We had a bonus FNV on the fourth to make up for my missing last week but now we’re back to Fridays where the series belongs :). And what an installment we have! This week’s Friday Night Videos is a showcase of some of my all time favorite songs. Why? Well because it’s my birthday on Sunday, that’s why! And, as per my understanding of international laws regarding such things, a birthday weekend should be all about moi. So I’m going to look back, get nostalgic, tell some stories, and listen to some great music!
John Lennon – “Imagine” – 1970
This is my all-time favorite song. If we were to take Jesus’s entire Gospel message and put it into a three-and-a-half or four minute pop song, this would be it (and yes, I know he mentions “no religion” but even Jesus would agree religion used to divide and judge is a bad thing…critiquing a corrupt use of religion was part of Jesus’s whole shtick anyway). As a fun fact, this song was the very first song my parents danced too! Aww, what a choice! It’s just so beautiful in every way. Obviously whenever I talk about the Kingdom of God or the chances of our honestly making this world a better place there are (many) people who don’t think it’s possible. To them I quote John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer / but I’m not the only one / I hope someday you’ll join us / and the world will live as one.” Amen John, amen.
Billy Joel – “Uptown Girl” – 1983
I LOVE BILLY JOEL. Ever since I was a kid, he’s been my favorite. There’s just something about his music that’s always resonated. He was one of the first cassettes and one of the first CDs I ever owned. So why “Uptown Girl” for this list? This song is one of my earliest musical memories. I was born in 1982 and the song came out in 1983. While I obviously don’t remember it from being one, I grew up in a house filled with music as Mom always had MTV on or a record playing. While I love all of Billy’s stuff, for whatever reason, this song lodged itself in my heart and memory in a special way. Whenever I hear it I immediately feel happy and when I see this video I’m hit with a welcoming wave of overwhelming nostalgia. “Uptown Girl” just always feels like home.
Shakira – “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” – 2010
Okay, I really don’t care about fútbol. I’ve never been much of a “sports guy.” But I LOVE Shakira! She is, without a doubt, my all-time favorite vocalist. I have every album she’s released, including the ones all in Spanish (even though I only know like three Spanish words) because I love her voice so much. She’s just incredible! I’ve seen her live and she’s such an awesome show too. I picked this song because of the joy apparent on her face as she performs. You can’t help but smile too as you watch her. Some Shakira videos clearly present her in a more objectified light than others (*cough* “She-Wolf” *cough*). Those, sadly, tend to be the ones courting U.S. chart placement. But her international songs tend to let her just be her. And this song gives us that! Plus, it is super hooky so that’s an added bonus. Just try to listen to this and not sing and dance along!
John Mellencamp – “Jack & Diane” – 1982
I’ve always loved Mellencamp too. He’s a great rocker, with danceable songs, who also has a strong social conscience. It’s the trifecta! This song in particular was actually #1 on the radio when I was born so it’s only fitting we get down with Jack and Diane today.
Brandi Carlile – “Wherever Your Heart Is” – 2015
As far as I’m concerned, Brandi Carlile is the best artist to emerge since 2000. (I’ve always loved the folk rock/singer-songwriter genre.) Her songs convey so much of life. There’s beauty, pain, hope, longing, and so much more. There are few people ever whose music touches as much in your heart and soul as she does. I’ve been lucky enough to see her in concert twice – once with Mom and once with Kalie. Both were such great days :). She’s one of those performers who sounds just as strong as she does on the album live and she’s one of the best shows I’ve seen.
U2 – “Window In The Skies” – 2006
When Mom and I saw U2 live, I glimpsed the possibility of the Kingdom of God. For those two and a half hours, the entire arena was united in euphoria and love, singing songs about social justice and God. It was a transcendent experience. This song so beautifully, so purposefully, so prayerfully explores all the faces of love. Love is our tool of transformation. Love can redeem the world. The song described freedom for slaves, an end to war, and an overturning of the “rule” of how the world should work. It points to the resurrection as the triumph of life over death and the cause for freedom from all debt. Through the verses, U2 move from discussing a personal relationship to love on the larger, global scale. Bono begs to never be released from love and acknowledges that with love there is no shame. In personal relationships we can all but kill one another but love opens a window to heaven and transforms everything, in our lives and in our world. Again and again U2 ask, “Can’t you see what love has done / What it’s doin’ to me?” Can’t we see? Love can change everything…if we let it.
Alanis Morissette – “Everything” – 2005
Alanis is another vocalist I adore. And, being an adolescent of the ‘90s, she wrote a large part of the soundtrack of my life. I’ve seen her in concert a few times too and her voice is even more powerful live! I grant she’s most well known for her scathing break-up songs BUT I wanted to pick a happy one for this list. Why? Because it’s my birthday (almost) and that means happy thoughts! Following the U2 song above, this is another wonderful description of the totality of love. She sings, “You see everything / you see every part / You’ve see all my light / and you love my dark.” Unconditional love is about loving the whole of the Beloved and she expressed this truth wonderfully here. Plus I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for short hair Alanis Morissette because her hair was really short the first time I saw her in concert, touring with (of all people) the Barenaked Ladies. Now that was a really eclectic show :).
