Let’s Attain Better Living Through Music -The Toast

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Leila Sales is here to answer imaginary questions about music. She just wrote a book!

My adult kickball league requires me to have an ‘At Bat’ song that plays when it’s my turn in the lineup. What will make me sound awesome without overstating my (limited) kickball ability?

“Yes,” by LMFAO, is what I would use as my “at bat” song if I played adult kickball. In fact, I would consider joining an adult kickball league exclusively so I could play “Yes” at every game. Nobody would want me on their team, but WHATEVER. To give you a taste:

“Waking up next to a beautiful girl

I step outside and say hello to my beautiful world

Grandma’s cookin’ breakfast, she makes pancakes the best

I check my myspace and I got a lot of friend requests–yes!”

If that’s not motivating then I don’t know what is.

LMFAO Kickball

Me after I make a move toward a kickball and somehow don’t fall on my ass.


I recently returned to running after a 20-year hiatus. The last time I ran, my favorite running song was Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” (for real! It has a great beat). Can you recommend some more up-to-date running music?

A 20-year hiatus from running is nothing compared to my full-lifetime hiatus. But don’t worry; the fact that I never run (except away from bees) will not stop me from advising you on running music. Sometimes I walk pretty fast, which I hear is a lot like running, and when I do so, these are some of the tracks I listen to:

“Warm California Sun,” by the Rivieras

“Change Your Mind,” by the Killers

“Train in Vain,” by the Clash

“You Only Live Once,” by the Strokes

“Your Love,” by the Outfield

“Too Famous to Get Fully Dressed,” by Butch Walker

“Song Away,” by Hockey

“Rush Hour,” by Jane Wiedlin 


My 4-year-old son used to let me sing him to sleep, but now he says I can’t because I don’t know any “rockin’” songs. Can you recommend a rockin’ bedtime song or two with a simple enough melody for me to handle?

It is a real downer when your preschooler is cooler than you, not least because you know it only gets worse from there. Like if you think he’s an indie snob at the age of four, just wait until he’s a sophomore!

For “rockin’” kid-appropriate songs, you cannot go wrong with the Beatles. I’ve never met a child who doesn’t find Beatles songs fun and entertaining (nor do I ever want to). Just stay away from the ones specifically about violence, like “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” This is bedtime, after all. Save those for the car ride into school the next morning. 


Do you have any surefire tricks for getting songs un-stuck from your head?

That’s like asking for surefire tricks to get rid of the hiccups. Drink a glass of ice-cold water upside down while holding your breath and reciting the alphabet backward. That may or may not have any impact. 


Help me settle a dispute: do you think that requesting Ginuwine’s “Pony” at a wedding is a) inappropriate (because there are grandmothers present) or b) a great idea for getting the party started? 

There is no inappropriate time for “Pony.” Grandmothers won’t be able to make out the lyrics, and little kids are exposed to way worse these days. At least “Pony” is sort of a metaphor. Not a very subtle one, but still: it could be about riding horses, sort of, if most of your attention is taken up with trying to score a bigger slice of wedding cake and you’re not really listening. It’s tamer than most things Nicki Minaj has ever said or thought, for example. 


For all intents and purposes, this is a song about My Little Ponies.


I recently moved to a new city. It was hard to make friends at first, but I’ve finally found a group of girls that seem like ‘my people.’ The only problem is, they’re major karaoke enthusiasts and I’m tone deaf. I don’t want to decline any invitations this early in the friendship unless I absolutely have to. Do you have any advice for how to seem fun without looking like a total idiot by actually singing in front of people? I’m not shy, I’m just really, really bad.

Here’s the thing about karaoke: it is not a singing contest. It is also not a Broadway musical, or an audition, and anyone who tries to turn it into those things is missing the point. Karaoke has one purpose only, and that is to be FUN.

Choose a song you like, or that you know everyone else likes. Perform it with confidence: stand up in front of everyone, smile, shimmy your hips. Get into it. Encourage people to sing along. Solicit backup dancers (or offer to be a backup dancer for your new friends).

Succeeding at karaoke is like succeeding on a dance floor: sure, people will be impressed if you’re super-talented—but as long as you seem to be having fun, people will want to be near your energy regardless of how talentless you are.


I’m sick of feeling like a Top 40 drone, but I think I may be that person who only likes something when I hear it a million times on the radio. Do you have a suggestion for someone looking to branch out, but not too far from T. Swift, Beyonce, and the like?

