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It’s important to live one’s life as if it’s a movie, complete with an appropriate soundtrack. My personal life soundtrack features everything from The National for moody rainy days, to Robyn for the summer that I bleached my pixie cut white blonde. I’m not embarrassed to admit that it also includes a lot of songs selected solely for their ability to make me feel cool when in reality I just feel lame, nervous, or afraid.
What makes a song cool? My boyfriend once said that The Strokes were the last really “cool” band and I agreed at the time. However, after hearing “Under Cover of Darkness” for the fifth time in a Forever21, they are now permanently associated with ill-fitting patterned jeggings in my head. (But feel free to raise your hand if you, too, still have a crush on Julian Casablancas.)
So, that’s two requirements so far: the band/singer needs to have at least a smidgen of coolness to them (sorry Taylor, but…), and the song can’t be too popular because it’s not as cool once it’s been used for a stupid watch commercial. They’re sellouts! I’m a snobbish hipster! Coolness is totally subjective!
Now that we have that settled, here’s the top five songs that never fail to make me feel like a total badass--whether because of the lyrics, what the song is associated with in my head, or simply because it sounds cool.
Is this band cool? I have no idea. They’ve got British accents so that’s definitely working for them. I wouldn’t say they’re my favorite band of all time, but I do love their fifth album Build a Rocket Boys! The first song on that album, The Birds, is basically the epitome of cool to me for some reason. It’s a mix of British pop and progressive rock, and unlike anything I ever heard before (probably because I’ve never listened to Radiohead). I love how beautiful and grand-scale it sounds, and any song that has a long intro building up to a satisfying kick is for me.
Sample lyrics: What are we gonna do with you?/Same tale every time/What are we gonna do with you?/Come on inside/Looking back is for the birds.
Listen to it to feel cool when: You’ve burned all your bridges and you’re starting to feel a twinge of regret. Also great for the beginning of a scenic road trip.
I thought this song really was about werewolves, but it turns out that’s just a METAPHOR. For SEX. Crazy, wild, animalistic sex apparently. I don’t think I need to explain to you how cool TV On The Radio is, and the same goes for this song once you’ve listened to it.
Sample lyrics: My mind has changed/My body's frame but God I like it/My heart's aflame/My body's strained but God I like it/Charge me your day rate/I'll turn you out in kind/When the moon is round and full/Gonna teach you tricks that'll blow your mongrel mind.
Listen to it to feel cool when: You are about to or are currently getting some. Or when you aren’t getting some but really need to; just having this song play in your head while you walk around will make you ooze sex. Cool sex, not the awkward kind.
Okkervil River has long been one of my top five bands, and I’m surprised they don’t get more recognition. I blame the name. I love their poignant lyrics, I love their jaunty folk-rock sound (check out “Lost Coastlines” for the ultimate sing along in the car tune), I love the way their lead singer Will Sheff peels off each layer of vest and blazer during a show like a sexy professor doing a striptease. All that said, The Valley is totally different from their other songs -- darker and angrier and, well, cooler. I mean, c’mon; it’s about people who ROCKED SO HARD THEY DIED.
Sample lyrics: Watch the sun switching in the sky, off and on,/where our friend stands bleeding on the late summer lawn,/a slicked back bloody black gunshot to the head./He has fallen in the valley of the rock and roll dead.
Listen to it to feel cool when: You need that extra boost of confidence to wear that leather jacket that you scored from Zara’s little girl section. I also have to admit that I turned this up the last time I was around teenagers. Teenagers scare me.
Rolling Stone called this “one of the greatest songs of the century.” A lot of work probably went into the creation of this song, right? Nah, the band totally half-assed it. They said that it was the product of a casual jam session (technically they called it “screwin’ around”), and the lyrics were written in about five minutes. How’s that too cool to care attitude for you?
Sample lyrics: You've got a nerve to be asking a favor/You've got a nerve to be calling my number./Can't you hear me I'm beating on the wall/Can't you see me I'm pounding on your door/Can't you hear me when I'm calling out your name./When I used to go out I would know everyone that I saw/Now I go out alone if I go out at all.
Listen to it to feel cool when: You’re feeling desperately uncool because you have no friends and have to go eat in the college cafeteria alone (I’ve been there), OR when you need the balls to tell that person no already. They’ve got some nerve!
I think we all want to be a silent, brooding Ryan Gosling driving around Los Angeles at night with a bitchin’ scorpion jacket. The bad news is that it’s really hard to find that jacket. The good news is that you can easily just buy the Drive soundtrack and listen to it whenever you’re driving on the highway at night.
Sample lyrics: I'm giving you a night call to tell you how I feel/I want to drive you through the night, down the hills/I'm gonna tell you something you don't want to hear/I'm gonna show you where it's dark, but have no fear.
Listen to it to feel cool when: You need to drive home really fast because the pizza’s getting cold and you really have to pee.
Special mentions: Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers” is great for feeling cool and brave while striding alone down the street at night. I consider this song cool just for how badass Lykke Li is in the music video. Spoon’s 2010 album Transference is a great album to put on during a party to make everyone feel mildly inferior to you. Pretty much every LCD Soundsystem song (I guess I forgive them for the watch commercial). “Midnight City” by M83 has the power to make you feel cool even when you’re just sitting in your car in the dark.
Now please tell me your nomination for the coolest song ever award. This isn’t meant to be a competition to see who has the coolest taste in music; I’m genuinely interested to know what songs make you guys feel cool and why. Enya obviously made that serial killer in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo feel cool, and I think she has the same effect on my mom. My point is that everyone’s definition of a cool song will vary but that’s okay, and also that my mom might be a serial killer.
Okay, now it’s your turn: the coolest song for ultimate badasses, GO.
Follow Kelly on Twitter to quickly discover just how uncool she really is: @picturesqueliar.