Songs of Self-care Part II

The Work that Came Before Me

After some thought, I’ve decided to do this project right, so the first step is to see who has embarked on this project before me and include their work into my own. As I find works that build on this project I will add them here. My goal is for this to be a sort of informal annotated bibliography of all the useful people who wrote before me. I’ve cut it into three sections, blogs, articles and journals, starting with informal blogs and moving to peer reviewed medical journals. All these works are useful to varying degrees, I just think separating them by category will help me to better use their research later. Here is a rather exhaustive list of any and all writings I can find on the subject of cultivating selfcare playlists and the benefits of music to mental health:

Blogs with Self-care Playlists:

This first group is a collection of similarly minded blog posts combined with playlists. These are the least technical, but reading them added quite a few awesome songs to my mix. There is also very little dialog to these pieces, perhaps a very brief description of the song in question, but not the thorough breakdown that I’m looking for from my piece. Also, these playlists tend to be on the shorter side, just a few albums worth. In my first blog post my playlist already had one hundred songs. I think it’s important that the list get cut into more bite-sized chunks for more useful consumption.

One thing that has been abundantly clear as I’ve embarked on this project is that this is a very deep well. There are A LOT of songs that fit the short set of requirements I’ve made for songs pertaining to self-care. In creating playlists it seems most people choose a more specific topic when beginning cultivation. Bite-sized playlists are better for blog posts, so 10 or 15 song mixes are more common than the 32s or 50s, and I have yet to find any over 100. It’s nice to see the work I’m doing hasn’t entirely been done before, though it feels that I am doing it out of necessity rather than simple enjoyment. This playlist is meant to be a tool, the sort of tool that might stop someone from acts of self-harm or suicide. I mean it to be a powerful tool in that respect, something that has the power to save lives.

(Oh boy there are a lot of songs here, it will take me a long time to sort through these, and I’m not sure how useful that work would be. I think I need to look at specific sections, like all the songs titled “Anxiety.”)

Articles on the Subject of Music and Mental Health:

Articles on the subject of music and mental health tend to be a pretty far cry from blogs about self-care playlists. These pieces bridge the gap between the very unscientific blog posts with youtube links and memes, and articles in peer reviewed research journals. They usually have a scientific journal quoted or cited, but lack much of the jargon, making them much easier to actually read, but contain far less nuance than the academic papers themselves. If you want the real facts, you have to go to the source, for those, continue scrolling.

Scholarly Sources on the Benefits of Music to Mental Health:

“Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.”

-Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

Canadian Association of Music Therapists

Using Music as Self Care vs Music Therapy – Music Care

The sound of silence is music to the heart – Heart, The British Medical Journal

The impact of music on neurochemistry – AudioCura

AudioCura music treatment for patients

Literature –

School-aged children’s experiences of postoperative music medicine on pain, distress, and anxiety. – National Center for Biotechnology Information

If you find a piece that you think belongs in this list, or better yet, if you’ve written a piece you feel has a place on this list, please send me a comment and let me know! I would love to collect all the work that has been done on the subject of using music to improve mental health. I think there is so much good that can come from this work, and the more these pieces are collected together, the more they form a body of research that people can use to really change their lives for the better. So if you have something that fits, send it my way!


Songs of Self-care

This is a playlist intended to help direct your thoughts toward a place of health and love. It contains radio pop mainstays alongside old hymns and powerful speeches put to music. Nearly every genre is included, including pop, rap, country, folk, Christian, rock, spoken word, acapela, musicals, and even film scores; the common thread is that all these songs nudge you in the direction of health.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to organize this collection. I tend to use it as a randomized playlist. With over 100 songs and over 6 hours of listening time, I don’t ever listen to the mix from beginning to end, and as it currently stands, its order is just chronological, so it has no deeper meaning behind it than which I discovered first. It’s time to give it some greater organization to make as useful as possible for others.

When I first conceived of this mix I knew three artists that would be included in larger quantities, LCD Soundsystem, John Mayer, and Fleet Foxes. I initially made the playlist after a particularly bad episode of my clinical depression in college. I was looking for music that aligned with what I was feeling, and what I wanted to feel instead. My mother had me listen to the song “Looking for Space” by John Denver and it clicked with my thoughts and feelings so much it made me cry. Before I made this playlist I would just listen to “Looking for Space” on repeat until the mantra was deeply ingrained in my head and my mood markedly lifted. The feelings John Denver’s voice gave me weren’t new, and so I quickly gathered the other music that had elicited similar emotions in the hopes of building a collection so I could put it on Spotify, and teach its algorithm what makes music good for mental health so I could find more amazing artist. Since starting this project in 2016, it’s clear that Spotify’s algorithms have worked beautifully, adding much of the content of the playlist after the initial pieces.

Up until this the creation of this article I had gone off a “you know it when you know it” decision making process as to what songs make it into the playlist. There are lots of hard rules that I use, but they are entirely in my brain. They’ve included things link, ‘must be lyrically sound’ by that I mean I need to fully agree with the statements that are being made, and those statements need to be in a specific direction, a direction toward health and progress. Sometimes that means the song highlights personal problems or the general nature of negative aspects of the world. Two that come to mind like this are ‘Don’t Be Rude’ by YACHT and Sara Bareilles’ masterpiece ‘Gravity.’ ‘Don’t Be Rude’ is a fun little ditty about actions you should focus on avoiding, I find its acknowledgement of imperfection to be where it most excels. ‘Gravity’  on the other hand, hits me like a ton of bricks everytime I listen, and that’s what it’s there for. The song physically pains me as I imagine the kind of smothering described. The song has always felt like it was sung directly to me, begging me to rethink the base premise behind romantic love and reshape it into something less controlling, more honest and real.

That said, I chose to include ‘Gravity’ not because it highlights a bad way of loving, but because it actively helps me turn away from that bad way of loving. The song never says the behavior is okay, it is not, and the playlist is never, an embrace of the negative. I have clinical depression, I’ve dealt with it for years. I do not have the patience for “sad acceptance.” Websites like Tumblr often have communities that fetishize or otherwise honor the feelings of depression. I leave the unhealthy respect for those languishing in perceived sorrow to the Feudal Japanese aristocracy. There is nothing to cherish about the feelings, or lack of feelings, that mark a depressive episode.

So here is the playlist as it stood in the Spring of 2019. I will now embark on the slow journey of organizing it into sections. My hope is to have a collection of playlists to handle specific difficulties. Music is a powerful force for quick mental change, with a little help, this playlist and others like it can really help people who are suffering get out from those dark places and see that life keeps going.

