Five Songs to Inspire Creativity,, Dec. 8, 2014

Sometimes on the weekends or during a rare quiet evening, a surge of creative energy will stir within me and demand an outlet. It might take me to the kitchen, where I’ll experiment with a new recipe. Or perhaps I’ll pick up my knitting needles or head to the sewing machine and get to work on a project. Those waves of creative inspiration can be unpredictable. Then there are those moments when I deliberately set out to make something and need some help getting the juices flowing. For those instances, I turn to music for a little help. 

Perhaps I find a well-written and beautifully performed song especially stirring because I’m a music lover but not much of an actual musician (unless you count children’s choir or those few years of mediocre piano lessons). Watching or listening to a person or group create art with so much emotion and synchronized intricacy plucks at my creative heartstrings. While I can’t imagine emulating that example, listening to good music pushes me to find my own creative outlet. 

Music’s infectious creativity led to our Sept/Oct cover. The raw musical talent and enthusiasm of St. Paul and the Broken Bones brought together an innovative group of filmmakers, set designers, and stylists who pooled their creative talents to make the band’s first official video for their single “Call Me.” We worked with the video’s creators to bring their DIY enthusiasm to readers, revealing the projects they undertook and the story behind the video’s collaborative creation.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my go-to songs for creative inspiration. While I’ve listed five here, the list could really go on and on. In particular, you’ll see I have a special soft spot for singer songwriters and the late-1960s. 

Now on to the music. Here’s to the contagious energy unleashed when artists put their work out there for the world to see!

1. “America,” Simon & Garfunkel (1968).
It starts with that smooth humming, and builds into an emotional exploration of the country. There are the people watching (“She said the man in the gabardine suit is a spy”), then the Greyhound bus ride, hitchhiking from Saginaw, MI, and, of course, counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. The words and smooth harmonies lend creative possibilities to even the most monotonous routine.

2. “Like Rock and Roll and Radio,” Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs (2010).
This is a sad song, but a stirring one. LaMontagne’s smoky voice always draws me in, and the lyrics, with their nostalgic references to the Ziegfeld Follies and Vaudeville, make me reflect on all of the different art forms that have come before and wonder what might be next.

3. “Little Wing,” Jimi Hendrix (1967).
Back in high school I had a thing for classic rock. Though my tastes have since expanded, this song remains one of my absolute favorites. Hendrix’s lyrics and incredible skills on the electric guitar combine to create such a vivid image that I once painted a watercolor based on “Little Wing.” Perhaps its inspirational value is no huge surprise, considering that Hendrix wrote the song in response to the music surrounding him at the Monterey Pop Festival, which included The Who, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, and others. If you enjoy it, listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan unlock the song’s creative potential (I promise all six minutes and 48 seconds are well worth it).

A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash (1969).
My dad once described country music as the kind of music that tells a story. Perhaps no one could weave a better yarn with guitar in hand than Johnny Cash. This song makes me smile, and appeals to my storyteller’s heart.


Hush If You Must,” Brooke Waggoner (2007).
There’s an ethereal quality to Brooke Wagoner’s piano playing that is always enchanting. The beautiful notes flowing from her fingertips also have a rhythmic quality that makes her music ideal for setting a happy, energetic tone. Her songs provide the perfect accompaniment to any creative endeavor I might be undertaking.


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