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From the Old Days to Tomorrow

13 songs from moments of joy, loneliness, and hope

By Alivia VarvelPublished about a year ago β€’ Updated about a year ago β€’ 16 min read
Runner-Up in Melodic Milestone Playlist Challenge
From the Old Days to Tomorrow
Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

My earliest memories of music nearly all take place in the backseat of my family's old minivan. It was pretty much the only place I could listen to music at the time. Sure, I had a CD player at home, but I didn't exactly have CDs to play in it. The radio in our car was where I got to hear all my favorites and any new songs that Radio Disney was playing. I still remember the first time I heard Taylor Swift's "Teardrops On My Guitar" on Radio Disney back in 2006 (maybe 2007, now I'm not so sure). It was in our van, of course, and then the entire week or so after, that song was all Radio Disney would play. I knew it by heart by the third go around.

That song isn't on this playlist, but I wanted to give a picture of where my music taste lied at the start of my journey with the songs I do have here. I didn't really have a taste yet or opinions about what music I thought was good or bad. Like I said, it was whatever played in the car. And that's exactly where we will start in our playlist. A classic from my dad's favorite band.

Track 1: Old Days by Chicago

Old days, good times I remember; gold days, days I'll always treasure

My brother and I are sitting together in the backseat of the car while my dad drives. We just left my dad's fastpitch softball game. It's a very legit league and is taken very seriously by the men in my family, but that's a whole other story for a different day. Needless to say, my dad still has a lot of energy and is of course playing his music instead of just listening to whatever is on the radio.

If we're going to be listening to Chicago, we want to hear "Old Days." Because that means my dad reenacts the drum solo on the steering wheel. And if he's still wearing his batting gloves, he will drum so hard his gloves would fly right off. He does this on purpose, but my brother and I think it's the funniest thing we've ever seen to see my dad drum so intensely that he loses his gloves.

As soon as we heard the guitar riff toward the end of the song, we know the buildup is coming. My brother and I are already giggling. My dad starts slow with the song, and then we hear the band get louder as they move into the final chorus. My dad gives it his all on the steering wheel like he's actually on stage with the band somewhere, and the gloves go flying into the backseat. We laugh through the end of the song.

"Again!" My brother and I will never not ask to listen to the song one more time. I now know my dad clearly did not want to go through the entire song again just so we could hear that one part, but he would do it anyway.

The irony is not lost on me that a song I look back on so fondly is called "Old Days." I definitely didn't know to appreciate it at the time, but that's okay. It's still just as special to me, and it always will be.

Track 2: It's Not Over by Daughtry

Let's start over; I'll try to do it right this time around; it's not over

This is another backseat jam. But instead of the song playing on the radio, I listened to this on my MP3 player. I felt so technologically advanced for it being 2006/2007.

Why did I listen to Daughtry? My family loved watching American Idol (only up until about Season 7 or 8). Chris Daughtry was a contestant during Season 5. And we all were rooting for him to win.

I remember very clearly when he did not win and got eliminated much earlier than he should have. As soon as Ryan Seacrest said, "You're actually going home tonight," my family and I were giving each other the same look that another contestant, Katharine McPhee, was giving Seacrest: one of shock and confusion. Daughtry was the strongest contestant that whole season. He should have at least been runner-up, not fourth.

I digress. Thankfully, Daughtry still went on to release music, and good music at that. As soon as I got an MP3 player, his self-titled album immediately went on there. This song was arguably my favorite.

I have a specific memory of listening to this song while I was waiting the car with my mom in the parking lot of my brother's school while he was at basketball practice. I was happy to sit there and just listen to Daughtry for however long his practice lasted.

Track 3: Hurts Like Heaven by Coldplay

Written in graffiti on a bridge in a park, "Do you ever get the feeling that you're missing the mark?"

2011 was when my middle-school self finally started developing a taste for music and was actually able to say, "I don't like that," or "I really like that."

Prior to their release of their album "Mylo Xyloto," I had of course heard of Coldplay and knew their biggest hits. I didn't pay attention any further than that. And then one day, my brother was listening to something in his room that I hadn't heard before. I asked him what it was, and he said, "Hurts Like Heaven."

