Welcome to “My Life in 10 Tracks”, a series in which contributors share the top tunes that they associate with the defining eras of their lives thus far as well as memorable moments that lie on the vast spectrum of pain and pleasure. Charting important milestones through music, our contributors revisit and reflect on adolescence and coming of age; first love and last heartbreak; new beginnings and departures.
For Janice, making music has always been an integral part of her life. From learning the piano at the tender age of six to playing the saxophone for the school band in high school, her childhood was filled with cherished moments with various musical instruments. Today, she continues to play in a jazz band and is an avid curator of Spotify playlists. Janice believes that there’s a song for every mood and tells us that the refrain that played in her mind as she curated this list was “it’s the 10 tracks that defined your life, not the 10 tracks that you love”. So read on for the songs that made the most impact on her life thus far.
#1. Catch Your Wave – Click Five
As a ‘90s kid, I went through my own fair share of flip/slide phones. The first phone I owned that could store music was a Nokia that did not even have a color display. However, I could download one song on that phone — which would take up the entirety of its memory — and this was it. “Catch Your Wave” was an earworm and many of my classmates also could not get enough of this song.
We used to curate our very own playlist on our old-school blogs and this was the number #1 song I had on my music player. Since it was my ringtone, text tone, and alarm for a good two years, I was definitely a little sick of the song by the time I got a new phone and the ability to download other tunes. Still, I have a soft spot for it since it always takes me back to when I was eight years old and using an old Nokia phone.
#2. Jet Lag – Simple Plan
Back in high school, my friend group used to go for karaoke sessions very often. No karaoke session would be complete without Jet Lag and very quickly, I came to associate this track with that friend group. Karaoke sessions were always precious and defined much of my time in high school.
It was truly a time when everyone had their inhibitions down — we yelled at the top of our lungs and did not have not a care in the world. There were many other songs that defined my high school days but this definitely topped the list.
#3. Levels – Avicii
When I got to college, this song was an absolute classic for anyone who also partied in the mid-2010s. Similarly, there are many songs that defined my partying days but I vividly remember wanting to go to an Ultra Music Festival just to see Avicii play this live.
After seeing videos of his gig in Ultra Korea, I wanted to attend a music festival in Europe during the summer of 2018 to see him play. Even though that did not ultimately transpire, here’s to Avicii, his musical genius, and the wonderful memories I associate with his music. I no longer party but this particular song always reminds me of when my friends and I danced the night away — there’s nothing like jumping along to a familiar tune when it comes on.
#4. Lingus – Snarky Puppy
My very first foray into jazz was in 2015 with some of the folks from the jazz band at the National University of Singapore. Although I started playing the saxophone when I was 13, I never really attempted or ventured into the jazz genre. This song was part of the very first jazz set that I performed live and it was so challenging.
Lingus is a progressive and innovative jazz-fusion piece with complex grooves and harmony. Since it also runs on a 5/4 time signature, it was difficult to securely sit with that timing and rhythm. I definitely struggled during the numerous practice sessions I attended — I listened and replayed the original recordings over and over again.
While I had a love-hate relationship with this song, it remained as one of my top five songs on Spotify for about two to three years consecutively. I ended up playing this song once again on a different setlist with a different band five years after the first performance. Thinking about this tune still evokes bittersweet feelings — the feeling of accomplishment when I finally managed to get the groove right on my own, followed by the feeling of frustration of not being able to get a tight groove with the rest of my band.
#5. Confirmation – Charlie Parker
A few years after venturing into jazz, I finally had the confidence to start learning a couple of bebop tunes. Bebop is a creative style of jazz that originated in the United States in the ‘40s. It is possibly the most challenging sub-genre for a new jazz musician because it features complex chord progressions, rapid chord changes, fast tempos, and lots of improvisations.
When I first started playing jazz, the bebop sub-genre scared me the most. I was unconfident and afraid to even try or practice these tunes in front of other fellow jazz musicians. However, after a number of gigs and greater exposure to the jazz scene (both here in Singapore and in New Orleans), I finally picked up the courage to learn my first bebop tune. Charlie Parker has always been my inspiration when it comes to the saxophone and this, for me, was a defining tune when it came to the bebop sub-genre.
