Image Credit: Everett CollectionRecently, I was listening to “I Had a Farm in Africa,” the main theme from Out of Africa, and when it hit that sweeping chorus, I got the feeling that the notes actually know how beautiful they sound and are grateful for having been put in that order. The more I played it, the more I started thinking that if the last sound I heard on earth couldn’t be the voice of a loved one, that song — from 1:10 on, on loop — would be a contender. Then I started wondering what other songs I’d want to hear, and spent far too many hours on public transportation debating my final playlist. See it below. Then share your own. Remember: These are songs for you, for whatever purpose you’d want them to serve. Nothing is too guilty, too cliché, or too sentimental. What 10 songs would you want to hear before you left this earth? Your list might surprise you.
10. Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River”: It’s the song I always end up playing when I’m tipsy; I suspect it will sound even more awesome if I’m drugged. (You’re welcome, hopefully much older me.)
9. Dolly Parton’s “Two Doors Down”: Radio City, 2008. It was a rainy night, and I thought for sure having to dodge umbrellas on crowed New York City streets would dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm, and not just mine. But as soon as Dolly opened with this, we were all up on our feet and in it to win it. There’s a special kind of joy that exists only at Dolly Parton concerts.
8. George Strait’s “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls”: It’s not my favorite George Strait song, but anytime I hear the opening notes, I instantly feel like I’m in the same room with my father. Strait mentions seeing firsthand Niagara Falls and the lights of Vegas, and I’ve had fun trips to both places with friends that I want to remember. And more and more, I find myself relating to the part, “she’s tryin’ hard to fit in in some city/but her home is ‘neath that big blue sky and the Northern Plains and those other wide open spaces/now a days there ain’t as many.”
7. The Proclaimers’ “Sunshine on Leith”: It reminds me of my sister. We were obsessed with that album when it came out; I still love their harmonies and the line “While I’m worth my room on this earth/I will be with you.”
6. The Dominoes’ “Sixty-Minute Man”: It reminds me of my mother, who searched forever for this song after Bull Durham, and insists we listen to it every time I get out my iPod.
5. Nat King Cole’s “The Very Thought Of You”: It reminds me of studying abroad in London, and finally, on the last day of classes, stopping the guy I’d liked all semester on the street. We just stood there and talked for 20 minutes. I went back to the flat I was sharing with six other girls, made pasta for dinner while singing this song and drinking a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. There was no regret, oddly, that I hadn’t talked to him sooner. I love that that was enough.
4. Judy Garland’s “Do it Again”: It must be the Carnegie Hall version, which makes me think of how special, in a city this loud, those moments are at concerts when you can hear a pin drop.
3. The Mills Brothers’ “Silent Night”: I’m not a terribly religious person, but when I hear this song, I think of leaving my childhood church’s Christmas Eve service in rural Central Pennsylvania — where everything, at that hour, on that night, really was calm and bright. The Mills Brothers’ voices are as warm and smooth as a cashmere wrap. Plus, a town near where I grew up likes to claim ties to the group, even though their grandfather just had a barbershop there. Brilliant.
2. Johnny Hartman’s “It Was Almost Like a Song”: It’s one of those songs that if it comes on while I’m doing something, I have to stop, sit, and just listen to it. Then put it on repeat. It’s the audible equivalent of a warm bath in the nicest tub you’ve ever seen. Hartman’s voice is so beautiful, you feel like heartbreak is actually worth it.
1. “I Had a Farm in Africa”: The melody is both reflective and freeing, intimate and epic. It makes me think of being on my late Pappy Groninger’s farm — lying on the front porch of the house on a glider, listening to the wind in the trees — which is a place I wish I could go back to. I also find it comforting that it’s a piece of music from a movie. The first time I ever felt one of those “perfect moments” was when I was given an afternoon off from my summer newspaper internship, and I went to the movies by myself. I can’t remember what I saw, but I remember feeling like it was exactly where I wanted to be. In a comfy seat, in a dark, air-conditioned theater, waiting to be entertained. And with no one else in the theater, the experience was whatever I wanted it to be.