At this point in my life, whenever I heard a new song or saw a new show or movie, I would immediately take to the internet and learn everything I possibly could about it. This was no different. I looked up the song myself and fell down a rabbit hole. Coldplay had so many hidden gems in their music that didn't become hits.

I really fell in love with "Viva la Vida" - the entire album, not just the song. "Glass of Water" is an absolute banger, please go listen to it. And "Postcards from Far Away" is the most beautiful transition track I've ever heard.

"Hurts Like Heaven" is more than just one of my favorite songs. It marks the start of finding my music.

Track 4: September by Earth, Wind & Fire

Do you remember the 21st night of September?

Before I get to high-school me and onward, let's pause for a purely fun song.

We all know this song, right? At least, I think most people have heard it, whether they know it by name or not. This is a classic song I will always stop to listen to when I'm just scanning radio stations. It's another core memory with my dad.

Just before the trumpets come in at the beginning of the song, you can hear what sounds like snapping as the beat builds up. Naturally, a person listening to this song would snap along. What does my dad do? Snaps and claps. No, not at the same time. Alternating - snaps on 1 and 3, claps on 2 and 4.

It's so goofy, but I will always do it every time regardless of him being with me or not. Ba-dee-ya...

Track 5: Below My Feet by Mumford & Sons

Keep the earth below my feet; for all my sweat, my blood runs weak; let me learn from where I have been; keep my eyes to serve and my hands to learn

Up until this point, my favorite songs became my favorites because of the influence of someone else, mainly my dad and brother. But this is where I finally started discovering music on my own.

I unfortunately can't remember the first time I heard a Mumford & Sons song. It may have been "I Will Wait" or "The Cave" that popped up as suggested videos on YouTube as I was listening to other music (probably Coldplay). It was one of these songs that made me realize I loved folk/indie folk music.

At the time, I thought that was a bit strange because I had such a strong dislike for country music, and both of these genres typically rely heavily on guitars and banjos so they're the same thing right? Obviously they're not, but I didn't know much at 14.

What really struck me about this band was their meaningful lyrics. It takes a bit of thinking to truly understand what they're singing about. And then I realized Coldplay was the same way. That's when it hit me: I liked music that makes me think. I was tired of hearing people singing about love and breakups for the millionth time. I wanted to hear about life and struggles that go beyond romantic relationships. I realize it's a bit odd for a 14-year-old to want heavy-hitting lyrics, but that's the kind of kid I was.

"Below My Feet" tapped into exactly what I desired to hear in a song - struggling to simply carry on when life gets hard. Yes, I know I was just starting high school. It wasn't exactly the toughest time of my life, but this was when my mental health first took a turn. I just didn't know it at the time.

Track 6: Light Year by Gregory Alan Isakov

All the ravens came along to play; the simple notes you sang just went astray; everything was up, it's coming down

Ah, Gregory Alan Isakov. Creator of some of the most beautiful and serene music I have ever heard. I could sing his praises forever.

It was at the end of my high school career that I discovered Mr. Isakov. I heard his song "Time Will Tell" in a car commercial of all things and did a deep dive on the internet to find who in the world made such beautiful music (this was before Shazam was a thing). As soon as I found his name, I ran to YouTube to listen to every song he had ever made.

The song I had heard in the commercial was from his most recent album at the time "The Weatherman," which I quickly devoured. I then turned to his previous albums and found "This Empty Northern Hemisphere." And what a glorious album it was.

Isakov's music was what I liked to play when I didn't want to think, but I wasn't playing it just for background music either. I always paid very close attention when listening to his music. What I mean is I wanted to be entranced. I didn't call his music serene for nothing. If I wanted to be relaxed or even wanted a close second to a lullaby, I would immediately go to Isakov.

As I mentioned, "This Empty Northern Hemisphere" quickly became my favorite. And "Light Year" is track 2 on that album. I'm pretty sure that song was my most played song on Spotify for at least 2 years in a row, and it followed me for even longer than that. I couldn't get enough.

I sat front row at his concert in Bloomington, IN a few years ago. Unfortunately, he didn't play this song, but I still take it as a win to have heard the golden voice in person.

Track 7: Tear In My Heart by twenty one pilots

Sometimes you gotta bleed to know that you're alive and have a soul; but it takes someone to come around to show you how

Now we're getting closer to my current favorites. I've linked the music video to this one because it's such a treat.

