e don’t bother having a winter companion for this article. You wouldn’t want to read it. (We tried last year and didn’t end up running it; it was a series of teary, 4,000 word essays on the virtues of inert drunkenness, slow curses of seasonal affective disorder, and timid, highly poetic reflections on sadcore. They read like chapped lips look. We got over it.)
You don’t hear a lot about winter mixes because winter, save the farcical attempts during Christmas and New Years or the enduring efforts by the resilient people experiencing 24-hour-a-day darkness in Iceland, is a very fucking lonely time dotted with isolated moments of intense, diary-worthy beauty. And mixtapes are things to share—with friends, dates, whatever. They’re odes to and companions for.
Spring comes on like an embarrassed smile; we just keep waiting for it to break—finally, it does. And we’re animal, we’re mercenary. Summer makes good. Summer makes us feel young and free; we stockpile fun and wipe aside pre-emptive regrets with the knowledge that eventually, we’re going to have to face winter again. It’s a wonderful time. And we need music, because again, music, it’s social.
Of course, not all these tapes are going to be labeled Sweat-Hot Dancefloor Jamz Oh-Sixx or Barbecue, Fuckers; summer is wonderful because amongst the hungover mornings at work, impulsive trysts, and general climate-condoned frivolity is a sense of peace. Few experiences are as deeply satisfying as feeling a long summer day slip into a quiet night; depending on where you live, the sky might be flecked with fireflies or the streets littered with strolling couples—soft human chatter replacing a city’s noise. And we’ve got tapes for those times, too.
In the heat, we feel acutely present. Winter forces us to protect our bodies from its weather; summer only asks us to temporarily relieve ourselves from it. It’s an active relationship like that. And the sun stays out. So we do, too; we stay out, and we bring our jamboxes, ghetto blasters, transistors, and irredeemable factory systems for the whole park to hear. And this is what we play.
(We’ll be posting one or two mixes a day for the whole week, so be sure and check back. For reference and pure indulgence, please peruse our past Summer Jamz efforts from 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005.)
"There can be only one..."
01. Bobby Brown - "Don't Be Cruel"
Where else to start but with possibly the greatest song of the New Jack Swing era? Yeah, I know "My Prerogative" gets more love and shows up on more comps, but "Don't Be Cruel" is the heartstring-plucking epic of the 80's-into-90's black cadet cap set. The pretentious keyboard-string intro here allows us to reflect on just how terribly serious this kind of thing was (and is).
02. Guy - "Teddy's Jam"
My vinyl copy of the Don't Be Cruel LP is a factory misprint—rather than the proper label the one for the "Teddy's Jam" 12" was affixed. The two songs couldn't be more different—well, perhaps they could, but "Teddy's Jam" is a nonchalant hot weather groove, the kind of thing you drop on the table while mixing drinks or chilling on the deck with a smoke.
03. Jungle Brothers - "U Make Me Sweat"
You know JBeez are gonna be up in this—they invented hip-house for all intents and purposes, and whatever strange road it is they've gone down since, they were one of the most inventive groups around during their golden years. This one comes from the second record, an all-around classic and a Source 5-miker back when they were a force to be reckoned with.
04. Alexander O'Neal - "Fake"
Having already effused at this one for the Jam & Lewis feature, I'll simply say that "Fake" is the quintessence of the straight male as bitchy, dismissive queen ethos of New Jack. It started with "Rumors," but the crown goes to Mr. O'Neal, who can totally tug on my weave anytime.
05. Wreckx-N-Effect - "New Jack Swing (Bonus Beatz)"
Well, duh. For having one of the worst names in beat-driven music, these guys actually wracked up a couple of decent tracks. Then they had the distinct misfortune of recording "Rump Shaker" in '92 as the Jack was beginning its slow crawl into the coffin, ensuring that a) no one would buy the follow-up and b) you would be able to get the album for $3.99 in the used bin for years to come.
06. 2 Live Crew - "Move Somethin'"
"Give me some time to take off my pants." Freaky Uncle Luke has managed a career spanning several decades out of recycling some of the hoariest cliches of dance music and uncomfortably blunt sexuality. I was tempted for a moment by "Get the F**k Out of My House," but I've already got too many samples of "I Can't Wait" on this—picking a song that bites "White Horse" would be strictly OTT.
07. Salt N' Pepa - "Push It (Remix)"
And now, let's hear from the ladies... I almost feel sorry for "Push It" these days—it has an awful lot of weight to carry around on its shoulders, from wack house remixes to frat party cliche to innumerable hipster mash-up collections. None of that convinces me, though—"Push It" was and is the paragon of hip-house.
08. De La Soul - "Saturdays (Ladies Night Decision)"
The original wraps around an Instant Funk sample that melts in your mouth like an avocado, but the "Ladies Night Decision," is a much harder affair—the heavy percussion skates to the fore and the groove gets extra meaty. Then the break that introduces Trugoy's part comes in, and dammmmmmmmmn!
09. Ice Cream Tee - "Let's Work"
There's a Fresh Prince connection and a Chuck D. connection, but the best thing about Ice Cream Tee is that her entry on AMG begins "not to be confused with Ice-T or Ice Cube..."
10. Jungle Brothers vs. Stevie Wonder - "Parttime Brother"
I'm bending the "rules" a bit by including this, but it sounds so nice right now I gotta put it on. If the title doesn't clue you in: it's the "Jungle Brother" acappella over the "Parttime Lover" instrumental. It's also a bit wobbly of a match-up, which is precisely what makes it so endearing.
01. Chilla Frauste - "Bed-Time Stories"
Hey, whaddya know, it's another Nu Shooz sample! I think I actually like the clean version better, but the inclusion of the words "testicles" and "circumcised" in harmonious coexistence with "as I looked at my Swatch" saves this actually quite bad song from the trashbin. On tiny Florida-based Sunset Records its obscurity is well-deserved, but serves as an ample reminder of how close to the brink the whole genre was always teetering. On second thought, this is amazing—Chilla sells me with his faux-posh accent and his "yellow" complexion.
