‘When We Were Young’ by Adele
This song caught my imagination the first time I heard it. Adele is an incredibly talented vocalist with a rich and haunting voice. The song’s image is getting older, looking back and wanting to hold on to what is becoming poignant to me in my middle-aged world.
‘White Flag’ by Dido
This is a great pop song with haunting lyrics by a talented and underrated vocalist. It may be a little obsessive, but it is all about commitment, about being “all in,” and there is something both moving and tragic about that. This song was popular in my first full year at Georgetown and always reminds me of driving to work in this new place that was becoming home to me.
‘Because the Night’ by 10,000 Maniacs
This hard-rocking love song made Patti Smith famous in the 1970s and was also co-written by Bruce Springsteen. Natalie Merchant’s incomparable voice made this song irresistible and much richer than Smith’s version. The lyrics are insistent and almost demand that you sing along. It is hard not to dance when this song is turned up loudly.
‘I Won’t Close My Eyes’ by UB40
This reggae anthem was part of my awakening to musical forms beyond my Midwestern roots. In the 1980s, a decade when activism was at something of a low, this song was a call to be restless, and it has stayed with me ever since. The opening lyrics, “I won’t close my eyes to the sufferer’s plight. In a world full of darkness, I won’t turn off my light,” are etched into my memory.
‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen
This, in my view, is the quintessential American rock song. Bruce Springsteen is talented and prolific, but nothing matches the powerful wall of sound and exuberant lyrics of this track. I was just beginning to drive when “Born to Run” hit the radio, and I loved cranking it up as I drove along, windows down and the wind on my face.
‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ by The BYRDS
This catchy folk-rock hit was part of the soundtrack to my childhood, played on a 45 rpm record by my older siblings. I have always associated it with my growing awareness of the turbulence of 1968, the Vietnam War and the counterculture that reached into my small Minnesota town. The fact that this anti-war song’s lyrics were taken, mostly verbatim, from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes made it even more profound to me, bridging the deep past and the unfolding contemporary turmoil of America in the late 1960s.
Todd Olson is the vice president for student affairs. He received his doctorate in higher education and adult studies from the University of Denver.
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