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Top Ten Songs I Sang Along With 
on The Drive To And From Work In 2018

by Pat Foran

1. “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” by Angie Stone (2001). The killer O’Jays sample (“Backstabbers”) pulled me into this song back in the day, but it’s Stone and her soothing vocal acrobatics that kill me softly—and trick me into thinking I can do a little tumbling myself. She floats over that GREAT SAMPLED GUITAR LICK and turns it inside out. There’s this line: Memories don’t live like people do. And that chorus! But this track is all about Ms. Stone’s wishing and missing, as well as her cautionary reminder: One of these days, it’s gonna happen to you. Yep. Instant Karma’s gonna get you. Or at least some of us.

2. Oh Girl” by The Chi-Lites (1972). At a time when soul music was starting to get a bit more muscular, a bit more macho, Chi-Lites lead singer Eugene Record stayed in the sweet-soul lane. Here, he’s saying he’d be in trouble if she left him because, you know, he doesn’t know where to look for love—doesn’t even know how—and all his friends say he’s a fool because he’s not supposed to be thinking like this. He’s certainly not supposed to be saying things like this. So, yeah. Toss in a sweetly sad harmonica and I’m all in. I resolve to incorporate this line—So I try to be hip and think like the crowd—into my everyday vernacular in 2019. And if I can muster up some courage, I’ll work in this line from the song’s outro: Have you ever seen such a helpless man?

3. “Two of Us” by The Beatles (1970). “Two of Us” plays on a loop on the chip on my shoulder or the chip in my head or wherever that thing lives inside me. The song was spinning like a broken record the first time I lost someone dear to me (Two of us sending postcards, writing letters on my wall). It was spooling like a mixtape runneth over when I said goodbye to the quaint little notion that I could love without hurting people (You and me chasing paper, getting nowhere). It was swirling like a M.F. when I went for walks with my son Cory back when he could still walk (Two of us wearing raincoats, standing solo, in the sun). It’s pulsing now as I hear Paul and I hear John and I hear me, singing. We’re singing about raincoats and roads. Wishing and missing. Possibility and hope. (We’re on our way home. We’re going home.)

4. “Rainy Night in Georgia” by Brook Benton (1970). Q: “When did my voice get so low?” I asked myself when I started this singing-in-the-car thing earlier this year. A: “I don’t know, maybe it was always this low and I kept fighting it, kept trying to be Paul McCartney instead of being me.” Voice is identity. Finding my voice, or getting closer to finding it, has been a trip. I think I’m Brook Benton now. (I guess it’s a journey.) I love the recording of this song, written by the wonderful Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie”). I love that it gave Benton a hit (#1 on the Billboard R&B chart, #4 pop) for the first time in years. I love the restrained, cricket-chirp guitar licks. I love the peace in this record—there’s a summer rain’s worth of it here, with a melancholy moon of a chaser. And I’ll love Mr. Benton forever for the way he sings this line: Late at night, when it’s hard to rest, I hold your picture to my chest—and I feel fine.

5. “Living Without You” by Nilsson (1970). Nobody sang Randy Newman songs like Nilsson, and nobody sang like Nilsson. Sad and funny and spare and startlingly big, this recording is loud the way loss is. Nothin’s gonna happen. Nothin’s gonna change. It’s so hard living without you. This is a toothless saw of a hole. This is wishlessness. This is without. It’s easy for me, second nature for me now, to submit to this song. In submitting, I sometimes sing countermelodies, out-of-left-field lyrics and an essentially different song:

nothin’s gonna happen

nothin’s gonna change

nothin i can wrap my Nestle’s Quik of a fingerprinted soul around

nothin i can think of, anyway

Dear Mr. Newman:

I know I’m doing stupid things with your story of a song, but I can’t help it. Your work is so clean and so tight and so beautiful, and so is Nilsson, that you inspire me to use my voice, or what I think is my voice (it’s a work in progress, it’s a journey), to try to make a song of my own. Thank you for inspiring me.

Yours ever,


6. “If You Want Me To Stay” by Sly & The Family Stone (1973). This one’s got a dribbling piano, a color-splash organ, patty-cake horns and a Larry Graham bass line that can’t stop won’t stop it’ll never stop. It’s also got Sly. Every slice and shade of his voice. He pitches it up in places, or I think he pitches it (I imagine 15-year-old Prince hearing this pitching, Prince saying omifreakingod, Prince saying well of course, Prince saying YES). Sly roller-coaster-rides the lyrics most of the way down (e.g., When you see me again I hope that you have been the kind of person that you really are now), but he also roars, growls and gasps for air. He falsettos it a little. And he scats. That this record was a hit (#3 on the Billboard R&B chart, #12 pop) in the summer of ’73, when Watergate was getting funky and Nixon even funkier, is of great comfort to me. So is singing along with Sly while he skitters and skates, saying these kinds of Sly things:

I am about to go

and then you’ll know

for me to stay here, I got to be me

7. “Noble Heart” by PHOX (2013). I like this song’s segmented structure, how it quietly works its way toward a self-conscious kind of majesty. I like the upright-with-the-bottom-of-a-Coke-bottle-stain-on-it piano. The way the horns announce themselves when they eventually arrive. But I love love love Monica Martin’s voice—the ether in it, how it trails, how she phrases. How her voice clutches. How my throat does when I sing along with her. Especially in the song’s first minute:

Did they already tell you I’m low-level poison to drink through?

