Music speaks to the soul. We all have had moments where music has soothed us in ways that no person could. Music is empathy embodied in melody and can help those struggling to find words gain a foothold on expression. Regardless of the genre, music is universal in its ability to convey and catalyze emotion, which is why we use music and music assisted treatment to help those struggling with substance abuse search within themselves and pinpoint the root issues underlying their addiction.

Here’s a list of songs from various genres that have consistently spoken to me over the course of the years. I hope it brings you the same spectrum of emotions that it has brought me.

1. “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

A melancholy, soulful song encouraged by Cooke’s experiences of discrimination during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, “A Change Is Gonna Come” is an uplifting ballad about persistence and overcoming adversity. If you ever feel like the weight of the world might be too much to bear, or as though you’re stuck in a rut and can’t find the strength to pull yourself out of it, this meditation on the power of perseverance and hope will uplift the spirits of those even at their lowest points.

2. “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw

A beautiful lyrical narrative by Tim McGraw, considered by many to be one of the best country artists, “Live Like You Were Dying” details the shift in perspective that occurs once someone learns they have a limited amount of time left to live their life. The song is a staunch reminder that we must be grateful for every second we’ve been gifted and to make the best of what we have.

3. “Amazing” By Aerosmith

Written by Recovery Unplugged’s very own Director of Creative Recovery and Co-Founder, Richie Supa, “Amazing” is a timeless rock ballad by the legendary Aerosmith. It was one of the first songs that inspired us to establish Recovery Unplugged, and describes the overwhelming emotions that come with seeing the light and lifting yourself back up from your lows.

4. “Shoot to Thrill” by AC/DC

A classic hard rock song by the legends, AC/DC, “Shoot to Thrill” is exactly the kind of song you listen to when you want to pump yourself up for something exciting. This song boosts confidence with every line and offers a primal beat overlaid by piercing guitar riffs and vocals. This is the kind of song you want to listen to when starting off your day to remind yourself that you can conquer anything.

5. “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles

A lovely, soft rock song true to the classic Beatles sound, this song encapsulates the melancholy that comes with ending a certain season of life. It pays homage to the time, effort, and beauty put into something before it comes to its unerring end, while acknowledging the bitter longing that comes with having to let go of something dear to your heart.

6. “We Can Work It Out” by The Beatles

Another upbeat folk-rock song by the lads from Liverpool, “We Can Work It Out” is perhaps best known for Paul McCartney’s vocals blended beautifully with John Lennon’s high-pitched harmonies. A plea to make amends in a relationship, this song is an appeal to look at things from a different perspective in order to repair trust, rebuild friendship, and make things work.

7. “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones

A bluesy hard rock song by Mick and the Gang, “Gimme Shelter” immediately kicks into high gear with that iconic opening riff by Keith Richards and continues to overflow with emotion. A cry for help and protection crafted during a turbulent time in the world, this song embodies the restless desire for peace, and conveys the underlying sense of disquiet that many felt at the time. This is the kind of song you listen to when you feel lonely or discontent.

8. “Yesterday” by Mary Mary

A soulful song with a distinctly gospel feel, “Yesterday” details how we have to let go of our worries in order to trust that things will go the way that they were meant to. If ever you’re feeling low or anxious, this song soothes nerves and reminds us that yesterday’s worries and stresses belong exactly there– yesterday.

9. “How Deep Is Your Love?” by The Bee Gees

Characterized by the Bee Gees’ classic vocals, this love song is soft in all the right places while serving hard-hitting lyrics. It encourages lovers to stop listening to the opinions of outsiders and to lose themselves in each other, because they’re the only voices that matter. If everyone was allowed to love the way that they know best and focus on the happiness of the one they love, then we would be able to find out how deep love truly is.

10. “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” by Vaughan Mason & Crew

This disco song is a funky groove that will bring you back to the roller disco, even if you’ve never been to one. This song is one that’s felt in every part of the body, with a bassline like a heartbeat and a syncopated guitar riff that will have you on your feet in an instant. One of the lighter songs in this playlist, “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” is a reminder that it’s okay to give in to the music and let yourself have fun without worrying about anything else.

11. “I’m Ready” by Kano

A bass-heavy track with electronic overlays and a heavy dose of synthesizers, you can’t resist the urge to get up and groove when you hear this song. Although there might not be any deeper message than giving in to the desire to dance, this song serves as a stark reminder of the overwhelming power of music and its ability to change moods and influence how you’re feeling.

12. “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

One of the very first hip-hop songs that heralded the rise of the style, “The Message” provides an immortal hook and a pulsating beat. This song makes listeners get up and dance while also narrating the reality of poverty in the concrete jungle, and serves as a reminder that even when circumstances seem impossible to overcome, something beautiful can come of it as long as you don’t forget your roots.

13. “Love’s Going to Get You” by KRS-One

Another song detailing the harsh reality of poverty, and how some people have to resort to dealing drugs to have a livable income. KRS-One raps about how love has no place in the life of a dealer because it can be a weakness when you fall in love with materialism, and your life can be empty without real love in it.

14. “Cryin’” by Aerosmith

Another timeless rock ballad from the legendary band Aerosmith, “Cryin’” details the fine line between pleasure and pain, and how both can bring even the strongest people to tears. This song serves as a reminder that tears are a normal part of expression, and that it’s okay to cry when we lose something we love or when we have something beautiful in our lives that we love.

15. “You’re Gonna Miss This” by Trace Adkins

A soft country song reminiscing on how quickly youth passes us by, “You’re Gonna Miss This” reminds us to enjoy every moment to the fullest and take the time to be present in every season of life. With rich vocals and a lovely twang of the guitar, this song is full of nostalgia and the classic country feel. If ever you’re feeling wistful, sit back and give this tune a listen.

16. “Stairway to Heaven” by The O’Jays

An R&B love song with soulful vocals and a smooth rhythm, “Stairway to Heaven” makes you feel like sitting back and relaxing into the sounds. If you’re in love with someone, this song will make you fall deeper, and even if you aren’t, this song will make you want to be.

17. “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath

An iconic heavy metal hit graced by Ozzy Osbourne’s unmistakable vocal prowess, this song narrates the devolution of a man’s mind and how he can’t find enjoyment in anything because of his mental state. It’s a reminder of the paranoia that comes with active addiction, and how we need help to get out of our darkest places.

18. “She Talk to Angels” by The Black Crowes

An acoustic rock song specifically about the hurt and troubles that can lead someone down the path of substance abuse, “She Talks to Angels” illustrates the pain that individuals go through and try to cover up with drug usage. This song is a stark and humbling reminder of the intensity of the pain that drives an individual to drown their emotions in drugs or alcohol.

19. “Blowin’ In the Wind,” by Bob Dylan

An all-time classic, this folky Bob Dylan meditation on what makes things the way they are is evocative and composed of mostly questions. All of the answers are “blowin’ in the wind,” which is a reminder that while there might not be a real answer to all the questions that we have, we can stand still and feel them wash over us.

20. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead

A funky and empowering disco song with a slapping bass and groovy rhythm, this song teems with self-confidence and positivity. This song makes you want to get up, dance, and be your best self. The hook itself says all that needs to be said– ain’t no stoppin’ us now, because we’re on the move.

“Music communicates to the soul where long lasting change happens, music can change your mood immediately, music anchors you to the skill sets needed for long-term recovery, music is unifying.”

Paul Pellinger
Paul Pellinger, Music is our Medicine