I do not have to wrack my brain for this memory. I can see it vividly.

It's my senior year of high school, and I'm back stage getting ready for play practice. My fellow castmate and I are changing into our costumes when she says she's going to play some music. I hear 4 clicks of drumsticks and then a quick piano riff before the first verse of the song starts. It immediately has my attention.

"What is this?"

"Oh, this is twenty one pilots."

And the rest is history. I was hooked.

I had heard my castmate talk about this band before but had never bothered to actually look up their music. As soon as I heard "Tear In My Heart," I finally understood why she loved them so much.

I know I said before that songs about love are not my favorite, but this isn't your average love song. This song is about how the singer and songwriter Tyler Joseph realized love and being in love means being opening yourself up to being vulnerable because the person you're in love with now has the power to hurt you. They could put a metaphorical tear in your heart. He put a spin on a love song that I hadn't really heard before.

This was just the beginning of my love affair with this band. It would still be years before I looked further into their backlog and discovered just how much of a lyrical master Tyler Joseph is.

Track 8: Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man

I'm a rebel just for kicks now; let me kick it like it's 1986 now

This one is extra special because the album it's from was released the day I turned 20.

Man, this was a ridiculously popular song when it came out. I remember hearing it on the radio constantly. But unlike most radio hits, I never got sick of hearing it.

I'm not sure exactly if it was the bass or the horns that really got me, but this song got me. This is another one of those songs that was in the top 5 of my most played songs on Spotify for multiple years. The entire album of "Woodstock" had me in a chokehold for a long time. My jaw was on the floor the first time I listened to it all the way through.

I remember telling a few friends about it and how they just had to listen to the album because it was so good. And then without fail, I would get nearly the same response: "I mean, it's okay?"

Yet another reminder that my music taste was not exactly what you would call mainstream. From then on, I knew to let everyone know to take my music recommendations with a grain of salt.

Track 9: Sober II (Melodrama) by Lorde

They'll talk about us, all the lovers, how we kiss and kill each other

Funnily enough, this song is also from an album that was released on my 20th birthday.

First of all, Lorde's album "Melodrama" should have won the Grammy for Album of the Year when it was nominated. The whole album is glorious, and I love every single song. But "Sober II" scratches my brain just right.

The strings, the beat drop at the end, everything about it makes me want to get up and spin around. I listened to this song relentlessly for years in college, and it was constantly on repeat when I would walk to and from class.

I'm pretty sure the reason this album resonates with me so much is because I'm almost the same age as Lorde. The last track on "Melodrama" called "Perfect Places" is one of the most relatable songs I've ever heard.

I hate the headlines and the weather; I'm 19 and I'm on fire; but when we're dancing, I'm alright

Track 10: Taxi Cab by twenty one pilots

Then I cracked open my box, someone must have picked the lock; a little light revealed the spot where my fingernails had fought; then I pushed it open more, pushing up against the door; then I sat up off the floor and found the breath I was searching for

This one is a heavy hitter.

It wasn't until my sophomore year of college that I finally dove deeper into twenty one pilots' music. I slowly made my way through their 2013 album "Vessel" and loved every single track. But it took me a while to get into their 2009 self-titled album. The sound they had at the time was a bit weird to me, but I eventually grew to appreciate it.

I didn't listen to "Taxi Cab" for a while because it's one of the last songs on the album. But when I did, I couldn't believe I had been missing out on such a poignant and beautiful song. I mean, just look at the lyrics I shared above.

I was sitting in my dorm room alone when I decided to give this song a try. And thank goodness for that, because I was weeping by the bridge.

My mental health had not been in a good place for years, but I refused to acknowledge it. I thought if I ignored it, then the problem wouldn't exist. It wasn't until I heard this song as well as "Addict With a Pen" from the same album that I fully realized just how bad things were. I was shocked that someone had put into words all the things I had been feeling.

If I ever get the chance to meet Tyler Joseph, I would thank him for being so vulnerable and sharing his experiences so that others can find peace in knowing they're not alone.

Track 11: Age of Man by Greta Van Fleet

And as we came into the clear, to find ourselves where we are here; who is the wiser to help us steer, and will we know when the end is near?

Greta. Van. Fleet.

I will never stop raving about this band. If you like classic rock, you need to listen to this band.