02. Wrecks N Effect - "New Jack Swing (Percapella)"
Is there anything more egregious on an era 12" than the "Bonus Beats" mix? Of course there is—the "Percapella!" The Boy George shout-out fucking seals it.
03. Stetsasonic - "Talking All That Jazz (Extended Vocal)"
The "hip-hop is real music" ideology espoused in the defensive tone of the lyrics I can do without, but there's no faulting this groove: smooth, bumping, and the perfect accompaniment to that second or third drink, lamping on the patio.
04. Skee-Lo - "I Wish"
Perhaps this is only vaguely housey, but any excuse to put this song on a mix is a good one. Plus few songs summarize the frustrations of thwarted summer love with as much cogency as "I Wish"—you can have your turgid indie-rock self-pity or sub-Dylanisms reinforcing the Myth of Woman, I'll settle for "I can't even get a date, so whatcha think of that?"
05. SWV - "Anything (Old Skool Radio Version)"
Don't sleep. I stumbled across this jam tucked on a Time-Life NJS comp that I bought mainly to reconsider my harsh condemnation of "Rub You the Right Way" by Johnny Gill. I'm still not wholly behind that one, but this is sheer slickness. ODB and some Wu-Tang second-stringer come in and say some stuffs, which is always gravy. Plus it rocks the same Bernard Wright sample as the Skee-Lo joint.
06. Jeffrey Daniel - "She's the Girl (Extended Version)"
Is it a lame rewrite of "Poison?" It sure is! Is Jeffrey Daniel a half-assed vocalist? He sure is! Do I care? Sure don't!
07. Tony! Toni! Tone! - "Feels Good"
Don't it, though?
08. Stevie B. - "Party Your Body (Dub Mix)"
Yeah, say what you will about Stevie B.—he's ugly and Eddie Murphy dresses him funny. That doesn't change the fact that the Dub Version of "Party Your Body" is the rollercoaster jam funktacula. Like a hundred tacky Linn drum beats rolled up into one giant clicking, slapping monster thud-machine, if this doesn't motivate you coming through your er... speaker you might want to hand in both ass-cheeks and retire to a nice, placid Montana ranch home with a case of Fresca and the Prairie Home Companion.
09. Bell Biv Devoe - "Poison"
Who can front? Honestly, the best thing New Edition (as glorious as some of their hits were) did was break up—splintering into parts capable of such blinding brilliance as Bobby Brown's first solo jam and the early BBD material (we won't even bring up Ralph Tresvant). "Poison" is item one in the defense of syncopated R&B;—a miracle of drum programming and doo-wop harmonies that breaks down adolescent hurt-boy scorn into something you could bottle and sell on street corners.
Some days the sky is nothing more than a massive, featureless blue brick, crushing down on your head. It seems harder to move your limbs through the suddenly thick air than it's worth. And the sun starts burning as soon as you step out of the shade. When the mercury starts touching 40 degrees Celsius (over 100, if you're still using Fahrenheit) with 98% humidity, you start to notice the ways in which extreme humidity and heat is analogous to pain. It doesn't hurt, but it interrupts the normal easy relationship most of us have with our bodies. Moving around produces unwanted effects. Your whole existence becomes organized around first becoming comfortable before moving on to whatever you're normally concerned with.
One of the ways you get comfortable, of course, is by the near-total suspension of movement. While I was engaged in that, the first song of this mix came on, and it didn't just relax me—it practically changed the quality of the air in my room. I knew immediately I needed to seek out enough music that evoked the same alchemy to fill a CD, and my days hiding from the sun and cursing the heat would be that much more easy to bear.
01. Slowdive – Rutti
“Into the water / Inside your head...” Total heat haze, way in the back of the track; subliminal drums and a guitar that pays homage to “Rutti”'s sort-of namesake. There are huge, icy open spaces strewn throughout the song, one of the most hypnotic from Slowdive's Pygmalion (an album only beginning to get its proper due). Somehow both the sound of stifling, close air and the remedy to it are both contained here—even when some slight movement is built during these ten minutes everything keeps standing completely still.
02. The Rosebuds – Blue Bird
We will pick things up a little, though, because 65 minutes of “Rutti” would probably render you catatonic (happily so, but you probably want to avoid it anyways). Honestly, part of my reason for picking “Blue Bird” is personal. When I saw the Rosebuds live and I heard this song for the first time they played it in an energetic, power-pop fashion. The “ooh ooh”s were mightily propulsive, but on record the only part that retains any forward momentum at all is the drums, thumping away in the background. The watery guitar and the now-floating backing vocals serve to suck any of the power out of “Blue Bird”—making it a dreamy version of the live song.
03. Aarktica – Happy Anyway
Aarktica's entry into the Bliss Out series, 2002's ...Or You Could Just Go Through Your Whole Life and Be Happy Anyway, is one of the few LPs that could kind of work for the kind of situation this mix was created for (there's even a song called “You're Landlocked, My Love”), but the plaintive guitar lead of “Happy Anyway,” with its seemingly endless cycle fading into the swelling ambience of the rest of the track, most perfectly encapsulates that half-passed out state that you're trying to get past. Plus it leads surprisingly well into...
04. Texas – The Hush
Look, say what you will about the more MOR offerings from Texas, but they’ve had some damn good songs. And this ravishing, barely there (except for the stiff machine beat) reverie is one of their best. “You know, you're nervous when you see me sway / Too much time by yourself.” The whole thing could be that moment at the dance bar when you can't move any more and you just collapse into a corner.
