For Vermont Edition's annual music show, we wanted to know: What song tells a story about 2016 for you?
Every time you hear that one song, it transports you back to a great summer road trip, or a miserable breakup, or watching your daughter walk up onto the stage to receive her diploma. What songs were the soundtrack to big events in your year, and poignant small moments, too?
Whether it's funny or serious, an old song or a new one, we asked you to choose a story from your year and tell us what music reminds you of that moment so that we could possibly include it in our Annual Music Show. Many listeners responded.
Below is a selection of story excerpts that we received from listeners and the corresponding songs that we heard on the program.
We did receive a number of responses that tied into political events from this year.
"Life During Wartime" – Talking Heads
In emails to us, Susan referenced specific lyrics to this song – "This ain't no party, this ain't no disco / this ain't no fooling around" – and also wrote: "This describes my feelings ... during this last, ghastly election."
"Troubled Times" – Green Day
Craig in Waterville said: "What I like about this song is that it’s such an honest reflection of this year, especially politically. Billie Joe Armstrong pulls out some of his greatest lyrical work ... The style, both simplistic and to the point, is very refreshing in a political climate where so many people were talking in euphemisms and nuances.
"And having a song speak right to the point ... and just admit, 'yes we live in troubled times' – that gave me so much hope and such a sense of understanding that this is where we are right now. And if we can admit that and see it for what it is, then we have a chance to be OK."
"The Decline" – NOFX
Rob said: "It's a punk-rock anthem. It addresses issues of gun violence, prescription drug use and destruction of constitutional rights – pretty standard stuff for the genre. Even if you find this music abrasive – certain word choices are crass – seventeen years later, the message and the lyrics still rings true and it's even almost prophetic."
Songs also touched on listeners' personal experiences from throughout the year, ones of both joy and sadness.
"Hymn To Her" – Pretenders
Liz in Wilder said: "I actually had a moment a few weeks back at Madison Square Garden with a dear college friend who I've known for decades, and we were at the Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde's concert hearing all of these songs from our youth. And I think the revelation for me was, at 54, how these songs that meant something to me when I was young, the same song now has this incredibly profound effect on me."
"HandClap" – Fitz and The Tantrums
From Melissa, who shared a story about a car ride with her daughter and some other children: "It was a warm rainy night [and] as we are driving home they were having a contest as who can keep their arm out in the pouring rain the longest as it pelted their skin. So I had three open windows and the radio on ...
"This song comes on, they crank the radio up to its limit (while still playing their 'game') and start singing and clapping with the song. And so now every time it comes on, that night comes back to me and the song has grown on me to the point I named my horse's foal Make Your Hands Clap."
"Way Down We Go" – Kaleo
Liz in Williston suggested any song by Kaleo as her 2016 pick and told a couple stories related to the band's music, including: "In March, I was at a hostel in Belize one afternoon. We were kind of bored, hanging out at the bar and were having a competition about who could bring up the best videos to watch on the big screen. I suggested that we watch the 'Way Down We Go' video, which was filmed in a volcano, and that brought down the house."
"Without Love (We're Just Wastin' Time)" – Ray Wylie Hubbard
From Matt in Hardwick: "I was lucky enough to marry the love of my life in July. Our family and friends worked harder than anyone I've ever seen to help us make our low-budget backyard BBQ wedding into the most amazing party ever ...
"Our wedding song was 'Without Love' by Ray Wylie Hubbard because we were fortunate enough to see RWH a couple years ago when one of my best men invited us to a concert in New York. We hadn't heard of him before and we thought Ray was incredible and we wanted a wedding song that was unique and not something you'd hear every day."
Johann Sebastian Bach's "Goldberg Variations" – EphenStephen Guitar Duo
From Nichael in Guilford: "This last couple of months – when I could use some peace and calm – I've been listening to a version of the Variations that I came across earlier this year by the EphenStephen Guitar Duo. Not your standard instrumentation, of course, but a wonderful version of this most beautiful of pieces."
"Us Now" – Them Are Us Too
Cayla said: "Not only is it really emotive and just very powerful in making me think of my personal life this year and the state of the world ... one of the members of the band passed away in the fire in the warehouse in Oakland just this past month. So I only recently discovered this because of that and wish I had found [out] about it sooner, and my heart goes out to that community."
"Sunrise" – Norah Jones
Rachel in Barre said: "Our daughter Dorothy was stillborn at 30 weeks this year due to complications that I had from severe preeclampsia. Even though I was very sick, our doctors gave us time to be alone with Dorothy. While I held her, I decided to sing and the song that found its way was 'Sunrise.' Now, when the song comes on, it's a beautiful reminder of those moments together."
