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March 5, 2018

Top 10: Susannah Hayes's Favorite Classic Rock Songs In THE MIDNIGHTS --- Guest Post by Author Sarah Nicole Smetana

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If you ask us, music and reading go hand-in-hand. Whether we're creating playlists for our favorite books, characters and ships or keeping some light tunes on in the background while we read, there's no doubt that the music and books are great together. Have you ever wondered what inspires an author to include certain song references in their stories? In THE MIDNIGHTS, by Sarah Nicole Smetana, a rock-loving teen uses music to reinvent herself after tragedy. Smetana is here on our blog today to share her main character Susannah Hayes's top 10 favorite classic rock songs --- read on to find out which ones she picked!


In THE MIDNIGHTS, my debut novel, music permeates everything. It’s the language through which my protagonist, Susannah Hayes, relates to her father. It’s the foundation for how she sees and experiences the world. It defines her friendships, and, in many instances, her self.

And no music matters more to her than '60s and '70s rock and roll: the music of her father’s past, a place she longs to understand.

Susannah spent a lot of her childhood studying the intricate melodies of classic rock, and those sounds reverberate throughout the pages the book, the particular tone of a needle on vinyl like the siren call of a secret club --- echoing with a sense of belonging, aching like a reminder of home. It’s both intimately familiar and impossible to fully grasp. Just like her father. Here are ten of her favorite classic rock songs.

1. The Kinks --- The Contenders

The opening track on a phenomenal album, “The Contenders” begins almost as a folky lullaby before bursting out of that refrain, into an infectious guitar riff.  It’s surprising. It’s dance-inducing. It’s about ambition and breaking the mold, something so many young artists (Susannah included) are yearning to do.

2. Big Brother & the Holding Company --- Piece of My Heart

Janis Joplin’s iconic gravelly vocals make this version of “Piece of My Heart” so compelling. It’s blues, it’s rock and roll, it’s overflowing with emotion. Joplin was one of the most powerful performers of her time, with a passionate and uninhibited stage presence that Susannah always wished she could emulate. That presence remains so clear in this song.

3. The Mamas & The Papas --- California Dreamin’

It seems like such a simple song. Some guy back east is taking a winter walk, and wishing he could be in California because it’s warm there. The harmonies are sweet, ethereal even. But Susannah always sensed something more complicated in the singer’s desire. It reminded her of how she could never access her father’s version of California --- how he always seemed to be living in a separate world.

4. Emitt Rhodes --- With My Face On The Floor

Emitt Rhodes is likely the most unknown name on this list, which is also one of the reasons he’s on it. As a teenager, he was often hailed as the Paul McCartney of America, a brilliant songwriter and musician who seemed poised to make it big with his first solo album. By the age of 24, however, he had basically disappeared. All that potential, all that talent, all that hard work --- and yet nothing ever came of it. It’s a story that Susannah would have recognized. It’s a story a lot like her father’s.

5. The Beach Boys --- Don’t Worry Baby 

Pet Sounds is, of course, the greatest Beach Boys album. But the sentiment of “Don’t Worry Baby,” an earlier track, speaks directly to Susannah’s heart, and how badly she wants the people she cares about most to say that she doesn’t need to worry, that things will get better, that they’ll always be there for her. Plus, the harmonies are awesome (no surprise there), and the lure of vintage Beach Boys is pure nostalgic bliss: memories of a better, simpler time --- even if that time was never yours to begin with.

6. Jefferson Airplane --- Somebody to Love

Led by another female force of the 1960s, “Somebody to Love” is one of those songs that you can’t get out of your head. There is no musical intro --- the song just kicks off with Grace Slick’s sultry, robust voice --- and from there, it doesn’t let up until it stops. It’s the kind of song that makes Susannah feel powerful and confident.

7. Joe Cocker (featuring Leon Russell) --- Girl From The North Country 

This is a cover of Bob Dylan, but (Susannah would argue) it’s even better than the original. The simple, jaunty piano perfectly juxtaposes the loss-filled lyrics, and the dueling vocals offer surprising depth. There is something so sad about this track, but so lovely, too; it highlights the fact that so much of what’s important to us is ultimately lost. And yet, gone does not mean forgotten.

8. Neil Young --- Heart Of Gold 

“Heart of Gold” is relatively simple in construction, but it cuts straight to your core. Between Young’s somber lyrics and the weepy flourishes of harmonica and pedal steel, this song is all about yearning --- and that feeling only grows more apparent when Linda Ronstadt’s backing vocals kick in. Her small addition makes this song so much stronger. Just like Susannah’s father always taught her: the tiny details can turn a good song into something truly great.

9. The Beatles --- I’m Looking Through You

It’s tricky to boil the Beatles down to one single track, because of the sheer volume of their material and also how varied each album is. But Rubber Soul marks a particularly exciting moment in the lifespan of the band, really showcasing their growth as songwriters. And while “I’m Looking Through You” maintains a pop sensibility, it incorporates a more complex musical composition and a deeper lyrical story --- particularly regarding one’s inability to ever really know what’s going on in another’s head.

10. Fleetwood Mac --- Go Your Own Way

This is one of the most famous breakup songs ever, but for Susannah, the implications extend beyond the romantic. Though it’s a song about endings, the upbeat melody and bellowed vocals also evoke a sort of catharsis, ultimately foreshadowing a new beginning, and much-needed hope.

To listen to these songs and see what other music inspired THE MIDNIGHTS, head over to Spotify, where the full book playlist can be streamed!