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A Life Story In 6 Songs — Part 1

Tons of people responded — thoughtfully, wittily, smartly, poignantly — to NPR's recent request: Tell us the six songs of your life.

Sifting through the more than 1,000 annotated playlists, we came up with a few that seem exemplary of the original idea: People telling the stories of their lives — up to this point — through a half-dozen songs.

We were knocked out by the variety of the selections.

The Beatles show up on lots and lots of lists. So do Bruce Springsteen, Marvin Gaye, Billy Joel, Gladys Knight, Elton John, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Elliott Smith, Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Eat World and the Avett Brothers.

One-namers Adele, Beyonce, Coltrane, Madonna, Prince, Raffi and Sting mean a lot to a lot of people. As do old-timers Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi and Sinatra.

Certain church music, ethnic tunes and novelty songs loop through people's memories. Themes from Mister Rogers, Sesame Street, Charlie Brown specials, Star Wars and NPR's news shows pop up on people's personal soundtracks. Along with songs of optimism, such as "You Are My Sunshine"; wistfulness, such as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"; and resignation, such as "Margaritaville."

A lot of people are named for songs. A lot of people know what songs they want played at their funerals. One guy from Pittsburgh chose six songs by Fountains of Wayne.

On that note, here are a couple of the folks and their lists, lightly edited for length and clarity, and — artfully stitched together by NPR Digital News producer April Fehling — montages of the songs of their lives.


/ Amy Bailey
Amy Bailey

Amy Bailey, 33, is a family doctor in Athens, Ga. She listens to WUGA in Athens and WNCW in Greenville, S.C.

1) "Amie" — Pure Prairie League
My parents named me after this song. My father made us learn to read music and play many instruments. He would sing this song to me and I would be mortified as a child. Now I remember him doing it and smile.

2) "Rocket Man" — Elton John
My father had to pull me aside when I was a child and explain to me that I would never marry Elton John, because he is gay. He did tell me however, that I could still be an astronaut.

3) "Selah" — Lauryn Hill
This song was on the radio THE MOMENT I knew I wanted to be a physician. I had just graduated from Georgia Tech, I was torn between wanting to do nothing and wanting to do something big like medicine. It inspired me to stop being afraid of failure and go for it. I am now a family medicine doctor.

4) "Here Comes the Sun" — The Beatles
My husband and I walked hand-in-hand down the aisle to this song at our wedding.

5) "Safe and Sound" — Capital Cities
This was a hit when I got pregnant, and was still a hit when I was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy and had to deal with the loss of our unborn child. What had me rocking out in the car one week had me crying and looking for uplifting answers the next.

6) "Rewrite" — Paul Simon
Simplifies the complications of my day-to-day life of always trying to work on something with constant edits and revisions.


/ Jill Davidson
Jill Davidson

Jill Davidson, 58, is a school psychologist in Poulsbo, Wash. She listens to KUOW in Seattle and KPLU in Tacoma.

1) "Pretty Ballerina" — The Left Banke
I think it's one of the best-constructed pop songs of all time, and I would simultaneously fantasize about being the guy and about being the woman. The last line still sends chills through me.

2) "Somebody to Love" — Jefferson Airplane
The sound was so utterly different than anything I had heard before, with Grace Slick's astonishingly strong female vocal. And, at 12, I needed to find somebody to love.

3) "Within You Without You" — The Beatles
Growing up transgender, it made me question my perception of reality (at age 12). And introduced me to Indian music.

4) "Seven Island Suite" — Gordon Lightfoot
A song about escaping to the lakes and islands of the North and not forgetting your Self.

5) Little Talks — Of Monsters and Men
This song, about a woman haunted by the conversations with her late-lover, was strangely comforting after losing my partner to cancer after 37 years together.

6) "The Butterfly" — The Bothy Band
I've been interested in Celtic traditional music since high school, and this has always been my favorite tune. Strangely melancholic, capturing the flitter of a butterfly in sound.

The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers – of NPR. @NPRtpj

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Linton Weeks
Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.
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