The world once again changed on Feb. 24 when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine. It marks the first time a European nation has invaded another since World War II and another scar on a planet that was just recovering from perhaps the worst pandemic in modern history.
There have been more “where were you when” moments just since the beginning of 2020 than most ever thought possible, and this attack by the Kremlin is just the latest.
While we continue to do everything as a nation that we can do here in the U.S. to lend support to Ukraine, I felt compelled to, at the very least, share a “Powerful Playlist” of comforting and thought-provoking tracks to those across the world struggling to watch the tragic events unfolding in Ukraine.
1. “Hero of War” – Rise Against
Trust me, this playlist is not intended to be a collection of hard-core American patriotism. If it were, it would be eight Toby Keith songs, followed by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s (CCR) “Fortunate Son.”
Instead, Rise Against’s “Hero of War” leads off. The acoustic-style song tells the story of a young soldier who over time experiences the harsh reality of war. He set out to be a hero war hero, yet he became someone he wasn’t proud of now that he has to live with his war crimes.
There are many ugly truths of war, such as civilian uprooting and casualties and the mental scars it leaves on its’ soldiers. This track encapsulates all of them and is a must-listen for everyone, from war dogs to protestors.
2. “Waiting on the World to Change” – John Mayer
It’s wild to think that John Mayer’s 2006 ballet “Waiting on the Word to Change” is even more relatable now than it was 16 years ago when it debuted.
The iconic song shares the feeling that a lot of us probably have after enduring a pandemic and are now seeing unprecedented times overseas. It’s a great listen for self-reflection or a chill environment with those closest to you as we continue “waiting for the world to change.”
3. “Ships in the Night” – Mat Kearney
This 2011 soft rock song is what I believe to be the best work of singer-singer Mat Kearney. It uses the metaphor of a nautical war for a strained relationship. But it’s the music of this song that makes it one of the most comforting songs I’ve ever come across.
It holds up with today’s use of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) but combines it with acoustic chords in a unique fashion. If it ever feels like a little too much, this is a track that can help ease anxiety and create a calmness for listeners.
4. “Solider” – Gavin DeGraw
Smooth vocals from one the all-time most underrated artists, met with empowering lyrics and a sincere melody come together wonderfully on Gavin DeGraw’s “Solider.” His use of deep piano notes and clever lyrics make it a powerful number about protecting love from all obstacles.
There is not much more to be said for this song as this is what we’ve always seen from DeGraw – creative writing and catchy hooks leaving you with an optimistic mindset.
5. “Crazyland” – Eric Church
Eric Church’s more contemporary work doesn’t always get the respect it deserves, and that includes his 2021 track “Crazyland.” The song starts slow but picks up with some unique backing piano and guitar.
The song that Church says came to him in a dream introduces a dive bar full of characters that are personifications of emotions. The character Church claims to be in the song, the Mad Hatter, welcomes a new, yet familiar face to the dive. It’s a complex song that seems to represent the everlasting unprecedented times of today.
6. “Never Break Heart” – Eric Church
I know having back-to-back songs of the same artist could be seen as a cop-out. But I view “Never Break Heart” as almost the sequel to “Crazyland,” and I believe they should be played back to back for the best effect.
The opening line “People say it’s a crime to bring a life into the world these days” is increasingly relatable to a lot of possible future parents. These times can be trying. But as Eric Church says, “hurt’s gonna keep on tryin’ and pain’s gonna keep on cryin’/But way deep down, there’s a beat gonna keep on fightin’.”
It’s a powerful, yet simple tune that reminds us to not give up on the world, despite how crazy it can be – a message we can all use reminding of from time to time.
7. “Imagine” – John Lennon
Not much needs to be said about John Lennon’s “Imagine” to justify its place in this 2022 playlist. The former member of the Beatles laid this beauty of a track down in 1971, calling for world peace. It still stands as true today as it did nearly five decades ago.
8. “Where Is the Love” – Black Eyed Peas
One of my English teachers used to play this song in the hallway every Friday as the final school bell rang for the weekend. I never truly appreciated or understood the beauty in this song until recently.
The song that was released in response to the 9/11 attacks has a similar theme to Lennon’s “Imagine” searching for world love and peace. Only it uses a combination of hip-hop and jazzy that complement the vocals of will.i.am., Fergie, Taboo, apl.de.ap and feature Justin Timberlake.
It’s an uplifting jam that paints an accurate picture of the post-9/11 world.
9. “This’ll Be My Year” – Train
This leading track off of Train’s 2012 album “California 37” is maybe one of the best-written songs you probably never heard of. Lead singer Pat Monahan wrote this up-beat anthem as a love song for his wife, but it is so much more than that.
The song recaps some of the important events that took place in his life, including the birth of his kids, his dad’s second heart attack, Train’s first tour and 9/11. While many things transpired throughout his life, he explains how he was never truly fulfilled until he met his wife in 2004 – the same year Facebook joined the internet.
The track teaches us to not stop believing that we’ll find that person out there and to remember that tomorrow can always be better than today – a fitting message to conclude our selected songs of this playlist.
Now for the interactive aspect of this column where you, the reader and listener, can determine the puzzle piece of this playlist.
As we continue to move forward in a post-COVID-19 world with an active invasion of Ukraine transpiring, I encourage us all to continue to value our mental and spiritual well-being. Perhaps reading this column and/or listening to this playlist was the perfect place to begin.
For our friends fighting for their homeland and lives in Ukraine, I, along with the rest of the free world, wish you nothing but the best. Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine).