From Metallica to Selah: The 10 Songs I Gave My Teen

Elise handed me a sticky pad sheet and a blue pen and direct instructions.

“Give me some songs to get, dad.”

I took the assignment seriously. At age 15, there’s about as much Eagles coming from her iPod as One Direction. A Bon Jovi song for every Bruno Mars. This was important stuff.

I can’t imagine there were fewer than 17,000 songs (give or take) that spun through the digital jukebox between my ears. This had to be more precise than a Peyton Manning touchdown pass, more exclusive than a Colorado Rockies playoff ticket.

These would be songs we’d listen to on the way to school together. To soccer practice. On tortilla and chocolate-chip grocery-store runs.

Here are the 10 I chose, and why:



I’ve always placed this song on the level with Ode to Joy, the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. The stark lyrics, the transitions between that almost 70s rock intro to the driving precision of the middle to the angry solos … this one is as complex and beautiful as it is dark.

The Beatles

Let it Be

As a kid, I had no concept of the acrimony surrounding the Beatles at the time. Then, it (wrongly) stood for a transcendent spirituality I didn’t fully understand. I hope this hymn brings comfort to Elise, in times of trouble, even in those times I cannot be there.

Collective Soul


It’s a hymn in disguise, wrapped in grungy guitar. I’d just begun college when I heard it, cut my shoulder-length hair to a buzz, and had a world of learning ahead of me. “Teach me how to speak/teach me how to share/tell me where to go/tell me, will love be there?” Will Elise ask this too?


Smells Like Teen Spirit

Another one from my collegiate soundtrack, this one probably better represented what I understood about the world around me: Misunderstanding at best, chaos at worst. Elise, welcome to the brand of creative genius of Kurt Cobain. He was also a dad, with a daughter 5 years older than you.

The Beatles

I Feel Fine

Marie once made a happy beeline in Old Navy to a color-splashed tee with the faces of four lads on it, but it wasn’t One Direction. The Beatles of shorter, shaggy hair and turtlenecks had that effect in their early days, and this song – built around a simple John Lennon riff – represents that well.

Mumford and Sons

I Will Wait

Dad’s not only about the Oldies. Structurally, I love the folksy feel and proud brass, and effective use of repetition (hear me, Maroon5?) Interpret the lyrics how you’d like, but for me, I want Elise to know that no matter what life brings, dad will go anywhere, do anything, wait or hurry, whatever it takes.

Franz Ferdinand

Take Me Out

Sad lyrics, driving beat. If I ran, this’d be on my run playlist. It’s one of those you want to kick ass after you hear it. The beat will conjure that. In a lyrical sense, it’s a bustling metaphor for those awkward moments of attraction and self-doubt from our teens that follow us way into adulthood.


Fix You

Lyrics speak to us. I followed my heart on all these, to include the dark (One) the mysterious (Teen Spirit) and even the spiritual (Let it Be.) This one reinforces the notion of what a dad will do for his children. No, we can’t fix everything. But no matter what, we will always try.


You Raise Me Up

This will move you, Elise. There’s a power in stillness and in the quiet that means spirituality at its core. Who raises us up? Our faith does in a spiritual sense, but that one who “sits awhile with me” can be anyone with faith in you – me, your mom, your sisters or friends … or someone in your future.

Kurt Nilsen

She’s So High

Know when we boys seem so clueless? We act when we shouldn’t, we sit idle when action is best. We get it wrong. We give space when we should draw you near, hold you close rather than grant freedom. Sometimes, we’re smart enough to revere you, and navigation isn’t easy for us.

Like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc or Aphrodite, even.

I hope some of these songs will make you think. Or give you some comfort when you need it. But, not all the time.

Sometimes, music is just music, and that’s good. On the way to practice next time, let’s roll down the windows and turn it up, OK?