"In This Place" – Will Todd
From Ann: "The year's start was hard with my brother dying on January 2 after a four-year struggle with multiple myeloma – and probably just about the time my flight landed in Oakland for a last visit with him. Two weeks later, when Vermont Choral Society began rehearsals for our spring concert, this piece was the last [director] Jeff Rehbach had us sight read. Midway through, the meaning of the words suddenly struck me — or rather became explicit ... It was about dying.
"I'm not sure what I believe about the afterlife but my grief crashed down on me. For several weeks, I couldn’t sing the whole way through that song. By the time the concert arrived, I was able to sing it and even take comfort in it. But now the holidays, the impending anniversary — and your request for songs — makes me realize that the grieving is not over. I know that others have their grievings too and this may comfort them as it did me."
"Time" – Pink Floyd
From Peter in Shaftsbury: "My father passed away this past October. When he was 50, I thought he was old. (I just celebrated my 60th birthday.) The past, and the future, blur into what we call 'life.'"
"Memory of a Free Festival" – David Bowie
From Michael in Fairfield: "When David Bowie died, I went through iTunes looking for his music. I only had cassette tapes ... The song is a little strange but I became enamored with it. I really don't know why. Albums often have songs that don't make it to the radio or become popular but are good."
"You Want It Darker" – Leonard Cohen
Jennifer wrote to us to say that this particular song "sums up 2016 for me. Let's hope 2017 is more 'Here Comes The Sun.'" Cohen passed away in November at age 82.
"I Will" – Alison Krauss
From Samantha of East Charleston and Winooski: "My dad and I had a long list of songs we would sing and play together in the kitchen when I was a child. Whether alone, or during one of the weekly kitchen jams our family hosted, Alison Krauss' version of the Beatles' 'I Will' was our fast favorite. In the summer of 2016, I lost my dad to a terrible disease called MSA, and then in autumn my own beautiful daughter was born.
"In a year of incredible sadness AND great joy, the tune 'I Will' has become my theme. The final stanza ... represents both the realization of incredible, deep love I found for my baby girl, and also the yearning to hear my dad's voice again. It is the song I sing to her that now knits together three generations of love through music."
From Mary in Jericho: "My husband and I had our first child in February 2016. Her name is Winter, so our song of the year is 'Winter Wonderland.'"
"On And On And On" – ABBA
A listener named Bob said that he chose this "to describe what's been going on – and what will be going on – with the year in 2016."
More from VPR:
- Watch: The Best Of 'Live From The Fort' 2016
- From Soul to Surf: 5 Great Songs From Vermont Musicians In 2016
In addition to listeners, our hosts also shared their stories and songs from 2016.
"A Big Enough Sky" – Josh Ritter
Host Bob Kinzel talked about his cancer diagnosis and surgery this year, and how this song is linked to his recovery. He recalls: "One night in the fall, I looked up at an absolutely clear sky and I saw a 'kazillion' stars. And it got me thinking about the vastness of the universe and the wonder of nature ... One day I put on this album by songwriter Josh Ritter. I was cruising along, really enjoying it when – 'whammo' – this song came on and it became my official recovery song."
"The Times They Are A-Changin'" – Bob Dylan
Bob also selected this song by Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this past year. He selected the version from Dylan's MTV Unplugged session, saying: "I think it's one of the great forgotten CDs of Dylan's career. The song was written more than 50 years ago, it was recorded 20 years ago [and] it's still relevant today."
"Complicated" – Avril Lavigne
Host Jane Lindholm said that this song "just kept popping into my head all through this really topsy-turvy year. A serious commentary on important events, it is not. But I can't help it if it kept creeping into my semi-consciousness."
"Feeling Good" – Nina Simone
Jane talked about this song being one that she sings in the car with her son, saying: "It just makes me happy to think about the connection he's forming to the landscape and to nature."
She adds that the song also affects her in another way: "It makes me think about people who are not free, both historically and still today, and people who struggle in so many different ways. And this idea that everything in nature should be able to feel the joy of the sun on your back, and yet how much of a luxury that very simple, natural idea is for so many people around the world. And when I listen to it that way, I can barely get the words out as I sing along."
Other songs heard during the show included:
- "Formation" – Beyoncé, who performed this song from her album Lemonade at the Super Bowl in February.
- "Let's Go Crazy" – Prince, who passed away in April at age 57.
- "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" – Merle Haggard, who also passed away in April at age 79.
- "Hang Me In The Tulsa County Stars" – John Moreland
- "Consideration" – Rihanna
- "Electric Love" – Børns
- "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" – Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
- "Our House" – Crosby, Stills & Nash
- "Stars" – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. This is the song Potter performed at a Harwood Union High School memorial for five teenagers killed in October.
- "Light One Candle" – Peter, Paul and Mary
On a desktop? You'll need a Spotify account to listen to the full playlist. On a mobile phone? You'll need to download the Spotify app to listen to the full playlist. The Spotify app and an account are free.
Broadcast live on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.