There is no shame in liking Beyonce or Tay Sway or any other Top 40 (except for that song “Uptown Funk,” which is abhorrent). There’s a reason why those artists are popular: it’s because they make great music. I think the issue is not in loving them, but it may be in closing yourself off to other musicians whom you could equally well fall in love with. Here are a few bands I like, who are less overplayed but are also, as far as I’m concerned, recording top-notch pop music:

Phoenix, Little Boots, Cut Copy, Walk the Moon, Hot Chip, the Van She, Dragonette, Passion Pit, Robyn, La Roux, Annie, Architecture in Helsinki. Also Girl Talk, who does awesome mash-ups of songs that you’ll already know.


My taste in music differs wildly from that of most of my friends. I want to go to live shows, but is it weird if I go alone?

Absolutely not. Best-case scenario, you start talking with people in the audience who do share your taste in music and now maybe you have new show-going friends. Worst-case scenario, you get to experience a band you love without spending the whole time making excuses to your unwilling friends, or apologizing and thanking them for coming, or worrying about whether they’re having an okay time. Recently I went to see Spiritualized alone, because weirdly none of my close friends are into British space rock/gospel—go figure. And I loved it. I just got to bask in the music and the night and it was perfect.


An overly chatty coworker is always swinging by my office when I have a million things to get done. What highly annoying song do can I surreptitiously switch on to get them to leave quickly?

Usher’s “Yeah” is, objectively speaking, the most annoying song ever recorded. However, if you play it, you run the risk that your co-worker might find it “nostalgic” and will stick around, waxing poetic about the time she grinded to “Yeah” at a summer camp dance. So maybe it’s not the best pick for you.


“So then Matt like kissed me behind Bunk F?! Like with tongue?!”


I was recently dumped- my ex is coming over to pick up some things tonight, and I’m hoping to win him back. What songs should I ‘just happen’ to have on in the background that will make him feel sentimental and romantic, but don’t seem like they’re trying too hard?

“At My Most Beautiful,” by R.E.M.

“I Hear a Symphony,” by the Supremes

“Up on the Roof,” by the Drifters

“Romeo and Juliet,” by Dire Straits

“God Only Knows,” by the Beach Boys

Or you could forget about trying to win him back, because he probably sucks anyway, and just blast “Your Untouchable Face” by Ani DiFranco, throw his shit out the door, and call it a night.

Is it ever okay to manipulate your iTunes playlist so that the ‘Most Played’ list reflects cooler music than you actually listen to on the regs? How might one go about that?

For sure. This is a really good and important idea. I also recommend syncing your iTunes to Last.fm so that even strangers on the internet can be aware of how respectable your music taste supposedly is. The way to do it is to put a playlist of cutting-edge indie tunes on loop, mute the volume, and go to sleep. By the time you wake up the next morning, you’ll already seem cooler.

Sometimes when I’m playing wingman for my single friends, I amuse myself by pretending to be the lead singer of ’90s sensation Len, best known for ‘Steal My Sunshine.’ I feel like this is getting old. Who are some other comparable former B-listers that I might start pretending to be?

Shaggy was an excellent wingman in “It Wasn’t Me.” He’s all, “Your lady caught you cheating? No sweat, my good man. Here’s the trick: tell her she didn’t see you cheating. Problem solved. Let’s get a beer.” We all need a Shaggy on our sides.

Also, how about Blu Cantrell, of “Hit ‘Em Up Style” semi-fame. She, too, was filled with sage wisdom: “Hey ladies, when your man wanna get buckwild, just go back and hit ’em up style. Get your hands on his cash and spend it to the last dime for all the hard times.” Please do this. Your friends will be like, “This bar is dead; let’s take the subway home,” and you’ll be like, “OR let’s steal that dude’s AmEx and take a taxi home ALL THE WAY TO QUEENS.”

Incidentally: I always thought “Steal My Sunshine” was about a girl warning a guy not to get her knocked up, but some cursory research reveals that I 100% just made that up in my own mind. However, that is not stopping me from continuing to spread it around as the truth.


Some guy who may or may not have impregnated some girl.

Hologram 2pac and Hologram Nate Dogg were popular sensations at recent summer music festivals. What deceased musical artist do you think should be the next live performance sensation?

Rod Stewart. 

Leila Sales is the author of the novels This Song Will Save Your Life, Past Perfect, and Mostly Good Girls. She lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her @LeilaSalesBooks.

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