26 Songs That Made Me Who I Am Today

26 Songs That Made Me Who I Am Today Featured Image

Today is my 26th birthday, and like the last few years, I’ve decided to celebrate with a list of stuff! This time around I’m sharing 26 songs that have shaped my life up to this point.

Table of Contents

Spotify Playlist

To kick off the list, I figured I’d put together a Spotify playlist for you. Feel free to browse the list, take a listen, then jump down to the rationale for each choice below.

Master List

In no particular order, I present to you the list of 26 songs that have defined my life up to this point. Feel free to share some of your own favorites in the comments below!

The Devil in My Bloodstream – The Wonder Years

Up first in the list is a sad song by one of my all-time favorite bands, The Wonder Years, called The Devil in My Bloodstream. Naturally, this song comes off my favorite The Wonder Years album, The Greatest Generation, which came out in mid-2013 right after I finished my first year of college.

For me, that first year was rough. For instance, I ended up dropping my music major while trying to balance an overwhelming amount of work. In addition, I had to get used to making mistakes without a strong support network.

Thankfully, this album helped me get through that first summer. In fact, I even went to Warped to see a few songs of this album performed live. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until almost a year later that I actually got to see this song performed live.

By that point, one of my friends had basically ruined this song for me. That said, I’m still a huge fan.

Hide and Seek – Imogen Heap

While Hide and Seek is a bit of a meme song, it used to be one of favorite songs. In fact, I attribute this song to getting me into new genres of music like indie and pop punk. Of course, I have my first high school relationship to thank for finding out about this song (#MixTapes).

One of the things I really love about this song is that it completely lacks instrumentals. In other words, the song is made up of layers of vocals from a single vocalist using a vocoder. I realize in 2020 that vocoders are sort of a meme, but this song does it well.

If you’ve never actually heard this song outside of the memes, I recommend checking it out. It’s unironically good. After all, even Jason Derulo thought it was good enough to sample.

Mokena – Real Friends

Around the time I graduated college, Real Friends released an album called The Home Inside My Head which featured a song called Mokena, which happens to be a town near Chicago.

At the time, I was really struggling to figure out my life. For instance, I was living alone and working a job I hated. To be quite honest, Mokena got me through most of that singlehandedly. Even now, I like to drive at night while blasting this song.

For some reason, this song really clicked with me because I spent a lot of time driving to and from Cleveland (see 2nd verse). In addition, I don’t like my hometown which was where I was working at the time. As a result, this song felt like it was speaking directly to me, so I probably listened to it 1,000 times.

On a side note, listening to this song always makes me think about how much winter sucks. Bleh.

Home – Michael Bublé

When I was growing up, I somehow found out about Michael Bublé , and I was HOOKED. In fact, I even bought his Michael Bublé Meets Madison Square Garden movie, and I watched that movie several times. How else would I know that he would have been playing for the Canucks if he weren’t a musician?

At any rate, I’m not really sure why I like this particular song so much. After all, it came out in 2005, but somehow it helped me get through a lot of different tough spots in my life. For instance, it helped me get through college as well as a long distance relationship.

Even now, I get a lot of value out of this song. Of course, home isn’t really a place for me. It’s more like a feeling.

Marigold – Mallory Run

In early 2018, one of my childhood best friends released an album called Spin as a part of their band, Mallory Run. On that album, you’ll find a song called Marigold, and it’s incredible.

At that point in my life, I had just quit my job and gotten married. Over the next six months, I was trying to find any way possible to make some money while I waited to start grad school. During that time, Marigold really helped me feel like I wasn’t alone despite living with just my wife nearly 1000 miles away from family and friends.

If you’re looking for something raw and real, I absolutely recommend this song.

What a Catch, Donnie – Fall Out Boy

When I first discovered What a Catch, Donnie, I was probably in high school—although I don’t really remember. Of course, at the time, I found the song on Fall Out Boy’s greatest hits album, Believers Never Die, while the band was separated.

Honestly, I’m not sure why I was so obsessed with this song. I guess I just have a thing for key changes and callbacks to old songs. Also, this song is really fun to sing, and I love me some vocal harmonies.

Like many of the songs in this list, I like to listen to this song when I’m going through a tough time. Although, I’ve probably burnt it out because I’m not enjoying it that much at the moment.