This is another vivid memory. It's my junior year of college, and I'm sitting at the kitchen counter eating lunch.

I get a text from my dad: "Have you heard of Greta Van Fleet?"

My initial thought is that he's asking about a person, not a band. I don't know who he's talking about, so I do a quick Google search and discover that it's in fact a band. The first song that pops up is "Highway Tune." So I give it a shot.

As soon as the singer Josh Kiszka comes in with his high note after a few measures of a killer guitar riff, my jaw drops. How in the world is this a current band? They sound like they came straight out the classic rock era from the 70s.

I get so caught up in listening to more of their songs that I almost forget to text my dad back. I respond, "well now I have."

If you haven't heard of this band and decide to Google them like I did, you're likely going to see some controversial opinions. I won't say why here. You'll have to see for yourself. But I would encourage you to go listen to their music first, and then do a Google search to see what I'm talking about.

Needless to say, I was an instant fan. As much as I love all their upbeat songs, "Age of Man" is my all-time favorite. Though it has a slower tempo, it never fails to fire me up. The vocals are top-tier.

Over the past couple of years, I have made multiple attempts to see this band live and have failed due to things like car trouble and sickness. But I'm proud to say I'll be going to one of their concerts later this year. And nothing will stop me this time.

Track 12: Last Hope by Paramore

I don't even know myself at all, I thought I would be happy by now

I've linked the live version of this song, because it's arguably better than the recorded version.

This song does exactly what the title says: it gives me hope.

For those who have loved Paramore since their "Riot!" days, what I'm about to say may trigger you. I didn't become a true fan until they released their album "After Laughter" in 2017. I had of course heard of their hits like "Misery Business," but I didn't really follow them until 2017.

It wasn't until after I graduated from college that I went back to look further into their previous work. The only songs I really knew from their self-titled album they released in 2013 were "Ain't It Fun" and "Still Into You." I can't remember what specifically prompted me to listen to "Last Hope" before any of the other songs, but boy, am I glad I chose that one.

"Last Hope" is a masterful song about holding onto hope when you have nothing else.

Every night I try my best to dream tomorrow makes it better, then I wake up to the cold reality, not a thing has changed; but it will happen

Just like "Taxi Cab," it felt like this song came at a time when I needed to hear it most. I was at another low point: in the middle of the pandemic, unemployed, and more depressed than I had been in years.

Simply carrying on and holding onto the hope that things would get better is what ultimately got me through that time.

Track 13: it's time to go by Taylor Swift

Sometimes giving up is the strong thing; sometimes to run is the brave thing

Last but not least at Miss Taylor's lucky number, we have a bonus track from her album "evermore."

I didn't become a Swiftie until she released "folklore" in 2020. Of course, I knew her hit songs, but I didn't really pay attention any further than that. But when I saw she had released an alternative album, I had to give it a shot. And I was blown away.

"folklore" won the Grammy for Album of the Year, which it absolutely deserved. But I'll be honest, I like its successor "evermore" just a little bit more. "cowboy like me" quickly became one of my favorite songs of all time.

But here's why "it's time to go" is so special. Clearly, I'm someone who likes to write. I mean, why else would I post my writing on here? Up until very recently, short stories were what I liked to stick to. But one day, as I was listening to this song, I got hit with an idea.

An idea for a novel.

Even just attempting to write a novel has always scared me. I always thought there was no way I would ever be able to think of an idea good enough to fill an entire book. But this idea is so detailed, it feels like it already existed, and I simply found it. I think I have Taylor to thank for that.

Music is constant. Music is powerful. From memories of the old days to inspiration for the biggest project I will ever take on, these songs have held my hand through it all.

Here's to hoping it will take me to seeing my stories on the shelves of bookstores.

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About the Creator

Alivia Varvel

time is the most precious commodity

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Comments (2)

  • Z.a.i.n.t.z7 months ago

    Wow, wonderful. Feel lucky to have read this one. Thanks πŸŽ―πŸ€žπŸΎπŸ’―πŸŽ―πŸ§‘β€οΈπŸ§‘

  • Lori Staffordabout a year ago

    Music is such a powerful, mysterious gift. Ms. Varvel's honest writer's voice captures this well. Her experiences, so very much her own, are still so relatable and moving. Lovely piece.

Alivia VarvelWritten by Alivia Varvel

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