Unforgettable: The Songs We Know By Heart
Everyone has a favorite song that never fails to stop them in their tracks, put a smile on their face or fill their eyes with tears.
The magic formula of an unforgettable song is, of course, totally subjective; admittedly, it’s tough to choose just one. Like some of my respondents, “Amazing Grace” immediately came to mind.
And for me, there’s “You Can’t Ask Too Much of My God,” recorded by The Bishops, which lifts my spirits and makes me cry at the same time. Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” is a song about a failed relationship, which at its core is a powerful lesson on forgiveness. Brad Paisley’s “Letter to Me” said exactly what I wanted to say to my son, Trey, when he was 17. I’ll never forget seeing his face in the rearview mirror of my mini-van the first time I played it for him. It’s one of my favorite moments. And I have to mention an album cut by Rodney Atkins called “Man On a Tractor.” I love, love, love this song! Penned by Michael Lunn and Kent Agee, it’s a thoughtful treatise on finding your bliss.
When I asked a few artists to name a song they considered unforgettable, the responses were a diverse and fascinating lot. Here’s what a few of them had to say about the songs they find most unforgettable.
Lily Isaacs of The Isaacs “From the Depths of My Heart,” by Sonya and Ben Isaacs
“The song that has most moved me in the past several years is one that was written by two of my three amazing kids. The year was 1992. We had just moved to Tennessee from Ohio, and things were hectic. Our ministry was flourishing, my kids were all grown and starting lives of their own, and my marriage was falling apart. On one of our moves, Ben and Sonya had to bring a load of stuff down to our new home in Tennessee. On their ride home, they penned these words: It hasn’t been a bed of roses Since I’ve started on my way Lord you know I’m not complaining But there’s something I must say… That was the first verse. When they got home and read these lyrics to me for the first time, I just wept! It was our first number-one song (for four months) on the gospel music charts. The song still tears me up every time I hear it; I cannot live without this song!”
Brandon Heath “Grown Men Don’t Cry” by Tim McGraw, written by Tom Douglas & Steve Seskin
“The lyric in the verse is so visual. ‘Like ice cream melting, they embrace, years of bad decisions rolling down her face.’ I love how the chorus is literally just repeating the hook. Songs like this teach me that it’s good to break the rules every now and then. It’s also the first song that turned me on to Tom Douglas’ songwriting. He’s a special writer. He and Steve Seskin nailed it on this one.”
Chris Tomlin “Amazing Grace,” traditional hymn by John Newton
“I’m hesitant to answer that because you’ll probably get that from everybody. Grace is the greatest force there is in the world. There’s nothing you can do to receive it. If there is, it’s not grace. There’s nothing you can do to earn it. There’s nothing you have done. That’s why it’s grace and that’s why it’s so powerful. That’s why it’s different than anything else in the world. No matter what you’ve done, grace is available. God’s grace can cover and wash you clean and give you a new start. That’s why the song will always resonate and will always be such an unforgettable song.”
Charlie Daniels “How Great Thou Art,” a Swedish folk song, or “Amazing Grace,” J. Newton
“It would be hard for me to pick between those. ‘Amazing Grace’ has been around for 150 years or something like that and it’s still probably the most well-known and popular hymn. I still do it on stage every night. People love it.”
Dawn Michele, Fireflight “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers
“When I was just a little girl I would stand on my daddy’s feet and we would dance to this song. It’s an incredible song. I think it taught me to believe that there was such a thing as a love that was more powerful then time and distance.”
Kimberly Perry of the band, Perry “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter and “Whiskey Lullaby” recorded by Brad Paisley with Alison Krauss
“I really, really love [that song]. It’s one reason why I’m a country singer. I was in eighth grade when it came out and I immediately fell in love with it. I actually didn’t own a copy of the song, but I remember there was this jukebox at a restaurant really close to our house. It was 10 cents a play. We would go there for dinner one night every weekend and I would sit there and play it over and over on the jukebox. Another song I really love is ‘Whiskey Lullaby.’ For some reason, I always fall in love with the songs that really pull at the heartstrings. I can listen to that one over and over and it just breaks my heart. I really feel like country music is about real life. I love those songs, even if it’s something that I can’t relate to like ‘Whiskey Lullaby,’ there’s something about the way that song is written and sung that makes me feel like it’s my story. I really feel like country music either talks about stuff that we all know about and feel or it helps us feel like we can be part of the story. And that’s what I love about country music.”
Aaron Shust “It Is Well with My Soul” verse 3
"My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought My sin, not in part, but the whole Is nailed to the cross And I bear it no more Praise the Lord Praise the Lord Oh my soul! I love his quasi-ADD moments, interjecting thoughts about the concept before he ever gets to the verb. It makes me anticipate the completion of his thought all the more. And what a thought it is! The essence of the Gospel: we bear our sins no longer as they have been nailed to the cross! I was pulled over for speeding once while singing this verse. It gets me going."
