The Hubs: 5 Favorite Songs of 2016
I'm honored to have my husband, John, highlight his 5 favorite songs of 2016 here on the blog. Not only is this a fantastic list of music, but it's a great reflection of 2016 in general. Happy New Year, friends!
I listen to a lot of music. My appetites are both varied and tenacious. This year I’ve listened to everything from the new album by A Tribe Called Quest, to the entire Red Hot Chili Peppers Discography; from the new Lady Gaga to everything by DC Talk, and all the subsequent projects offered by each member since their “intermission” in 2000. I was bummed to learn that I had the email notifications turned off in Spotify, so I wasn’t able to get the annual listener statistic email that they send out. Needless to say, though, I listened to thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of songs this year. I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you.
At this time of year, there are no end to the listicles published on the best and worst of 2016. This list is similar, in that it’s a list. However, it’s different than most others because the items on this list are not just from 2016. These are simply the songs that rose to the top of my favorites list this year. They don’t have to have been released this year.
Enough with the chatter, here’s my list:
1) Open Up, by The Brilliance, from Advent, Vol. 1 (2011)
Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is darkness, let me shine bright, and may your love cause us to open up; cause us to open up our hearts. May your light cause us to shine so bright, that we bring hope into the dark.
This song, based on the prayer most often called The Prayer of Saint Francis, has been medicine to my soul this year. There has been so much hatred, so much vitriol, so much intolerance - both toward persons of faith, and coming forth from persons of faith - that it has hurt me deep inside, to the point that it has felt physical. It has been difficult to endure. Enter, David Gungor, and his band, The Brilliance. The reminder to not only be the change that I wish to see in the world, but to realize that I, alone, can’t be is so encouraging to me; to realize that it is only God’s love, His light, His Word-Made-Flesh that can heal the wounds, mend the broken, free the oppressed, and end the hatred, and that those things can be only justly defined in light of His Truth.
2) As Sure as the Sun, by Ellie Holcomb, from As Sure as the Sun (2014)
I have now been a Christian for more of my life than I wasn’t; more than 20 years. I’ve come up through youth group. I went to Christian summer camps. I graduated from a Bible College. I’ve served in multiple churches, in multiple countries, in various capacities. When it comes to church, I’ve been around the block a few times. I understand that faith isn’t always easy. I’ve had my struggles with doubt in the past, and by the grace of God, I’ve come out of those dark nights with my faith still intact. Still… one of the most emotionally painful things I’ve experienced is seeing close friends and family walk away from their faith; to deny the things that they once professed to believe, to sever the ties of that which most closely bound us together in friendship and camaraderie. It makes me angry, and sad, and it hurts.
This song is for them. It’s what I wish I could say to them. I wish that I could sit them down, in a perfect context, and play it for them. I wish I could infuse it into their very hearts -
There is good news
There is good truth,
That you could never change,
No matter what you do.
You are loved,
More than you know;
More than you could ever hope for,
After everything you’ve done.
As sure as the sun will rise,
And take away the night,
His mercy will not end.
His mercy will not end…
As I’ve prayed for, and interacted with, and walked alongside of those friends and loved ones, with whom I no longer have a shared faith, this song has been a balm to my heart, a reminder that they are loved - by me, truly, but infinitely moreso, by God. What’s more, it’s a reminder that when I fail, when I doubt, and when the anger and the judgement outweigh the grace in my own heart, I, too, am loved, more than [I] know; more than [I] could ever hope for, after everything [I’ve] done.
3) I Will Follow, by Jon Guerra, from Little Songs (2015)
A defiant declaration, confidently proclaiming that no matter what life (read 2016) throws at me, no matter what should happen, no matter who should fall away, that
I believe everything that you say you are.
I believe that I have seen your unchanging heart.
In the good things, and in the hardest part,
I believe and I will follow you.
I believe and I will follow you.
This song has been so powerful to me this year. I was so grateful to have heard Jon Guerra’s live performance on the Relevant Podcast just over a year ago. I had never heard of him before that, and his 2015 album, Little Songs has been on regular rotation on a number of my Spotify playlists ever since.
4) Maybe Both, 1865, Sho Baraka, from The Narrative (2016)
I am a middle-class, white, Christian man. I’m not sure whether or not I’m “woke” (the quotation marks would indicate that I’m probably not), but I care. I appreciate both the historic and current struggles of black people in America, and I desire to see an end to the systemic oppression that leaves black men both killed, and incarcerated at exponentially higher percentages than men who look like me. At the same time, I can’t deny my own context, which comes with its own feelings and perceptions. I grew up under the poverty line. My father has been a blue collar jack-of-all-trades for all of my life. I’ve been able to make a better living for myself than my parents ever were, but not without struggle, and a little bit of luck. Point being, I don’t always feel privileged. I don’t feel like I’m in a position of social power. I don’t feel like I participate in systemic oppression. However, one doesn’t have to feel it to benefit from it, and I know that I do (perhaps I’m woke-er than I thought). Either way, I love hip-hop (appropriation?); especially hip-hop with deep and profound substance, that preaches, teaches, decries injustice, and inspires listeners toward a higher standard, a holy calling. And perhaps no album did a better job of that in 2016 than Sho Baraka’s The Narrative. Fantastic rhymes, and powerful themes blend seamlessly over beats that truly bang (the whitest description of a hip-hop album ever - “verily, sir, I say unto thee, those beats slappeth!”).
