In honor of a new year, here is a list of songs that can help nudge even the idlest of souls off the couch in 2015.
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.