I Won't Back Down - Tom Petty
Tom Petty wrote this song with his long time writing partner Jeff Lynne. Tom was sick when he was in the studio recording the album. George Harrison, lead guitarist of the Beatles, went to the store and bought a ginger root, boiled it and had Tom stick his head in the pot so that the ginger steam would open up his sinuses and he’d be able to sing long enough to record the song. The inspiring chorus of the song -“Well I know what’s right, I got just one life in a world that keeps on pushin’ me around but I’ll stand my ground, and I won’t back down.” The messages behind the lines are no matter what difficulty or oppression you face, then you must keep moving on and never give up. We must always stand up for what we believe in because we only live once and in order to get the most out of life we should always stay true to ourselves.
I Hope You Dance - LeAnn Womack
“I Hope You Dance” is one of those rare songs that appeals to a wide spectrum. Lee Ann Womack’s version reached < on both Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks and Billboard’s Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks – and a Celtic version by the Irish singer Ronan Keating did well in Europe. Womack’s rendition won 2001’s Grammy Award for Best Country Song and the CMA, ACM, NSAI, ASCAP and BMI awards for Song of the Year. “You can't hear those lyrics and not think about children and hope for the future and things you want for them,” Womack told the Today Show.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" annoyed legendary Motown chief Berry Gordy. He hated the spoken-word passages and wanted the song to begin with the chorus. Nevertheless, the 1967 version by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel climbed to < on both the Pop as well as Rhythm & Blues charts. Then Diana Ross did her version in 1970 and hit < on the Billboard Hot 100. Filled with hope and determination, it has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and is regarded today as one of the best records ever released by Motown.
Survivor - Destiny's Child
I don’t know a soul who didn’t find something inspiring about Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor”. It was a militant force of nature during the teen pop era. The song was birthed from the troubled trio when they had splits within the group. With rumors swirling and lawsuits flying, the girls bonded together and “Survivor” was born to get all the negativity off their backs. In turn, fans worldwide were given an anthem for breaking free of bad relationships. They sing, “Now that you're out of my life, I'm so much better / You thought that I'd be weak without you, but I'm stronger… I’m a survivor / I'm not gon' give up, I'm not gon' stop...”
Independence Day - Martina McBride
"Independence Day" is an inspiring song that tells of a daughter watching her mother suffer from domestic abuse. The song's music video was startling because of its graphic violence. Performed by Country singer Martina McBride, the song never made it any higher on the charts than <2. However, in 2003, it was included on Country Music Television's 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music, ranking > in CMT's 100 Greatest Country Videos and earned the Country Music Association's 1994 Song of the Year.
Fix You - Coldplay
By the mid-2000s Coldplay was already a widely celebrated band for their rock pop music and thoughtful lyrics. In 2005 they composed a ballad that proved to be a healing balm for the broken hearted when “Fix You” hit the scene. Every verse is a scenario in which anyone can relate. Lyrics like “When you try your best but you don’t succeed” or “When you lose something you can’t replace” cut to the heart of anyone who is grieving loss or suffering hard times. The singer offers one piece of solace, “I will try to fix you”. I have cried my eyes out so many times to this song, but it always leaves me with a sense of comfort that, no matter what I lose, I will not fall to pieces.
You Gotta Be - Des'ree
“You Gotta Be” by Des’ree was sent to me, I believe, as a gift. The wise and inspiring single about being your best and giving your all no matter the situation began hitting the UK and US charts in 1994. Two years later, I would find the song as a lonely teen feeling quite displaced after a cross-country move. There I was, 16 years old and very unsure of myself. When I bought Des’ree’s album, I Ain’t Movin’, the top ten hit spoke to me and eased my fears. The song starts off with: “Listen as your day unfolds / Challenge what the future holds / Try and keep your head up to the sky…” I felt like she was talking to me, giving me encouragement that, although I was the new kid in a new school in the middle of nowhere, I was going to be okay. Even now, almost 20 years later, I still consider this song one of my anthems for life. As the chorus goes, it reminds me to be bold, wiser, hard, cool, and calm. And even if all else fails, “Love will save the day.”
At Last - Etta James
“Keep On the Sunny Side” has been around for more than a century, but was popularized anew in the 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” It was written in 1899 by Ada Blenkhorn, then recorded in 1928 by the Carter Family – from whom Johnny Cash’s wife June Carter Cash was an offspring. Blenkhorn was inspired to write the song by a disabled nephew who always wanted his wheelchair pushed down "the sunny side" of the street. It became the Carter’s theme song. Founder A.P. Carter's tombstone has a gold record of the song embedded in it.
I'm Coming Out - Diana Ross
If you’ve ever wanted to announce a big change in your life – you know, that sorta change that reveals who you really are – you’ve got your theme song. Diana Ross struck gold with her upbeat hit “I’m Coming Out”. The 1980 song boasts a brand new attitude and the freedom of being yourself. “I'm coming out / I want the world to know / Got to let it show,” she sings. “The time has come for me to break out of the shell / I have to shout that I'm coming out!” It’s a great song to dance to and feel the sheer joy that comes with coming into your own.
Everybody Hurts - R.E.M.