05. Flying Saucer Attack – Suncatcher
From urban gridlock to bucolic dormancy; just Dave Pearce and his acoustic guitar, some echo, and FSA's rural psychedelia. Even the sound of fingers sliding on strings gets echoed, and the effect is again one of suspension, as Pearce sings of waking dreams and “light that burns brightest, burns the shortest time.”
06. Low – Days Of...
Low, of course, are past masters of stopping time and space using little more than their voices. This gem from the Secret Name album goes further than most of their catalog, just a slooooooooow bass part and the occasional drum hit as Mimi spellbinds for six minutes. Often this kind of song would eventually build to some sort of crescendo, but “Days Of...” just does what it does.
07. Susumu Yokota – Hisen
“Days Of...” is actually so still that in order to compromise between the platonic ideal of this mix and actually making it, uh, listenable, you have to increase the activity just a little in its wake. So let's bring in this Sakura-era gem, all hissing, sun-warped percussion hits and far off snatches of strings. “Hisen” always makes me think of watching planes slowly cross the sky—movement, but far away and almost unreal.
08. Alasdair Roberts – Lord Ronald
Roberts beautifully sings a traditional murder ballad, very calmly and deliberately, against a background that for most of the nearly eight minutes is little more than a tone or two. Even when singing of Ronald's hunting dogs (“they swelled and they died”), he never ceases his strangely affecting, mournful monotone. His very dignity forces you to slow down for a minute; this is funeral not in the sense of being morbid or even valedictory (this is a song sung by the soon-to-be-dead man himself, after all), but of demanding your respect.
09. The Dandy Warhols – Sleep
The first part, again with a distant drum machine and calmly circling guitar, is conducive enough to slowing yourself down. But it's the end of “Sleep,” when the track dissolves into nothing but a series of “aaaaaahhh”s, that the song truly comes into its own. That section feels like nothing less than laying your head back into your pillow after a long day.
10. The Mountain Goats – Have to Explode
Around half of the Mountain Goats' fantastic Tallahassee is composed of outwardly depressive late-night acoustic songs, but “Have to Explode” is my favourite, and possibly my favourite song by the band. It's a moment of abeyance in the constant love/hate struggle of the married couple that have moved down to Florida and are drinking themselves to death, a bit of midnight clarity, “You and me lying on the tile floor / Trying to keep cool, restless all night.” It's sad and resigned and somehow loving, and it stops me in my tracks every single time.
11. Pavement – The Hexx
We're nearing the end, so it's time to kick up at least a little dust. Out of all the Black Sabbath homages I've ever heard, this is just about the closest you can come to calmness and composure while still doing them justice. But note that even after the fiercest riffing on “The Hexx,” it immediately goes back to the ringing guitar line that anchors the song. What I remember is not the “reeling 'round the parking lot” burst in the middle, but the hushed “I saw my Palestinian nephew get his face blown off in a dusty crash” end—this particular inversion of hard rock not only works well in the penultimate position of this mix, but shows amply that Pavement's last album should never have been written off.
12. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Experience
That sweeping sound that comes in just after the radar ping-like piano starts “Experience” sounds like time stretching and distorting, and all of the song (much like the rest of Sweet Billy Pilgrim's superb debut) is hushed and painstakingly beautiful. “Experience” is perfect for the end of this mix for the way in the middle of the song Billy Tim Elsenburg breaks free and wails:
And it's not happeningThe level of fatigue, of weariness, of just wanting it to be over in his voice is frankly incredible. If this mix is in response to anything, it's the temperature that can trigger this kind of anguished cry, that makes us long to be able to go “home,” to the world where walking across your apartment to get a glass of water doesn't make you break out in a sweat. And until the fever breaks and you can chalk it all up to good ol' character building experience, it’s best not to move.
Is it time to go home yet?
And when can I put it down to
Confession of a broken heart: I planned for my summer jamz mix to consist almost entirely of selections from the upcoming Hannah Montana soundtrack, plus a couple other sugary golden summer tunes. But Disney—in a typically inexplicable marketing maneuver—decided to push the release date back to October. So instead, I’ve collected some choice confessional teenpop tracks. No Nikki Cleary (“Summertime Guys”), no Vitamin C (“Vacation”), no Hope Partlow (“Crazy Summer Nights”), no Destiny “Miley” Cyrus whatsoever. Everything is effed up, straight from the heart.
01. M2M – Don’t Say You Love Me
It begins…two years before Avril went and made things complicated (actually, Avril went and simplified things that M2M already complicated), Marit Larsen and Marion Raven signaled the sea change to angst on the first Pokemon movie soundtrack and changed pop music 4ever.
02. Britney Spears – Overprotected
Britney’s confessional streak usually takes a backseat to her big singles, but she’s been biting her nails since M2Mish (proto-M2M?) “Sometimes.” “Overprotected” is a big single hiding some big questions, but Britney and Martin/Rami want her answers to sound as easy as the hooks.
03. Marie Serneholt – I Need a House
David Byrne meets the A*Teens. In the first verse alone, Marie Serneholt searches for “me,” truth, love in a changing world, peace and simplicity, where she comes from, courage, faith, acceptance in a narrow space, time when time has gone, and what’s going on. She probably won’t find any of it in the coffee.
04. Sita – Happy
A teenpop “No Surprises” that, in true M2M fashion, somehow got on the Wild Thornberrys soundtrack in 2002. Ex-K-otic singer Sita tells the tale of some miserable schlub who dreams of being a rock star “down by the 405” but returns home to a snail-in-shell “safe” existence with his Chevy and his pretty girlfriend, Marie Serneholt.
05. Lindsay Lohan – I Live for the Day
It’s hard to tell if “I Live for the Day” is about Lindsay’s dad or the stand-in jerk in every Lindsay or Ashlee or M2M song. It could be both. But what is she waiting—living—for this person to finally say? I’m sorry? I love you? Anything, provided he’s on his knees when he says it? Great Moments in Revenge-Rock, pt. 1 in an ongoing series…
06. Ashlee Simpson – Love Me for Me
Ashlee kicks ass indiscriminately in this song. She’s like Godzilla stomping on everything that moves. I can’t even tell what’s setting her off, the fact that this guy won’t get away from her, or won’t come back, or won’t love her for her, or (most likely) she just wants to show everyone what happens when you mess with her. She lets out a strangled, delighted squeal at the perfect moment, right as this moron is crawling over broken glass to get to her. Hear her roar.
07. Fefe Dobson – Unforgiven
“Sorry is a word you like to say / Sorry won’t erase the things you did yesterday / I want you to know that I didn’t need you anyway / And this rope that we walk on is swaying / And the ties that bind us, they will never ever fray / But I want for you to know / You are…unforgiven.” Her dad might be a fan of absolute simplicity, but Fefe Dobson isn’t. This song knocks me out every time.
08. P!nk – Family Portrait
I always resist this one, but I finally connect right at the end, when P!nk pleads for her father not to leave and starts blaming everyone but him. “I won’t spill the milk at dinner…” It’s not just immature, it’s about immaturity—about trying to expose the moment when life changes and realizing that it’s always changing, that it’s a mess. Fefe Dobson can lead an army and P!nk can’t, but I still think I relate to P!nk’s frustration and bewilderment more than Fefe’s frustration and acceptance.
09. Hilary Duff – Fly
I like Hilary Duff because she offers confessional catharsis without requiring any real emotional investment in Hilary. She’s like a vessel for Shanks/DioGuardi angst-rock (or whatever it is she happens to be singing) just going through the motions. It works when the motions work because she always goes through them flawlessly.
01. Jessica Harp – Perfectly
Huckapoo originally sang “Perfectly” on Disney’s anonymous-confessional classic Pixel Perfect, but songwriter Jessica Harp’s demo version has a little more personality. I hope she’ll return to this style whenever she finagles her way out of her contract with Michelle Branch in the Wreckers.
02. Ruby Blue – Through the Rain
“Through the Rain” is Josie and the Pussycats’ version of “Since U Been Gone,” several years before either of them. Damn, this group got a raw deal.
03. Brie Larson – Finally Out of P.E.
Hey coach, gimme a “C” so I can get the hell out of here—it’s like she wrote this song for me, except I got an “A” in gym. “Just because I’m not athletic doesn’t mean you can degrade me”…ha, “D”-grade! I just got that.
04. The Veronicas – When It All Falls Apart
If the last song counts, then this is probably the second-funniest confessional teenpop song ever. It’s also the best explanation available of why the Veronicas have been blacklisted from Radio Disney for life.
05. Aly and AJ – Sticks and Stones
Aly and AJ are terrifying and terrified, infuriating and provocative. It’s suburban angst from gated community home-schooled Christian fundamentalists, but for the most part they separate church from statement (uh-oh, AJ in the June issue of Blender: “Evolution is silly. Monkeys? Um, no”). “Sticks and Stones” is a confrontational song about being bullied that offers fear without the possibility of actual conflict resolution. It’s kind of touching and it at least feels honest. I’m wincing in anticipation for their next album, which I’ll probably buy and overreact to the day it comes out.
06. Kelly Clarkson – Because of You
I hear people singing this song all the time at parties, at restaurants, at home. Does no one notice the lyrics, or notice but choose not to talk about them, or notice and proceed to talk to people that aren’t me? Do other people really relate to the lyrics (I do, sort of, except the “you” is really “me”), and if so, does that signify something important?
07. Rihanna – Unfaithful
Whoa, doozy. He knows she’s cheating and she knows that he knows, and neither of them do anything about it; he lets her keep the lies alive to hold their crumbling relationship together…and she feels so guilty, but she’d blow his brains out before she’d leave him. Jeez, if Rihanna would read some Dan Savage she’d figure out that this is probably how her boyfriend gets off. Either that or they just signed the lease.
08. Lucy Woodward – Done
Knowing that “Done” was written in response to 9/11 doesn’t make it sound any less like a decent break-up song, although it puts into question with whom she’s breaking up and why. Does the broken in New York make Lucy run?
09. Ashlee Simpson – Say Goodbye
This song is so beautiful.
I think they call it an “earworm,” or something else equally twee and mimsy, but what we're talking about here is those periods in your life where one song embeds itself so fiercely and brutally into your brain that passers-by walk up to you and ask “Aren't you that Phineas Gage guy off the telly?”. Too much of my life is dedicated to fixating on one song and boring everyone in my social circle to pure tears by bringing it up in any conversation possible. And I don't mean songs that are currently in the hit parade, I mean stuff that leaks in over DAB radio feeds from stations you can't remember the name of, which suddenly become your own hummable inoperable tumour. For me, currently, it's “Wild World” by Cat Stevens. I'm not even quite sure I actually like this song (I think I might). Irrelevant to whether or not I enjoy it, I've been spending the past few weeks wandering the streets of North London singing “Ooooh baby baby it's a wild world”, like some kind of Wandering Jew of hippy bullshit AOR. But it's a summer song, right? I'm sure you could bump an entire tape of it at your next barbecue...
01. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - Wild World
If you're going to put any mix consisting solely of “interpretations” of modern day standards together, the first place to start has to be Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. A somewhat-less-than-supergroup, comprising members of NOFX, Lagwagon, No Use for a Name, Rilo Kiley, KMB, and Matthews' Southern Comfort; for over ten years now MFATGGs have been showing us that nothing says “funny” like shouting some lyrics that somebody else wrote. Occasionally, they do strike solid gold. Their version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” is pretty awesome, and they similarly bring the love to both “End of the Road” and REO Speedwagon's immense “Take It on the Run.” They also do “Wild World” a good service, if only by making crystal clear how much the lyrics are reminiscent of the kind of stuff Mark Hoppus was writing circa “Stay Together for the Kids.”
02. Maxi Priest - Wild World
Younger Stylus won't be aware of this, but there used to be a TV show on called South Park. It had the same title, characters, and animation style as the modern unrelated TV show with the same name, but that's where the similarities end. Instead of being, as today's SP is, the cathode-equivalent of being trapped in the corner of a freshers' party by two stoned undergraduates who read their first ever Op-Ed three hours earlier, this show had such revolutionary concepts as “jokes” and “character development.” One such character was Priest Maxi, a lovable bigoted Catholic priest whose name was a tribute to the much beloved British reggae musician Maxi Priest, who made June 1988 that much more bearable with this top five, piss-weak lovers rock track. Wine bars must have been really really popular in the late 80s.
03. Mr. Big - Wild World
For those who don't find “More Than Words” date-rapey enough, Mr. Big give you nothing but Steve Tyler mush-mouthed vocals, and the kind of guitar work that just begs out for a mountaintop and an open shirt. MR. BIG FACT: the video for “Wild World” is pretty much copied entirely by that fucking awful Feeling single where they're pissing about with the frogs.
04. Jose Feliciano - Wild World
Seriously, excuse my ignorance, who exactly was Jose Feliciano? I mean, I know he was some Puerto Rican cat with a gammy eye and he hit the charts with that Latin Jazz version of “Light My Fire,” as well as this take on Mr. Islam's finest hour, so this means... he was some kinda 1960s Nouvelle Vague/Senor Coconut? Jose's take on this song is the most sedate of any on here, and he even ad libs by referring to it as a “Wild and freaky world!” at one point, perhaps revealing himself as the innovator of freestyle jazz.
05. Gabe Witcher - Wild World
"It is only fitting that the timeless music of Cat Stevens should now be expertly captured in a musical style which has remained unchanged by time.” Yep, Moonshadow: The Bluegrass Tribute to Cat Stevens was certainly an album that had all the kids in the playground talking the next day, and what finer cut from it could there be than Gabe Witcher bringing that mountain man/Deliverance love to Cat's impassioned plea for his girl to find a lot of nice things to wear. Witcher has also served time as Beck's fiddle player, as well as helping out Randy Newman on the Toy Story soundtrack. And to think you'd never heard of him before now.
06. Bobby Torres Ensemble - Wild World
Man, Puerto Ricans have got more “Wild World” covers than they've got cousins. Bobby Torres is basically a bargain basement Ray Barretto who makes songs that sound like a bad night out in a Fiesta Havana. Vocals to this supplied, seemingly, by your mother doing the washing.
07. The Ventures - Wild World
Considering how I paid my way through university with winnings from pub quiz machines, I suppose I should have heard of The Ventures before now. One of the 100 biggest selling music acts of all time, you know? Anyway, have twangy guitar, will churn out endless downbeat instrumental covers. Duane Eddy and The Shadows on their first heroin high.
08. Karrin Allyson - Wild World
What is it with modern vocal-jazz “musicians” and cover versions of pop songs? I mean, they all tackle them in exactly the same way: jaunty up the backing track and then proceed to sing about half a beat behind the rest of the song, occasionally wrapping your words around the end of the line.
09. Jimmy Cliff - Wild World
Jimmy Cliff was a skinny guy who sang like a girl and unnecessarily shoved choirs on his songs where they weren't needed. Does this mean he invented Britpop?
10. Beth Orton - Wild World
This is my favourite version of “Wild World” ever recorded. Beth keeps the gender of the song's protagonist the same (as opposed to Karrin Allyson, who just did a radio-edit style silence on the word “girl” in case anyone thinks she's a big lezzer), and imbues it with a post-influenza huskiness over piano and drums stolen from the best mid 90s alt.rock crossover there never was. From the soundtrack to How to Deal with Mandy Moore, a movie I have sadly never seen.
11. Shahin & Sepehr - Wild World
Two Iranian dudes go Spanish guitar crazy and turn it into the kind of music that could sell second homes somewhere in the Iberian peninsula. Starts off energetically enough, but soon stumbles the longer it goes on insert joke about Iranian national team.
12. Cat Stevens - Wild World
“Hope you have a lot of nice things to wear / But then a lot of nice things turn bad out there.” Is this entire song about shoddy stitching? Have I just put together a cassette tape dedicated to bitching out laundrettes for leaving a red sock in the basin? Seems so. Beats the shit out of “Matthew and Son,” though.
John M. Cunningham
Last year in this space I designed a mix of songs popular in the U.S. during the summer of 1991, when I was a 12-year-old Top 40 fan and had a shoebox full of tapes of songs I'd recorded off the radio. Well, every great idea deserves a sequel, so this year I decided to tackle the following summer's hits. These are songs I listened to during those last few months before I started high school, songs that accompanied me while playing Frogger in my air-conditioned bedroom and basketball in the driveway with my best friend Steve. While last year's mix aimed to be comprehensive, this year I focused more on a solid flow, eliminating songs that struck me as too tedious for a 70-minute tape ("November Rain," "This Used to Be My Playground"), as well as those that, let's face it, just plain suck ("Life Is a Highway"). Enjoy.
01. Sir Mix-A-Lot - "Baby Got Back"
If measured by the number of middle-schoolers who memorized every line (there are still large portions I can recite), Sir Mix-A-Lot's novelty rap stands as the definitive hit of the summer. Doesn't hurt that the beat, abetted by that creeping mechanical bassline, sounds like the smack of hot blacktop, and that the hilarious innuendo is well suited for scantily clad July weekends. The attack on Cosmo almost makes you forget that it's still objectification.
02. Das EFX - "They Want EFX"
Das EFX's signature song, which I heard mostly on urban radio, is nothing less than a sugar-high babble of nonsense syllables and pop-culture catchphrases, the same detritus celebrated as kitsch in era-defining works like Douglas Coupland's Generation X. In rap format, it's like "Jabberwocky" if Lewis Carroll had watched Saturday morning cartoons.
03. En Vogue - "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)"
The trio's usual sassiness shines through here, but this song really exists for that old-fashioned Andrews Sisters-style harmonizing on the break: a way to fend off upstarts TLC (whose "Baby Baby Baby" was crawling up the charts) for just a moment longer.
04. Tevin Campbell - "Strawberry Letter 23"
Tevin Campbell was sort of the Chris Brown of his day, an adolescent R&B; pin-up with a callow, searching voice—except he was actually a few years younger, and on this Shuggie Otis cover he also shows off his rap skills, substituting the psychedelic frippery of the original for a slick and funkier breakdown. Good for listening in my room while the Barcelona Olympics were on TV downstairs.
05. Arrested Development - "Tennessee"
Hip-hop goes on a tour of the rural South, trading ghetto high-rises for backyard barbecues with watermelon and tire swings. The group's earnest Afrocentrism makes them an easy target these days, but there was a time when a single like this was a minor revelation, playfully integrating gospel wails and front-porch chatter into Speech's drawling, half-sung rap.
06. Nice & Smooth - "Sometimes I Rhyme Slow"
Likewise, the acoustic Tracy Chapman sample this song is built upon provides an unexpected complement to the brisk skip-rope beat, even if the two rappers' verses seem to have nothing to do with one another.
07. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Under the Bridge"
Is where the Peppers ditched their goofball party-funk (not that I'd been aware of it; this was their first song to crack the top 40) in favor of an epic, sordid ballad about the L.A.'s mythic underbelly. What makes it work is John Frusciante's suddenly pretty guitar and the slow buildup to that snarling coda.
08. The Cure - "Friday I'm in Love"
Probably nobody's idea of top-shelf Cure—take away Robert Smith's cotton-mouthed yelp, and that sunny jangle could belong to R.E.M.—but it was my introduction to the band, courtesy NBC's short-lived Saturday Morning Videos, during their peak period of popularity.
01. George Michael - "Too Funky"
1992 was the year that piano house seeped into the pop charts, roughly starting with CeCe Peniston's "Finally," and it's little surprise that the roguish (though not yet out) George Michael came to embrace it, too. By late summer this suggestive club track had taken hold, featuring the former Wham! frontman's cocky vocals amidst squiggling synths and a campy dialogue snippet from The Graduate. Yowza.
02. Lidell Townsell - "Nu Nu"
I'm a bit chagrined that Fannypack remade this song last year, since I was convinced it was a lost dance classic, and now I have to share it with scores of Williamsburg hipsters. Ah well. I'm probably still the only kid who named it his current favorite song in a nerdy poll he conducted of his 8th-grade English class: the blasé refrain ("mmm mmm yeah yeah") against that seductive beat remains infectious.
03. Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross ft. BBD and Ralph Tresvant - "The Best Things in Life Are Free"
I'd practically forgotten about this song and for that reason almost didn't include it, except for two things. One, Janet and Luther's dynamo duet is really engaging, and two, Jam and Lewis's production showcases a couple of new R&B; trends at once: the house groove (which wouldn't last long) and the guest rap (which certainly would).
04. Sophie B. Hawkins - "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover"
Second mention of this on Stylus this week, and remarkably, neither is by Passantino. What Soto (or even Kogan, for that matter) doesn't have time to get into is the song's pop omnivorousness: the best part is that moment at the end of the bridge when the spirited horns and Johnny Marr guitar fade away and the gently loping hip-hop beat and soft synth bed return.
05. Annie Lennox - "Why"
Haha, so one day when I was 13, my parents sent me to my room for something I deemed unfair, and in protest I cued up "Why" on my boombox and blared it down the hallway in between fits of tears. I don't think it solved anything.
06. Mariah Carey ft. Trey Lorenz - "I'll Be There"
I can't say that I was really nuts about this at the time, but in retrospect, it's such a winning performance, both endearing and strong, from a time when Mariah could really sing. I guess you can't go wrong with Jackson Five covers, either.
07. Boyz II Men - "End of the Road"
And so we finish things off with the song that managed to unseat Elvis as the longest-running number one in Billboard history. (To give you an idea, it reached the summit before the Republican National Convention and didn't come down until after Bill Clinton had been elected president.) It was a staple at every school graduation dance for five years after, but its langorousness also makes it an ideal soundtrack to an early September sunset, as summer dribbles to a close.
In the small Midwestern town where I grew up, summertime was about nights out. On hot summer nights, there were two places to be: the mall, and Broadway, the main street that passed through town. This mixtape is a tribute to cruising Broadway. The soundtrack is '80s thrash metal, and the outfit is Oakley shades, Hypercolor shirt, and pegged jeans (or overalls with one strap fastened). Mullet is optional, but recommended.
01. Metallica - "Am I Evil?"
Long before therapy sessions and VH1-style nonsense, Metallica played raw, vicious thrash. One of their biggest influences was New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) band Diamond Head. "Am I Evil?" is a Diamond Head cover that first appeared as a B-side and is now available on the Garage Inc. compilation. Martial snares and chugging riffs lead to an epic solo section that spirals higher and higher. The chorus is classic: "Am I evil? / I am man, yes I am."
02. Annihilator - "W.T.Y.D. (Welcome to Your Death)"
Vancouver-based Annihilator is really just a vehicle for Jeff Waters' guitar shredding. This song (from the first Annihilator album, Alice in Hell) demonstrates this. The lyrics are laughable and the chorus is inane (what was up with '80s titles and acronyms? Testament had "C.O.T.L.O.D.," Anthrax had "N.F.L.," (see below), and in movies there were C.H.U.D. and D.A.R.Y.L.). But out of nowhere drops amazingly pretty and sophisticated guitar work before the headbanging resumes.
03. Megadeth - "Peace Sells"
You may recognize the opening bass riff as the former theme of MTV News (with Tabitha Soren and/or Kurt Loder, I forget). The rest of the song is killer, though. Chris Poland turns in visceral, memorable solos; dig the tart, bluesy bends at 2:05. Dave Mustaine may have been the crying guy in Some Kind of Monster, but his snarl is in fine form here.
04. Exodus - "The Toxic Waltz"
A fundamental rule of the moshpit is that if someone falls, you pick them up. Evidently, things were a bit rougher in the '80s. This ode to moshpit violence has some of the silliest lyrics ever written: "Everybody's doin' the toxic waltz / Kick your friend in the head / Come on and do the toxic waltz / And slam your partner against the wall." Bonus points for the gang vocals (one of the most endearing features of '80s rock) and for working your own band name into a song.
05. Prong - "For Dear Life"
You may also recognize this song from MTV; it was the theme of the original Headbangers Ball back when Riki Rachtman was the host. Gang vocals and cowbell make this song automatically awesome. Tommy Victor is one of the most underrated guitarists ever; seeing him play these parts live and sing at the same time is awe-inspiring. Currently you can see him as part of Ministry's MasterBaTour lineup.
06. Slayer - "Mandatory Suicide"
As far as summer jams go, one could just throw Slayer's Reign in Blood onto each side of a 60-minute tape and be done with it. But let's dig deeper. After taking manic speed to extremes on Reign, Slayer slowed things down on South of Heaven. The band caught flak for this, but the result was some of Slayer's heaviest songs ever, including "Mandatory Suicide." Geek note: this is the only song on this tape not in the key of E (it's tuned down a half step to E flat). Most '80s thrash bands were content to play in standard tuning and pedal on the open E string.
01. Testament - "The Preacher"
One criterion for inclusion on this tape was "air-guitar-ness." This song, from Testament's The New Order, is easily the air-guitar-est here. The arrangement is tight, the performances are firing, and Chuck Billy proves why he is one of metal's best singers. If you catch Testament live, you'll see Billy air-guitar the solos perfectly in sync with the guitarists.
02. Anthrax - "Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)"
Anthrax were a bit silly for my taste (the more serious Persistence of Time is my favorite Anthrax album), but Among the Living is considered their best work (am I the only one who doesn't like the album's sterile production?). "N.F.L." was one of the album's anthems due to its massive gang vocals. For a great account of Keanu Reeves moshing to this song, check out this guy's blog (scroll down halfway).
03. Death Angel - "Stop"
Death Angel was part of the '80s Bay Area thrash scene that yielded Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, and Exodus. Things were looking up when the band signed to Geffen and released Act III in 1990. But music industry mishaps and internal tensions curtailed the band's career (although they reunited for 2004's The Art of Dying). "Stop" is one of the best songs from Act III. The arrangement is unpredictable, the vocals are strong, and the galloping riffs are unstoppable.
04. D.R.I. - "Beneath the Wheel"
Another brush with the sillier side of thrash. D.R.I. started out playing hardcore punk, but gradually crossed over to thrash, beginning with the appropriately-titled Crossover. "Beneath the Wheel" is from the likewise appropriately-titled Thrash Zone. One of my favorite elements of '80s thrash was random bass fills, and this song is full of them. Kurt Brecht's voice is quite similar to that of the bully in the Simpsons (Jimbo, I believe).
05. Suicidal Tendencies - "Send Me Your Money"
Suicidal Tendencies was another big part of the crossover between hardcore punk and thrash. This ditty features bassist Robert Trujillo, who, as documented in Some Kind of Monster, is now in Metallica. His slap bass fills here are so delightfully over-the-top they could be in Seinfeld. At times, Mike Muir's vocal patterns are strangely reminiscent of Mitch Hedberg's.
06. Judas Priest - "Painkiller"
"Painkiller" is hands down one of the best metal songs ever recorded. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool. Judas Priest got known in the '80s for arena rock ("Breaking the Law," "Hell Bent for Leather," etc.), but the addition of drummer Scott Travis lent a decidedly thrash edge to Painkiller. Guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing also stepped it up, as the solos here are insane. Rob Halford rolls his r's with aplomb and shrieks like a man possessed. The video for this song blew my little teenage mind.
Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, in a track not on this tape, says he knows where the summer goes. He’s the only one; summer’s soaring temperatures means the season isn’t exactly rife with significant activity. The days are long, there’s nothing on TV, it’s too hot to do anything, and if you must do something, like, say, earn a living, the overbearing heat is enough to make you wish you were doing nothing at all. As a soundtrack for your summer, then, I offer gently lethargic tracks about gentle lethargy. Some enjoy their sluggishness, some despair, but each is aware that on a summer’s day, doing nothing is doing too much.
Nothing to Do
01. The Coup – “I Just Want to Lay Around All Day in Bed with You”
The day starts with baking sun streaming in through your window, and all you can think of is remaining stationary for as long as possible. The Coup have work today — if they don’t get paid by 5:02 that afternoon, they plan on burning the place down — but that would involve getting out of bed. Summer awaits? Well, it can wait five more minutes.
02. The Lucksmiths – “T-Shirt Weather”
Of course, no matter how much inactivity summer tempts, you must rise and face it sometime, and the Lucksmiths provide the perfect kick in the pants to get you going. “Wake up, wake up,” they rejoice. “It’s T-shirt weather!” All this bouncy joy would be wearing with the mercury so high, but fortunately, the Lucksmiths have no greater plans for the T-shirt weather than heading down to the pub and talking to a girl who’ll remain friendly so long as the conversation avoids football.
03. Big Star – “In the Street”
The jangly guitar here is ridiculously sunny, the harmonies even more so, and Alex Chilton’s depiction of summer in the suburbs is dead on; less Beach Boys partying, and more aimless driving around with “not a thing to do, but talk to you.” Even better is the verisimilitude of “I wish we had / A joint so bad.” Does no one else remember their lazy teenage summer experiences punctuated more by the desire to have drugs than the actual use of them?
04. Jesse Malin – “Riding on the Subway”
It’s just as hot in the city as the suburbs, though, which is why Ryan Adams protégé Jesse Malin is wise enough to lace this track with little more than a gently strummed guitar and meagre bongo taps. Anything more would be overwhelming on such a sweltering day.
05. The Diplomats – “Dipset Symphony”
Usually Cam and crew spend their time hustling, dealing, shooting and fucking, but when it’s this hot, Juelz Santana has a better idea. He and his buddies are “back to the grill again, live at the barbeque.” Pretty much the entirety of the Diplomats shows up to contribute a few lines with the notable exception of Cam’ron. I imagine Killa’s too busy standing at the cooker, wearing a purple apron, and turning the meat over.
06. Aimee Mann – “Ghost World”
Aimee Mann, freshly graduated from high school, has nothing to do, can’t even get a job and doesn’t want to hang out with her friends because “they’re acting weird or way too cool.” She’ll probably spend her July complaining about hipsters on her blog. The gloomy flipside to Big Star’s celebration of “hanging around,” and with more depth than your average coming-of-age flick, its malaise is all too accurate.
07. Jets to Brazil – “Sweet Avenue”
Jets to Brazil has nothing to do either, but they aren’t concerned. The melody is so pretty that Blake Schwarzenbach crooning, “living by the hour, I stop for every flower,” is sweet rather than cloying. The events of this track could easily take place during Aimee Mann’s directionless three months, since all the happiness is drawn from an isolated moment where doing nothing with someone you love is better than doing anything.
Nowhere to Go
01. Bran Van 3000 – “Drinking in L.A.”
Side B brings us a new day with nothing to do and nowhere to go, so it is a little disturbing to hear the words “Get your ass out of bed… I’ll explain it on the way,” amidst the chilled keyboards and laid-back beats. This Mafioso story with a twist sounds like it is going to involve far too much action for a genuine summer day. But Bran Van should not be doubted; it is not long before they are sidetracked and end up “doing nothing, absolutely nothing that day.” Except, that is, listening to G-funk and sipping gin and juice. What the hell are they doing drinking in L.A.? It’s summer. It is the best thing they could possibly be doing.
02. Fountains Of Wayne – “Utopia Parkway”
As summer songs go, Fountains of Wayne have made the genre an art form. There are many other equally appropriate tracks I could have chosen for this mix, but “Utopia Parkway” gets in not just for its breezy guitar pop, but because I get the feeling, despite the ambitions expressed by the singer, that he is not going to get much done. He hopes to get a van, stick up flyers and start a band, but when he and his buddies meet up, I doubt very little music is going to happen.
03. Mac Dre – “California Livin’”
Mac Dre’s got the idea. The now-deceased hyphy pioneer’s version of California living involves hanging out, drinking and “having sex in the strangest places.” Listening to his ambitions of waking up in the morning, eating grits, and making hits would normally be too strenuous given the temperature, but the sinuous west coast funk makes it all sound like the easiest thing in the world.
04. Green Day – “Longview”
It is little wonder this was such a hit when everyone listening to it back in 1995 was most likely spending their summer doing exactly the same thing as Billie Joe Armstrong: watching TV, getting high, and masturbating. Green Day’s studious attitude toward idleness puts everyone else on this mix to shame; even the walking bass line sounds like it is sitting around twiddling its thumbs.
05. Smashing Pumpkins – “1979”
While we are back in the ��90s, it is hard to go past Billy Corgan’s ode to aimless youth. If you were a teenager when Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness came out, this was both your summer and the soundtrack to it.
06. Slim Thug – “This Is My Life”
One could be concerned about all the bustle Slim Thug describes here. Hard work, taunting enemies, and pleasing customers are activities for the colder months; it is a wonder he can even think of grinding while he’s riding such a sweltering, stifling Neptunes beat, Houston in August condensed into a massive keyboard swell. But then we get the explanation: despite his posturing, today Slim isn’t “pushing no rocks or running from cops,” he’s “just chilling with my niggaz posted up on a drop.” Comparing this to “In The Street,” it seems that Slim Thug’s life in south Texas is pretty much identical to that of Alex Chilton in Memphis.
07. Tilly And The Wall – “Nights of the Living Dead”
Tilly and the Wall paint a night where boys kiss boys in hotel rooms, 40 ounces is never enough and their greatest ambition is to get into a club to shake their ass. It is all delivered with adolescent passion and surety, loaded with the teenage certainty that nothing could be more significant than their life going on right now. Drunk on the moment, they draw all they can out of their summer, desperately hoping it can stave off the impending intrusion of reality…
08. Architecture In Helsinki – “City Calm Down”
…Which is far too angsty for these months. Architecture in Helsinki does pretty much the same thing as Tilly and co, though instead of 40s, they are “drinking stolen gin from the rich people’s bar next door.” This bunch of kids is so thrilled with the prospect of having nothing to do that as the day ends, they demand that the whole city slow down to enjoy the lackadaisical experience with them.
09. The Promise Ring – “Jersey Shore”
And finally, “Jersey Shore.” The summer is drawing to a close here. The simple guitar line cuts across the song like a cool breeze, and Davey von Bohlen might even be wearing a sweater as he’s “bored walking on the boardwalk.” After a whole summer of sleeping on friend’s floors and using all his credit at the local shops, he is almost ready to head into the fall, where activity suddenly becomes bearable and complex thoughts become possible. But the closing scene of our mixtape movie is a happy one; as the sun sets, Von Bohlen keeps strolling down that Jersey boardwalk, and we can be sure the summer is not quite done yet.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-06-19