What Music Should I Listen To? (20 Amazing Songs Across Different Genres)

Music is arguably one of the best means to experience a plethora of emotions. It helps us tap into parts of our soul. But sometimes it can be overwhelming to choose something to listen to because there is so much music out there.

Whether you want something to play in the background or find that one song you can truly resonate with, here is a list of our top picks across different genres. Read on to relive some of your favorites and also discover some great tunes:

1. “Stairway To Heaven” By Led Zeppelin

This is often considered one of the greatest songs to have ever been written. Released in 1971 as part of their untitled fourth studio album (often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV), the song is a perfect combination of progressive rock, folk, and hard rock music.

The song starts at a slow tempo with a clean guitar arpeggio and organs, with Robert Plant’s domineering vocals; and gets progressively faster, louder, and more complex before dropping in energy once again at the very end.

Jimmy Page’s solo is often considered a rite of passage for guitar players who are learning their instrument. 

If you want to listen to a ballad, go on a Led Zeppelin journey, and marvel at the beauty of composition and melody all at the same time, then this is the song to listen to.

2. “Comptine D’un Autre Été” By Yann Tiersen  

Composed for the film ‘Amelie’ in 2001. Although Yann Tiersen shies away from the label ‘composer’, one cannot help but marvel at this masterpiece written on the piano. Since its release, it has become a go-to for piano players who want to play something that evokes a whole lot of emotion.

Just like the film, the piece is whimsical, thought-provoking, and hauntingly beautiful. Keeping a nursery rhyme in mind, the song is deeply melodious and relaxing. But the reason one keeps playing it on a loop is because of the element of heartache in the melody. 

If you feel intimidated by classical music or are looking for a modern piano masterpiece, then this is an ideal song.

3. “Don’t Let Me Down” By The Beatles  

Any list on music is incomplete without the mention of The Beatles. The reason ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is a great song to listen to is because it is raw and embodies a kind of deep vulnerability.

It is believed that the lyrics of the song were written by John Lennon expressing his infatuation with Yoko Ono. Paul McCartney describes this song as a “genuine cry for help” by Lennon.

‘Don’t Let Me Down’ today remains a deeply emotional love song that is elevated by the three-part harmony, George Harrison’s approach to the melody by adding chordal phrasings, and the very underrated Ringo Starr’s steady rhythm.

4. “Hallelujah” By Jeff Buckley  

‘Hallelujah’ is one of those songs where a cover became a definitive anthem and surpassed the influence of the original.

Originally written by Leonard Cohen in 1984, it gained immense popularity when Jeff Buckley recorded a version of it a decade later. The reason so many people are enamored by this rendition is because of how heartfelt it is. 

The arrangement is sparse, with just a piano and Buckley’s vocals. This allows the lyrics to be the highlight of the song and not be in the background.

In pop culture, ‘Hallelujah’ has been performed in the style of Buckley by many other singers. Although its popularity never really declined, it was introduced to a new generation of listeners when it was included in the soundtrack of the animated film ‘Shrek’.

5. “Demons” By Imagine Dragons  

Although this is a relatively new song in comparison to the others on this list, the reason ‘Demons’ by Imagine Dragons stands out is because it is relatable to many listeners.

Like many ballads, the song is in a moderately slow tempo. This allows the listeners to focus on the lyrics, which describe the protagonist warning others about their significant other, about their dark and flawed side. 

Another reason this song is interesting is that it was released in 2013 when the global focus was on genres such as hip-hop and R’n’B. Imagine Dragons are credited for bringing back elements of rock music with a modern electronic twist so younger audiences would find it relevant.

6. “Take Five” By The Dave Brubeck Quartet 

‘Take Five’ is one of the definitive songs of jazz music.

Written in the uncommon time signature of 5/4 (where the song gets its name from), it is one of the first songs that strayed from the 3/4 or 4/4 signature that is generally associated with the genre.

The single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996 since it influenced not just jazz musicians but instrument players and composers of many other genres such as rock‘n’roll and even electronic music.

If you are looking to learn about polyphony and polyrhythm, then this is a great song to start your journey with.

7. “Changes” By 2Pac  

Tupac Shakur is considered one of the pioneers of Hip Hop music. Rap music in the 90s was very different from what it is now. The themes were political, social and race was a big part of the conversation.

It is bittersweet that ‘Changes’ remains relevant to this day because the song talks about poverty, the persecution of African American youth, police brutality and even makes references to the war on drugs. 

The 1986 hit “The Way It Is” was sampled in the song. 2Pac delivers a brutal and honest experience of the trials and tribulations of life in the ghetto while still urging the listener to bring in change.

No matter which part of the world you are from or what your preferred genres of music are, you will still fall in love with this masterpiece.

8. “Good Times” By Chic  

If you are having a bad day or feeling blue, listening to ‘Good Times’ is guaranteed to make you feel better. It soothes the listener by reminding them to leave the baggage of the past behind and embrace, and celebrate the good times instead.

The song is an amalgamation of funk, disco, and dance music. It is a part of Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of ‘500 Greatest Songs Of All Time’.

Released in 1979, the song has since become one of the most sampled pieces in music history. Apart from the inspirational message, one is hypnotized by Nile Rodgers’ incredibly funky and tasteful playing.

9. “Stand By Me” By Ben E. King  

Inspired by the early 20th-century gospel hymn written by Charles Albert Tindley, Ben E. King wrote this version in the 1960s.

This song has since been covered by many artists, including John Lennon and the common chord progression of this song (now called 50s progression) is often referred to by musicians as the ‘Stand By Me’ progression. 

Many 90s kids will also remember this track from the music video released by Disney featuring their animated characters ‘Timon’ and ‘Pumba’ from Lion King.

10. “Bohemian Rhapsody” By Queen  

Another one that features on Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘Top 500 Songs Of All Time’, this song is a testament to the genius of the band Queen. What makes it such a classic is that it takes the listener on a journey from calm to climax.

Often dubbed as a ‘modern opera’, Bohemian Rhapsody was a turning point in genres such as progressive rock, hard rock, and pop music as a whole. Whether you are looking for multi-part vocal harmonies, intricate solos, or piano progressions, this song has it all. 

“A fulfillment and an answer to a teenage prayer-of artistic music.” – Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)

11. “Daily Battles” By Wynton Marsalis  

Daily Battles was originally composed by Thom Yorke (Radiohead) for Edward Norton’s film Motherless Brooklyn and features Flea (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), but the soundtrack also included a version by the jazz musician Wynton Marsalis.

The reinterpretation is reminiscent of the 50s jazz that came out of New York. Miles Davis has influenced and changed the way we hear jazz. This song is a perfect example of something that was created in modern times and yet has the nostalgia of the 50s. 

Interestingly the composer of this version, Wynton Marsalis is the only musician to have won a Grammy award in both classical and jazz music in the same year. His jazz oratorio ‘Blood On The Fields’ was the first jazz composition to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music.

12. “Varúð” By Sigur Rós  

While American and European artists generally dominate the charts and are overall more popular, many people are unaware of the rich music coming out of some of the Scandinavian countries. Sigur Rós is one such example.

Meaning ‘Warning’ in Icelandic, ‘Varúð’ takes you on an aural journey and transports you to a different realm. Sigur Ros are known for their rich atmospheric textures, hymn-like vocals, and melodies that evoke emotion and this song is a great way to discover their music if you haven’t yet.

Released as part of their studio album ‘Valtari’, the song is part of a collection of 16 experimental short films made by various directors that accompany the track.

13. “Your Hand In Mine” By Explosions In The Sky  

Texan band Explosions In The Sky’s sound can be described as an exciting mix of shoegaze, post-rock, ambient, and even modern folk. The song has peaks and troughs which are filled with pockets of melody and ambient textures. What makes it unique is the heavy reliance on guitars to create texture instead of synths.

Released in 2003, ‘Your Hand In Mine’ from the album ‘The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place’, featured in films such as Friday Night Lights, The Big Empty, Love Happens, and The King Of Staten Island. 

It is not easy to communicate emotions without words and lyrics, but if you are looking for an instrumental track that does the job, then you should listen to this.

14. “Take On Me” By A-ha  

Whether you were around in the 80s or enjoy your daily dose of memes, you are extremely likely to have come across this track in one way or another.

With a resurgence of synth-pop music, this track is one of the earliest examples of the genre and features acoustic guitars, pop synths, drum machines, and a catchy melody. It is a high-tempo track and the chorus is often regarded as one of the most difficult ones to sing because of the sudden switches to a falsetto voice.

But musical arrangement aside, Take On Me has been widely referenced in popular culture including the film Deadpool, the animation show The Simpsons, and the video game The Last Of Us 2. 

If you are looking for a pick-me-up and a dose of vintage pop, then you should listen to this song.

15. “Daddy Cool” By Boney M  

Boney M were a Euro-Caribbean vocal group that dominated the charts in the late 70s and 80s with their disco music.

Daddy Cool is indeed a very cool song because of the juxtaposition of Frank Farian’s deep baritone voice with the bright and choral voices of Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barnett.

This song is a great example of the danceability of disco music and is guaranteed to transport you back to the 70s.

16. “Billie Jean” By Michael Jackson  

Billie Jean is one of the biggest hits by ‘The King of Pop’ from the album ‘Thriller’. It’s an amalgamation of post-disco, rhythm and blues, funk, and dance-pop. 

While one talks about Jackson’s abilities as a performer, few seldom acknowledge the artistry that went into making his records. Produced by Quince Jones, Billie Jean ran into many production obstacles with the two of them disagreeing on several things about it except for one, “‘it made him (Jackson) want to dance.”

The song features a dominant synth bass with a staccato synth. The minimal arrangement is a masterclass in pop music production, which relies heavily on layers and textures. Listen to this song if you are looking for the best of 80s pop music.

17. “Blinding Lights” By The Weeknd  

While we have included many artists from the 80s in this list, The Weeknd’s music is a great example of a revival of the sound but with updated and modern touches.

Blinding Lights was produced with veteran hit-maker Max Martin and features his signature “melodic math” formula of effective songwriting.

While the beat is reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’, one cannot deny the song’s catchiness. 

If you are looking for a great artist who is also current, then this should be your go-to. While most complain that the music now isn’t what it used to be, The Weeknd proves such statements to be false. This is a song that can mesh very well with your 80s playlist even though it was released in 2019.

18. “Know How” By Young M.C.  

Young M.C. ‘s ‘Know How’ was a single from his debut record ‘Stone Cold Rhymin’ in 1989. The song was produced by the Dust Brothers, who have an expansive body of work ranging from the soundtrack of ‘Fight Club’ to Hanson’s ‘MMMbop’.

Know How is not a mere rap song. It is incredibly funky and makes use of a drum kit to create the central beat for the song instead of a drum machine. This makes it groovy and at the same time creates enough space for the lyrics to be the focus of the song.

Although Young M.C. ‘s song ‘Bust A Move’ was a bigger hit, ‘Know How’ is definitely the song one keeps playing on repeat and since its release, it has inspired a generation of rappers and hip-hop artists.

19. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” By Nirvana  

Released in 1991 from the album ‘Nevermind’, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ catapulted not just Nirvana but grunge music into mainstream stardom.

While it may not even be Nirvana’s best song, it is the one that best exemplifies their music: rugged guitars, raw lyrical honesty, tight drums, and unpretentious basslines. 

While the global spotlight from grunge music has since faded, this song is iconic because it was a fresh new sound, far from the glam rock that existed in the late 80s.

The song was dubbed as “the anthem for apathetic kids of Generation X” and yet managed to be inducted into the Rock And Roll’s Hall Of Fame’s list of “The Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll” in 1997.

Although Cobain unwillingly and reluctantly became the spokesperson of a generation, one cannot deny that Nirvana left a deep impact on not just musicians but all listeners.

20. “The Unforgiven” By Metallica  

Although commonly associated with more aggressive, heavy-metal tracks Metallica has a versatile repertoire that even includes power ballads.

What makes ‘The Unforgiven’ unique is that it features heavy and distorted verses juxtaposed with a soft chorus. The arrangement is a reverse of the conventional norm. 

While one associates ballads with themes such as heartbreak, this one talks about the struggle of the individual against those who subjugate him.

Summary

Louis Armstrong once said that “music is life itself.” While our personal taste influences our preferences and listening habits, it is always good to explore new genres and artists that we may not have heard previously.

While this list is only the tip of an iceberg, it is proof that when it comes to genres, music is as diverse as the human experience itself. 

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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