King for a Day – Pierce the Veil

The first time I heard Pierce the Veil I was at Darien Lake (I believe) for Warped Tour. At the time, it was nearly the end of the day, and my buddies and I were tired. As a result, we decided to sit around and listen to Pierce the Veil which I actually enjoyed.

Besides A Day to Remember and Precinct Aflame, I hadn’t actually listened to any “hardcore” music. At that point in my life, I was hard locked into pop punk, so Pierce the Veil was a nice contrast to that.

Eventually, I became obsessed with songs like King for a Day, Bulls in the Bronx, and Caraphernalia. Over time, these songs became my angsty summer anthems in between bouts of Eminem.

’67, Cherry Red – Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties

To be honest, I’m not sure when I got into Aaron West, but I’ve seen him now twice: once in 2014 in Cleveland and again in 2019 in Columbus. If you haven’t listened to him, do yourself a favor and do it.

As some backstory, Aaron West is a fictional character created by Soupy of the Wonder Years. If that seems kind of weird, I don’t blame you. For Soupy, I think this was a chance to challenge himself to write and perform a fictional narrative. Needless to say, this project is phenomenal.

For me, Aaron West was sort of an offshoot of The Wonder Year. That said, while the vocalist is the same, the music is a bit more folksy, and the instrumentation is a lot more interesting (e.g. trumpets, trombones, saxophones, banjos, etc.).

Of course, what sold me on Aaron West was seeing him live. Soupy literally plays the character as if it were him, and it’s incredible. If you didn’t know who he was, you’d probably think Aaron West was a real person. I sometimes wonder how many people think he’s real.

Now, Aaron West is sort of long distance driving music for me. For instance, I spent a lot of time listening to him on drives from Atlanta to Erie and Columbus to Jersey. There’s something about listening to these records top to bottom that you just wouldn’t do with any other record.

All that said, my favorite song by far is “’67, Cherry Red”. I just love a song where the lyrics hit hard, and the instrumentals hit harder.

Are You Ready for This? – Freshman 15

Would you believe me if I said I learned how to harmonize vocals thanks to Freshman 15? When I was in a high school, a buddy of mine—the singer from Mallory Run—tipped me off on Freshman, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

As I’ve mentioned already, I love pop punk, and I think Freshman 15 perfectly encapsulates the genre (i.e. heavy guitar, double bass, clean vocals, and angst). Of course, what I love about Freshman 15 is their obsession with vocal harmonies which is something you don’t get in a lot of popular music.

As for a favorite song, I don’t really have one. That said, the song I’ve probably sang the most is “Are You Ready for This?” which is a nice commentary on the music industry. It’s really a shame these guys aren’t around anymore.

If It Means a Lot to You – A Day to Remember

If you want to know which band got me into the music I like today (e.g. indie and pop punk), look no further than A Day to Remember. I think most people in the early 2010s treated ADTR like a gateway drug. If you listened to them, chances are they got you hooked on related music.

For me, ADTR opened the doors to bands like Modern Baseball, Real Friends, The Wonder Years, State Champs, Patent Pending, Freshmen 15, Have Heart, etc. The list literally doesn’t end.

Oddly enough, I’ve never seen ADTR live. Meanwhile, I’ve seen almost every band in the previous list live. In other words, ADTR never really stuck with me, but their music had a huge impact on what I listen to today.

Of their entire catalog, I’m partial to “If It Means a Lot to You” which is a sad acoustic song—and you know I love ’em sad. That said, I love “Sometimes You’re the Hammer, Sometimes You’re the Nail”, “It’s Complicated”, “U Should Have Could Me When U Had the Chance”, and “Monument”.

25 to Life – Eminem

While I was going through my pop punk “phase”, one artist stood by me: Eminem. He and I go way back—like all the way back to the early 2000s. Back then, I was just an awkward preteen, but I was hooked on songs like “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”, “Sing for the Moment”, and “The Real Slim Shady”.

As I got older, Eminem’s style grew and developed. By the time I was in high school, he dropped Relapse. Then, by the time I could drive, he dropped Recovery. Suddenly, I found myself blasting that album around my small town.

At the time, “Love the Way You Lie” was insanely popular. Of course, while the radio wore that song to death, I burned out “25 to Life” in my dad’s Jeep. Honestly, I’m not sure why I love that song. I think part of it is the narrative story telling, but I also just love the anti-authority/anti-establishment takeaway. As someone who prefers to do things their own way, “25 to Life” speaks to me.

Moonlight Serenade – Glenn Miller

Up to this point, I’ve talked mostly about music I grew up with. After all, each artist in this list until now was making music while I was growing up.

