Radnor & Lee: What Are You Listening To?

Radnor & Lee: What Are You Listening To?

Radnor & Lee (musician Ben Lee and actor Josh Radnor) are out with their debut, self-titled album on November 10. To celebrate their partnership, the duo put together a playlist of uplifting tracks to get you through the gloomy months.

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Ben Lee

Jonathan Richman, “My Love is a Flower”
For me, Jonathan Richman was the beginning of understanding that being happy and positive was sometimes the most punk rock choice you could make. I would say he might be my single biggest influence. His whole attitude was just glorious, childlike and positive. I love the vulnerability of seeing our ability to love as a flower just beginning to bloom.

Donovan, “Happiness Runs”
This song was written by my father-in-law and is almost like a meditation on the way that positive mindset changes the world, one thought at a time. ‘Happiness runs in a circular motion…everybody is a part of everything, anyway.’ These are important mantras to lift us up when we are down. It always makes me smile.

Daniel Johnston, “Speeding Motorcycle”
This song, and especially the version Daniel recorded with Yo La Tengo live on radio, affected me profoundly as a teenager, and it still does. The sense of freedom, possibility and the unknown is so palpable in this recording. Of course, being a Daniel Johnston song, there is a feeling of being slightly unhinged not too far from the surface. But above all, this song makes me feel like a puppy putting my head out the window of a car and enjoying the wind in my face, smiling ear to ear.

Ben Lee, “Everything is OK”
Yes, I wrote this song, but I wrote it because I needed to hear its message. There are many ‘Everything is OK’ songs, but at one particular point, I really needed a song that also acknowledged things were not particularly looking that OK right now. I think songwriters are often servicing their own needs, the affirmations that we need to hear. If others out there resonate with us, and the music serves them, too, well that’s even better!

Bluejuice, “Work”
This song vibes me up. I believe in the power of working hard. Of manifesting your dreams, of hustling, of making magic happen. I love that this tune offers hard work as a solution to confusion and sadness. After all, ‘What I do know/is I came here to work!’

Josh Radnor

Trevor Hall, “Indigo”
I’ll never pass up an offer to see Trevor Hall play live: it’s a reliably great, heart-opening time. He’s such a confident, inspiring performer and songwriter and I’m crazy about this tune. His repeated exhortation at the end of the song — ‘Don’t you be afraid’ — actually fills me up with more courage when I hear it. Recommended for solo morning dance parties, if that’s your thing.

Brett Dennen, “Desert Sunrise”
One of my favorite things about Los Angeles when I first moved there was the Nic Harcourt-hosted Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW. I heard this song while driving (natch) and it so hypnotized me I had to pull over to the side of the road to listen without distraction. I didn’t catch the name of the song or artist (this was pre-Shazam) so I scoured the playlist on the website once I got home. A simple, lovely tune that always lightens my mood.

Cloud Cult, “No One Said It Would Be Easy”
I go on and on about Cloud Cult and I’m gonna do it again. Their music will make you cry and also make you want to go out and make the world a better, kinder place. In this track they pull no punches about how hard life is, but this is ultimately an optimist’s anthem that’ll give you some energy to keep going. Plus, who doesn’t need to be reminded that ‘you’re a pretty human being’ every once in a while?

Sing Street Soundtrack, “Up” 
Ever since I saw Sing Street I’ve been shouting from the rooftops trying to get everyone I know to watch it. A kid starts a band to get a girl and it turns out he’s really talented. And he writes gems like ‘Up’ that make the hairs on your neck and arms stand up and make you believe in love and art and youth and possibility. A great song from a great movie. And to someone relatively new to songwriting like myself, a great impetus to keep going.

Joni Mitchell, “All I Want”
I can’t hear this song without flashing back to my senior year of college when it was basically all I wanted to listen to. I don’t know why Blue and this track in particular landed on me so strongly back then, but I’m clearly not alone. It does exert a strange kind of magic. She just sounds so alive (alive) in the song and the feeling was contagious. She wants to be strong, she wants to laugh along, she wants to belong to the living. So did I. Still do, actually.

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