Chris Stringer’s Eternal Mixtape

Okay, this is a bit long. Partly because out of the thousands of songs that mean stuff to me, I’ve picked the ones with the most interesting stories – well, I think so anyway. Some of them are funny; some of them broke my heart to tell. But these are the songs I carefully chose to map some really important times in my life – be that a life changing experience, or a time where everything was right. I’m not so good with dates, but I’ve put these as chronologically to my life as I can recall. You can download it here.

I hope you enjoy.

Also, Mum, if you read this… I’m sorry. But I’m sure you already knew.

The B-52s – Love Shack

I think this may be the first song I loved. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t remember. But it came out in 1989, and I was around 1 by then, and my mum says that I loved it. She says that when I was a baby I loved it, and I used to dance to it all the time. She tells me EVERY time it comes on. I still think it’s a rad song, but it just makes me happy to think my mum will think of me every time she hears that song, and not the 1994 Flintstones movie.

Tracy Chapman – Baby Can I Hold You?

My parents split when I was young. Before my father moved away, he lived in a house just round the corner from ours, and my sister and I would stay there sometimes. It’s not until writing this that I’ve realised that he was only renting a room, rather than a flat or house; and it’s not until this age and this realisation that I understand how crushing that must have been for him. I remember once, he put this song on, and told my little sister, Sian and me, how he wanted to play it to our mum in the hope that she would love him again, or something. To this day I can’t hear the song without thinking of how broken a man he was, and how little I knew. I wish only that he wasn’t such an asshole, so that I could feel sorry for him for longer.

Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know

We never had a car when it was just Mum, Sian and me, so Mum would often borrow her friend Debbie’s car for whenever she needed the use of it. I remember Jagged Little Pill being one of the few cassettes we had, and this song really sticks out. I think it may have a lot to do with this: Whenever Alanis hit that line; my mum’s hayfever kicked in, or something. Seriously, it’s one of life’s great mysteries. “It was a slap in the face/how quickly I was replaced/and are you thinking of me when you f-” “AAATCHOO!” Weird, right? Perplexes me to this day.

The Offspring – Want You Bad

This is the song that got me into ‘rock’ music. I was in year 8, I was on a school trip to Germany. Up until this point I’d been friends with the townie kids in my class (‘townies’ were kids from Townhill and Mayhill in Swansea – kind of like how ‘chavs’ started; before the mindless violence – anyone else was a ‘surfie’, regardless of whether you surfed or not), and although they were good fun friends, they just weren’t my ‘sort’ of friends. Then on the ferry from Dover to Calais, I became friends with these other kids. We were sitting around this touch screen thing, which was a jukebox that played videos. And this was one of the songs they played. I think it’s worth telling you that they also played ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. And I actually was lent one of my new friends’ tape walkman with Nevermind on it during the journey home, so by all means it would make sense to say that Nirvana were my induction band. But ‘Want You Bad’ was my new favourite song. And I’d found a new buncha kids who I was more alike. I’d found my ‘place’ in school.

Limp Bizkit – Rollin’

Right. So… Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water was the, uh… Man, I don’t know how to put this… It was… It was the first album I ever bought. I know, I know. That’s not the worst part, though. I really liked it. And, you want a confession? If I’m out with my friends and this song comes on, we have a blast. We ‘sing’ along. We bounce around. We even do the dance. Then we have another drink, and laugh about how bad our taste in music was.

Lostprophets – Shinobi vs Dragon Ninja

Lostprophets are that band from round here that made it big. Turns out, really, really big. But I remember when they first came out, there was loads of buzz around ‘cause they were only from the Rhondda, so it was really close to home. ‘Kerrang!’ was all over them like fake tan on a Swansea girl, so us kids were way excited. I remember hearing this song and being blown away – it was so different to what everyone was listening to (which in my group of friends, I’ll be honest, was only Nirvana), and it was really big. I really don’t think there’s anyone my age, especially from around here, who was into ‘alternative’ music that hasn’t owned or doesn’t still own The Fake Sound of Progress. And I’ll be honest – I don’t think there are many of those kids that weren’t at that gig. They played at this tiny, amazing venue in Swansea called the Patti Pavilion – it was my first ‘rock’ gig, my first gig sans-family; and it was fucking heaving. So many of us there; from my school, different schools – kids from all around, queuing outside, all meeting, talking to one another. Seriously, I even meet people now, and if the conversation somehow comes round to it, I’m surprised how many people say, “I was there!” My English teacher’s band (more on those later) were the support, and rocked the fuckin’ house. And ‘Prophets? Kicked ASS. It’s true. There was a time when they were exciting; electric and eclectic. And Hardcore. The room was packed; there wasn’t even enough room to sweat. Literally, shoulder-to-shoulder with about 900 other kids – so close, in fact, that if one person jumped, the rest of us jumped. It was amazing, and as much as I hate to admit it – it was one of those generation-defining moments.

Liberty 37 – 1942

So, Liberty 37 are my most favourite band. Ever. It’s my band that I don’t care what anybody else thinks, they are mine and they will be forever. And the weirdest part is, the singer was my English teacher. It started off as “hey, have you heard Mr. Lewis’ band?” It continued with me getting hold of their second album, God Machine, and seeing them at Lostprophets. I regrettably only got into them as much as I am now after the ‘Prophets gig. But I absolutely adore them. Ishmael Lewis (the singer, my teacher) is the reason I started singing, the reason I started playing music. To be honest, if there were a John Hughes-esque Rite du Passage movie about me, the soundtrack would be almost solely Lib. I learned to sing by singing along to the songs. I learned to play guitar by working the songs out. I try and show them to everyone at some point. This song has one line that has spoken to me and meant the most to me from any song: “What’s a boy to do?”

Pitchshifter – Microwaved

I was in year 9, so I must have been about 14 when Pitchshifter came into my life. I think ‘Microwaved’ was on a ‘Kerrang!’ (oh yes) mix CD, and I thought it was fucking ace. None of my friends got it. We always used to go to town, my friends and I. We’d go wander round town, I’d wander off while my friends stole shit from HMV (that was too high a risk for me) and then we’d go to Hyper Value, steal loads of random shit that we could mess around with then go get high at the colosseum by the leisure centre. This is what we’d do every weekend. We wouldn’t even steal proper stuff – it was always really silly things like neck ties and flammable shit. I once took a whole Santa costume, too. This one Saturday, the 5th of October 2002 (I most certainly did have to look that up), Pitchshifter played the aforementioned Patti Pavilion. We’d just stolen some dust masks and kneepads from Hyper Value, and we were using the dust masks as some weird smoking implement (take a huge toke, place the mask on; breathe recycled smoke), and we made friends with these two guys who asked if they could borrow a lighter. They were going to Pitchshifter. I wanted to go to Pitchshifter. None of my friends would, but we persuaded them to go. My friends went home to get some money and I went to the venue with the two guys.
While we were sitting on the grass outside the Patti, we made friends with this other kid and two girls. Jon, Louise and Ellie. We met Jason Bowld the drummer, and Jim Davies the guitarist (also from the Prodigy – he’s the dude in the stripy top in the Firestarter video). The gig was fucking incredible. Not only were Pitchshifter amazing, but also the then-little-known (and now defunct and unremembered) ThisGIRL were fantastic. I never saw those two dudes again. Saw Ellie around the scene for a few years. Louise was seeing a friend of mine for a while recently. My friends never came back.

Oh yeah, and Jon became my best friend, and still is to this day.

Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue

At the age of about 14 I got my first ‘job’ – delivering papers. On a Sunday. For £7. Not £7 an hour, just £7. Sunday papers in the UK are packed chock-full of supplements and ‘better living’ mags and… Well, just shite, basically. And carrying bags of them around the way-too-hilly area where I lived, at 7 in the morning was way crap. And way heavy. So sometimes, my Bamps (my grandad – it’s a Welsh thing, apparently) would drive down and take me round in the car (that way, it only took one to two hours). He had (well, probably still has) this tape of ‘Country Classics’, and we’d always listen to it, without fail. It’s where I first started to love country. One of the songs was this, and we’d always crank it up and sing along together. I loved how crazy and random I thought the lyrics were – “Well I hit him once right between the eyes and he went down, but to my surprise, he came back with a knife, and cut off a piece of my ear”. Some of the most beautiful moments in my life happened during those car rides, I think most notably the bonding with my Bamps.

A – Nothing

I could pick any ‘A’ song, really. They were a huge part of my early teens; their ridiculously happy pop-punk and ‘everything is ace’ attitude just really, really appealed to me. But Nothing was the first track I heard of theirs. This was the first (of many) bands that I liked and no one else did – and I didn’t give a shit. This was my band. And I absolutely love them still. I know; the nigh-on-22 year-old in me says “no man, don’t do it!” but there’s something in them fitting Billy Joel lyrics into a pop-punk song that really does it for me. However, the album Hi-Fi Serious was the soundtrack to my early teens, from age 12 or 13 until about 16 or so. I even had… The hoodie. Indeed. ‘A’ also hold a very special place in my heart – for W.D.Y.C.A. I being the one and only song that I have ever been caught air-guitarring and miming (into a mirror, no less) to. Let’s face it though – there are plenty worse things my mum could have caught me doing, like, I could have been jerking off to Tool or something.

