1. “You’re So Vain,” Carly Simon, 1972
It was the shot heard ’round the world that left everyone debating and wondering, “Which famous ex-lover did she write it about?” I’ve felt the ripples of that blaring public curiosity affect my own lyrics. I was a poetry-obsessed preteen the first time I heard that incredibly gen-ius kiss-off, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” After hearing that, it was like a key had just unlocked this forbidden area of storytelling for me. You can say exactly what you feel, even if it’s bitter and brazen! Almost 10 years later, I sat in my dressing room in Boston. Carly Simon had just performed “You’re So Vain” with me in front of 65,000 fans. She leaned over and whispered to me who the song was written about — me, the one person who hadn’t asked her.
2. “This Kiss,” Faith Hill, 1998
I sang this song for my fourth-grade chorus audition. I think it changed the way I saw country music and music in general. Everyone loved “This Kiss,” not just country fans. Pop and rock fans loved it too. I guess you could say that theme rubbed off on me.
3. “Lego House,” Ed Sheeran, 2011
I was so intrigued by this song that I reached out to Ed to write for my album Red. I loved the cadence of the pre-chorus, “And it’s dark in a cold December, but I got you to keep me waa-arm.” We wrote in a Phoenix hotel room, ate In-N-Out burgers and essentially became a permanent fixture in each other’s lives.
4. “Blood Bank,” Bon Iver, 2009
I think this is one of the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard, because of the conversational lyrics. It’s so detailed, but in a sporadic way – just like a memory. My favorite lines: “That secret that we know, that we don’t know how to tell/I’m in love with your honor/I’m in love with your cheeks.” It’s dark, but feels romantic. I think I like this song because it reminds me of how love actually feels.
5. “The Middle,” Jimmy Eat World, 2001
I remember listening to this on the bus to school. I felt comforted by it, because I never felt like I really fit perfectly into any clique at school. I wish every kid who goes through those same feelings of loneliness could hear how Jim Adkins sings, “Don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.”
6. “Hands Down,” Dashboard Confessional, 2003
My high school experience was marked by memories of house-party singalongs of “Hands Down” and driving around with my best friend screaming the words to it. It’s the best recounting of an unforgettable first date I’ve ever heard.
7. “Backseat Freestyle,” Kendrick Lamar, 2012
This past year I moved to New York, and for the first time, I was dealing with dozens of paparazzi outside my place every day. At first, I got really anxious every time I’d be about to open the car door. They’d crowd around me and yell. Then one day I put my iPhone on shuffle, and “Backseat Freestyle” came on. Something about Kendrick’s voice and the beat made me feel safe. It was pretty much all I listened to that summer.