Bruce Springsteen – “Thunder Road” – 1975
Recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1975, this is my favorite version of my favorite Springsteen song. To hear him sing with only the piano adds a beautiful intimacy to an already gorgeous song. I think this song perfectly illustrates the pursuit of romantic love – expressing a ragged, urgent desperation alongside a blinding hope. For decades he and the E Street Band have built a reputation as one of the greatest touring acts around. And it’s justified! I’ve seen him a few times too – once with Mom, once with Mom and David, once with Kalie – and each time he blew my mind. Kalie and I saw him on his recent The River Tour where he played the entire double album and then continued knocking out hit after hit for another couple hours. It was transcendent. There’s no one like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band!
Rod Stewart – “Young Tukrs” – 1981
Rod Stewart’s always been Mom’s favorite so I grew up with his records. This song was in heavy rotation on the radio and MTV when I was born so Mom’s always said it made her think of being pregnant with me due to the line, “Patty gave birth to a ten pound baby boy.” And while I wasn’t ten pounds, Mom’s name is Patty and I was a boy so it fits. Also, Rod Stewart was technically the first concert I ever attended. Mom saw him when she was eight months pregnant with me, sitting “two rows from heaven,” and having to pregnancy-waddle from her nose-bleed seats to the bathroom, like all the time, because I was apparently being rude and laying on her bladder a lot. But, even though I was in uetero, I was still there! So I count Rod Stewart as my first concert :).
Madonna – “Like A Prayer” – 1989
Ahh, Madonna… Who doesn’t like Madonna? My copy of her first greatest hits album, The Immaculate Collection (which is waaaay more theologically aware than most people get (as the immaculate conception refers to Mary and not Jesus (and Madonna’s name is, well, Madonna))), is well worn from many listens. I picked this song in particular because, when I was a senior in high school, my friend Missy and I had the job of writing a little drama for a church thingie. We decided to set it to music (not uncommon for these sorts of things in the early 2000’s) but we wanted to try and use a secular song to convey a religious message instead of going the easy route and using some Christian song (a genre we were, admittedly, unfamiliar with). We picked “Like A Prayer” because a) it’s a great song employing religious imagery and b) there was (in classic Madonna fashion) some controversy surrounding some of the images in the video when it was released. We wanted to see if we could use it effectively in a religious setting. We did and it gave birth to a little travelling drama group I ran with my friend Allie (as Missy headed into the Navy after we graduated) that would lead retreats and such at churches around the area. From there came a degree in Religious Studies, nine years teaching Religious Education, six years as a Youth Minister, and now I’m entering my eighth year as a theology teacher!
Pink – “Fuckin’ Perfect” – 2010
Pink’s another one of those artists I’ve always adored. I love her music. I love her message. I love her even though (on two separate occasions) I had tickets to see her in concert…only to have her get sick and have to cancel…and the first time it happened I didn’t find out until after I’d already driven the two hours to Pittsburgh. Even though I’ve never seen her live, there’s still no one like her. I think we all need the confidence she tries to offer her listeners in who they are through her music too. Of all her songs, this is my favorite. It’s one of those universal love songs that works, as it is, between lovers or a parent and child or best friends. It lets us know we are fucking perfect just the way we are, no matter what. And there’s something special in taking such a crass phrase and creating such a moving song out of it. Admittedly, the video has some dark moments in it but the song itself offers a purely beautiful message, making clear how perfect we are…and that’s something we all need to be reminded of.
Bon Jovi w/ Jennifer Nettles – “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” – 2005
Annnnnd with this, we’ll call it a Birthday F.N.V folks! I am unapologetically a hometown kind of guy. When I was a kid, I dreamed of living a thousand different places. Now, at thirty-five…oh wait! It’s thirty-six as of Sunday! Now, at thirty-six, there are a thousand places I’d like to visit. But I’m happy where I am. I clearly see the blessing I had growing up with so much of my family around me. David and I saw our cousins all the time. They were our best friends. Every Wednesday Mom and Aunt Chris would take us all to the beach and there were zoo trips and movies and vacations together. We’ve had Friday night dinner at Grandma’s as a thing in my life since I was fourteen and Grandpa died. What began as my parents not wanting Grandma to be alone at the end of the week turned into one of the most beautiful and enduring blessings in my life – with our regular dinner crowd growing over the years too. My parents, my brother, my grandparents, and so many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins are all within a forty minute drive. I understand this is not a blessing everyone has and I’m so thankful for it. I also am blessed to work at a place where I feel as much at home as I do at Grandma’s with co-workers who are so much more than best friends. They are brothers and sisters to me in the fullest sense of the word. I love my home. I do. About ten years ago I was debating going away for more schooling or settling down, looking for a new job (as youth ministry was wearing me out) and putting down some adult roots. I made the right choice. I love my home and I love my life. So you’re right Jon! As Jon and Jennifer sing, “With every step I take, I know that I’m not alone / You take the home from the boy / But not the boy from his home / These are my streets, the only life I’ve ever known / Who says you can’t go home?”
You can also add in the fact that Bon Jovi were my first “big, out of town” concert too! It was the summer of 2001 and I had just graduated high school. Mom, Aunt Judy, David and I headed down to Pittsburgh for a weekend that featured Bon Jovi on Saturday night and Poison’s “Glam Slam Metal Jam” on Sunday. Hahaha, yep. It was an EPIC weekend and was the genesis of a brilliant tradition of the four of us seeing concerts together. Seventeen years later I can still say the overwhelming majority of concerts I’ve seen in my life I’ve had some or all of them right there next to me, rocking out too :).
Are you in the mood for more music? If so, you can check out these other installments in the series!