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Realizing Resonance’s Top 10 Philosophical Songs

By Realizingresonance @RealizResonance


Given that the theme of the month for Realizing Resonance is the Philosophy of Music, I want to list the top ten songs that have inspired me philosophically. I think that music is the most powerful form of philosophy in the modern age, and the songs that I love the most are the ones that make me think and feel deeply. Everyone has felt a shiver go up their spine, or gotten goose bumps, when they hear a particular song, and for me this happens on the rare occasion when the music and words synchronize in just the right way. It’s as if the music was performed in order to send the ideas directly into my soul. All of these songs have the power to instantly change my mood, and I often find new meanings in their words as my understanding of the world grows. Consequently I can listen to them over and over again.

#10: “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley

My wife and I walked down the aisle to an instrumental version of this song so it has a special place in my heart. I recommend the Jeff Buckley version in order to feel the depth of the words though. Buckley’s voice is so distinct, and the emotional intensity he imparts to this already beautiful melody is enchanting: “And remember when I moved in you, and the holy dove was moving too. And every breath we drew is hallelujah.”


#9: “Mad World” by Gary Jules

A new wave Tears for Fears track that was reinterpreted by Gary Jules for the cult classic Donnie Darko. The fact that I love that movie may have something to do with the effect that this song has on me, but I can’t help but feel the existential musing churning in my brain with every listen: “I find it kinda funny. I find it kinda sad. The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had. I find it hard to tell you. I find it hard to take. When people run in circles it’s a very very mad world.”


#8: “Vital Signs” by Rush

Rush songs are a treasure trove of philosophical musings. In this one they want to elevate everybody above the norm. When I hear it this song I think about the relationships between sense experience, cognition, and mood from a new perspective: “Leave out conditions, courageous convictions. We’ll drag the dream into existence.”


#7: “The Ivory Gate of Dreams” by Fates Warning

A 22 minute masterpiece of progressive heavy metal. It tells the story of life from birth to death in eight intense parts. I used to crank this song in my headphones while riding my bike around on my paper route, and it always made me think: “Hope leads to quite desperation when reality obscures your dream. Makes the mind a grave of memories that wander like the lonely breeze.”


#6: “Generator” by Bad Religion

About the constant background noise that is always present, and usually below the awareness. This has got to be one the all time best punk rocks, and it’s incredibly philosophical like most Bad Religion songs. Not only will the generator make you think, it will also make you want to drive fast: “Like a rock, like planet, like a fucking atom bomb. I remain unperturbed by the joy and the madness that I encounter everywhere I turn.”


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#5: “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead

About an effect without a cause, like a creative idea. Saint Thomas Aquinas was inspired by Aristotle’s writings on causation to reason that God was the First Mover in the Universe, but the ripple is another kind of first mover. This song was introduced to me by my Dad, and I have since drawn on it for much philosophical inspiration: “Ripple in still water when there is no pebble tossed, nor wind to blow.”


#4: “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles

This song is poetic anthropology about our modern world. The parts with Lennon singing sound so perfectly melancholy and the lyrics deal with tragedies for someone or somewhere else, but in the middle McCartney breaks in with upbeat music backing a lyrical description of the mundane life in modernity. When I am at work feeling mundane, and a horrible tragedy like the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, I am reminded of this song. It takes an ordinary day and makes me feel the utter strangeness of it: “Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.”


#3: “Blue and Yellow” by The Used

My brother Devin and I had the pleasure of handing out with The Used singer Bert McCracken backstage at the 2003 Ozzfest in the Gorge Amphitheater in George, WA. Among several things, we asked him about the song, “Blue and Yellow”. He said it was about friendship, and that playing music with his best friend was worth more than fame and money. This song always sucks me in, and by the end I always want to hear it again: “Should have done something, but I done it enough. By the way your hands were shaking rather waste my time with you.”


#2: “Infinite Dreams” by Iron Maiden

This song deals directly with the big question of existence. The music and lyrics are so epic that I dream that someday Iron Maiden will create a Broadway Musical out of their heavy-metal-rock-opera album, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son: “Can’t be all coincidence, too many things are evident. You tell me you’re an unbeliever, spiritualist, well me I’m neither. Wouldn’t you like to know the truth of what’s out there, to have the proof.”


#1: “Heaven Coming Down” by The Tea Party

This song makes me think about life, love, death, and rebirth. The music surrounds and absorbs me every time I listen. By the end I always feel the shivers go up my spine. A great inspiration for philosophy: “These signs, this fate, takes a path you didn’t choose. Stay strong, keep faith, there’s change that’s coming through.”


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