The Final Five
Adam Ramos | Tuesday, November 3, 2015
In the digital age, we’ve grown accustomed to having thousands of songs at our fingertips. But what if you were to die tomorrow and could only listen to five more songs? It’s a unique exercise, heavily weighing how you feel in the absolute present — these last moments of your life are upon you, your choices aren’t reserved for a desert island playlist or for some distant future, but for how you want to experience these hypothetical, imminent final moments. The Scene staff attempted to come up with answers to this Sisyphean question, and it proved even more difficult than expected. Should the songs be celebratory or contemplative? Which beloved songs wouldn’t make the cut? Somehow we all eventually settled on five each:
“All My Friends” — LCD Soundsystem
“Death With Dignity” — Sufjan Stevens
“The World At Large” — Modest Mouse
“Anonymous Club” — Courtney Barnett
“Family Business” — Kanye West
Although this list was based on songs, I made a list of artists I would want to hear before honing in on tracks (note: “All My Friends,” for obvious reasons, was the only song I selected by title over artist). I think this plays into how I consume music: I am an avid playlister, however, I frequently get transfixed with an artist. There are a few I consistently come back to, as much for good music as nostalgia.
I ultimately chose five songs about friendships, aloneness, my smallness in the scheme of things, good times amongst good company and my family: all things I would like to ruminate on and come to terms with before leaving. Thankfully, each of the artists whose voice I would so desire has a track that plays one of the above virtues, allowing future me to die in great thoughts and subsequent enlightening musical accompaniment, AKA a happy death.
“Dance Yrself Clean” — LCD Soundsystem
“Oblivion” — Grimes
“Gloria” — Patti Smith
“Once in a Lifetime” — Talking Heads
“Tomorrow Never Knows” — The Beatles
If I were to die tomorrow, I would want to dance to these five songs with the stereo dimed out tonight. Each has moments that affect me viscerally when blaring at maximum volume: the aggressive, furniture-shaking bass that arrives halfway through “Dance Yrself Clean”; Grimes’ angelic high pitch against the ominous synth line; Patti Smith’s raspy howl spelling out “G-L-O-R-I-A”; David Byrne twisting each syllable as he repeats “Same as it ever was” over the groove of Tina Weymouth’s bass riff; the deep drone that continues throughout the entirety of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” But ultimately all five songs are deeply human; they’re all, in some way, about accepting the uncertainty of life. “Surrender to the void,” John Lennon sings — and I can’t think of any better way to go out.
“A Day in The Life” — The Beatles
“Sing About Me I’m Dying Of Thirst” — Kendrick Lamar
“Horchata” — Vampire Weekend
“Round Here” — Counting Crows
“Ideal World” — Girlpool
I think the key for me was finding 5 songs that were all both subjectively meaningful and objectively powerful. Each of my five picks cover a different base both musically and emotionally.
“A Day in The Life” was the first song that came to my head when thinking about this exercise. Its reflective, almost ethereal pondering, culminating with the eerie crescendo captures exactly what I want to be feeling when looking back on my life. Along similar lines, “SAMIDOT” works because its subject is apropos, but the beat would be just enough to keep my heart kicking for the next songs. “Round Here” is where the tears come, it’s sad but resigned — death personified. “Horchata” is just for me. It’s fun, but not frivolous. “I’d look psychotic in a balaclava” Koenig echoes — a reminder of the simple things in life. “Ideal World” was the biggest variable, but I felt a contemporary touch would do the list some good. Plus, the vulnerability is certainly a feeling I could relate to on my deathbed.
“On Eagles’ Wings” — Josh Groban
“Strawberry Swing” — Coldplay
“Strawberry Swing” — Frank Ocean
“Landslide (live)” — Fleetwood Mac
“Sorry” — Justin Bieber
Josh Groban is batting leadoff because “On Eagles’ Wings” is the prototypical end-of-life song, so he would at least help me appreciate the life I’ve lived. Then the two versions of “Strawberry Swing,” first the original by Coldplay then the Frank Ocean rendition, would further drive home the point that no matter what, I’ve lived a good life. Fleetwood Mac bats cleanup because “Landslide” is the type of song that can truly bring me at peace, and it doesn’t hurt that I can sing it word for word. But bringing up the rear is Bieber, because I can’t ever stand being too serious for too long.