The Prettiest Songs Of All Time

I need music to give my life meaning. I know that sounds melodramatic, and it probably is, but it’s true: I have trouble understanding my life without music. Music provides not only background noise but context — it gives me markers, memories that I can return to. Today, which is a day I think we’ll all remember for months, maybe years, reminded me why I need music. And not only music, a certain type of song: the Pretty Song.

The Pretty Song is not to be confused with the Beautiful Song. Pretty songs are generally a little lighter than beautiful songs, which are songs that reach for big things and hit them. “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys, “Your Hand in Mine” by Explosions in the Sky, Beethoven’s Seventh… these are beautiful, but they aren’t pretty. There is a difference.

“First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes is a pretty song. “The National Anthem” by Radiohead is not a pretty song, but “Fake Plastic Trees” is. Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” is probably top ten pretty songs ever, as is “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake. “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” by Broken Social Scene might be the prettiest song of the past 15 years. To me, at least.

The new song released by Patterson Hood (of Drive-By Truckers) this week, entitled “Come Back Little Star” is a near perfect example of a pretty song, and I’ve been listening to it on repeat for the better part of two days.

The prettiest song I’ve ever heard, though, is “Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison. I heard it for the first time when I was 17 and emerging from a nine month bout with sadness. The lyric, the one that stays with me to this day, haunts me, is when Morrison hollers “And I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry / ‘Woah, it’s me. I’m dynamite, and I don’t know why.’” That quote was my AIM profile quote for about a year, which, for you younger readers, was just about the greatest compliment someone my age could pay a song a decade ago.

We all have our own pretty songs. And whether they’re by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony or Loretta Lynn, or The Avett Brothers or Maxwell, it’s irrelevant. Music doesn’t mean anything until we give it meaning, by living with it. And I’m not trying to get Philosophy 101 on you, but it’s true. And today, I think, is a day to find your pretty song. To give it a listen.

Still not sure what the hell I’m talking about? Here. Try this.

A pretty song is one that you play in your kitchen, stirring onions that are just starting to crack in the heat of bubbling oil, the sun setting through the western window of your apartment. It’s the song you play on a Sunday morning in April when you’re cleaning your house, the day sunny and blessedly free, the coffee brewing and your loved one grabbing bacon out of the fridge. It’s the song playing when you hold your littlest sister, dance with her standing on your shoes, your mother sitting to the side, her hand over her mouth to hide her heartbroken smile. It’s the song you play when 38 of your countrymen get shot by an insane person, and you’re shaken with sadness, and you want something to remind you that life is a stupid, silly, wonderful thing…which is why I’m writing about these songs this morning, to you.

Let me know your pretty songs. I’m putting together a playlist. I think it’ll help me, maybe. Or at least give me something fantastic to listen to. TC mark

image – Shutterstock


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  • Alain Matalon (@orbital281)

    The Cure – Catch. Probably the prettiest song I’ve ever heard.

    • Mikko Eerola (@tulensrma)

      Catch is an excellent choice!

  • Lauren

    “Cherry-colored Funk” Cocteau Twins
    “There is a Light…” The Smiths
    “Ceremony” New Order

    • Leesh

      Ceremony is a prime example of this. Well chosen.

    • Hermes

      There is a Light That Never Goes Out <3
      The Boy With A Thorn On His Side is nice too

    • ABA

      I agree, Ceremony is my ringtone

    • Matt Smith

      All three of those songs are great, right on. Here are some others…
      Kurt Vile – “Blackberry Song”
      Velvet Underground – “Jesus”
      Real Estate – “Beachcomber”
      Sonny & The Sunsets – “Too Young To Burn”
      Built to Spill – “The Weather”

  • Shelby

    I too think Anthems is one of the best! However, check Blood by Middle East!

    • Jessa J

      I totally agree with Blood.

  • Sanaa

    Broad Daylight – gabriel rios

  • Suzy

    The album ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ by Perfume Genius is so goddamn pretty (at least for me).

    • Nathan Savin Scott

      One of my favorite albums of the last year.

    • Claire

      oh hell yeah

    • Kat

      Def one of my favourites. Good call

  • Sarah

    Gregory Alan Isakov – “That Moon Song”

    • Hermes

      Its a melancholy song thats sort of nostalgic

    • Audrey

      So beautiful. Yes

  • Calvin Tsang

    “The Universe is Laughing” by The Guggenheim Grotto

  • tabitha

    All My Stars Aligned by St. Vincent.

    I was up late last night and heard about the shooting. Spent most of the night/early morning in shock. My thoughts go out to all those involved.

  • charlotte

    wow, my thoughts EXACTLY!
    my prettiest song at the moment has to be pale blue eyes by the velvet underground.

  • Divya Dureja

    To remind ourselves that life is wonderful, yet not undermine the loss suffered by their families:
    La Rocca- Non Believer
    Ari Hest-Broken Voices

    • Courtney

      Non-Believer is definitely mine.

  • Cait

    Shifting – Now, Now….equally pretty as it is haunting.

  • Kelsey

    I Go To The Barn Because I Like The – Band of Horses

    • chasedwarf


  • Caroline

    Meadowlark – Fleet Foxes
    Cause I Love You – Johnny Cash
    Asleep and Dreaming – Magnetic Fields
    No Suprises – Regina Spektor covering Radiohead

  • James

    “Little Lungs” by An Horse
    “Lament” by Mount Moriah

  • milehighmissy

    Death Cab for Cutie – “Passenger Seat”

    • Alise

      Excellent call.

  • Amanda

    Postcards from Italy- Beirut

    • Harry

      I second this!

  • Zane

    Felt’s entire discography.

  • Sami

    Slow Show – The National
    Ruby Falls – Guster
    Pretty Girl at the airport – avett brothers

    • tabitha

      Slow Show, yes!

  • Emily

    World Spins Madly On – The Weepies
    Beautiful Goodbye – Maroon 5
    Brand New Day – Joshua Radin
    Keep Breathing – Ingrid Michaelson

  • Cortney

    Julia by The Beatles is one of the prettiest songs I’ve ever heard

  • Nathan Savin Scott

    Thanks so much for the suggestions. Putting together the Spotify playlist here:

    • Divya Dureja

      Could you please make it on 8Tracks?
      Spotify doesn’t work in countries besides US and those of Europe.

  • Edmund Lee

    Only in Dreams by Weezer
    Naomi by Neutral Milk Hotel

    • Claire

      butterfly by weezer!

  • Allie

    Atlas Hands – Benjamin Francis Leftwich

  • Mallorie

    Make a spotify playlist!

  • Robert Wohner

    Really enjoyed the song you posted. Thanks for that. I’d suggest School of Seven Bells’ “Half Asleep”. It has just enough of a beat to keep it moving forward without being overly trancey but the vocals and tone make it hypnotic. I’m not terribly sure I agree about Fake Plastic Trees being pretty though. It has a simple beginning but explodes by the end. Maybe Reckoner? Both are great songs obviously.

    • Josh Carter

      I totally agree with Reckoner. Definitely mine!

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