There are times when we need music to lift us up, and many of the songs on this list fulfill that extremely well. But there are also times when we need music just to get by, and “Everybody Hurts” is a song that has been there for me, doing that all through my life. I remember hearing it as a teenager and the refrain becoming a way for me to deal with the death of a friend. Simply knowing that I wasn’t the only one going through pain was enough to inspire me to “hold on.” There is a great comfort in commiserating with someone, and R.E.M. has set forth a song that will instantly connect you to everyone else. I always get that sense that someone is listening to my problems when I hear this song. It’s a powerful feeling, and one that has never left me when listening to this gem.
I Can See Clearly Now - Johnny Nash
“I Can See Clearly Now” was an inspiring Billboard Hot 100 Chart < hit written and recorded by Johnny Nash, but also recorded by such artists as Anne Murray, Donny Osmond, Geoff Moore and the Distance, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Ray Charles, Sonny and Cher, The Mamas & the Papas and Willie Nelson. A 1993 hit version was recorded by Jimmy Cliff for the motion picture “Cool Runnings” after which it enjoyed new popularity in such films as “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “The Break-up,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Antz,” “Deep Blue Sea,” “Envy,” “Hitch” and “Shrek 2.”
Hold On to Your Dream - Stevie Wonder
Few people can help us to dream like Stevie Wonder. The visually impaired superstar has been captivating audiences since he was a young child, and he has been an inspiration to many who dare to dream beyond their lot in life. “Hold On to Your Dream” is a song about that just that. Backed by a pop/funk beat that only Stevie could make relevant, Wonder sings about something he knows dearly – if you don’t give up you can achieve things that may seem impossible.
Right Now - Van Halen
When Van Halen split with original lead singer David Lee Roth, they did more than just change their front man. They moved from a down and dirty rock band to a down and dirty rock band that sometimes reached their hand into the realm of feel good anthems designed to inspire everyone to greater things. “Right Now” is the best of the bunch, featuring a memorable piano line, thoroughly inspiring guitar solo, and more “get up and get going encouragement” than you can shake an inspirational stick at.
We Are the World - USA for Africa
The ‘80s were a special time in music, and a song and video have rarely captured a period of time like this one. The amount of talent assembled for a great cause in “We Are the World” is overwhelming. It’s a diverse showcase of the biggest stars of the era, and while that is impressive it would all be for naught without a killer song underneath. Fortunately, “We Are the World” is an anthem of the highest quality, making good use of the many unique voices to make a dramatic and powerful statement. “We Are the World” can inspire you to think more about the world around you, and it’s just plain ‘80s fun!
Dream On - Aerosmith
“Dream On” by Aerosmith is a song that moves you. Whether the tune is blasting on the car speakers or funneled through your IPod, Steve Tyler’s lyrics really hit home in whatever stage of life you may be in. Released in 1973, this ballad remains one of the best rock ballads of all time. Check out these lyrics: “Dream on. Dream on. Dream until your dreams come true.”Do you need a lift today? I know this song has influenced me in a positive way to be a doer, not just a dreamer. The song says it all-dream on!
Garth Brooks - The River
When we are young we all have dreams. Some of us dream of becoming doctors, some of us astronauts, some of us country singers, and dream-catcher Garth Brooks can relate. His powerful, not quite country, tune “The River” is all about chasing those dreams, and recognizing when our dreams have changed. It is easy to get frustrated when our plans don’t work out, but Garth and his choir of singers and percussionists urge us to continue dreaming – no matter how those dreams turn out.
Like A Rock - Bob Segar
There’s a number of empowering female ballads on our list, and far less performed by men. Fortunately, Bob Segar is here to show that he is man enough to sing about his feelings. My father and I used to drive around listening to his Bob Segar tape on repeat, and I always thought this song described him as well as any song could. During the ‘90s this song became most strongly associated with Chevy’s line of delightfully manly trucks, so much so that it is easy to forget that there is a real song under there and not just a product jingle. So, take a listen, you may be surprised at just how inspiring the song actually is! It is hard to find a man’s song that captures what it is like to stand up for yourself, but we men have to psych ourselves up too.
What A Feeling - Irene Cara
I remember singing this song on the school bus in elementary school. I used to perform it in front of my family. It’s a classic. “What A Feeling” by Irene Cara, was an international hit in the 80s’ and inspired the artist inside of us to come alive, even at a young age. “Take your passion and make it happen.” I don’t really remember the full impact that the song made on me. All I can remember is that it was a launching pad to recording demos when I was 13 and to do what I loved. I love this song and truly believe it can motivate you to achieve the impossible!
Livin' On A Prayer - Bon Jovi
You know you want to sing along – WHHOAAAA!! We’re halfway there!!!! – this fist pumping hair rock tune was exploding from speakers and making people smile over thirty years. In a time of economic strife the story of hard on their luck Tommy and Gina is as relevant today as it was back then. Despite their hardships, the two are leaning on what they have rather than what they don’t, and finding a way to be closer together during the tough times. Usually songs with this theme are so serious, but Bon Jovi keeps it light with heavy rock and roll, and that’s worth its weight in hairspray.
Live Like You Were Dying - Tim McGraw
I think it’s fair to say that everyone at some point of their life can relate to this song. We are only granted a short amount of time in this world and we must live our life to the fullest so that we don’t have any regrets because we don’t get a second go around. Living life like you were dying means to do everything that you want to do because life is not guaranteed and we never know when we will take our last breath. It’s hard to accept that one day our lives will end but we will get more satisfaction and a sense of achievement if we’ve done the things that personally matter to us in life.