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A Life Story In 6 Songs — Part 2

Sifting through the hundreds and hundreds of replies to NPR's request — Tell Us The 6 Songs Of Your Life — we rediscover just how meaningful music can be in our lives, and the supermagical powers that some songs possess.

I Want To Hold Your Hand, for example ...

  • The song "ties into 7th grade mixers," recalls Leon Ritter, 62, of Indiana, and the "realization that girls weren't yucky."
  • Meghan Rosenthal, 31, of North Carolina, "listened to this song on repeat in middle school, when the Beatles Anthology albums came out and started my Beatles obsession. Today, this song plays every time my husband calls my phone. We bonded over our mutual love of The Beatles on our first date."
  • Lisa F. Levine, 56, of Florida, says, "My dad would sing this to me or to my sister as he took us on walks when we were little. I wish I could hear him sing it now."
  • When Kody Bjork, 21, of California, was 7 or 8, "this song came on the radio. This was my first time hearing the Beatles and it sparked a lifelong obsession. I remember hearing it and I felt that weird mind-clarity epiphany come over me, except I didn't know what it was."
  • The melodious Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, Fire and Rain by James Taylor, What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong and Hallelujah — sung by writer Leonard Cohen and others — are recurring favorites. Multiple songs by Adele, Beyonce, Brandi Carlile, Coldplay, Sam Cooke, Elvis, Pink Floyd and Queen pop up often.

    Here are a couple of more playlists from people who share with us, in lightly edited notes, why certain songs are so special. And for accompaniment: Montages of those songs crafted by NPR Digital News Producer April Fehling.


    / Laura Thompson
    Laura Thompson

    Laura Thompson, 28, is a middle school choir director in Fall City, Wash. She listens to member station KPLU in Tacoma.

    1) Do, Re, Mi — The Sound of Music
    I watched this movie hundreds of times as a young kid, and this period of my life — preschool and kindergarten — marks the beginning of my obsession with music. I would watch it with a pair of tights on my head to serve as long hair, a blanket wrapped around me as a dress, and a rocking chair in the middle of the room which was the tree I would dance around like Julie Andrews does in the opening scene. I wanted to be in that family, like, so bad. To have a puppet show, fall out of a canoe, live in a huge house, wear pretty dresses, have a hot boyfriend, sing in harmony every day with my awesome siblings whom I got along with, escape the bad guys and disappear into the mountains with my happy, musical family. This song is now the basis of what I do Monday through Friday as a choir teacher.

    2) I Wonder — Joy Williams
    This was one of the Christian songs I listened to during my search for religion during high school. I spent a couple of years trying to make church work for me, but in the end I realized that the whole reason I was there was to try to fill the hole that my actual family wasn't filling. I wanted an outlet to express my feelings, a place where I felt like I belonged and was accepted and loved. In the end I realized I didn't believe in God at all, I was just really, really lonely.

    3) The Sun King — The Beatles
    This song sounds like peace and freedom to me. That's what college felt like, and that's when I first started listening to The Beatles. I was getting away from home and my old life, concentrating on what I love — music, learning about myself, gaining a lot of self-confidence and life experience, and looking forward to the future.

    4) When It Hurts So Bad — Lauryn Hill
    If we're talking about chronological order, it helps if you play this song at exactly the same time as the next one. You get a true picture of my relationship that way. This song speaks to the feelings and worries about my relationship with the guy I was ready to marry — until things exploded into a zillion pieces.

    5) Everybody Knows — Dustin Tavella
    And this song speaks to the feelings that some of my friends and family had about my relationship with the Song #4 guy when I was still with him, and the lyrics are approximately 100 percent accurate as far as what was happening at the time — while I was trying really hard to make things work.

    6) Independent Women Part 1 — Destiny's Child
    A couple of years and several thousand dollars' worth of therapy later, I feel like a new woman. Happy to be independent, feeling empowered and strong, and ready to take on life's challenges with or without someone beside me.


    Teddy Ray Bullard, 37, works at a military shipping terminal near Southport, N.C. He listens to member station WHQR in Wilmington.

    1) Ol' 55 — TomWaits

    The most memorable song --perhaps due to the emotional bent — in a pivotal moment in my life, the night before I was to leave civilian life and enter basic training in Fort Benning, Ga.

    2) If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will) — George Jones

    My grandaddy and grandma divorced late in life. One day i walked up to Grandaddy's house — we all, the entire family, lived on the same large area of farmland — and there Grandaddy was, all alone, drinking George Dickel, crying and singing this. It was a country song come to life.

    3) Why Me Lord — Elvis Presley and JD Sumner

    This song was the first time I heard the voice of JD Sumner and it made me want to sing bass for a living. The funny thing is ... I ended up doing just that, taking JD's place in the Stamps Quartet when he passed. What a voice that man had.

    4) Close To Me — The Cure

    This song was a very memorable part of the background noise during my senior year in high school. No, I wasn't a senior when it was released, I was a child.

    5) Oh My Sweet Carolina — Ryan Adams

    As a lifelong Carolinian, in my first Army assignment after basic and infantry school, this song brought me comfort when I was homesick — or made me homesick, depending.

    6) We're Just Friends — Wilco

    This song made a very dark period of my young adult life — a period dominated by substances, family problems and uncertainty about who I was and what I wanted from life — bearable.

    The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers – of NPR. @NPRtpj

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.