Gloria Gaither “I Am the Lord’s” by Charles Naylor
“I love so many songs and I have so many favorites for all kinds of different reasons. I grew up Church of God and one of their songwriters was a guy named Charles Naylor. He wrote a song that is one of my favorites. It says ‘Whether I live or die, Whether I wake or asleep, Whether upon the land or on the stormy deep. When ’tis serene and calm, Or when the wild winds blow, I shall not be afraid – I am the Lord’s, I know.’”
Guy Penrod “Why Me, Lord?” by Kris Kristofferson and “Long Black Train” by Josh Turner
“The title says it all. And I like the simplicity of the message [of ‘Long Black Train’]. There is a devil and he is real. The song is a simple and profound reminder that all our physical decisions have spiritual implications.”
Kerrie Roberts “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” traditional American spiritual
“Having music taught to me at an early age in church by my mother, I would always sing songs around the house with my sister. It was just as much a part of our lives as breathing. It’s so beautiful how as your learn songs, they become a part of your life. They visit you again when you don’t expect them to. When I was very young, my Aunt Pam had a baby boy named Colin. He passed away at seven weeks old from spinal meningitis. As a child, I could not in any way fathom what her loss really meant, what she was going through, but I remember taking her by the hand in the car and singing her a song: He’s got the tiny little babies, in His hands, He’s got the tiny little babies, in His hands. He’s got the tiny little babies, in His hands. He’s got the whole world in His hands. Songs we can’t live without are the ones that get into us, and come out of us in moments that we don’t plan for, when words alone just won’t suffice. The power is in the comfort of the lyric and gentleness of the melody and in the personal touch of love that comes when one heart shares music with another.”
Heather Williams “Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot
“I have always been one for lyrical content in a song. The lyrics in ‘Dare You to Move’ get me every time. What a statement! Maybe redemption has stories to tell. Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell. It is one of those songs I just turn up loud and sing at the top of my lungs. Another song I absolutely love for lyrical content and for the intensity in melody is ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay. The musical bridge is one that I cannot listen too without getting chills. SUCH a great song!”
Sheri Easter of Jeff & Sheri Easter “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones
“Thinking of unforgettable songs, Jeff and I feel that ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ is, without a doubt, the saddest song ever written. With all of the symbolism in writing, sometimes we tend to read more into a lyric than the writer intended. I had heard this song all my life and viewed it as a symbolic death. We were listening to it while coming home late one night, and all of a sudden George wailed out ‘…they placed a wreath upon his door’ and I looked over at Jeff with tears streaming down my face and sobbed, ‘He died? He really died?’ Jeff said, ‘Of course, what did you think?’ I cried even harder. “To think of love that only ends in death is powerful, and at the same time, mournful and lonely. And to think that much emotion was written in just a few words… unbelievable!”
Newsong’s Russ Lee “One More Song for You” by The Imperials
“This song spoke to me at a very critical time in my life as I was wrestling with whether or not God wanted me to step out in faith and sing full time. I remember the moment I heard it. I was driving home from work and the words were like a clarion call summarizing the way I felt in my heart. The lyrics say, As long as there is time and one breath left in me, there will always be one more song for You. Those words were a confirmation of what I was supposed to do.”
Everlife’s Sarah Ross “Home” by Michael Bublé
“This song means the world to me. It was first released when my sisters and I were on a four-month-long tour, and the first time I heard it on the radio it made me cry. The words speak to anybody who has been gone from the ones they love for a long time, and about how much home means. To mean it wasn’t just about being gone in the physical, but also emotionally as well. It’s always hard to live life away from the ones you love, but it makes the time you have together all that more powerful. Home is where the heart is.”
Joe Amaral, author of Understanding Jesus (FaithWords) “More Than a Man,” by Stryper
“The lyrics of that song got me through many tough times during my teenage years. God, I will follow you because you died for me, gave to me your life to me to set me free.
About the Writer
Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian/Gospel music for Billboard magazine since 1994. She also contributes regularly to CountryWeekly, CMA Close Up, Devo短ine, Christian Single, HomeLife, BMI Music World, and other publications. A Nashville resident since 1983, Deborah has held editorial posts at Radio & Records, Country News, American Songwriter and Billboard. Amy Grant, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, 3 Doors Down, Third Day, Don Henley, Bon Jovi, Chris Rice, Sandra Bullock, Mercy Me, Alan Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Steven Curtis Chapman are among her many interviews. Additionally, she's a sought-after music industry analyst who has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, TNN, The Today Show, and ABC PrimeTime Live, among other outlets.Deborah is a member of the Gospel Music Association's board of directors and a graduate of Leadership Music. She resides south of Nashville with her husband, Gary, and son Trey.
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