Music, as much as any form of human expression, zeroes right in on our emotions. Today, with war and a wobbling economy on top of the usual unavoidable cyclical downturns in our personal lives, the time seems right to remember those happy songs that can keep us going. So we put our heads together to draw up a list of favorites that help remind us of what's good about the world and why, all evidence to the contrary, it's worth getting out of bed in the morning . . . .
Amazing Grace (John Newton)
A slave trader, Newton had a spiritual awakening during a storm at sea, gave up the trade, and wrote this great hymn about it.
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) (Simon and Garfunkel)
It's short, it's sweet, and it "makes the moment last."
What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong)
"I hear babies cryin" / I watch them grow / They'll learn much more than I'll ever know / And I think to myself / What a wonderful world"
Kiss of Life (Sade)
The perfect soundtrack for falling in love.
Ironic (Alanis Morissette)
The way she puts words to many of the problems of daily life makes them somehow less frustrating.
Winter Warz (Ghostface Killah)
I put this song on and I am soon hoarse and out of breath from shout-rapping and acting like a maniac.
I Love Rock and Roll (Joan Jett)
Granted, it's a little weird when my two young daughters and I sing these slutty come-on lyrics at the top of our lungs while we ride in the car -- but it sure is fun.
I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash)
This popped up on the radio at crucial times in my life. I finally had to buy the CD so I could hear it when I needed it.
Symphony No. 9, From the New World (Antonin Dvorak)
The 19th century's answer to The Beatles' "Here comes the Sun". It just gets me up.
Aaj mera jee karda (Sukhwinder Singh, from the movie Monsoon Wedding)
I played this at a commitment ceremony recently, and every single person headed to the dance floor.
Everything's Comin' Up Roses (Nanci Griffith)
Charming and a little raucous, this ditty celebrates the pleasures in just doin' your own thing.
Hell (Squirrel Nut Zippers)
This strangely delightful song inspires those of us who suspect that "in the afterlife...[we] could be headed for the serious strife" to continue living it up!
When the Saints Go Marchin' In
No matter how blue you feel, this song will lift up your soul and convince it to dance down the street.
Let's Go Crazy (Prince)
Reminds me what being young was like.
So What (Miles Davis)
Miles at his absolute improvisational best.
Honky Tonk Man (Dwight Yoakam)
It's hard to find country songs that are uplifting, but this one is.
Carmen Overture (Georges Bizet)
It gets me up and dancing in my living room -- alone or with my kids and husband.
The Old Astronomer to His Pupil
The words are by poet Sara Williams, set to music by Haydn: "Though my soul is set in darkness / It will rise in perfect light / I have loved the stars too fondly / To be fearful of the night."
Sun Is Shining (Bob Marley)
Reggae is happy-music, especially this song.
-Mitra Milani Engan
At Last (Etta James)
I've remedied many heartaches with a dose of Etta James and a pint of Dulce de Leche H'agen Dazs.
Fanfare for the Common Man (Aaron Copeland)
It lifts me up by reminding me not to take for granted my privileged life as an American.
-Kristin Sawyer Lyman
Papa's Got a Brand New Bag (James Brown)
I picture James Brown dancing and screaming when I hear this and it always makes me smile.
Everything's Alright (from Jesus Christ Superstar)
We all need a guilty pleasure now and then, and this song qualifies as mine. (Okay, one of mine.)
Obiero (by Ayub Ogada playing the nyatiti, a kind of East African lyre)
The purest, simplest example of musical beauty I've ever heard.
Bird Catcher Song (Mozart's Magic Flute)
An explosion of gaiety.
Badlands (Bruce Springsteen)
I can't help but lift my chin when the Boss belts out "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive."