The mix tape is dead. I was a grade “A” mix tape junkie in the day. I had paint markers that made my mixes beautiful and a collection of sub :30 second songs that I used to kill the end of the side when I couldn’t find the perfect song of the perfect length. I thought for days about what to name these hour long (give or take) works of audio art (“Embraceable Sunlight,” an old summer mix nodding to Charlie Parker and Jane’s Addiction, races to mind).
Today, my handy Rio Karma keeps 5,000-plus songs on my hip. The customization rush I used to get from mixes now comes in the digital pixie-stick-sugar-rush of a thumb flip. Bounce from Chopin to Joy Division in three songs, all starting with the letter “O”? Try “October” (U2) to “Ocean Rain” (Echo & The Bunnymen) to “Ocean” (Velvet Underground). You get the point. The goal of a mix tape was to anticipate my musical wants based on mood so I wouldn’t have to bring all of my CDs/tapes with me. That’s antiquated.
Of course, there is the mix tape you make for your love interest. The last mix I remember making on tape was a collection of love songs and meaningful tunes to bring on my honeymoon. That’s going on five years ago, and just about when I got my first MP3 player. Before anyone says “the honeymoon’s over” I should add that there have been Valentine’s Day playlists created on the Rio, but I think we all know that’s not the same thing. Even CD mixes are different because they start like playlists, they just travel differently.
I used to spend time on playlists, too. Now it’s more like, if I am playing DJ and think I really captured something, I hit save. It’s really just saving myself later effort and it takes seconds, not hours. For example, after writing a draft of the below list, I piled the songs into a play list in about 90 seconds and listened to it on the way home. This morning, I changed some things around in about 30 seconds. Drafts and edits on tape are labors of love. On a hard drive, it’s “IYQ.” The real act of music love is actively participating in the soundscape — surfing beats, connections and subtle changes in mood in real time.
Still, the task at hand does give off a bit of nostalgia, and it’s all in the name of fun anyway. It might be worth the exercise just to make sure I still know how to segue and think about music in ways other than induvidual songs or complete albums. I’ll even give it a fun name — “Rollick Roaster” — to denote pace and heat while playing off the keynote song’s title. Who knows. It could score heavy rotation this summer despite the availability of thousands of songs and billions of song combinations.
Leadoff: Roller Coaster — Sleater Kinney
Damn that’s one fun song. Putting this stake in the ground is a promise from me to you that this will be a fun summer mix. This isn’t a slow jam “sharing a blanket with your honey in the park” mix. This is a cruising with that music-loving friend mix (bonus points if that friend is your honey, of course). It’s also a “backyard barbecue with your cool friends” mix, so every song is going to be a conversation starter (in this case — can you declare the “album of the year” category closed in June?). Ideally, you have a collection of three or four mixes on hand to fit any of several summer situations. A couple years ago, as people who came here from Moodspins might remember, I made a series of CD mixes for a road trip and there was the “fast,” the “slow,” and the “jamming.” We have just begun 2005’s version of the “fast.”
Of course, this song’s mixed loud, and that’s a tough starting point because anything coming after it will come off a little weak. Unless…
Follow up single: Oh No — Mooney Suzuki
… you go with the pure goof fun of the garage band people love to hate. This gem was packed into the rubble of their first album and will win you over despite itself. I think there are a few gems on the first album, and a few more on the second album, but I have back up on this one, so in it goes.
Now is the make or break moment. The one where you decide if you’re going to let up. Even John Cusack called the third song the one where you pull back a little in “High Fidelity.” Maybe later.
Third in line: My Generation — The Who
Some things are timeless. The sentiment is pure packaged rebellion, but the sound is pure bliss. This goes to show that any band with Keith Moon on drums will always have that bit of chaos you need to turn anything into real rock and roll, even something as deadly as Roger Daltrey trying to connect with the unwashed masses. Speaking of a drummer making a band…
Clean up: Melt Show — Old 97s
This is the energy focal point of the 97s tour de force Too Far to Care. It also has the benefit of being about a summer fling. The choice sing-along lines, if reprinted, would fool you into thinking I picked some silly emo band. It’s the tone and pace that make the song, and, as always with this band, the powerful drums. If ever there was an album that deserved the over-used “what the Clash would sound like if they loved country” tag, this is it.
Fifth: Police on My Back — The Clash
Speaking of which, why not keep the pace high with an overlooked Clash high point. This song has layers AND rocks, which is hard to do. Plus it sings a list of the days of the week several times. What’s easier to sing along with than that? And while we’re at it, how many Clash songs could be released today as pop hits? Is twenty a fair number?
Sixth: You Belong to Me — Elvis Costello
How this never got serious radio play is beyond me. It stacks up with his best work, has the infectious beat and was from his early, still rocking period before he bought a rhyming dictionary and started thinking about himself in the third person.
Seventh: Roadrunner — The Modern Lovers
Because it’s about cruising with your music loving friend. It’s that simple sometimes, and when it is, you know you’ll find our friend Jonathon there.
