I’ll say this about “Mike’s Resurrection Playlist:” It turned out to be considerably more interesting than I thought when the idea was initially pitched to me.
Leaders at my church, the First Congregational United Church of Christ, thought it would be fun for Easter to pull together a Spotify playlist of songs that were life-affirming. Bonus points would be awarded if a song made you want to dance. No actual hymns would be allowed. We’d ask congregation members to nominate songs they thought would fit the bill.
Well, OK. Even if I’ve been known to tear up from time to time with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” and its logical modern successor, Kacey Musgraves’ “Oh, What a World,” it’s not as if my CD collection (yes, I still have CDs) is jammed with life-affirming discs – that is, assuming you ignore the imposing number of Earth, Wind & Fire albums in the collection. Also, I feared that nobody would nominate songs, and that the burden would be on me to throw together a playlist that would be heavy on songs from U2, Swing Out Sister, my various disco records, the least-depressing songs from Paul Simon and, of course, Earth, Wind & Fire. All light. Virtually no shadows.
I was wrong. The following playlist does have plenty of bursts of pure sunshine – and those are fine. But the list also has plenty of songs in which the light struggles a bit to break through the shadows. It seems to me that you have helped create a playlist that captures both the spirit of Easter and the darker moments that come before it.
I also was struck by the sheer array of music nominated. This list includes recordings by Harry Belafonte all the way up to Jon Batiste – not to mention part of a symphony by that old hack Tchaikovsky. We even have a few nods in the direction of country music.
My guess is that you won’t like all of these songs. That’s OK – even Paul Simon, who wrote one of these songs, is on record as hating that particular song. But I suspect that you’ll get introduced here to a song you don’t know and that you’ll love. (For example, I had never heard Brittany Howard’s ferocious “13th Century Metal” before, and I’m very glad to have made its acquaintance.)
You might even find cause to dance here. That’s OK. Go ahead.
What follows are notes on the songs in the playlist, combined with a few thoughts about why I’ve placed them in this order. I have included the names of the people who nominated the songs and, in some cases, their own words about a particular song. If you’re listening to the Spotify playlist on a mobile device, be aware that the order you hear the songs may be different. Also, if you have the free version of Spotify, which is ad-supported, you may come to believe that the Coastal Farms & Ranch jingle is part of the list. It is not. Finally, of course, what’s below gives you 30-second snippets of each song — to listen to the whole song, you have to log into Spotify.
Here are the songs are the playlist:
- “Rise Up,” Andra Day. (Nominated by Walter Balk). This song, from the extraordinary San Diego singer Day, was originally placed on the top of the list because it was, like, the first song nominated. Then it just refused to move down. Walter writes: “She can sing and make you believe that you can, indeed, rise up!” This is from Day’s debut album, 2015’s “Cheers to the Fall.”
- “Beautiful Day,” U2 (Walter). This uplifting anthem also seems like it should be near the top of the list. Writes Walter: “If I am in a bad space, this song makes me believe again. My body simply moves!”
- “Lovely Day,” Bill Withers (McInally). Because I believe that every playlist should include this song, even a playlist titled “No Bill Withers Songs Are On This Playlist.” And it fits perfectly right after “Beautiful Day.”
- “Here Comes the Sun,” The Beatles (Larry Weymouth). Because it fits beautifully right after “Lovely Day.”
- “Sunshine,” Earth Wind & Fire (McInally). This bubbly track – listen to the fabulous bassline! – isn’t as well-known as the band’s biggest hits, but it’s a natural match for “Here Comes the Sun.”
- “Mut,” Herbert Gronemeyer (Walter, of course). Gronemeyer is the biggest-selling musician in the history of Germany – and is Walter’s favorite Germany rock musician. This song, “Courage,” was released in 2018, but at the end of last year Gronemeyer released a new video for the song that included images from 2021. Did I find the video? Of course I did: Here’s a link. The video version of the song is a little different from this Spotify version. This song ushers us into a more meditative section of the playlist.
- “Everyday Life,” Coldplay (Julia Lont). Chris Martin and company serve up a slice of hope with just a side of melacholy. Older listeners might be reminded of REM’s “Everybody Hurts,” which almost made it onto this list. Julia says she included this song in a playlist she made to celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden. “That day felt a little like a kind of resurrection,” she writes.
- “Let It Be,” The Beatles (Larry). To my surprise, I thought this fits in quite well with the Coldplay song. If you disagree, feel free to build your own playlist.
- “Beautiful,” Carole King (Diane McInally). All this time, I thought Diane liked “Tapestry” mainly because of the cat on the cover. But this song settles in nicely between “Let It Be” and “What a Wonderful World.”
- “What a Wonderful World,” Louis Armstrong (Julia). The only way this lovely classic could be any better would be if Satchmo played a trumpet solo.
- “Oh, What a World,” Kacey Musgraves (McInally). As soon as Julia nominated “What a Wonderful World,” I thought of this terrific Musgraves song from her wondrous “Golden Hour” album.
- “Over the Rainbow,” Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (Katherine Keniston). This 1993 recording of the “Wizard of Oz” classic made the beloved Hawaiian singer an international star.