Till now, this remains one of my go-to warm-up heads for jazz practice. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic pumped the brakes on the possibility of in-person gigs for a while, I hope to be able to play Confirmation at a live performance someday. I still haven’t quite perfected the song or figured out the best way to improvise over the chord changes but here’s to my practice and another defining tune.
#6. Chicken Fried – Zac Brown Band
Before I went to college in New Orleans, I was never someone who listened to country music. After all, country music has never been popular anywhere outside of the United States. The only impression I had of country music was of the soundtrack of a movie with outlaw country and rockabilly.
However, hardly a day goes by in the Deep South of the United States without a country tune playing — either on the radio, in the streets, or in the restaurants. That was when I realized that country music was more than just outlaw country, cowboy music and that contemporary country tunes have a certain kind of appeal too.
When I joined the women’s ultimate frisbee team at Tulane University, Chicken Fried became a staple for any road trip to weekend tournaments. I absolutely loved the lyrics of the song and the upbeat melody. We would blast this tune with the windows down, yelling at the top of our lungs while cruising from Alabama and Tennessee. “To a little bit of chicken fried; cold beer on a Friday night, a pair of jeans that fit just right, and the radio on” — a Friday night vibe indeed!
#7. Highway to Hell – AC/DC
The two summer seasons I spent working in Yellowstone National Park was the most life-changing and defining experience in my life. This list definitely can’t go without a tune from the time I’d spent in Yellowstone. During my second summer season of working in Yellowstone National Park, this song always came on whenever we were done with a weekend trip (either elsewhere in the park, or outside of the park).
Driving through the hot springs at dusk often made us feel like we were in the depths of hell, venturing through empty valleys of burning springs. Of course, Highway to Hell was also used by my friends to — jokingly — describe the feeling of heading back to our village for the week’s work. I loved my job, and it was absolutely not “hell” for me in any way but I still love the irony in this.
#8. Honey Pie – JAWNNY
The first time I’d heard this song was on a vinyl record player in someone’s dorm room in Yellowstone National Park. It was the first week of my second summer season and I was going to the employee pub and dorm parties to socialize with as many people as possible. One of the most beautiful things about working in Yellowstone National Park was that the employees came from all over the world.
The American employees hailed from New York to Oregon and there were many other employees from Europe, Latin America, and Asia who worked in the park for the summer. Despite the many cultural differences and occasional communication barriers, music and nature brought us together and bonded all of us in a unique way. Many of my summer nights were spent dancing and jamming to Honey Pie with my newfound friends. Even after listening to it on Spotify so many times, I still find myself transported back to the time I heard this song cackling over an old-school record player whenever it comes on.
#9. Satisfied – Hamilton Original Cast
When my friend group and I first got a Disney+ subscription together in the middle of the pandemic, the first show that my best friend and I watched was the recorded version of Hamilton. I’d been meaning to save the experience for the live performance in New York City but alas, the pandemic had put a hold on that plan.
The lyrics of this Broadway song are my favorite, especially when Angelica Schuyler (played by Renee Elise Goldsberry) raps: “So this is what it feels like to match wits with someone at your level, what the hell is the catch?”. My best friend and I immediately thought about how people often talk about emotional and physical connections in relationships but don’t talk enough about the intellectual connection, which is very important to both of us.
That said, even though Angelica Schuyler found an emotional connection with Alexander Hamilton, she did not end up in a romantic relationship with him. Instead, she introduced him to his sister, Eliza Schuyler. In the song, she talks about how “he will never be satisfied” and how “[she] will never be satisfied” as well, which is something that resonated very strongly with me as well. Because I know that personally, without an intellectual connection, I will not be satisfied in a relationship.
#10. Sick Love – Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Oh, sick love is my modern cliche.” The lyrics of this song speak volumes to me. For a while, I’d always been looking for roller-coaster highs and lows in a relationship. I never saw stability as something necessary in a good relationship and I wanted to be able to feel intensely — whether it was love, hurt, or pain.
I would often joke with my friends that somehow, my subconscious approach towards relationships was “If it’s not toxic, then I don’t want it”. I kept falling into the same patterns of either settling for things that I did not feel completely happy with or not knowing what I really wanted.
As painful as this phase of life was, it was necessary for me to grow up, learn more about myself, draw boundaries in relationships, and recognize red flags. I’m super proud to say that I’ve learned to be grateful and happy in a healthy relationship and that sick love is no longer my modern cliche.
As told to Sherryl Cheong.
All photographs by Janice Lim