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Five for Friday: Songs to Help You Keep Resolutions

While we're only a few days into 2018, some of us who made New Year's resolutions have doubtlessly already slipped. Maybe a coworker brought leftover Christmas treats and there went the diet. Maybe it seemed wrong to let that last bottle of wine go to waste. Or perhaps the gym was just too crowded. Relax. Resolutions are hard, and new habits don't form overnight. The good news: There's a song for every emotion, and there are also plenty of tunes that serve up inspiration. But to kick old behaviors, we need more than locker-room-like slogans. Here are five songs that will help you stick to your New Year's resolutions – works that deliver motivation and honesty.

Robyn, "Don't ... Tell Me What to Do"
Let's get this out of the way: Whatever you set your mind to change, it probably won't work – at least not at first. Don't fret. Robyn is there for you. Drinking? Smoking? A full email inbox? A terrible diet? A shopping addiction? Name a vice, and chances are it grates on Robyn's nerves on this powerful club thumper. The Swedish pop star gets a lot off her chest in this 2010 tune, and she's plenty mad at herself. So much so that the song's title contains a curse word we're not printing here. "Don't ... Tell Me What to Do" realizes that in spite of the clean slate provided by a new calendar, the empty pages don't exactly equate to a magic wand. No matter. The song's determined beat and bubbly electrical oscillations remain unwavering in their forward momentum. The underlining message: Yes, Robyn has issues. Yes, she's aware. Yes, she'll fix them. Just back off.

Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire"
We've all heard the cliché "no pain, no gain." "Ring of Fire" places a metaphorical twist on the phrase. While the song's origins speak to a country-rock myth – June Carter Cash is said to have co-written it with Merle Kilgore about her affair with the Man in Black – the tune remains eminently relatable more than 50 years after its release. Cash's version transcends stylistic borders, thanks to some spritely Mexican horns. And the images are vivid – hellish flames, untamed desire, and a loss of control. Through it all, Cash maintains his cool, calm composure. "The taste of love is sweet," he sings, adding pauses after each word to create anticipation and make it clear the payoff is worth the torment. And that says nothing of the festivity of the aforementioned brass. All told, "Ring of Fire" serves as a lesson that nothing really worth achieving can be had without emotional tests.

Big Audio Dynamite II, "Rush"
For students of rock n' roll history, much will be familiar about Big Audio Dynamite II's "Rush," a moderate alt-rock hit from the early 90s. The danceable tune samples elements of the Who's "Baba O'Riley" and Deep Purple's "Child in Time" all while boasting a choppy, stop-and-start guitar riff reminiscent of a number of early Clash songs. No surprise about the latter. This song was written by Mick Jones, former co-anchor of the Clash. Yet little of the English trio's output was as optimistic and encouraging as "Rush." Jones rattles off a litany of hard times – broken hearts and ]weight gain included – and makes it clear that, while he has no regrets for past indiscretions, it's now time to "rush for a change of atmosphere." And with each strike of the guitar, it's one foot forward, no steps back.

The Staple Singers, "I'll Take You There"
This feel-good gospel number from the early 70s delivers a key motivational message: Don't try and do it all alone. Any sort of change, even a more positive outlook, almost always requires dear friends or loved ones. Mavis Staples, singing in all her fiery, purposeful glory, is the friend few of us are lucky to have but always need. With a conversational rasp, Staples gives the song a resolute backbone, extending a hand to the listener and also acting as a tough life couch. No singer this powerful will take "no" for an answer. And in "I'll Take You There," the Staple Singers present a vision of a better future – and indeed, a richer society – with lively call-and-response vocals, well-timed guitar rhythms, and a horn section that places an exclamation point on each verse. If there's ever a moment of discouragement and you don't know who to call, "I'll Take You There" will be there.

TLC, "No Scrubs"
No motivational list would be complete without at least one song designed to get folks up and moving, and TLC's "No Scrubs" does the trick while offering a few life lessons. More importantly, the causally paced "No Scrubs" boasts a slick mix of orchestral and synthetic sounds, giving the song a retro-futuristic sheen. "A scrub," sings member Chilli, "is a guy who thinks he's fly," immediately noting confidence is something earned and felt rather than a trait worn as an accessory. And a scrub, of course, can belong to any generation. While one may write-off the tune, thinking TLC are just passing judgement – and mocking those who live with their parents or can't get a job – by song's end, the trio makes it clear there's more here than superficiality. "Spatially expand my horizon," demands the late Left Eye in the final moments, resulting in a dance cut that requests a lover with brains. In that sense, "No Scrubs" comes off as aspirational, a reminder that we can all be fitter, better, and smarter.

January 5, 2018

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