from our Optimisticles blog series
By Wes Kilgore, Well Beings
Famous people, they’re just like us! Except with way, way more disposable income. Despite having successful careers and deep pockets, the 10 well-known musical artists in this playlist have probably all seen their fair share of headaches and heartbreaks. However, judging by these songs, sometimes they are able to find their way through their troubles and see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. From The Beatles to Billie Eilish, here are 10 tunes that we hope will help you keep hope alive.
Billie Eilish – my future
“my future” by Billie Eilish is a deeply personal track about the power of self-love from her latest album, “Happier Than Ever.” The tonal shift in the song, from pensive and deliberate in the first half to upbeat and unburdened in the second, is a general reflection of Eilish’ more positive outlook on life. In it, she sings, “I’ve changed my plans. ‘Cause I, I’m in love with my future. Can’t wait to meet her.” And in an email to fans earlier this year, she said that when she and her brother Finneas wrote the song, “it was exactly where my head was at—hopeful, excited and a craaaazy amount of self-reflection and self-growth.”
Anderson .Paak – The Bird
According to Anderson .Paak, “the bird” he sings about in the lead track of his breakthrough album, “Malibu,” is a hybrid of two people who took him under their wings during his formative years: his older friend, Trevor, and his sister. In the song, .Paak outlines some of the challenges he faced growing up with a mama who “caught the gambling bug” and a papa “behind them bars.” Thankfully, he could rely on “the bird” for support, singing “I always had a friend to call. How could I make it here without you?” In a 2016 interview, .Paak said, “Sometimes it’s that one person that keeps you sane, that makes all the difference.”
Major Lazer – Get Free ft. Amber of the Dirty Projectors
Major Lazer’s “Get Free” is a song about oppression, for sure, but it still manages to convey a sense of optimism and hope—through the music more so than the lyrics. Featured vocalist Amber Coffman of the now-defunct Dirty Projectors sings “Never got love from a government man. Heading downstream ’til the levee gives in”—evoking images of a person (maybe a flood victim?) beset with problems and in need of assistance. But she delivers the chorus—“Look at me. I just can’t believe what they’ve done to me. We could never get free. I just wanna be. I just wanna dream” – with a sense of steadfast determination rather than resignation.
Elbow – Any Day Now
According to frontman Guy Garvey, Elbow’s gorgeously gloomy, “Any Day Now” takes its sonic cues from the 90s trip-hop of acts like Portishead and Massive Attack. The intent behind the song’s hypnotically repeating chorus, “Any day now how’s about getting out of this place? Anyways, got a lot of spare time, some of my youth and all of my senses on overdrive” is pretty straightforward. Garvey told UK-based webzine Drowned In Sound that the song, “reflected our feelings of wanting to leave our hometown, Bury (Greater Manchester), and go and see the world. In order to follow our career in the band none of us went to university, and so this song is about wanting to get out of there.”
Corrine Bailey Rae, Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)
Corrine Bailey Rae is a prime example of someone who has persevered in the face of adversity. A few years after rocketing to fame with her infectiously sunny “Put Your Records on” Bailey Rae’s life and career were upended by the tragic accidental overdose death of her husband, sax player Jason Rae in 2008. Viewed in that context, this live recording of her 2010 interpretation of Sly Stone’s version of “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” is all the more powerful and poignant.
The Beatles – Here Comes the Sun
George Harrison says he spontaneously wrote “Here Comes the Sun” in the presence of Eric Clapton while they were strolling around Clapton’s estate, Hurtwood Edge, one beautiful spring morning in 1969. But despite the idyllic setting for the creation of that timeless Beatles classic, Harrison’s life was in turmoil at the time. His mother had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer, he had infamously quit and rejoined The Beatles, and had recently been arrested for drug possession. So, while he could have just as easily penned a tune about doom and gloom, we’re fortunate that when the sun came out that day, Harrison saw it and said, “It’s alright.”
Dionne Farris – Blackbird
Sticking with our Beatles theme, Dionne Farris delivered an excellent cover of their song “Blackbird” on her 1994 debut album, “Wild Seed – Wild Flower.” Accompanied only by vocal harmonies and the bluesy guitar of John Mayer bandmate and fellow Atlantan, David Ryan Harris, the lyrics of the song perfectly parallel Farris’ own trajectory. “All your life, you have always waited for this moment to arrive,” she sang in the song, as she left the comfort of being a featured vocalist in a very successful hip-hop band (Arrested Development) to embark upon a solo career. It was a move that paid off, with “I Know,” her hit single from that album, reaching No.1 on the Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart and garnering her Grammy nominations.
ELO – Mr. Blue Sky
Heard in a ton of TV and movie soundtracks, ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky ranks right up there with Pharell’s “Happy” in the pantheon of optimistic pop songs. But the staccato effervescence that propels the tune belies the dash of self-doubt and darkness that lies within lyrics like “Mr. Blue Sky please tell us why you had to hide away for so long (so long). Where did we go wrong?” In a 2020 interview with BBC2, ELO front man and songwriter Jeff Lynne discussed the arduous process of writing the song while at a Swiss chalet, saying, “It was dark and misty for 2 weeks, and I didn’t come up with a thing. Suddenly the sun shone and it was, ‘Wow, look at those beautiful Alps.’ I wrote Mr. Blue Sky and 13 other songs in the next 2 weeks.”
Sia – Little Black Sandals
Before pumping out ubiquitous club bangers, Sia Furler sharpened her skills by singing with bands like Zero 7 and putting out under-the-radar albums like 2008’s “Some People Have REAL Problems.” The lead track on that album, “Little Black Sandals,” tells the story of a woman who, fed up with suffering abuse at the hands of a “golden giant man,” decides to leave. Sia sings, “These little black sandals are walking me away. These little black sandals saved my life today.” Although it’s not clear if the song is autobiographical, Sia has been open about her struggles with addiction, her aversion to fame (hence the huge wig) and the PTSD she was diagnosed with, stemming from childhood trauma and abuse.
Leon Bridges and Khruangbin – Conversion
Sometimes, hope for the future comes in the form of spiritual awakening. R&B crooner Leon Bridges had mothballed his 2012 song about becoming a Christian, “Conversion,” after it failed to make the cut on his debut album. When he teamed up with fellow Texans, leftfield psychedelic funk trio Khruangbin for their 2020 EP “Texas Sun,” he saw an opportunity to resurrect the tune. A standout moment in the song and the album, is Bridges’ interpolation of the old spiritual “At the Cross,” which is converted to a minor key. The delivery of its refrain “And now, I am happy all the day,” at the outro is both bittersweet and hopeful, and needs to be heard to be fully appreciated.
About the Author
Wes Kilgore is a writer, musician and bon vivant based in the Washington, DC area, and the proud parent of two disturbingly well-adjusted young women and two borderline sociopathic Corgis.