- “The Greatest Gift,” Henry Mancini (Katherine). Katherine says “this lovely song was a favorite of my longtime sweetheart, Mark, a sensitive soul who died almost two years ago. It has an encouraging message.” The song is from the movie “The Return of the Pink Panther.”
- “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” Simon and Garfunkel (Katherine). Here’s a fun fact: During Simon’s 2018 show in Portland (which Diane and I saw!), he playfully “penalized” himself for flubbing the lyrics to another song by singing this song, which he said he hated.
- “Hava Nageela,” Harry Belafonte (Katherine). “Hava Nagila” is a Jewish folk song; the title translates to “Let us rejoice.” This version is from Belafonte’s 1959 “Live at Carnegie Hall” album; he considered this one of his two signature songs. I couldn’t figure out the reason why Belafonte spells the title that way, but that’s the spelling on the album.
- “Ain’t No Grave,” Johnny Cash, and “Ain’t No Grave,” Cageless Birds and Molly Skaggs (Jennifer Butler). Claude Ely wrote the original song, which Cash covered for his “American VI” album, released just days after his death. Cageless Birds (husband-and-wife Christian musicians Jonathan David Helser and wife Melissa) and vocalist Molly Skaggs took Ely’s chorus and added new verses to create what amounts to an expanded version – and it’s fascinating to hear them both side-by-side.
- “Death, Be Not Proud,” Audrey Assad (Jennifer). The Christian singer-songwriter wrote and recorded this song, based on John Donne’s poem, during the third trimester of her pregnancy. It’s on her 2014 EP of the same name.
- “River,” Leon Bridges (Jennifer). This song, heavy on redemption and forgiveness, was prominently featured in HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” It’s a good fit for Easter as well. And, musically, it fits nicely with the next song.
- “Closer to Fine,” The Indigo Girls (Jennifer). Emily Saliers (she and Amy Ray are The Indigo Girls) wrote this song from the duo’s 1989 album. Saliers, the daughter of a theologian and a librarian, sings: “The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” The song is The Indigo Girls’ biggest hit. It also features a pennywhistle solo.
- “Tennessee Whiskey,” Chris Stapleton (Searainya Boyd-Frojen). This lovely track from the country songwriter’s excellent album “Traveller,” kicks off a country-flavored section of the playlist.
- “Buy Dirt,” Jordan Davis (Robin Frojen). This starts a series of three songs in which the narrator offers advice about life to loved ones. All three songs are excellent, but only Sturgill Simpson’s song features a generous dose of baritone sax.
- “’Til You Can’t,” Cody Johnson (Robin).
- “Keep It Between the Lines,” Sturgill Simpson (McInally).
- “Gonna Fly Now,” Bill Conti (Katherine). We head now into a rousing section of the playlist, and what better song than Conti’s “Rocky” theme to lead the charge?
- “Shake It Out,” Florence + the Machine (Jennifer). Don’t be misled by the relatively mellow opening section, which lasts for about 37 seconds.
- “13th Century Metal,” Brittany Howard (Julia). The brilliant vocalist and leader of Alabama Shakes creates an awe-inspiring sonic backdrop for this bracing spoken-word manifesto. (Parental guidance: The song features one word of profanity which your child likely already has heard a thousand times.)
- “Freedom,” Jon Batiste (McInally). The Grammy winner that you likely never had heard of a year ago connects with a track that insists you move.
- “Mambo de la Luna,” Kirstie MacColl (McInally). This is the leadoff track from the singer-songwriter’s spectacular 2000 album “Tropical Brainstorm.” Sadly, MacColl died later that year in a very suspicious motorboat accident in Mexico.
- “We Are Family,” Sister Sledge (Colin Frojen-Andersson).
- “Levitating,” Dua Lipa (Colin). If you were at a club in 1979 or 1980, you would have danced to “We Are Family.” If clubs had been open in 2020 and 2021 instead of being closed because of the coronavirus, you would have danced to Lipa’s excellent banger.
- “Once in a Lifetime,” Anjelique Kidjo (McInally). I love the Talking Heads original, but this version – from an album in which Kidjo covers all of the Heads’ classic “Remain in Light” disc – is joyous and unabashedly life-affirming, without the slight twist of irony David Byrne provides on the original. And there’s a trumpet solo. Also recommended: The entirety of Byrne’s “American Utopia,” which offers yet another take on this song.
- “Nina Cried Power,” Hozier with Mavis Staples (Jennifer). Here, near the end of a playlist of songs with the power to embrace life, is a song about the power of music to embrace life. Is that meta or what? Hozier, the outstanding Irish soul singer, teams up here with American legend Mavis Staples. (You can see more of Staples in Questlove’s wonderful documentary “Summer of Soul.”)
- “Feeling Good,” Nina Simone (Julia). Yes, this is the Nina who gets name-checked in the Hozier song.
- Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, second movement (Katherine). Actually, Katherine didn’t nominate just the entire second movement – just the famous horn solo. But you don’t have to wait long for that – it shows up just about a minute into the movement. This solo has been, um, “borrowed” for songs such as Glenn Miller’s “Moon Love” and John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.” But none of that is Tchaikovsky’s fault.
There you go – 35 selections and more than two hours of music – just like a Time-Life compilation! Operators are standing by. Enjoy. Happy Easter.