That said, I don’t just listen to modern music, nor do I recommend it. There’s so much more out there to experience. For instance, I’ve been playing trombone since 2005 (which recently prompted me to make a little niche site called Trill Trombone), and that experience has exposed me to music from many different eras and cultures. In all that time, I managed to stumble up Jazz, my favorite type of music outside the modern era.

To be fair, I could list a lot of Jazz pieces that I love. For instance, I’m a big Maynard Ferguson fan, so I love “Birdland” and “Hey Jude”. Likewise, I love Gordon Goodwin, so naturally I could have included “Count Bubba”. In addition, I spent some time in college playing more abstract charts from folks like Bill Dobbins and Paul Ferguson.

Of all the Jazz I’ve listened to over the years, I keep coming back to the classics. In particular, I’ll listen to pretty much anything released by Glenn Miller—especially anything on the emotional end like “Moonlight Serenade”. There’s just something about it that always pulls me back in.

Wasting Time – Four Year Strong

Around the same time that I got into A Day to Remember and Freshman 15, I also got into Four Year Strong. Also like those bands, I stopped listening to them awhile back. That said, if certain songs come on, you know I’m throwing down.

Before Warped Tour ended, I went to the Blossom Center with one with my buddies, Robert. At the time, I hadn’t listened to Four Year Strong in forever, and they had released some music since then. That said, we decided to go check them out since they were one of the last bands of the day.

When we got there, they came out in holiday gear which was sort of silly and fun. Then, they played a few songs that I didn’t really know. As a result, Robert and I sat in the back boppin’ our heads with our arms crossed.

As the set went on, I started to wonder if they were going to play anything I knew. That’s when they pulled out “Wasting Time”. At that moment, I looked at Robert, gave him a nod, and began pushing my way to the center of pit like I was 18 again. For about 3 minutes, I threw down. Then, we went home.

I have no clue why I like this song so much, but memories like this give the song some sentimental value. Whenever I hear it, I get the urge to throw down.

A Part of Me – Neck Deep

During that part of my life when I was regularly attending Warped Tour, I got into Neck Deep. Of all the bands in this list, Neck Deep is probably my least favorite. That said, they had one song that I’ve listened to several hundred times called “A Part of Me”.

If you haven’t heard it, it’s a short song which features a male/female duet. In the first few verses of the song, the guy sings about the woman. Then, they drop everything but a guitar and a piano, and the man and the women exchange bars. Finally, they sing together.

What makes this song so good is the contrast between the singers. On one hand, the guy has an extremely rough voice which borders screaming. Meanwhile, the woman has extremely clean vocals—which I was obsessed with for a bit. Together, they make the perfect contrast.

Outside of this song, however, I never really got into Neck Deep. At this point, I’ve sort of worn the song out, but I had to include it for my own sake.

Two Good Things – Modern Baseball

One of the worst experiences I ever had in my life was living abroad in England. For about six months, I had to survive without making any real connections with the locals. By the end of the trip, I was deeply depressed, and I vowed to never make anyone feel like that in my home country.

To get through that experience, I leaned heavily on music. At the time, I was listening to a lot of The Wonder Years, State Champs, Real Friends, and Modern Baseball. By far, the song that got me through the trip was “Two Good Things” by Modern Baseball.

If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll find that they perfectly encapsulate exactly how I was feeling at the time. A few lyrics that come to mind include:

  • “Trying hard not to look like I’m trying that hard”
  • “Not feeling lonely, I just like being alone”
  • “Mathematically that can’t be more than one end of a candle”
  • “I’m stuck between two good things, but I just wanna get out”

Also, the whimsical nature of the song reminds me of my carefree attitude—at least on the outside.

Out of The Woods – Taylor Swift

While most of this list consists of pop punk music, my music tastes are quite a bit more complicated than that. For instance, I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan, and I’m not saying that ironically. For whatever reason, I’ve enjoyed almost everything shes released since I heard her on the radio in middle school.

Now, I should mention that I hate country music. Oddly enough, she served as a bit of a gateway to country music for me, but it never stuck with me. That said, I still love her older stuff which is probably more like country pop.

At any rate, I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift for ages, but the song that I’ve listened to the most is “Out of the Woods”—with “Love Story” as a close second. By no means should I like either song because they’re so repetitive, but I just can’t stop listening to them.