Eighth: Shoot You Down — APB
This will give some a chance to get a beer. It’s an 80’s British white boy reggae funk guitar assault and it’s good stuff, but it won’t hurt my feelings if you ask me to turn my creation down so you can debate the new Queens of the Stone Age album. Just remember to keep half an ear out, because I ain’t done yet.
Ninth: Search and Destroy — Iggy Pop
The opening line — “I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm” — says everything you need to know in the same way that Bruce Springsteen’s “I had skin like leather and the diamond-hard look of a cobra” let us know it’s hard to be a saint in the city. I honestly forgot how much I love this song until today. I thought about cutting it because it’s pretty aggressive for a summer mix and Iggy’s one of those artists that some people just won’t like, but how often do you get to sing “look out, honey, ’cause I’m using technology. Ain’t got time to make no apology” really loud?
If you don’t care, remember that we’re in the “getting a beer and chit chatting” phase. Let me give you a topic. Should everyone who really likes “Blue Orchid” by the White Stripes have to take back everything bad they said about Midnight Vultures by Beck? I’m looking at you, buddy.
Tenth: U-Mass — Pixies
I’m guessing I bring a bunch of people back into the mix with this one. Yes, I enjoy everything Pixies did. No, I don’t consider this their artistic high point. But did they ever sound like they were having more fun? Nope. I want all of the bands in my summer mix to sound like they’re having fun and I want to sing along. That’s a rule, or two. Let me pause to make sure we have lived by the rules. OK, yes we have. The Clash always wanted to be a bit more that a rock band, so maybe there was more of a political slant there, but we’re going to overlook that for the massive hooks. Carry on. I’m on a roll now, so I feel OK with taking a slight detour on tempo.
Eleventh: Nugget — Cake
Because it’s so damn fun to sing along to — and that’s important. It’s not the 20 chances to yell “shut the f*ck up.” It’s the chance to do so with improv bursts of lyrical nonsense. When John McCrea says “Right, now!” it reminds me of both James Brown and Johnny Rotten, and has absolutely nothing to do with when the band kicks in. That’s a kind of genius.
I was once watching TV with my nephews (Disney Channel, likely) and a mom asks her son if he’s listening to “the Cakes” on his walkman, the eight year old kid shoots her a look and says, “it’s just ‘Cake,’ mom” and the mom says knowingly “I KNOW who Cake is.” I think of this exchange every time I hear this song. Like the mom might say, “give me a taste when you get to the ‘shut the f*ck up’ song.” It makes me laugh.
Twelfth: El Scorcho — Weezer
One change up right after the other. It’s got the tactical speed, waiting until the end to become a rocker, and it’s got a bit of the country crooner buried deep inside a punk love song to a half-Japanese lesbian. It damn near started a movement. To quote Mr. Cuomo, “how cool is that?”
Thirteenth (and turning the corner for home): Prove My Love — Violent Femmes
No, it isn’t one of the sing along favorites from the eponymous album, but that’s kind of the point. The others were beaten into sorority rock oblivion and this one quotes Herman and the Hermits. Plus, there’s some math involved. Tapes end at the beginning and since you would occasionally start in the middle and listen to side two first, there should be a good transition from end to beginning. That starts here.
Fourteenth: Why Don’t We Do It in the Road — The Beatles
How crazy is it that this McCartney White Album entry thematically and musically fits in so nicely between the Violent Femmes and …
Fifteenth: Pain in My Heart — Otis Redding
This is where I get to hush the crowd, grab a rolled up magazine and do my best Otis. Every once in a while you have to show your range and embarrass your wife at the same time. Otis was born for such moments. You didn’t really think I was going to pull out the Coltrane on this mix did you? Besides, now I have two songs to get from Otis Redding to Sleater Kinney. Bring it on.
Sixteenth and almost there: Stereo — Pavement
If you want to get from Otis to S-K in two steps, you start with Pavement. It’s a rule. You could look it up. Stereo wins out because Geddy Lee talks like an ordinary guy.
The closer: Louie Louie — The Pretenders
An early experiment with horns works for Miss Ohio and her British backers because when Pretenders II rolled around they still had cred. This plays like an early draft of “Roller Coaster,” but about music instead of love.
Bonus Tracks: Psycho — The Sonics, Look for Me Baby — The Kinks, and Out of Our Tree — The Wailers
Since we’re in the groove now and since we got where we’re going, I’m just going to keep adding songs until someone tells me to stop. These three come to mind, but I have a feeling you could go any garage/British invasion direction you wanted to for a good long while and still never need to turn around.
There it is. Twenty songs (and 1:04:10 worth of music) that I would listen to repeatedly, in order during the course of this summer. I’ve got the playlist set up already, so feel free to check in later to see how it goes. There were a bunch of songs I cut and I’m sure after a couple more listens there will be a few here that just don’t fit, but that’s part of the deal with mixes. You live with the edges and somehow they still become part of the soundtrack of the summer. Until you buy an MP3 player, that is.