Tool – Schism

So, I’m about 14 or 15. And I hear this track on some TV station, probably ‘Kerrang!’ or something. And at first I’m like, ‘whoah, this bass line is awesome’ which then becomes ‘this guy’s voice is awesome’, and then ‘this song is awesome’… Thus began my love affair with Tool. I remember the day I bought… Well that’s not exactly true, I remember picking the album up, and I remember listening to it. Tool were the soundtrack to my mid to late teens. Lateralus pretty much being the only thing Jon and I listened to for a while. One night, Jon and I listened to the whole album and stayed up really late. It was about 3 AM and the final track, Faaip de Oiad came on. That track features a sound clip of some dude, sounding like he is shitting himself, calling the Art Bell radio show. He basically talks about how he worked at Area 51 and that there’s stuff the government’s hiding, and he’s being chased across the country, blah blah. Needless to say, the two of us were fucking terrified. All I could see were Jon’s eyes about at wide as mine, staring at me as helplessly as I was he. “Turn the light on! Maaaaaan that was fuckin’ scary!” I couldn’t listen to the track alone for a long time afterwards – it really freaked me out.

Paul Weller – You Do Something To Me

Jess and I had started going out in March. Toward the end of May, just before my 16th Birthday, the two of us along with Jon and Danielle (another couple, my best friend and hers, respectively), went camping. There was no campsite so we just set up our tents behind the summer shacks along the beach. My mum had no idea; I’d told her it was a party at my friend’s. She’d bought me a small crate of beers to take – along with a pizza (which we barbecued for breakfast the following morning and was fucking gross). That night was the first night Jess and I spent together. I remember the four of us sitting in ‘our’ tent (I’d borrowed it from a friend – yes he was disgusted when he found out) drinking a bottle of Cava, I remember running into the sea, Jon shouting ‘don’t go, man! You’ll die! Your mum AND Chris Young dreamt you drowned!’ and later on, Jon saying that he thought he may lose his virginity that night. And me replying, “I already have!” and waving the condom at him (and they call it ‘maturing’!). For the rest of the night, Jess and I stayed up just talking, and spending time together. As we watched the sun rise, I sang this to her. It was ‘our song’ (even though she hated to admit that we had one) for years, and I guess, it always will be.

The Who – Baba O’Reilly

The first time I heard this song I was asleep. Seriously. I think it was possibly the first time I visited my father’s home in Spain, and I had fallen asleep in the car on the way from the airport. I had this crazy dream of kids, hand in hand, at night time, running through whatever barren junk filled landscape they were in; the only light coming from flaming torches held by the guy and people in the far background. It felt like escaping everyone, and it felt like young love.
I was woken up when we got there, and I just kept singing “teenage wasteland… it’s only teenage wasteland”. I had to ask, ‘what were we listening to in the car? Did they sing about teenage wasteland?’ When I listen to the song now, I still see the same image of what is my subconscious’ idea of a ‘teenage wasteland’ – and I’m almost moved to tears every time.

Tenacious D – Rock Your Socks

It’s summer. I’m 15, and I’m down the beach with Jon. We’re really high, we’ve been smoking that hash that he got all day. We’ve been smoking our ‘trademark’ joint: the Naked Lady. We’ve had a few ‘Ladies, and we’ve been sitting on this rock singing the Tenacious D album from the start. We stop singing due to laughing so much during this song, at the point where the guitar becomes all fanciful and kind of medieval. We’re watching some people play football; because light travels faster than sound, the sound of the kick comes later than the kick. Kick… “thupp”. Kick… “thupp”. We laugh so hard we can’t even sit up.

Free – I’m A Mover

I want to say ‘I first heard Free when…’ but the truth is, who the hell my age remembers when they heard a song as radio-played as All Right Now? It’s like asking a 14-year-old girl when they first heard Calvin Harris. Having said that, I remember when I got into Free. It was one summer when I went to visit my Dad in Spain – and Jon came with us. That holiday was when I heard other Free songs, and loved them. The reason I picked I’m A Mover is because it stuck out. That holiday was amazing. One of the only times I ever got high at my mum’s house (I’m sorry, mum) I was about 16 or 17, leaning out my bedroom window, in the sun, listening to this song. One of the best and last practices my old band with Jon had included a ten-minute jam version of this song. We totally winged it – there were guitar solos from both Jon and myself, as well as a bass solo from our friend Owain. And it was fucking awesome.

Nizlopi – Extraordinary

The first time I saw Nizlopi I was pleasantly surprised. I’d only heard JCB and was less than impressed. However, live they were something different entirely – so much energy; so much unparalleled soul. The second time I saw them was with Jess and our friend Lewis, in a tiny room in a club in Swansea. We danced and sang all night, and I even sang on stage with them. This song was both the funkiest and most romantic song ever. She always wanted me to sing it to her; and I never did. Although I did send all the lyrics in a text to her, safe for changing the line “you ride a bike and read Rilke; so it’s meant to be, Love” to “you love movies and Zombies, so it’s meant to be, Love”.

John Williams – Journey To The Island

I’m a big fan of John Williams’ compositions. And I’m an even bigger fan of dinosaurs. Jurassic Park is my favourite film. Ever. This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard – that scene in Jurassic Park when Alan, Ellie, Ian and Genarro see the Brachiosaur for the first time; I feel an unbelievably overwhelming sense of happiness and want to cry. It’s ridonculous. This track features that moment, and it all begins around the 4:30 mark, and at around 5:07, the recognisable theme begins; softly at first and then building and building. At my cousin’s wedding, we all had to R.S.V.P with our favourite film – basically it was at our table place, on our name cards; an idea to get the two families talking. Not only that, but they had music from all the films playing throughout dinner. That’s right. I ate a fancy ass dinner in a suit to the Jurassic Park theme. It’s one of my most favourite meals I’ve ever had (right after my Nan’s Christmas dinner – bliss). I’m listening to it now and I’m close to tears. I urge you; I implore you to listen to it – for me, please. Every single time, I get goosebumps, and feel that same euphoria. It’s also no secret, if you know me, that one of my only regrets in life is that I’ll never see a real dinosaur.

Elbow – One Day Like This

After hearing about Elbow for years but never actually hearing them, you can imagine it was quite a surprise to discover them while I was working in a JJB clearance outlet. Yes, among the bargain USA PRO tracksuits, Reebok Classics and a music playlist consisting of mainly Taio Cruz and Kelly Rowlands, I found salvation in Elbow. I just remember hearing this song break out of the mundane day, just making me feel really, really happy. I couldn’t hear any of the words properly, other than ‘throw those curtains wide’, so when I got home I Googled the shit out of it, finding my way to the video – which was a dude letting loose and having fun in his mundane job (check it out). I got hold of The Seldom Seen Kid, adored it and went about acquiring the rest of the albums – loving all of those too, I decided I needed to see this band live. So my good friend Matt and I went up to Manchester for their homecoming, ‘so-long-for-a-bit’ gig. We had the ‘limited rear view’ seats, which we thought was a bit sucky, but while we were sitting there some tour people were coming round with t shirts. I asked around, “is that free shit? Hey! We want free shit!” (like a true Swansea boy), and it turned out that those of us in the limited rear view seats were to be the Elbow Choir for the night – the 2,700 of us singing the backing vocals to The Stops was especially beautiful. But even though it’s generally frowned upon by hardcore fans to love a band’s most recent and most popular single, after years of trying… I can still come back to One Day Like This and just be overwhelmed with happiness. No matter where I am, or what the weather’s like, I listen to this and I just feel like the happiest fool around.

Soil – Halo

You have to realise that my generation was the ‘Nu-Metal’ generation. There are a few songs that everyone would go mental and unified for in the weekly under-18 rock night, “Teen Spirit”. Drowning Pool’s Bodies, Metallica’s Enter Sandman and, among more, Soil. We all fucking loved it, about a hundred of us all piled into one giant, bouncing ball of teen love and sweat and heart. Just before I started uni, Jess and I went on holiday. We were staying at a family hotel, with reps and entertainers and stuff. There was music playing over the PA all day – from Coldplay to the Spice Girls; radio-friendly crowd pleasers, basically. While we were sitting by the pool one day, all of a sudden, those thumping drums began. I think the opening scream to that song, combined with the utter discomfort of all the families there, as well as the reps’ rushed attempt to skip the track, makes that memory one of my favourites.

Iron Maiden – Run To The Hills

This song means so much, it’s difficult to know where to start. It’s being 15 and wailing with your best friend in the world, Jon, who loved Maiden as much as you – probably more (he certainly had more t shirts). The first Maiden album I bought was actually Rock in Rio, and I bought it from a tiny record shop called The Musiquarium, next to the fish stall my Nan worked at in Swansea Market. I listened to it so very much – pretty much all the time until I left my CD wallet either in school or on the school bus, where some dick face that probably wasn’t into anything other than Scooter didn’t hand it in. Maiden played in Cardiff in December 2003 on the Dance of Death tour, so Jon and I went up to see them. It was a huge ‘controversy’ (read: pile of wank) that Funeral For a Friend were supporting. We got there, queued up and got in, and FFaF had already started – I actually felt sorry for them seeing as they were still letting people in and the house lights weren’t even down. I remember looking at the room full of big, fat, sweaty, mullet-ed aging rockers, and thinking ‘shit… I don’t want to be back here the whole time’. We quickly devised a plan, which worked better than I think either of us had imagined – within 3 minutes of shouting “we love Funeral For a Friend” (a phrase I still feel dirty for using), we were at the FRONT. I mean, right at the barrier. The only thing in the way was an aforementioned mullet-ed leather clad fat guy exclaiming that he’d been there since 5pm and no one was getting past him. As soon as Maiden came on, the rush was so huge that he couldn’t handle it and got pulled out. Run To The Hills is rocking out with your best friend. I got Rock Band a while back. We’d had a few drinks and weren’t doing too well, and were getting kind of bummed out by it. If you haven’t played Rock Band, on certain songs there’s the chance for each of you to simultaneously ‘rock out’ by hitting any buttons you want, like a solo, (especially fun on the drums) at the end, upping your score like crazy – but you have to hit a predefined note, like in normal play, right after it for the bonus score to count. We’d missed the little ‘wig out’ bonus opportunity for every single song. Then this came on. Me on guitar, Jon on drums and Pete on bass; The Shaven Sushi rocked the fuck out for 3 minutes and 54 seconds, each of us wailing along. And we NAILED the ending.