For “Out of the Woods” in particular, the song was a powerful motivator for me in college. Any time I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to get through something, I’d just binge this song. I realize this song is about a relationship, but I applied it to pretty much any context I could. After all, the chorus is about getting through the woods, so I figure it applies to any hardship.

NASA – Ariana Grande

Unlike the majority of Ariana stans, I didn’t start listening to her until she released “thank u, next”. For whatever reason, I picked up that album and began listening to it top to bottom. Like Aaron West, it makes for great driving music.

Funnily enough, if you check my top artist of 2019 on Spotify, it’s Ariana Grande. The obsession started in late 2018 when I binged that album for several hours on my trip to and from Jersey to visit my friend, Robert.

Of all the songs on that album, I’m most partial to “NASA” which is a song about needing space. Honestly, I don’t identify with the lyrics at all, but the song is so damn good. I’ve pretty much ran it into the ground at this point.

All that said, I expect Ari to be a big part of my life moving forward. Sometimes I just need this kind of music to offset the depressing shit I normally binge.

Remembering Sunday/Dear Maria, Count Me In – All Time Low

Around the same time I got into pop punk, I got into All Time Low. Honestly, I was pretty against mainstream music when I was younger, so I avoided them. Then, somehow they crept back into my life to help me practice vocal harmonies.

Of all their songs, I was a big fan of “Dear Maria, Count Me In” because it was an “easy” song for guitar, bass, and singing. In fact, I once spent an entire night practicing just this song on bass in my buddy’s basement.

Since then, I’ve sort of moved on from All Time Low, but I still see them as a guilty pleasure. In fact, my favorite song of theirs was “Remembering Sunday.” Weirdly enough, I didn’t care for the original recording; I preferred the “Live from Straight to DVD” version featuring Juliet Simms. Now, whenever I pick up a guitar, I try to play this song.

Someone Like You – Adele

Would you believe me if I said it took me a year to put this list together? By this point in the list, I was tired of searching my memory for old nuggets of gold. So, I deferred to my friend, Robert, who has made quite a few appearances in this list already.

Initially, I turned over my Spotify playlist, and I asked him what was missing. Within seconds he said “someone like you by adele?”:

How did I forget this song?! This was literally the only song I knew the chords for on piano, and I used to play it way too often. Of course, he actually knew how to play piano, so he often jazzed it up for me. Then, I’d sing vocal harmonies with him. Good times!

There was a period of my life where I shamelessly played this song on loop. Now, I’m realizing I’ve done that with quite a few songs. No wonder I burn out artists.

Take One Last Breath – Abandon All Ships

Speaking of songs I ruined! Say hello to “Take One Last Breath” by Abandon All Ships. If you’ve never heard this song, you’re not missing much. However, it has probably one of the sickest drum breaks I’ve heard, so I often listen to it just to air drum that section.

In college, this song was sort of a meme in my friend group. Whenever we would sit around on the weekend, we would play songs like this and joke around. After a few air drum solos, everyone would forget their silly homework assignments.

Outside of this song, I really don’t know anything about Abandon All Ships. Perhaps some of their other music is good. After all, I kind of like the techno/screamo mashup.

Part of Your World – The Little Mermaid

As mentioned previously, beyond pop punk, I love listening to musician’s music like jazz. Of course, my second favorite place to perform is a pit orchestra. For instance, I’ve performed for several musicals including Annie Get Your Gun, Titanic, and The Full Monty.

In general, I enjoy a good showtune whether that be from a broadway musical or a Disney movie. For instance, I think my favorite Disney movie is Coco. That said, a Disney song that has been with me my entire life is “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid.

Of all the Disney songs, I chose this one because of its strong theme of rebellion. As I get older, I get more rebellious, and I think this song was a strong foundation for that. Also, it’s just so much fun to sing.

Get It On – Chase

When I was in high school, I rehearsed in Jazz band every day for about 90 minutes. Back then, I had a ton of fun playing songs like “Over the Rainbow”, “Hey Jude”, “Freedom at Midnight”, and “Get It On”. Of all those songs, I was a huge fan of “Get It On” just because of the trumpet waterfall.

Recently, I rediscovered this song when I was putting this list together, and now I’m obsessed with it. When it comes to Jazz, you really can’t beat fusion. I just love a wild electric guitar over some blaring trumpets.

Of course, like some of these songs in this list, I don’t really care for the actual lyrics. I’m here for the music!