I saw Maybe Both, 1865 first as a spoken word performed on stage, before I’d even heard Sho’s album, and I was both impressed and convicted. The song starts by criticizing liberal #SocialJusticeWarriors, and their common presence at protests, which turns to absence when the cameras leave. As a conservative, I pumped my fist in excitement at that. But then verse two sets its sights on conservatives, Christians who sing loud to drown out the protests, ignoring the suffering masses, quick to justify a man’s death because of a criminal record, or how a man dressed. This shut me up a bit. Both sides have now been lambasted. The third verse ties the whole thing together, with a description of the seeming dichotomies which we commonly use to describe Jesus - a pacifist, a warrior with a sword, holy, but gracious, zealous, yet self-sacrificial. The coup de gras -
Many people isolate him just to make him fit their cause,
Never too involved in a greater context at all.
So are the two Christs totally unrelated
Or, maybe there’s one Christ, and he’s pretty complicated.
Huh? Pretty complicated.
Maybe it is both.
Maybe it is both.
5) If The House Burns Down, Switchfoot, from Where The Light Shines Through (2016)
Switchfoot’s 10th studio album Where The Light Shines Through is not the best they’ve made. That title goes to 2014’s Fading West, which will go down as one of the top 5 rock albums of the decade. However, WTLST is still a great album, in it’s own right, and If The House Burns Down is one of the best tracks off the record. I had the opportunity to hear them perform it live in San Francisco on the “Looking For America Tour”. It was a high-energy crowd pleaser, a defiant anthem which reaffirms what lead singer, Jon Foreman, believes to be most important things we have in this life - those we hold dear. He said that as wildfires bore down on San Diego in the summer of 2016, they were evacuated quickly. They got into the car with what little they could carry, and as they drove away from their home, they didn’t know if it would still be there when they came back. In his own words:
When an unstoppable fire is barrelling down towards your part of town, you realize just how small you really are. The smoke blocks out the sun, the ash is falling from the sky, and your lungs begin to burn. So you run through the house and make a quick grab of the stuff you can carry, make sure that your family is safe in the car, and you make your escape.
And in that moment of action, you have an epiphany:
Compared to the ones you love, what is ownership? What is property? Stuff? Possessions? In moments of life and death, these obsessions are meaningless. Think about what you would save from the fire. What would you fight for? Or maybe the real question is who- who would you risk your life for? And what about your things, all of that stuff that you paid so much for? In the crucible of the fire, it becomes crystal clear: you let the rest burn.
It’s a reminder of what really matters in life - who really matters, and it was a good reminder for me, this year.
I can hear the motor running down the interstate
And all the distractions fade away
And if the house burns down tonight
I got everything I need with you by my side
I see the smoke piling up in the rear view mirror
Yeah but I ain't ever seen it any clearer
If the house burns down tonight
I got everything I need when I got you by my side
And let the rest burn
And let the rest burn
And let the rest burn
These songs nearly made the list, but were edged out by tracks that made more of an impact on me, personally. They were both great songs, but when you have to pick 5, something’s gonna get cut.
6) Downtown, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from This Unruly Mess I’ve Made (2016)
This song is just so much fun (not safe for the kids, unless you want to answer some awkward questions about Kit-Kats - but just so much fun). Ferial and I love blasting this one whenever we’re in the car together, and are pretty sure we’ll use it for our next Lip Sync Battle.
7) I Won’t Let You Go, Switchfoot, from Where The Light Shines Through (2016)
Another Switchfoot track - can you tell they’re my favorite band? Gosh, they’re the best. Just the best, Jerry.
I Won’t Let You Go is a beautiful song, sung from God’s point of view, a love song, a declaration to his at-times-faithless followers. It does an excellent job of holding the theological tension that exists between God’s almighty grip on his people, and the Biblical warnings against falling away -
If you could only let your guard down
You could learn to trust me somehow
I swear, that I won't let you go
If you could only let go your doubts
If you could just believe in me now
I swear, that I won't let you go
I won’t let you go
I cried the first time I heard this song, big, grateful tears.
If you could let the pain of the past go
Of your soul
None of this is in your control
And that’s really the way I feel about 2016.
Honestly, 2016 is really getting a bad rap, and sure, some really bad stuff happened, and it was a weird year. But really, what most people mean when they say that 2016 was “the worst” is that a few popular celebrities died, or their presidential candidate didn’t win the election, or it’s an ironic reference to Harambe (RIP). They’re usually not referring to the millions of refugees fleeing for their lives in war torn countries, or the ongoing trafficking of millions of women and children. And not to sound crass, but to call 2016 “the worst” because David Bowie died is so disrespectful to the people who lived through WWI, WWII, The Civil War, The Black Plague, The Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials - the list could go on, and on, and on. For me, and probably for you, 2016 was pretty great.
Yes, there are some scary things going on, and a lot of people are hurting. For me, this is a great opportunity to stop and count my #blessings, reflect on the things that I am thankful for, and remember what’s most important in life; to look the injustices, and atrocities going on around me square in the face, and vow to do whatever I can about them, even if that “just” means praying, to let the pain of the (past, present, future) go and remember none of this is in your control.
Ashes from the flames
The truth is what remains
The truth is what you save
From the fire
And you fight for what you love
Don't matter if it hurts
You find out what it's worth
And you let the rest burn