  1. Why Georgia – John Mayer – Room For Squares
  2. Looking for Space – John Denver – Windsong
  3. Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  4. Montezuma – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  5. Dance Yrself Clean – LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
  6. All my Friends – LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  7. Someone Great – LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  8. Watch the Tapes – LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  9. In Repair – John Mayer – Continuum
  10. Ways to Go – Grouplove – Spreading Rumours
  11. Eventually – Tame Impala – Currents
  12. Animal – cover by Javier Dunn – Single
  13. Burgs – Mt. Wolf – Red
  14. Walden Pond – Atta Boy – Out of Sorts
  15. Changing – John Mayer – The Search for Everything
  16. Tiny Cities – Flume – Skin
  17. Japanese Ceremonial Tea – The Electric Sons – Golden Age
  18. Now & Then – Sjowgren – Now & Then
  19. Maybe a Love Song – Nataly Dawn – Maybe a Love Song
  20. Don’t Be Rude – YACHT – The Thought the Future Would Be Cooler
  21. Heavy – Birdtalker – Heavy
  22. Happiness Is Not A Place – The Wind and the Wave – Happiness Is Not A Place
  23. Try Everything – Shakira – Zootopia Soundtrack
  24. Down in the Valley – Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart
  25. Thank You – Bombadil – Metrics of Affection
  26. Through Heaven’s Eyes – Brian Stokes Mitchell – The Prince of Egypt Soundtrack
  27. In The Blood – John Mayer – The Search for Everything
  28. One – Birdtalker – One
  29. Changes – Langhorne Slim, The Law – The Spirit Moves
  30. Learn To Let Go – Ke$ha – Rainbow
  31. Library Magic – The Head and the Heart – Signs of Light
  32. People Who Love You – Julian Roy – People Who Love You
  33. I Will – Michael Bernard Fitzgerald – Yes
  34. Go the Distance – Roger Bart – Hercules Soundtrack
  35. Almost There – Anika Noni Rose – The Princess and the Frog Soundtrack
  36. Where You Are – Christopher Jackson and others – Moana Soundtrack
  37. Gravity – Sara Bareilles – Little Voices
  38. Simple Gifts – Yo-Yo Ma – Classic Yo-Yo
  39. Simple Gifts – Joseph Brackett, Jonsi – The Circle Soundtrack
  40. Young Blood – Noah Kahan – Young Blood
  41. Anziety – Logic, Lucy Rose – Everybody
  42. Dear Me (Less Is More Mix) – Eric Hutchinson – Easy Street
  43. For Now – Kina Grannis – Jakarta
  44. This Too Shall Pass – Sinclair – Sweet Talk EP
  45. Heaven on Earth – Sinclair – Sweet Talk EP
  46. Bonding – Deepak Chopra, Adam Plack – Soul of Healing Affirmations
  47. Heart Sutra (cho ver.) – Kanho Yakushiji – Heart Sutra (cho ver.)
  48. Be Still – Canyon City – Refuge
  49. On The Wing – Owl City – Ocean Eyes
  50. Next Time – Barenaked Ladies – Everything To Everyone
  51. Good Life – OneRepublic – Waking Up
  52. I Gotta Feeling – The Black Eyed Peas – THE E.N.D.
  53. Emoji of a Wave – John Mayer – The Search for Everything
  54. Landslide Live at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank ‘97 – Fleetwood Mac – The Dance
  55. Landslide 2017 Remaster – Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac
  56. Meant to Be (feat. Florida Georgia Line) – Bebe Rexha – All Your Fault
  57. Mine – Phoebe Ryan – Mine EP
  58. Shed a Little Light – James Taylor – New Moon Shine
  59. Tomorrow – Miner – Headwaters
  60. Before This World/ Jolly Springtime – James Taylor – Before This World
  61. Take Your Time (Coming Home) – fun. – Aim and Ignite
  62. Grow – The Oh Hellos – Eurus
  63. Wishes – Akira The Do, Jordan Peterson – Wishes
  64. still feel. – half.alive – still feel.
  65. Bees – The Ballroom Thieves – Deadeye
  66. The Gambler – fun. – Aim and Ignite
  67. Golden Boy – The Mountain Goats – Ghana
  68. This is Me (The Reimagined Remix) – Keala Settle, Ke$ha, Missy Elliott – The Greatest Showman Soundtrack
  69. Good Time – Owl City, Carly Rae Jepsen – The Midsummer Station
  70. Fly Away – John Denver – Windsong
  71. Being Here – Vacationer – Being Here
  72. Hello My Old Heart – The Oh Hellos – The Oh Hellos EP
  73. I Wanna Get Better – Bleachers – Strange Desire
  74. Vapor (A Meditation) – The Liturgists – Vapor
  75. See You Around – I’m With Her – See You Around
  76. Bees and Swans – Beta Radio – Ancient Transition
  77. Time Adventure – Various Artists, Rebecca Sugar – Adventure Time Soundtrack
  78. It’s Over Isn’t It – Deedee Magno Hall – Steven Universe Soundtrack
  79. Here Comes a Thought – Estelle, AJ Michalka – Steven Universe Soundtrack
  80. Rainbow Connection – Kenny Loggins – Return to Pooh Corner
  81. October (Live) – gray – October
  82. The Heart of Life – John Mayer – Continuum
  83. Rivers and Roads – The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart
  84. Green Light – Lorde – Melodrama
  85. Breathe It In – Beautiful Chorus – Mantras in Love
  86. Inner Peace – Beautiful Chorus – Hymns of Spirit
  87. Be Here Now – Beautiful Chorus – Mantras in Love
  88. Sing Through My Voice – Beautiful Chorus – Hymns of Spirit
  89. Inner Peace – Beautiful Chorus, rachel kann – Inner Peace
  90. Same Dark Places (Acoustic Version) – JR JR – Same Dark Places
  91. Light of a Clear Blue Morning – The Wailin’ Jennys – Fifteen
  92. Some Nights – fun. – Some Nights
  93. Carry On – fun. – Some Nights
  94. Shallow – Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born Soundtrack
  95. Be Where You Are – Birdtalker – One
  96. No Depression – Bahamas – Earthtones
  97. Want – Birdtalker – Just This
  98. Show Your Colors – Genevieve – Show Your Colors
  99. Authority – Genevieve – Show Your Colors
  100. Human Again – Genevieve – Show Your Colors