Forgot About Dre – Dr. Dre & Eminem

As we near the end of this list, we get to a few songs that I don’t really listen to anymore but had a profound impact on my youth development. One of those songs is “Forgot About Dre” by Dr. Dre and Eminem. I haven’t listened to this song in ages, but it’s so ingrained in my memory that I can still sing all the words perfectly (I know. I just tried).

As mentioned already, I’m a huge Eminem fan, and this song is just so fun to “sing.” In addition, the music video was a source of inside jokes with my friends for a long time (e.g. “I was upstairs listening to my Will Smith CD.”). As a result, I have long history with this song that involves nailing every word.

Shenandoah – Frank Ticheli

As a musician, I wouldn’t be doing myself justice if I didn’t share at least one concert band piece that I actually liked. In particular, I love anything emotional, so I had to go with Shenandoah by Frank Ticheli. I think I’ve played this song in at least three different bands, so band directors agree this piece is excellent.

Since I’ve played this so many times, I have to admit that there are a lot of memories attached to it. For instance, I played this once with my high school concert band. Then, I played it again the only time I got into District Band. Finally, I believe I even played this in college, so it’s been a big part of my life.

Generally, I don’t care for concert band music, so this piece is really special to me. While the melody alone is pretty solid, I love all the little details like all the echos and layering. If you get a chance, check it out!

Gypsy – Fleetwood Mac

Finally, I had to close this list out with a song that reminds me of home: “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac. If you swing by my parents’ house around 6 PM on a Friday, there’s a chance you’ll hear this song playing. That’s around the time my mom likes to throw on a list of my parents’ favorite tunes which includes many songs like “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” by Eminem, and “Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure.

Of all those songs I used to listen to every week, “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac stands out to me. After all, they’re the only group from their playlist that I’ve seen live. That’s right! I’ve seen Fleetwood Mac live in concert.

That said, I could have picked any of their charts. For instance, “Landslide” is excellent. Likewise, I love “Sara” and “Rhiannon”. That said, “Gypsy” takes the cake for me because it was just so good live. In particular, Stevie Nicks explained the backstory to this song, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Without the story, the lyrics don’t really make sense. With the story, it’s like forming a connection with the artist. That’s why I love to see bands live. They always share little tidbits about their songs, and you get to feel slightly more connected to them (and consequently, my parents). How cool is that?

Honorable Mentions

Like any good list, there are items that just didn’t quite make it. In this section, I’ll list a few songs that didn’t make the main list and briefly explain why not.

  • I really wanted to restrict this list to standalone music that wasn’t linked to any form of media (e.g. games, anime, etc.). That said, anime and video game music has had a huge impact on my life. Here are a few songs I like:
    • Believe Me – Steins;Gate
    • You Can Become a Hero – Boku No Hero Academia
    • Cauis’s Theme – Final Fantasy 13-2
    • Impend – Halo 2
    • Glassy Skies – Tokyo Ghoul
  • In addition to “Gypsy”, there are tons of songs that I’ve listened to hundreds of times, but I don’t personally choose to listen to anymore. The songs below join the long list of songs that remind me of home.
    • Friday I’m in Love – The Cure
    • Enjoy the Silence – Depeche Mode
    • Run to the Hills – Iron Maiden
    • Duality – Slipknot
    • Happy – Mudvayne

As always, there’s probably another 100 songs I could add to this list, but what’s the point?

Let’s Celebrate

Today I’m 26, and The Renegade Coder is almost 3 years old. Help me celebrate these two events by spreading the word about my website. If you’d like to help even more, you’re welcome to check out my post on ways to grow The Renegade Coder which includes hopping on my mailing list and becoming a Patron.

In addition, feel free to check out all my birthday posts up to this point:

To no surprise, I’m already plotting out my 27th birthday article. Right now, I’m planning on listing off my top 27 anime of all time. That said, if you have a better idea, let me know in the comments. Otherwise, thanks for stopping by!

Jeremy Grifski

Jeremy grew up in a small town where he enjoyed playing soccer and video games, practicing taekwondo, and trading Pokémon cards. Once out of the nest, he pursued a Bachelors in Computer Engineering with a minor in Game Design. After college, he spent about two years writing software for a major engineering company. Today, he pursues a PhD in Engineering Education in order to ultimately land a teaching gig. In his spare time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, playing Overwatch and Phantasy Star Online 2, practicing trombone, watching Penguins hockey, and traveling the world.

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