Hmm...there are quite a few choices for this one. Or, actually there are quite a few choices for the second slot. The first one can only be:
"Mad Man Moon", A Trick of the Tail (1976), Genesis
I scarcely know where to begin here. I bought the album basically blind in 2006 when I was in Chicago on a trip with the school choir, and I remember listening through it to see if I'd totally wasted my money. It took a while for the rest of it to grow on me (it's my favorite album of all time, actually), but "Mad Man Moon" captivated me immediately. Ever since then, it's been my undisputed favorite (non classical) song. This is one of those songs where the arrangement and performance are a huge part of the final effect. I've heard other people cover it (on YouTube) and they don't come close to doing it justice. I haven't had much better luck--it is ridiculously difficult to sing, even if the notes themselves aren't really that challenging. It's the delivery, the emotion, and the subtle restraint throughout that give the song so much meaning, IMO. In fact, it's a perfect example of how something fairly complex can sound a lot simpler than it actually is. It's also the song (actually the entire album, really) that taught me the true beauty of the Mellotron (just listen to those gorgeous sweeping strings).
I don't even know exactly what it's about, and Tony Banks (the keyboardist for the group and the guy responsible for a lot of my favorites by them) has never explained it. I prefer it that way because I feel like it would ruin it if there was a hard and fast meaning. On the surface it sounds like a typical "grass is greener on the other side" type deal. But the music itself seems at odds with something so prosaic. It's pretty open ended, and what you get out of it might say a lot about you as a listener. I've interpreted it differently as time has passed. I don't want to prompt you--listen to it and see what you get out of it personally.
Oh, and if you end up being as taken with it as I am and actually want to purchase the song or the album, go for the 1994 remaster. The 2007 version is a total remix and, IMO, in sonic terms it's a brickwalled, mutilated disaster.
"In Paradisum" from Gabriel Faure's Requiem Op. 48
If the last one was my favorite non-classical piece, this one is my favorite piece of any kind. The first time I heard it was in 2004 when the ladies from my high school choir did a female-only (SSAA I assume) version. I'd love to hear that arrangement again, since it had a completely different feel from the "proper" version. I remember I was going through a difficult time, one of the 3,509 or so instances back then I was having trouble with this particular issue (this one girl--what else do guys have trouble with in high school?), and on the day the ladies performed the piece for competition I remember just sitting back, closing my eyes, and crying silently. For some reason, at that moment it was like hearing the voice of angels, and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever experienced. Afterward, I was surprised to find I felt better, which was my first indication of how remarkable this piece of music is.
Faure set it at the end of the Requiem, which is unusual (textually it's actually supposed to be part of the burial service) but not unheard of. Its purpose is to help those present pay their final respects and arrange their thoughts going forward after a terrible loss. And of all the music I've ever heard, this is the only piece that actually does that. I'm thankful I've never yet had to turn to it after actually losing somebody, but whenever I need to unwind and relax and calm down I'll put it on repeat and drift off. I've probably listened to it more than any other piece of music, simply because I've fallen asleep to it countless times. Its matrix work is sometimes called the "lullaby of death," and I couldn't think of a more apt title.
Musically, it's difficult to describe. It just has this gentle finality about it. I prefer more sparse arrangements to the grander, more orchestrated ones that are sometimes performed. The one I've linked in particular is my favorite so far (I was lucky to find somebody had uploaded this exact version on YouTube), on the Naxos label. It's subtle and subdued and a little soft around the edges, and that's what I love about it. Whenever I hear it I picture brilliant white light streaming down, but not glaring in my eyes or anything like that. It's diffuse, exactly like the effect of this performance.
Edited by Argyris - 5/20/13 at 2:22pm