I’d like to prove them wrong, but patterns show

they’re telling the truth.

That, followed by this moment:

And yours is a noble heart

I don’t deserve to hold.

I love that Martin sings “noble heart” as “noble art.” And I’m a sucker for the Charlie Brown “Oh! Everything I touch gets ruined” sentiment I hear in that opening minute.

8. “911” by Wyclef Jean featuring Mary J. Blige (2000). One afternoon forever or so ago, I was on hold, waiting to hear the results of a biopsy that was supposed to tell us which form of muscular dystrophy our son Cory had. “911” was the on-hold music. Man, I’m in trouble, Wyclef sang, I’m in real big trouble.

The biopsy results were inconclusive.

They’re not sure he has this muscle-wasting disease, I thought. Maybe he doesn’t have this incurable thing.

For a day or so, I thought this.

Cory did have it, though.

I’d misunderstood or misheard.

They simply hadn’t been able to identify the gene in Cory that had mutated.

They’d never identify it. They’d never figure out what form of the disease he’s got.

It hasn’t mattered. All the things they said would happen to this point have happened.

More things are going to happen.

We don’t live on the edge of knowing this. We haven’t for awhile. We aren’t on hold, wondering. We know.

In knowing, there’s a kind of acceptance.

I haven’t been feeling good about acceptance of late.

I’ve been trying not to accept things, not to accept this. Or at least not to stay sunk in the numbness that is accepting it all the time.

Sometimes, I have to feel like acceptance might not be the deal. Sometimes, I have to not-know it is. Sometimes, I have to feel like there’s trouble, a problem we can actually solve.

Because if there’s trouble, there might be a way out of said trouble. As opposed to knowing there isn’t.

Hearing “911” takes me back to that edge, to that moment of not-knowing. It puts me back on hold, where a misheard moment had me thinking maybe. That there’s trouble for us to deal with. That when there’s trouble, there might be a way out.

Sometimes, singing with Wyclef and Mary J. makes me think there is.

9. “I Believe in You” by Sinead O’Connor (1992). Bob Dylan wrote it and recorded it first, but to me, it’s Sinead O’Connor’s song. She probably sung it in the spirit in which it was written: “I Believe in You” appears on Dylan’s Slow Train Coming, the album he released after converting to Christianity. Also: O’Connor’s version was released on A Very Special Christmas 2, a compilation album recorded and sold to benefit the Special Olympics. But when I hear O’Connor’s voice on this, I hear believe in (lower-case) you… as opposed to You. What I also hear is how right her voice is, how pure it is. How beautiful it is. It’s more beautiful than tears. Her voice breaks but never wavers.

No matter what they say, I believe in you.

It’s a song I’d like to sing to people I believe in. “I believe in you, in this broken way I have of believing,” I’d sing, “and I hope it’s not a bad thing, this believing. I also hope it’s not a bad thing, me singing. To you.”

It’s easy to say I’d do that. Singing in the car by yourself—sometimes in the rain, often in the dark, always in the moment, never in context—makes a lot of things seem easy. Possible, even. O’Connor makes me want to try, though.

I don’t mind the pain.

Don’t mind the driving rain.

I know I will sustain.

Because I believe in you.

10. “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” by Stevie Wonder (1973). I don’t smile much, or so I’ve been told. I don’t know many people who do. Especially the past couple years. But I know I smile (at least on the INside) when I hear this song.

I feel it coming on during the pre-song intro, when Stevie’s talking to a young woman, trying to impress her by saying he’s been all around the world and that he speaks “very, very fluent Spanish—todo está bien chévere (Everything’s cool).” He asks her if she understood. “No,” she says. So, Stevie tells her what he said, tells her what he means by launching into this “Hey, things might suck a little, things might suck a lot, but don’t worry, things’ll get better, they will, and until they do, I’m here if you need me” song. He plays a Latin-tinged piano riff before forcing his way into the lyric (Everybody’s got a thing, though some don’t know how to handle it).

Stevie sings, shouts and scats along with his piano, with the horns, with his multi-tracked self—and any other sounds he feels like chiming in with. That gives me a lot of chime-in options, too. Especially during the chorus and free-form (and frenzied) outro.

Wonder never lets words get in the way; he’ll force-fit syllables and put the accent on whichever one best serves the song. And in this recording, he keeps me believing instead of doubting. And singing instead of shutting down. And a couple months ago, he led me to Tweet about this song instead of keeping its joyousness to myself: (Oct. 4) when he sings “chévere” and “everybody’s got a thing” and “but you’re the only one to see” and, ferociously, “sugar,” you know I am here, that there are no words, that it is me, singing

• • •

Bubbling under the Top Ten:

“If I Was Your Girlfriend” by Prince (If I was your girlfriend, would you remember to tell me all the things you forgot when I was your man?)

“Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell (And if it snows that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain)

“Baby, Baby Don’t Cry” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (Let him walk on out if he wants to—he really doesn’t deserve you)

“New Paint” by Loudon Wainwright III (I’m a used up 20th century boy, so excuse me, if you will)

“Paper [sic] Mache” by Dionne Warwick (There’s a sale on happiness—you buy two, and it costs less)

Pat’s writing has been published all over the internet, including right here at LF | BT. His story in our flash anthology confirms two things you might be thinking about him: he know his way around words, and he knows his ways around lists. Turns out he’s got pretty great taste in music, too. We call that a Little Fiction trifecta.

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