Counting Crows – Anna Begins

If you’ve ever seen the VH1 Storytellers recording of this song, you’ve heard Adam Duritz’s explanation of this song. If you haven’t, I’ll explain it briefly – boy meets girl, boy has fun with girl. The lyric “I’m not ready for this sort of thing” is with regards to getting into a serious relationship. But he goes on to say how, by the end of the song, it means he’s not ready for it to end. Not emotionally ready, whatever. The day before Jess and I broke up, I knew it was going to happen. And I was in my bed, listening to music. And this came on. As soon as it hit the line, I got it. I realised that everything was going to be different, I realised that after nearly 6 years it was over, and I realised that the biggest part of my life didn’t exist anymore. And what’s more, I realised I was in no way ready for it. I don’t care if ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. I fucking cried. I cried the hardest I think I ever have. Thanks a lot Adam Duritz, you wonderful jerk.

Dan le Sac VS Scroobius Pip – Look For The Woman/Get Better

Messrs Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip are whom I owe thanks to, for getting me into hip-hop. The album Angles blew my fucking mind! I just couldn’t believe there was intelligent hip-hop and oh – what was this? Sick, sick beats, my friends. But it took a long while, and a certain point in my life, for me to realise the sheer gravitas these words held. I remember the day, towards the end of my relationship with Jess, hearing these words:

“We got together so young/before our real lives had begun/but flowers don’t grow up as one/each finds it’s own route to the sun/and that’s exactly what we’ve done/we’ve grown up separately, too. But for a few years now, it’s been a problem/and these realisations, I wish that I could stop them/but I’ve realised that love is all we had in common/and deep down, you know that’s true.”

Yeah, that was big. And yeah, it broke my heart. But it helped me realise that I could find a way to understand what was going on. Funny then, that the first single off of their second album helped me start to feel better after I’d hit my depression. The song itself is a view on British youth and their way of life, but the chorus just struck a chord with me. Every morning I’d listen to it; that beautiful melody, and the repeating chorus, “Get better. Get better, get better, get better. Get better.” And I did.

The Hold Steady – Your Little Hoodrat Friend/Hurricane J

The Hold Steady have brought me so very far. And I don’t even mean physically, in terms of distance. I’ve met some amazing people due to this band – they are what brought me here and I’m sure, for a lot of you reading, they are what brought you here too. I’ve got these two songs because; Hoodrat is the song that got me into THS. I heard it on Tony Hawk’s Project 8 on my Playstation2. And I just thought, “This rules”. But it did, and still does kind of speak to me. Especially the line “the City Centre used to be the centre of our scene; now City Centre’s over, no-one really goes there”, because it’s true. When we were kids, the City Centre was the only place to go. We’d walk round the shops, we’d sit in Castle Square, we’d talk to eachother: skaters, goth kids, alt kids, punk kids – hell, even the select few dance kids who didn’t want a fight. We’d go to the Colosseum, we’d meet kids we knew there, we’d get high, and we’d piss about. We were part of a Unified Scene before I even knew what it meant. And now, there’s nothing. The Colosseum’s been filled in with concrete and plants. The only people who hang out at Castle Square are scallies, tramps and smackheads. There is a scene though, I do see it: hundreds of “emo” kids outside McDonalds. You know, the really annoying type. And now whenever I go back to Swansea I see what it’s become, and it’s so radically different. When I first heard Hurricane J, I was in love with it immediately. Just exactly what I needed. Since Jess and I broke up, I’ve been to both ends of the spectrum. I’ve been happy and clear that it was the right decision and that I’m better. And I’ve hit the polar opposite, and not wanted to do anything with my life, because, what’s the point now the future I’d planned for, the future I’d sorted myself out after failing at school, the reason I changed my ways, worked harder and got into uni doesn’t exist anymore? It’s been a horrible time. But the friends I have, and believe it or not even more so, the friends I’ve made through this band, were there for me. Then the new album and tour were announced. I was going to have a chance to meet all these people, soundtracked by how we met. Not only that, but international friends were going to make the trip. I thought, “This is going to be the point where everything gets better; this is what it’s building up to”. Then Hurricane J happened. It was so upbeat, so summery. Then I heard the lyrics. “Jessie, I don’t think I’m the guy”. Were they fucking kidding? What were the chances? My heart broke and leapt at the same time. I was happy.

Stevie Wonder – Superstition

Okay, I know I said that it was as chronologically to my life as I could remember, but… Well, I figured this is an ace song to end the mixtape on. I love this song. Besides Lately, it’s my favourite Stevie song. It is also the one, and only song, that will get me up to dance. Now, I don’t mean like in rock clubs where you stand around in a circle with your friends, pint in one hand, fist pumping with the other, screaming the lyrics. I love that, too. I mean if I’m in a horrible club, which I’m only in because the majority want to go somewhere other than Live Lounge or the affectionately – and completely accurately – named Sweatro’s (Metro’s to daytime people), and all they’re playing is Lady GaGa and Taio Cruz (seriously, I hate that guy). If this song comes on, I will groove like a motherfucker. It reminds me of when I used to go out with my friend Ami and the boys from her uni halls, to this night called ‘Funked Up’. Even though they played awesome music all night, it wasn’t until this came on that I really let loose. Maybe it was the drink. Maybe it was the amount of people smoking weed. Maybe, just maybe… It was Stevie’s little funky blind ass. I’ve been in some shit clubs with friends before. But sometimes my friends will request this, and I’m THERE. I also swear I’m the only person in the club who actually knows the words. In fact… Come on; join in. Get involved. Get on it.

If you’ve downloaded the mixtape, skip all the other tracks. And dance with me.

Hannah Smart’s Eternal Mixtape

When I entered into this project, I had no idea just how much work would have to go into it to make it perfect. This mixtape does not work when listened to in this order, but I decided to go with chronological ordering to show you just how much I have changed, my music has changed and how the two really are interlinked constantly. I have so much music that means so much to me that this really was difficult to write in places. Some of the memories here were painful to recall, but all of this made me stronger and I’ve tried to see this as some sort of healing exercise. I hope you find something here to relate to. Here is my eternal mixtape – for better or worse.

The Stone Roses – Made Of Stone / She Bangs The Drums (Summer 1989)

The very first one. This was the record that changed everything for me. I was 18 months old and we were on holiday in Yorkshire, Northern England. My Dad has a cassette of The Roses eponymous debut record and had played it to my Aunt’s boyfriend, Colin, while we were away. I became obsessed with it instantly. I had never heard anything like it before: the guitars, the hazy vocals, the big choruses. I was hooked on it and it became the only cassette that I let Colin and Dad play the entire time we were there.

I have returned to it constantly over the past 20 years. At 7, when I was meant to be all about the Spice Girls and Britpop, I had stolen that old cassette and played it to death (literally). At 15, when I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I returned to it to find comfort in those songs. I still get goosebumps when Ian Brown sings “the past was yours but the future’s mine” on ‘She Bangs The Drums’, but ‘Made Of Stone’ was the song that I played constantly for 20 years. It was the one that I declared my favourite at the age of 18 months old, and it still holds a great power over me to this day. It started it all.

The Rolling Stones – Bitch (1991-1993)

My Dad’s favourite Stones song, which would later become my own favourite Stones song. I remember hearing this from a very early age. I wasn’t at school yet and dancing to my Dad’s records was always one of my favourite things to do. The riff on this one, the horns!, was what grabbed me. It was something that I could dance to and that was all that mattered at the age of 3, but it planted a seed in my rock ‘n’ roll education. I had discovered The Rolling Stones and I was 3 years old. Every last second of this song reminds me of my childhood and how much fun Dad and I had when he put those records on. My sister was born the same year as I first heard this song and I distinctly remember hearing this not long after she came home to live with us for good. There were huge changes happening in my life and I wasn’t even aware of it.

Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (1992)

What does one say about Bruce Springsteen? I was 4 years old when I heard this song for the first time and I remember the day. Dad has always been a fan of Springsteen, but he didn’t play him a lot when I was very little. It would be later when I went to school that he’d play me the masterpiece that this song is the title track from. I remember feeling euphoric when the chorus kicked in and being completely blown away by the wall-of-sound guitars that was blasting from the speakers. When the E Street band hit “the highway’s jammed with broken heroes” that first time, I had some sort of epiphany. I became inconsolable with joy. Springsteen had arrived. I’d only just started school. I never looked back.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Learning To Fly (1992)

One of those songs that my Dad played a lot when I was very young. The whole ‘Into The Great Wide Open’ record was a soundtrack to those early school years. I fell in love with this song and, for a very long time, wouldn’t let my poor father listen to anything else when he opened the doors on his stereo cupboard. It was always “the flying song!” first. Times were simpler then, and I distinctly remember having a lot of fun to the sound of this song. Singing all the words at the top of my voice and telling my Dad that I wanted to be in a band when I was all growned up. Rock music was becoming part of the fabric of my life now, not just something to dance to.

The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make? (1994)

Just listen to the riff on this one and you’ll see why the 6 year old Hannah fell in love with this song. I knew about The Smiths from the beginning of school, but this is the first song I remember hearing and falling completely, head over heals in love with. Morrissey’s voice was alien to me and the sounds that Johnny Marr was getting out of that guitar was nothing like anything I’d heard before. I’d asked about The Smiths because of Oasis citing them as an influence and Dad gladly educated me on their existence and their music. This was the song that made the biggest impact and I did an awful lot of dancing, singing and playing air guitar to this one. It’s still my favourite Smiths song and it never fails to raise a smile.

Alanis Morissette – You Learn (1995)

“You live, you learn.” Those words hit me like a cricket bat across the face. I may only have been very young when this record came out, but my Pa played this one a lot to me and my younger sister. We loved ‘Ironic’ but it was this song that would go on to become the new ‘Made Of Stone’. I have revisited this song more times that I care to mention. I loved it when I was 7, I went back to it again when I was 10, then again at 13 and 15 and I still put it on after a bad day even now. The words held a lot of meaning at all stages in my life and it’s one of the few constants of my teenage years. When you’re young, it’s the dancing that matters, but when I was young it was the words that mattered and they mean even more now. I’ve grown up with and to this song. It still has the power to make me feel better about everything.

The Lightning Seeds – Imaginary Friends (1996-7)

I cannot ignore the fact that The Lightning Seeds were my favourite band for so long. They were a classic British pop band. They made proper pop music – beautiful, tuneful, catchy as hell. Ian Broudie was my hero when I was 8 years old and I’m not joking when I say that I literally wanted to be him. It was this band that I wanted to be in. It was Ian Broudie that I loved the most. He was incredible to me. The whole of the ‘Dizzy Heights’ record changed everything for me. I fell hard and fast for it and it’s still one of my all-time favourite records. This song – a song about not having any friends and being branded ‘odd’ – became my anthem from a very young age. I wasn’t like other kids and I didn’t want to be like the other girls; I liked rock music, guitars, singing and daydreaming about being able to be in a band. They liked synchronised dancing and platform shoes. I never fitted in like I should’ve and this was the song that made that feel okay. It became even more relevant when I hit secondary (high) school and got me through a lot of bullying. It became my go-to record when someone had made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.

Pulp – Disco 2000 (1996)

Pulp were the best of the ‘Britpop’ bands. In fact, grouping this band with that tag feels wrong somehow – they were better than that. They were outsiders, oddballs and eccentrics. They had Jarvis Cocker at the helm. They made records that I could relate to AND dance to. This was the one I remember seeing on Top Of The Pops and being completely taken in by. The way Jarvis looked, the way he sang, the way that Pulp didn’t look like any other band on the circuit – they were weird and I liked that. That sense of the alien was something that I really hooked onto and this song is still one of my anthems of the 90s because it was such a great epiphany. Thank you Jarv, you gave me hope of being uncool and yet, still deemed extraordinary.

Robbie Williams – Old Before I Die (April 1997)

This was the first single I ever bought. On cassette. And I still have it somewhere. Robbie Williams was in a boy band. A boy band that I was too young to understand. I didn’t think he was particularly attractive, I was 8 years old! But this song, this song was great. The riff, the massive “screw you!”, the fact he was clearly stealing from Oasis was something I really enjoyed. It was the beginning of a wonderful love affair with Robbie’s music. I own a lot of records by the man and I know it’s not “cool” or whatever, but his honesty astounded me then as it does now. He was cheeky and charismatic – he could hold your attention when he got on stage. And although I didn’t know what that was, I was fascinated by him and I would later be fascinated with how he dealt with all the pressure and his drug abuse. This was the first song that I loved by the Robster, but his record ‘Sing When You’re Winning’ would be a milestone in my life. A huge one. His lyrics about everything from alienation, broken relationships, depression and suicide really struck a chord with me, but it was this one that started it all. Pure pop from start to finish via stolen Oasis riffs and big choruses living your life long enough to see a few things.

Feeder – Sweet 16 (March 1998)

Anyone remember Gran Tourismo? For the PlayStation? Oh hells yes. This was one of the songs on the soundtrack and it was the one song that I’d play over and over and over. It was my introduction to the slightly harder rockin’ side of rock ‘n’ roll and it grabbed me in a way I can’t describe. There was something so dark and dangerous about it. Something fast and exciting. That guitar sound sounded like hell on earth, but louder. It was to begin a short period of heavier rock and roll in my life and my long lasting affection for Feeder as a band; it would be Feeder that would later be cited as a favourite band, but it was ‘Sweet 16’ that started my fascination with the heavier rock and roll that would become so dominant in my early teens.

Elvis Costello – Alison (1998)

My Mum loves Elvis Costello. My Dad loves Elvis Costello. My Aunt loves Elvis Costello. I come from a family where it is compulsory to enjoy the sounds of this man on and off for, well, ever. I heard this one late in life when my Dad went out and replaced his vinyl on CD. This was the song that made me sit up and listen. His voice, the laid back guitar sound, that fact he was singing about my Mum (well, in my head he was. My Ma’s name happens to be Alyson). I was completely taken in and not even because my parents adored him so much. I made the connection myself and since then I’ve been playing him loud and proud for everyone to hear. I have been told off for playing ‘My Aim Is True’ too loud everywhere I stay for more than a week. It’s one of those albums that never ages and ‘Alison’ remains one of the high benchmarks from it; reminding me of my parents, my house, my Dad’s old headphones and being a kid in general. It reminds me of simpler times.

Derek & The Dominoes – Layla (1999)

My Dad informs me that this song was played to death just before I left Junior school. It was one of those songs that should be played to all budding rock and roll fans from a very early age. It’s like a rite of passage into the realm of guitar solos and big choruses. I remember being enthralled by the fact that I could sing-along from the second listen and the fact that, when you listen to the words, it’s actually quite sad but it sounds so uplifting on the surface. I was fascinated by the power it held and I loved that my Dad clearly adored it so much – gushing has occurred countless times. It reminds me mostly of my little sister and he first brush with guitar solos. I’ll never forget that look of complete wonder on her face when she heard Clapton play. It was the first time I remember being really excited to see someone else’s reaction to music. It didn’t disappoint.

The Clash – London Calling (1999-2001)

Joe Strummer changed my life. The Clash changed the way I listened to music, the way I thought about music and how I felt about punk rock. This record and song was one of the few genuinely easy choices from my list, because it was such a massive impact album. It’s perfect even now. This is the song that changed it all for me. I was not enjoying school – I hated every single second I was in that place and I hated the people I was there with even more. I resented the fact that they’d branded me as a loser before I’d even opened my mouth and they’d judged me on the way I looked. I resented the fact that they’d decided who was going to be in the cool crowd and who’d be subjected to misery for the rest of their school life. I fell neatly into the second category and they made my life hell. I rarely spoke. I got a lot of abuse if I did dare to defend myself. I was called names and no one talked to me if they could help it. I became a very solitary little thing and took to taking comfort from my records. The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ helped me through a lot of that. It was a record that taught me to take the abuse and the high ground. It taught me to tell people to get fucked when they treated me like crap. It helped me to realise that I was not the one in the wrong – that I was better than that. Although, it took it some considerable time to break through my already very thick exterior shell, it made an impact on my life and the way I thought about myself. It just took a lot of time for it to penetrate that shield.

Led Zeppelin – Rock ‘n’ Roll (2001)

Here lies another rite of passage for all budding rock fans. If you’re a parent and you want to educated your young’un early, put this song on and leave them to it. This was like being shown the gateway to heaven (not Stairway, a pun!) in my eyes. I was completely thrown by it. It was big, bold, brash, exciting. I remember the adrenaline rush the first time I heard Dad play it. I may have been late to the party, but it still managed to rock the hardest when I got there. I’d never heard anyone sing like Robert Plant before and the guitar sound sent the blood pumping through my veins at such a rate that I got a rush of blood to the head. It was like nothing in my (then quite modest) record collection at the time. And it would be start of a beautiful relationship with the Led. That riff still gives me a rush even now.

Elbow – Red (June 2001)

Some days, I have no words for what this song means to me. Other days, it’s hard to articulate exactly what I felt the first time I heard it. An old friend of mine but ‘Red’ on a mix CD for me. I was going through a lot with the kids at school and I didn’t really have a lot of people to talk to about that. This friend handed me the mix and said “track 4, listen to the lyrics”. Track 4 was this song and I remember exactly how I felt when I heard it that first time. How this song made me feel less alone in the world – like someone, somewhere understood the loneliness, the heartache, the isolation. That was just the lyrics. Hearing Guy Garvey’s voice for the first time was a beautiful moment. That purr in my headphones would become one of my favourite comforting sounds; like an old sweater or a blanket. The beauty that radiated through my headphones – such as they were – would be the start of a love so deep that I would fall for this band and still be raving about them nearly 10 years later. They are my favourite British band and no one comes close. This song gave me hope for a brighter future somewhere else i.e. not school. And restored a little bit of faith in my own abilities to carry on.

Coldplay – Amsterdam (September onwards 2002)

I was excited for the second Coldplay album when it came out. I’d liked ‘Parachutes’, but once I’d heard the first single to come from ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’, I knew that it was going to be something special. It came out in the August and, in the September, I was back at school for another year of name-calling and isolation. That year was rough from the start. I remember feeling like I had no one in the world and spending an awful lot of time sitting in the dark with my headphones on. When I heard this song after a particularly hard week at school and one of those days where I shut down completely and isolated myself further – a habit I never really grew out of. This song came on and the words, although spectacularly depressing, gave me an enormous amount of hope. When Chris Martin sang “I know I’m dead on the surface, but I am screaming underneath” it was like someone understood what I was feeling. This dark cloud of depression that had consumed me so readily when I went back to school was understood by someone and that was both terrifying and liberating to the 14 year old me. I wasn’t on my own, even if my only real friends were records.

The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work (February 2004)

I’ve done some stupid things in my time. My teenage years were questionable at best. Especially the early ones. I did a lot of searching for something more than what I was getting at school and I hung out with the wrong crowd for a while. I did some things that I was not proud of and things that, really, weren’t advisable behaviour for someone so young. This song, although it had been in my life for some considerable time previous to the moment it made the big impact, came along at a time when I needed someone to stop me. I needed to be given that gentle nudge away from what I was up to and shown that I had other things to live for. This had to stop and when I heard this after a particularly heavy session and a lot of life changes going on around me, I knew it was time to make a change.

Pink Floyd – take your pick from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ (July 2004)

This band, and this record, had been in my life from a very, very early age. Pink Floyd is one of the few bands that my parents agree on and this album is one that every home should have. This record made an impact much earlier than I have listed here, but it was July 2004 that it would really start to make waves. That Summer was the one between my GCSEs and the beginning of my A-levels. It was an incredibly long one, too. We spent a lot of time wandering around, going to shows, hanging around my friends’ houses, stealing shopping trollies and having house parties. It was the Summer that my best friend, Hannah, and I became incredibly close. We spent a lot of time in my friend Tash’s garden, listening to punk and ska in the sunshine. This was the record that reminds me of coming home from the parties, going straight to my bedroom and locating my headphones. It was the comedown, it was the blissful moment just before the inevitable sleep that would eat into the morning (and the afternoon) after. It was the soundtrack to the memories that were made.

Brand New – Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don’t (Summer/Autumn 2005)

In the haze of Summer 2005, many events occurred. The band we were good friends with played some fantastic gigs, we got completely wasted in Tash’s garden, I went to countless rock shows, Hannah had passed her driving test and we spent a lot of time driving around to great music. This song was one of them. It played wherever we went and whoever we went with. Hannah’s boyfriend, Rob, played it to me the first time and since then, it’s been an anthem for that part of my life. When we all had to go back to school and give up the fantastic Summer we’d had, this song still played and it sound tracked my entire first term of my final year of school. I was just coming out of my most emo of phases and starting a brand new one – without many of the friends I’d had in the Summer previously. It was the beginning of a new era. ‘Okay I Believe You…’ was the sound of one chapter ending and a brand new one beginning. After that Summer, with all the fun and parties and questionable activity, we’d go our separate ways and finish school, make new friends – some of whom would become lifelong friends – and grow up a little bit. Things changed, but this song new fails to remind me of all the great times we had that year.

The Hold Steady – Stuck Between Stations (December 2006)

I’m not entirely comfortable with putting this story here, but I will share what I feel I can. 2006 was, without question, the worst year of my life. Nothing comes close to how horrific that year was for me. It was my final year of school and there’s never more pressure on a kid than when they’ve got A-levels to pass. You’re entering the last chapter of what you’ve always known (school) and what could be the next chapter of that education (university) or you could be facing unemployment. I fell ill in the April of 2006, with suspected glandular fever; they were never really sure. I was tired and I was desperately trying to get all my coursework and revision done for the impending important exams. I was exhausted, but I was still standing. I managed to do the exams and then it was Summer. A Summer where I would spend as much time with my friends as possible before we all headed off around the country to various universities. The Summer was hard; everyone was incredibly worried about the results of those important exams. We didn’t see as much of one another as we’d planned. In the August, I got my results. I got an A and three Bs – an incredible feat considering just how ill I was. Everyone got into their university. I decided that I’d reapply to a better one and have a year off – get away from school for a year and do something with my life. September came and I waved goodbye to my best friends in the entire world. They were off to start the adventure and I was off to try and find a job.

I found one. It was a miserable experience. I’ve never felt so low and I suffered from a huge wave of depression. A really dark, deep depression. I shut myself off from the world and I stopped talking. To anyone. I hated my job, my life, myself and I was stressed out enough to make myself ill. I quit my job and felt like I’d let everyone down. I was not in a good place mentally at all. I ended up doing something stupid that I’ll never, ever forgive myself for. The next day I heard ‘Stuck Between Stations’ by The Hold Steady on the internet. I’d never heard the band before. I had nothing to lose. Those 4:10 seconds of rock and roll spoke to me on a level that I didn’t even know existed. It was like someone had sat me down and told me that whatever happened, it was going to be okay – you just have to look at it differently. Whatever it did, I promised myself never to go back to that dark place and I sorted my life out. I became a stronger, more determined person and I looked at the world with a slightly more positive slant. It changed how I viewed the world and myself. I start something huge.

David Bowie – “Heroes” (January 2007)

For my 19th birthday I had requested only two things: The Hold Steady’s ‘Boys And Girls In America’ and some – any – David Bowie. My Aunt had always been a massive fan of Bowie’s stuff but in the Smart household, he was scarce at best. My Dad didn’t own any, my Mum doesn’t even like most of his stuff. I lived in a Bowie-less universe and that, my friends, is no fun. So my Aunt got me ‘Changesbowie’ and “Heroes” for my birthday. Her advice to me? “If you don’t like any of the stuff on the former, then don’t bother with the latter.” I fell head over heals in love with the best of and putting “Heroes” on for that first time, I was excited to hear what all the fuss was about. I’d always liked ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Changes’, but it would be “Heroes” that blew my mind. Over 6 minutes of perfect song writing. So full of hope and wonder, it left me with tears in my eyes on the first listen and it still holds the power to bring to inconsolable tears or ecstatic joy on any given day. It marked a big moment in my life: I’d discovered Bowie properly. I now own more music by this man than anyone else. I fell hard and fast.

The Hold Steady – How A Resurrection Really Feels (April 2007)

Whatever ‘Stuck Between Stations’ started, ‘How A Resurrection Really Feels’ finished. When I heard this for the first time in April 2007, I was completely blown away by it. The closing track on an album that would later become a) my most played record of all-time and b) one of the few records in my collection that I can honestly say changed everything; this song intensified whatever love was started by that first Hold Steady track. When I heard it for the first time, I sat completely speechless for about ten minutes. I had nothing to say. I couldn’t put what the song made me feel into words. It was like someone had just come along and put everything I couldn’t articulate into a song and it was a beautiful moment, but one that I cannot fully explain to the outside world. It was this song that made me fall so deeply in love, travel all over the country (and the world), brought so many wonderful people into my life and changed what was a sad little world into something much, much more vibrant and exciting. My life would be so very different if it wasn’t for this track.

It would be later, in October 2008, that this song would come back to change everything yet again – for very different reasons. Having been incredibly ill for a while, I was finally given my diagnosis and this song came up on shuffle. The line “she’s been disappeared for years, today she finally came back” hit me like a bolt of lightning through the heart. Yeah, I was going to get fixed and I think ‘… Resurrection…’ went someway to helping that along.

Whiskeytown – Not Home Anymore (January 2010)

This is the sound of me realising that there is much, much more to life than my degree. After working so hard on something for so long, it all caught up with me during the Christmas “break”, December 2009. Heading back to uni for the second semester of my final year, I wasn’t filled with a great amount of hope, but I’ve always been a determined little soul. In the middle of my exams, my friend Dave died in a tragic accident. I was – and still am – devastated by the news. I was so upset that I didn’t know what to do with myself for a few weeks. This song, a song that hasn’t been in my life for all that long at all, came up on shuffle and its timing struck me as something that could only really happen in movies. It was then that I realised that I’d put my life on hold for what was basically a piece of paper. I’d worked so hard and made myself ill for this piece of paper. I’d neglected friends and relationships that meant a lot to me. Losing Dave kicked me into a different gear, but it was this song that made me realise that there is much, much more to life than a degree or a job or a helluva lot of things. Since then, I’ve taken more time to be who I am and do the things I love instead of getting buried in that piece of paper and losing sight of what matters to me; the people in my life that matter to me.

Kelsey Pierson’s Eternal Mixtape

When the task was imposed of writing a paragraph about every song that’s ever mattered to me, I thought “oh, that’s gonna be easy.”

It isn’t. And as others have said, this project will never been finished, since music is always changing, and my tastes will always be moving forward. But it’s wonderful to look back. It’s like putting on a comfortable pair of pants, because you know how they’re going to fit. All of these songs fit me, and in a sense, they’re old favorites I’ll see hanging in the back that need to be put on every once in a while.

“If I Had a Boat” – Lyle Lovett

My parents really like Lyle Lovett. I remember listening to this and thinking how absurd it was to have a horse on a boat. I still like it.

“California Girls” – The Beach Boys

I’m not really sure who was listening to the Beach Boys during my childhood, but someone had to have been, since I know all the words to this song without really seeking it out myself.

You know what California? Fuck you and your beautiful women. I like this song, since I like the organ part, but I also love my fishy white pastiness, and I ain’t no farmer’s daughter.

“Heartbreaker” – Mariah Carey featuring Jay-Z

This song. Oh…this song.
Ok, so my father once described me in my early teen years as “hell on wheels.” I’d believe it. I was pretty damn sassy and, most of the time, flat-out rude. And I had a candy-coated Mariah Carey soundtrack to go with it.

This part, I feel, legitimately describes what I was like:

“When we apart, makes her wanna take a piece of paper, scribble down I hate ya.”

Yeah, I’m pretty glad we’re past that. But damn, Mimi’s got pipes.

“Just Like Heaven” – The Cure

I saw this video when I was maybe 11. I probably wasn’t supposed to be watching MTV or whatever it was on. I remember a dude with crazy black hair singing into the ocean over a cliff, and I was intrigued. And I liked the synth part. Never figured out who they were.

Fast forward to freshman year of high school. I was listening to newish music. I wasn’t listening to ‘NSync anymore, that’s for sure. I got Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me from the library, and I remember sitting in the music hallway before class one day and listening to this song on my blue DiscMan and realizing that track number nine was THE SONG!

“Trying Your Luck” – The Strokes

April 23, 2004. For a hot minute, I was Kelsey Pierson: Beatles Fan circa 1964. I cried when they played this. CRIED. I don’t really know why I glommed onto this song the way I did, but I did.

“Let it Ride” Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

The lap steel in this song still gives me chills. It sounds like a hot knife slicing through butter. This song makes me want to move to Tennessee. This song makes me want to “dance in the endless moonlight.” This song reminds me that life isn’t anything if you can’t let it ride easy down the road.

“Blue in the Face” – Alkaline Trio (2005)

I fell into a really deep depression after I finished high school. More specifically, I missed my friends. I didn’t like going to community college. I didn’t like that my friends seemed to have these amazing new lives that I wasn’t experiencing at all. I didn’t know what I was doing, nor did I know the outcome to whatever it was I was doing. I was just…alive. I could not make friends. I didn’t want to be that girl that peaked at 17, but I certainly felt like I had.

So my reaction was to listen to Alkaline Trio, of course. Good Mourning is pretty much standard issue for kids growing up in the greater metropolitan Chicago area. I used to drive around aimlessly for hours, lighting a fresh cigarette with the ends of the last one. I used to listen to this song in particular, over and over again. I used to cry so much that sometimes I wouldn’t even produce liquid. Just a horrible contorted face that I didn’t even know as my own.

I couldn’t make myself function with the people I did have. I couldn’t make myself feel better. I spent about 4 months feeling like a wet towel that had been shoved into a corner.

Songs can be like salve, or they can be like vinegar: they’ll help or hurt a wound. I still don’t know if the hours I’ve dedicated listening to Good Mourning have made me feel better or not.

“Do Ya” – Electric Light Orchestra

The Jeff Lynne wars of 2006 made for some pretty amazing discussions between two good friends of mine. One highly in favor of Lynne, the other wishing him dead for what he thought were crimes against music. Two households….

Anyway, long story short: this song rules.

“He Can Only Hold Her” – Amy Winehouse

First off, I really want Amy Winehouse to stop being crazy and go back to singing, because I love her voice.

Second, I hate the person that this song reminds me of. Well, no. I don’t hate him, but if I saw him, I hope I sprout claws so I can at least mess up his face a little. All I think I wanted from this person was to be pacified a little.

I listened to this a lot after this person hurt me. I hadn’t really felt pain like that before. I hated that he was, for a little while, the last person I thought about before I went to sleep. In hindsight, he really didn’t deserve that.

Anyway, I really adore this song for it’s horn line.

“First Night” – The Hold Steady


Well, wrap that in cheese. I’m eatin’ it now. I just hadn’t heard this song. I don’t really want to wax on how much I like them, or how they’ve changed my life, or how many cool people I’ve met and had the opportunity to spend hours in a car with. Just know that part is there, and all that stuff makes it awesome.

This still breaks my heart:

“Don’t bother talking to the guys with the hot soft eyes, you know they’re already taken.”

“The Chain” – Fleetwood Mac

Those of you who know me will likely remember that this is my favorite album of all time, and this is easily the best song on Rumours. It’s like a miniature rock opera sandwiched in between two huge poppy songs. I imagine two tango dancers circling each other until POUF! The argument starts.

Not only that, but it’s pretty powerful to say to someone, “If you don’t love me now, then you will never love me again.”

I guess it made me realize that you have to be careful about saying “I love you.” It’s so easy, but it might be taken out of context or misconstrued.

“Jessica” – The Allman Brothers Band

There are two instances in which this song will always be awesome:

1. Driving
2. Porch Drinking

Now, I’m not sure if this is a universal phenomena, but porch drinking is awesome. Leaving the case on the patio and sitting on the stairs is one of the higher points of living in Chicago, mostly (if you live where I used to live) since your entertainment is about to go down in the alley behind your apartment.

As far as the driving part goes, this simple equation should clear it up:

Songs With Girls’ Names as the Title + Car = AWESOME
Age of Car

“Videotape” – Radiohead

I was walking home from the El one night while listening to In Rainbows. It was raining pretty hard. I didn’t have an umbrella, and my train ran express to Division. About 5 blocks out of my way. Fabulous.

I hadn’t lived in Chicago for very long at this point. I was still kind of grappling with how big it really was. How many people are there and alone all the time. Walking home in the rain and listening to Videotape seemed to seal that for me.

“Apartment Story” – The National

This song makes me want to fall in love, but be at the comfortable, “hey look, I’m wearing my pajamas in front of you and you don’t care” stage.

I think part of the reason I sort of live vicariously through this song is because I cannot make a relationship work. I am perpetually stuck at the stage where you have to go to movies and dinners and coffee places and bars. I don’t know what it is that I do that blows it spectacularly to smithereens, but I’ve got to be doing something wrong. I don’t even want to be in a relationship. I want to be in THIS relationship. Maybe I’ve set myself up for failure because I love this song so much, but it really is a wonderful picture.

This song IS that comfortable stage. The couple in this song, to me, don’t have to go to any of those places I listed above. They’re in their apartment.

“The Greatest” – Cat Power

Chan Marshall came into my life at a time when I really needed her. I was left high and dry, with only a carrot dangling in front of me. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to do anything except drink IN my bed (which can be awesome, but not in this situation…).

The Greatest was a lullaby to me. I DID once want to be the greatest, but looking at myself then, I was far from the greatest. I was needy. I didn’t know what I was going after. I still don’t know what I’m going after. Thanks, Chan.

“Lovesong of the Buzzard” – Iron & Wine

One of my favorite memories of my old apartment was bringing Lauren’s little speaker thing into the bathroom and listening to music while I was in the bathtub. Our bathroom had this amazing window right in the shower that was unfortunately at boob level when one was standing up, but during a leisurely soak, was perfect to open up and soak up the summer breeze.

There’s something about the pure earthiness to this song (I think it might be the bongos…or whatever) that makes sitting in tepid water and counting the tiles a reasonable way to pass time, which is really a root of a greater pleasure I have. For some reason, if I need to think about something seriously, I usually take a bath. I have notebooks that have terribly crinkly pages, from the water and steam, and I keep pens in my vanity drawer.

“Old White Lincoln” – The Gaslight Anthem

Summer in Chicago smells. I still don’t really know if I like it or not, but it’s kind of a mixture of people’s body odor, cooking grease, and exhaust. Lauren and I spent a lot of time driving around listening to this song, mostly because it was on one of the three CDs Lauren had in her car. People roast to death in their cars in Chicago during the summer, since traffic is as common as oxygen, and everyone knows what happens when you leave the A/C on for too long. Lauren’s the pilot, and there we are, windows down. I’m always in the passenger seat. We rock out to this song. The end.

“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” – Talking Heads

Let it be decreed: If someone out there is wacky enough to want to marry me, I would like this to be our wedding song. Why?

“And you’ll love me ‘til my heart stops/love me ‘til I’m dead.”

How romantic.

“Mama’s Eyes” – Justin Townes Earle

This is a brand new addition to the list. I just got this record a few weeks ago, but this song is so simple and so sweet that I have listened to it probably 87 times since I got it. He talks about standing in the kitchen at 3 a.m., and I constantly find myself doing that. What is it about kitchens that’s such a comfort? There is something about leaning against the counter, enjoying the weird limbo between night and day that makes it prime thinking time. I feel like this song encapsulates that perfectly.

Andy Hess’s Eternal Mixtape

When I first read about this mix tape project I was hesitant to submit something. I have a pretty embarrassing music history. It’s grounded in Top 40 and classic rock formats, but the songs I picked for this were ones that I remember listening to until the magnetic tape broke, CD scratched or I accidentally deleted the MP3. Music means a lot to people so I know I’m not the only one who is an obsessive like myself. I sequenced my playlist as if I was recording to a cassette tape from the radio like I used to do. I tried to limit myself to an hour on each side, but Side B ran a little over.

I really, really enjoyed revisiting the songs I have come to love and loath over the past 23 years.


Side A:

Amy Grant – “Baby Baby”

I don’t know what’s more groan worthy on this mix-tape. The first two tracks on the entire thing or the unnecessary amount of post-hardcore on the b-side. Regardless, this song was my first love. I bought the cassingle. I professed my love for this song during show and tells in elementary school. I literally played this tape until the tape was caught in the car tape deck. This was because my mother really liked Amy Grant. Thanks mom for the pro-tip. It’s still one of my favorite songs to annoy people with at karaoke.

Real McCoy – “Another Night”

I listened to this song for the first time in nearly 17 years when I was putting this mix-tape together. It’s still pretty terrible. Like “Baby Baby” I spent a lot of time with this song. I also remember calling in to every radio station in Memphis, Tenn. asking them to play it. None of the DJs ever played that request. I’m glad they didn’t.

Green Day – “She”

I didn’t have cable and I only listened to the 80’s, 90’s and today station. I never heard of Green Day until my cousin gave me Dookie for my birthday. Sure, it has the monster hits of “Longview” and “Basketcase”, but neither of those songs caught my ear like “She”. It also led to claiming Green Day as the best band in the world until they released American Idiot.

Nirvana – “All Apologies”

I didn’t care for grunge music or Nirvana. It was too loud and angsty for my 7-year old tastes. But I remember watching the news of Kurt Cobain’s death. I was touched by how much his music meant to everyone. I don’t remember much from the events leading up to his death, but I remember getting chills the first time I heard the Unplugged version of “All Apologies”. It’s still as haunting on the thousandth listen.

Tom Petty – “Free Fallin'”

I. Hate. This. Song. The only reason this song is even on the list is because it was on the 10 music video rotation on VH1’s daytime programming.

Spice Girls – “Say You’ll Be There”

Out of all the embarrassing music on this mix-tape, this song is, er, queen. I loved the Spice Girls. I had a tomboy step-sister and she didn’t care for them so I really have no idea how I became such a fan. I remember them being fairly attractive so that might have been it. I haven’t listened to this song since I lost my cassette of SPICE, but I probably still know all the words.

Busta Rhymes – “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See”

This was the first rap record I bought. I remember being entranced the video and how one person could spit out that many words at once. I still love Busta Rhymes, but this album will be my rap album of choice with Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers coming in a close second.

Hanson – “Man From Milwaukee”

No comment for this Hanson bonus track. (Really, Andy?)

Savage Garden – “I Want You”

I tried Cherry Coca-Cola for the first time after listening to this song. That’s essentially the significance of this one: it made me try my favorite soft-drink.

Foo Fighters – “Everlong”

The Color and the Shape was the first CD I ever owned. I always feel like Dave Grohl gets shafted when it comes to discussing Nirvana. Kurt might have written some great songs, but Dave was always the most talented member of the group.

Will Smith – “Will 2K”

I remember this being my New Year’s ’99 anthem. It also got me into The Clash after my step-mother picked out the sample while I was watching the absolutely ridiculous music video.

Counting Crows – “Hangin’ Around”

Counting Crows were the first band my dad and I really bonded over. I don’t care what you think about Adam Duritz’s hair because this song is a stone cold jam.

Blink 182 – “What’s My Age Again?”

I have always thought Blink 182 is the perfect soundtrack for middle school: It’s dumb, it’s fun and the songs don’t require much attention to enjoy. I listened to so much Blink 182 in middle school I kind of regret giving everything else a cold shoulder. Those other bands probably didn’t have many dick and fart jokes in their songs.

Linkin Park – “Cure For the Itch”

I think everyone in my eighth grade class had this CD. I remember it being the first album I bought for myself after saving up for a CD player. While the obvious choices for this record might have been “Crawling” or “In The End” I chose the beat-filled instrumental, sample based song. I always thought it was the best track on the album. After this record I found myself more open to electronic based music, but I still preferred loud guitars instead.

Weezer, “Tired Of Sex” and “Hash Pipe”

I didn’t know who Weezer were in the early 90s. I actually picked up Pinkerton in the used bin at a Sam Goody’s (Remember those?). I liked the cover. I ended up loving the album. The next month I saw the video for “Hash Pipe” and immediately picked up the Green Album. It disappointed me compared to Pinkerton so I worked backwards. Even though Rivers Cuomo has taken terrible songwriting to an R. Kelly like level, I still have a faint hope that he will release another Blue Album.

Thursday – “Understanding In A Car Crash”

Thursday kicked off my obsession with breakdowns and the unnecessary third guitar player. I spent the majority of my high school years feeling angsty for no real reason. I had a decent life. I had no reason to hate my parents. I still don’t know why I loved screamo and post-hardcore so much.

Thrice – “The Artist In the Ambulance”

Like Thursday, Thrice’s second record holds up surprisingly well after a few years. This is probably the only song I can stomach all the way through, but it reminds me of the days where staying after school with your friends in some lame club was better than sitting at home.

Side B:

The Strokes – “Last Nite”

I absolutely hated The Strokes when this song premiered. Hated. And then one day out of the blue I met this girl who loved them and naturally I loved them too. I faked liking them for a long time and then one day I realized I actually enjoyed the songs. Is This It? had earworms for days and this song isn’t even the best on the record.

The White Stripes – “Ball and Biscuit”

I didn’t understand the hype until I heard “Ball and Biscuit”. This song literally changed the way I listened to music. That blues riff. Hell, that solo. I don’t listen to The White Stripes as much as I probably should nowadays, but this song still kills.

Ted Leo + The Pharmacists – “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?”

I heard this song for the first time while watching Late Night with Conan O’Brien. At the time I thought Ted Leo was the savior of rock and roll and picked up everything he ever recorded promptly. I don’t think that now, but he’s still one of the most consistent, talented and friendly people I have ever encountered in music.

Brand New – “Jude Law and the Semester Abroad”

Thanks Steven’s Untitled Rock Show on FUSE TV the tip on this one.

Taking Back Sunday – “Cute Without the E”

This song was my definitive high school jam. I still love this album. No shame.

Fugazi – “Waiting Room”

I bought this record during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I had read about Fugazi, but I never heard them. I remember hearing the bass line at the beginning of this CD and having my world flipped upside down. After listening to 13 Songs I started listening to everything with a more critical ear. If I had to pick a CD from this mix-tape that has done more for my listening habits than any other it would be this one. Since moving to DC, I’ve see Ian MacKaye around town. One of these days I’m going to go shake his hand and tell him thank you for all he’s done.

The Decemberists – “Sixteen Military Wives”

In high school I was a movie snob. I was also a moving snob that really knew nothing, I would just act like I knew what you were talking about. I had recently watched Rushmore for the third time and I came across the video for this song. I figured any band that spoofed Rushmore in their music videos would be the band for me. I downloaded this album track by track on Kazaa (I feel old) and burned it to a CD. I’ve gone from hardcore Decemberists fan to a very casual one in recent years but this record will always be my favorite of the bands.

The Mars Volta – “Inertiatic ESP”

The Mars Volta was the first concert I ever attended. They didn’t play this song. Actually they played a lot of songs from Frances the Mute. It was the album they were touring after-all. I remember being very bored by the end of the show. While this album still retains the spirit of their former band At the Drive-In, The Mars Volta have become an exercise in excess. I hate that because De-Loused in the Comatorium is a classic.

TV On the Radio – “Staring At the Sun”

When I finally got a car when I turned 17 I spent a lot of time in the Barnes and Noble music section. Their prices were cheaper than Best Buy and we didn’t have a local record store in Pensacola, Fla. I grabbed Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes because I liked the album cover (I did this a lot since our Internet connection sucked at home). It turns out that I managed to pick up some of my favorite albums ever this way. “Staring At the Sun” is still the best song written by TV On the Radio.

Sufjan Stevens – “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”

This was the album that everyone of my friends could agree on our first year in college. I remember loving the Garden State soundtrack that I checked out those bands further, which eventually led me to Sufjan Stevens. I’m still not a convert to everything he’s done and I haven’t cried at his shows (though I know a lot of people who have), but this song is equal parts beautiful and depressing. Any song that makes me feel sorry for a serial killer is always worth a listen.

Neutral Milk Hotel – “Holland, 1945”

The first time I heard Jeff Mangum’s warble was at a house party. It was decade’s themed where we started in the 70s and every two hours we changed it over to the next decade. This was the first song to be played for the 90s section of the evening. I immediately ran over to one of my roommate and asked him what it was and that I needed to have it.

Talking Heads – “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”

I remember really liking “Once In A Lifetime” but I didn’t really listen to the Talking Heads until one of my college roommates suggested them to me when I was looking for new music. This was the first band I ever became really obsessed with. A completist at heart, I went around buying everything I could by them. This lead me to David Byrne’s solo stuff and the Tom Tom Club. Man, I love the Talking Heads.

Bright Eyes – “Four Winds”

On April 11, 2007 my mother died. I woke up to a phone call from my step-father who was boarding a plane to Memphis in tears. She died in her sleep — the way anyone wants to go. I never liked Bright Eyes other than I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning but I had picked up the mediocre Cassadaga that week. When you’re hit with news like that you don’t really know what to do. I did the obvious things like call my professors and tell them that I wouldn’t be coming to class until the following week if not later and reached out to my family. I was in Mississippi without a reliable car and waiting for my dad to pick me up on the way to Memphis. I don’t remember much from the next few days, but I know I spent a lot of time driving for no real reason listening to this song on repeat. I still haven’t listened to that song since that day. I’ve come to terms with her passing, but I don’t think I’ll listen to that song again.

The Hold Steady – “Stuck Between Stations”

This song has lead me to making this mix tape. Like usual I was looking for something new to listen to and I came across a glowing review of Boys and Girls In America in Rolling Stone. I had gone to see my girlfriend in New York at the time and picked up this CD while I was there. I listened to it here and there, but it wasn’t until I had a long drive that I really clicked with this album. It’s a driving record that’s for sure. But there’s a certain grace and sophistication other than music that keeps you awake at the wheel. Since stumbling upon that review, I’ve driven countless miles to see this band — the first being Bonnaroo ’07. I met them the same day. I didn’t have anything for them to sign so they signed my Bonnaroo map. Craig wrote “Stay Positive” on it while I blabbered about how much they “wailed” (apparently I had watched Wayne’s World recently) and asked Franz how he grew such a killer mustache. These are things that a normal human being wouldn’t say to their heroes.

LCD Soundsystem – “All My Friends”

I ended up getting pretty depressed after my mother died. I wouldn’t interact with people, I was generally crabby and I drank more than I probably should have. The summer of 2007 was more formative than any other year. I studied abroad that summer. I ended up meeting my future roommates and best friends. I got a chance to do something I never thought I would do. It made me realize that I want to work in journalism and that I absolutely loved dancing.

Holy crap, do I love to dance and cut loose. This LCD Soundsystem song isn’t their most dance filled number but the lyrics make me nostalgic for that summer where I stumbled home most nights and learned more from my friends than any book could have taught me.

Titus Andronicus – “Titus Andronicus”

I lived in a house that was notorious for their parties in Mississippi called The Belafonte (I don’t really know why it was named that so don’t ask). I moved in after I got back from London in the fall of 2007. Halloween was a particular fun time, but in 2008 we started throwing house shows. Titus Andronicus were the first touring act to make a stop at The Belafonte. My roommate Eric and I fell in love with The Airing of Grievances and decided to shoot the guys an e-mail. They said yes and ended up being some of the coolest people we’ve met.

Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Brave As A Noun”

We booked Andrew Jackson Jihad for our second house show. They played at midnight on Halloween night to a room full of my closest friends and acquaintances. No microphone. No amplifiers. Just two dudes with an acoustic guitar and bass. They did this between their New Orleans show date and their date at The Fest in Gainesville, Fla. (which is roughly 9 hours away from my old house). They played, had a beer or two, sold some merchandise and hit the road. The set might have been 20 minutes long, but it was still the best I’ve seen in a long time.

Daniel Martin Moore – “It’s You”

This past August I got married to my girlfriend of six years. This was the song to our first dance as husband and wife. It’s still one of the happiest days of my life. I got to celebrate with my family, her loving family and my great, great friends who I miss dearly. Two days after my wedding we moved to Washington, DC so she could start graduate school. I know a few people around town, but we don’t hang out much so right now it’s just me and her versus the world. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. It might be lonely at times but I’m glad I have her.

