Lennon sings in this wistful song, released in October of 1980. Lennon is said to have chose the song as the single off of
Double Fantasy because he thought it best represented his absence from the music industry after a five-year hiatus. The sad irony of “(Just Like) Starting Over” is that it reached number one in the U.S. charts just after Lennon was shot and killed that December. The accompanying video was filmed by Lennon and Yoko Ono to promote Double Fantasy. Captured in November of 1980, the video begins with the couple traipsing through Central Park and ends with them on a bed making whoopee in a white room.
5. Radiohead — “Separator” (King of Limbs, 2011)
This transcendent song from Radiohead’s last album, The King of Limbs, expresses a rare sentiment for the band, one of renewal. While Radiohead are constantly reinventing themselves, Thom Yorke rarely sings so frankly about transformation. In “Separator”, Yorke sings: “Finally I’m free of all the weight I’ve been carrying”, among other things, including a giant bird and falling out of bed. Altogether, the song is a divine experience that comes at the end of the album, which, as has been suggested, could mean “Separator” is about death. The line “If you think this is over then you’re wrong” may have dual implications: perhaps it’s about reincarnation, and also the fact that this is not the last we will hear from Radiohead.
4. David Bowie — “Absolute Beginners” (Absolute Beginners: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1986)
This David Bowie tune, recorded for the movie Absolute Beginners, was born out of Bowie’s friendship with director, Julien Temple. Bowie also starred in the film in a supporting role as “Vendice Partners”. The film — a musical shot in 1986 about London in the ’50s — came with a soundtrack that includes contributions by Sade, the Style Council, and Ray Davies. The title track by Bowie outshines the film and stands on its own as a song about starting out in the world naïve and unschooled.
The song, recorded in 1986, combines doo wop-style backing vocals with sweeping orchestral arrangements. It reached as high as number two in the UK charts and number 53 in the U.S. The accompanying video combines scenes from the film with scenes of Bowie walking city streets at night in classic noir fashion while chasing after a woman who looks straight out of Cats.
3. Tori Amos — “Pretty Good Year” (Under the Pink, 1994)
This song from Tori Amos’s Under The Pink album isn’t about the year ahead, but a reflection on a year that has just ended. While it wasn’t released as a single in the U.S., the track reached number seven on the UK charts. The song starts out with a lovely piano line and Amos singing: “Greg, he writes letters and burns his CDs / They say he was something in those formative years” before the song takes a grunge-like turn and guitars grind the song up.
Amos told The Baltimore Sun that the song was inspired by a guy named Greg from the UK, who wrote her to say his life was over. This was not new phenomenon to Amos. She told the paper that she had seen this complaint in many 20something men. “The tragedy of that for me,” she stated, “just seeing that over and over again, got to me so much that I wrote Pretty Good Year.” That may also explain the bizarre video that accompanies the song, depicting a beautiful young Amos in a white arm chair in a white room, interspersed with clips of her dancing among a group of 20something men wearing what looks like white paper bags on their heads.
2. Nina Simone — “Feeling Good” (I Put a Spell on You, 1965)
Originally written for the Broadway musical The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd, this uplifting tune became Nina Simone’s when she recorded it on her 1965 album I Put a Spell on You. At the time of the album’s release, “Feeling Good” wasn’t put out as a single. When the song was used in the UK for a fabric softener ad in 1987, however, it became well known and was subsequently released as a single, which reached number 40 on the UK charts. Hearing the words: “It’s a new dawn / It’s a new day / It’s a new life for me / I’m feelin’ good” in Simone’s legendary croon is stimulus enough to get off the couch and do something you’ve always wanted to.
1. Beck — “Waking Light” (Morning Phase, 2014)
Recorded last year for one 2014’s most gorgeous albums and one of Beck’s most prolific records since Sea Change, “Waking Light” is Morning Phase‘s last song and crowning jewel. Like a lot of the album’s tracks, the song speaks of shedding the things that hold us down. For Beck, one of those thing was a spinal injury that hindered his voice on his previous release in 2008, Modern Guilt. In 2013, he told Rolling Stone that on Morning Phase “I get to shout and yell. I’m like, ‘Thank you!’ I had a lot of ideas and things I’d been wanting to do. This last year and a half, I feel like I can really do them.” Lucky for us he gets to do the,m because the album is a haunting and gorgeous work that proves Beck Hanson knows a thing or two about renewal.