1) Sexual Healing - Marvin Gaye
This song is perhaps the perfect piece of pop music. It's catchy yet smooth. A little naughty yet inoffensive. Creative and original enough not to make purists turn up their noses in disgust, yet eminently accessible. I love it for writing for a variety of reasons. It is unrelentingly positive, the song of a man who both loves and is confident of being loved. It is optimistic and self-assured, there may be a need somewhere but there's a simple and complete solution. It is gentle but energizing, pushing me forward. It's about a subject that's pleasant to reflect on, namely sex with the right woman. There is no song I'd rather sit down in front of the keyboard listening to, and no song I can hear as many times in a row.
2) accidentally in Love - Counting Crows
Similar in many ways to Sexual Healing but not quite as good and with a little more energy. Not as smooth, not as dirty, not as gentle. On the other hand it is light and forgettable (Writing/work music needs to be able to blend into the background and not interfere with linguistic functionality.) It's also positive, which I need because I tend to get down on myself and I want that boost.
3) Blister In the Sun -The Violent Femmes
A catchy upbeat pleasant hook, repetitive sardonic lyrics, and just that sense of Thanos, the death drive, which is entwined so deeply with the creative impulse. It's upbeat and yet, due to its repetitiveness, feels languid as well. The lyrics are good here too. "Let me go on like a blister in the sun." Keep on trucking Violent Femmes.
4+5) Blitzkrieg Bop and I Wanna Be Sedated - The Ramones
The popiest Ramones songs are perfect background music. Driving beats and simple cord changes fade pleasantly into the background, while the lyrics wouldn't tax the linguistic skills of a kindergartener. Pleasant enjoyable music that pushes you forward. The third of the Ramones pop trifecta, "The KKK took my baby away" doesn't work as well because it's just not as quick to resolve its chord progressions and requires more attention.
6) Hungry Like the Wolf -Duran Duran
Another Sexual Healing clone. It's got a steady beat, smooth music, and pleasant thoughts mixed together (Pussy again. Who would have thunk it?) It's a song that grabs you in and pushes you forward, fading into the background while you channel its energy into your writing. It's also a great song to work out film sequences to because the beat is SO regular and steady.
7) Shotgun - Junior Walker and the All Stars
Here we stray a little from the simple pop paradigm for an infusion of pure energy. At this point you might be 15 minutes in and need a little pick me up to keep you channeling forward full bore. If Shotgun doesn't make you want to tap your feet and do whatever you're doing faster then you're not just a soulless white man, you are LEGALLY DEAD. Rhythm in music can inspire rhythm in writing, and this song's got it in spades.
8) Anarchy in the U.K. Megadeath Cover
This song can be bad for sequences that need careful phrasing, but it's a great boon when you want chaotic violence. I like the Megadeath cover because it's faster and more intense, with a little less planning and more bursts of six string fury in the guitars. On the other hand it's not as intense as something like "March of the Pigs" by Nine Inch Nails so it's not distracting. Remember, you (or at least I) want to be driven forward towards completion, not hung up in confusion. I'm not sure why they didn't re title it "Anarchy in the U.S.A" though.
9) The Geeks Get The Girls - American HiFi
Are we seeing a pattern yet? This is a nice little song that feeds the ego of a geek like me, while delivering pleasant thoughts and a decently fast beat. It's also got that optimism in it, though tempered with a little bit of condescension. I don't love it while just listening, but if fades into the background so perfectly and gives me happy thoughts, so who am I to whine?
10) Total Eclipse of the Heart
Total Eclipse of Good Judgment? This is one of those songs you find yourself singing along to against your will, total chick pop for sure, but with a soaring refrain and a feminine voice that is both comforting and inspiring, at least to me. Harder to explain this one, except that there's so much emotion in it, false as it may be, that it can help unlock emotional honesty from a scene if properly used.
11) Caress me Down - Sublime
We're back to strong beats and sex with women (Can you really go wrong with either?) and this one has some Spanish mixed in for good measure, which helps it fade out mind even more convincingly. Along with Blister in the Sun this is probably my favorite song on the list to just listen to.
12) Back Stabbers
Pure 70's, this one's got beat, repetitive lyrics, but a little melancholy to it that gives it a different flavor for different kinds of writing. A great great song period. Hardest to define.
In general I think work music should avoid being distracting. Classical music is popular for this reason, but it can make hours of labor feel a little bit lonely without other human voices. In the absence of classical pop works well, it fills the ear with voice but avoids penetration into the recesses of the brain. Of course different moments call for different songs, and some for no music at all (though as a New Yorker I find silence pretty distracting in and of itself) and the playlist always shifts. Right now Lovefool (The Cardigans) Pale Shelter (Tears for Fears) and Call Me (Blondie) are getting heavy play from me (I grew up in the 80's, what can I say?) The 12 listed above are just standards that have helped me focus inward and unlock whatever creativity there is a huge number of times, and I felt like giving them a little dap for it. The playlist's the thing with which to unlock the subconscious of the king, or something like that.