Amy Powell’s Eternal Mixtape


Family and Friends at the Ridge – Copper Kettle

You can hear the folks on this recording claiming that it is an old folk song, but it is usually credited to Albert Frank Beddoe and was popularized by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.  I think this is a late ‘60s recording of my mother, my grandparents and some of my grandparents’ friends at a hootenanny in the NC mountains where they have a campground.  My mother and one of my sisters now own little pieces of that campground, and my baby sister got married there last fall.  But at the time of the recording, I guesstimate my mother is a medical student in her 20s, younger then than I am now.  She has probably met my father at this point; they may be dating.  But this was a weekend or summer trip back home to the mountains, where she sat around the campfire with family and friends and played music.  It’s not a great recording, and there’s a disagreement about what key to play in.  The other voices and sounds are friends and family who have since passed away but whose names are dear to me and whose voices vividly call to mind summer camping trips where I sat around the fire listening to them play and sing.  The main male voice here is a mountain man named Ed; he and his wife were my grandparents’ best friends.  Ed built most of the structures up on the Ridge with his bare hands, and he was the primary guitar player most of the time (also, as I dimly recall, banjo and harmonica).  I think, however, that my mother is doing most of the playing on this recording.  (I’m going to try to spare the Eternal Mixtape any further family recordings.  There are very few good ones and even fewer of them have been digitized.)
Floyd Kramer – Last Date

My father, much like me, lacks any discernible musical talent or skill.  During medical school, he took piano lessons so that he could play this song.  He then quit taking lessons and hasn’t touched a piano since.  Maybe the attempt to impress a girl flopped, I dunno. But apparently it worked.
CHILDHOOD – Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ 

Jimmy Durante – Hi Lili Hi Lo

I’m only being a little cute with this one.  My mother sang it to my sisters and me occasionally as a lullaby.  I have a vivid memory of it in the crib.
Ricky Skaggs –  Honey, Open that Door

Okay, my father was obsessed with Ricky Skaggs for awhile.  I heard this tape as a child more than can possibly be healthy.  It was constantly on in the car for driving to school.  for road trips.  Bluegrass, country, folk, and oldies (like, from the 1940s and 50s, kids) were always on in the background.  And lets not talk about yodeling tapes.

Michael Jackson – Bad

I was 8.  This is the first time I remember paying any attention whatsoever to current popular music, and it was all about the video, which seemed amazing.  I was never fascinated by MTV other than Michael Jackson videos.  I was too young to notice “Thriller” when it came out, but I distinctly remember watching it for the first time around when “Bad” came out.  I also remember my parents being briefly outraged by the later video for “Black or White” in which Michael smashes up a car and grabs his crotch.  It seemed very provocative at the time.  Some years later, I danced to “Black or White” in my last dance recital.  In a stupid costume.  And no, you can’t see pictures or videos.  Not ever.
Rosemary Clooney – Sisters

Since I have 3 sisters and we all took dance lessons, we were occasionally called upon to dance together in public.  Our original tap performance of “sisters” was stunning, endearing, and enduring.  It has also been reprised at each of our weddings.  And no, you still can’t see pictures.

Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

No doubt introduced to me by my parents, this was the first tape I ever bought for myself.  I thereafter bought pretty much everything Simon & Garfunkel that I could lay my little hands on.  I was an awkward middle school child, as you might imagine.  I have two very vivid memories of listening to this tape.  Once, I was at summer camp, and a bunch of girls went out robi-dosing.  I found out I was intentionally not invited because I was presumably a “narc.”  I’m pretty sure I had no idea what that meant.  I know I had to ask what robi-dosing was.  But I also ditched evening camp activities and laid in my bunk alone listening to Simon & Garfunkel.  SUCH A DORK. The year I started middle school, I met the girl who was to become my bestest best friend in the unique tortured intimacy shared only by angsty teenage girls.  I recall making her listen to “I am a rock” the very first time I invited her over to my house because I thought it said so much about me.  SAD AND PATHETIC DORK.  She later told me that she found it very intimidating at the time.   We were probably about 12.

Jimmy Buffett – Son of a Son of Sailor

Another favorite of my father.  I’m pretty sure Jimmy Buffett was also my first live concert – with the family.  To this day, it takes no effort and very little beer to induce Jimmy Buffett sing-alongs.  My husband, however, finds this horrifying and generally suggests putting on some Franz Nicolay to prevent this from happening.

HIGH SCHOOL – Don’t Call Me Daughter

Nirvana – Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam

I remember the shock, the girls crying, the teachers’ halting attempts to talk to us about suicide that day.  Only 14-year-olds could have been shocked by Kurt Cobain’s death.  But we were.  I was not really a Nirvana fan; I don’t think I cried.  But one had limited choices for sub-genre identity in a small and socially segregated town.  One either liked “country” or one was “alternative”.  A few white kids were into “rap.”  But that was pretty much the range of identities available to our imaginations.  “Alternative” just sounded better than just “nerd” (which was probably more accurate in my case).  Also, fashion sensibility and I only ever intersected in the grunge era.  So, notwithstanding my general indifference to Nirvana, Kurt Cobain was a cultural icon.  One of my cultural icons.  I think my continued indifference to Nirvana is less about their music — I really rather like many of the bands that influenced Nirvana and the bands that followed them — and more about the fact I am still angry at Kurt.

They Might Be Giants – Birdhouse in Your Soul

My bestest best friend and I made all things They Might Be Giants into an important staple on debate team trips in high school.  They are charmingly nerdy, delightfully catchy, lyrically engaging.  What’s not to love?  Loud nerd sing-alongs ensued, much to the chagrin of the drama team nerds, who believed themselves ever so much cooler than the policy debaters.  This reminds me of long cross-state bus trips where the driver had to stop every 30 minutes to use the bathroom, and I taught myself how to bottom-deal (poorly) while playing Uno in the back of the bus.  After dark, the debate team bus games turned to truth or dare.  But the music stayed nerdy.  TMBG and Ben Folds Five were awesome.  I had a brief fascination with ska.  And I kept some of my parents’ non-country-sounding oldies in rotation.  Because, you know, I wasn’t “country.”
Oasis – Champagne Supernova

I rode my bike back and forth to the barn where I cared for my horse everyday.  The barn was not far at all, but it felt far on a rainy winter day.  The ride back home after dark — after a full day of school and then a few hours of intense exercise and then working in the barn — felt brutal.  I remember a winter where this song had been on the radio constantly and had become another incessant earworm.  I shouted it into the wind to make myself keep going.
James Taylor – Fire and Rain

James Taylor was the first concert I went to of my own volition, and even then I knew it wasn’t cool.  But he was so dreamy for an old guy.  This song I first heard on the soundtrack for “Running on Empty” (Oh, River Phoenix, I will always love you) which I rented on VHS.  Back then, I heard an entirely apocryphal origin story for the lyrics to this song, which I believed to be true until googling the matter in 2010 to write this paragraph.  Damn you, internets.  Damn you, Brendan.  Anyway, it was a sad and sweet song by a broody Carolina boy with a guitar, and it moved me to go to a live concert at the newly minted Virginia Beach Amphitheatre.  I think my friend’s mom drove us.
Indigo Girls – Watershed

My brief adolescent fascination with Simon and Garfunkel not withstanding, this was the first band I ever loved.  My bestest best friend and I added a third young woman to be our bestest best friend about this time and we all became completely obsessed.  We dissected the lyrics.  We tried to track down rumors.  We talked about how their bands were like our lives, how they shaped my philosophy – both personal and epistemological.  When my English teacher asked us to bring in music that we thought of as poetic so that we could dissect the lyrics, I had trouble choosing an Indigo Girls song.  I owned everything they ever recorded until someone stole my CD collection in college.  *sigh*  I’ve never entirely rebuilt my IG collection.  First scene.  Driving to the beach, 100 degrees, windows down, music cranked up, chocolate malts.  Three young women, an inseparable trio, belting it out.  We ridiculed our philosophy teacher who had derided the Indigo Girls as “average lesbian folk rock.”

Indigo Girls – Reunion

Second scene.  The three of us ditch school on a Friday and sneak out of town to go to an Indigo Girls concert at a club in Virginia.  We wanted to show up super-early to get good spots.  And Michelle Malone, also awesome, was opening.  So, yeah, we wanted to get there Brendan-early.  A tire blew out on the drive through the swamp.  The drive through the Dismal Swamp is a little less treacherous these days, but in those days there was no shoulder, a few blind turns, and no civilization in easy walking distance.  I was opining on how I thought a tire should be changed (I had strong opinions on the subject, having seen it done once) when a very nice, very drunk old man driving a tow truck stopped to help us change the tire.  He was fortunately not a serial killer. Then, we got lost in the one of the not-so-nice parts of downtown Norfolk.  Still, not killed.  Some nice young men on a street corner gave us directions.  We arrived at the concert venue a little before doors.  We eagerly rushed in, only to find ourselves directed to the “under-21 section”, where we were corralled off to the side with no decent lines of sight.  We were extremely grumpy about this development.  As the BIGGEST FANS, we were clearly ENTITLED to better treatment.  Our various complicated schemes to sneak into the drinking section were stymied by intimidating bouncers and our own compelling desire to not get kicked out.    But then the music started and it all washed away.  I have no recollection of what we told our parents.
Air Force Academy Cadets – On Eagles Wings

The February of my senior year of high school, my mother’s mother died. The next month, my father’s father died.  I was maimed. We sang the same two hymns at each of the funerals. In March, my dog died. No one sang. I have no particular attachment to the Air Force Academy version of this hymn; it sounds in my head like it is sung by as many friends and family as can be crammed into an old church.

THE COLLEGE YEARS:  Amy Discovers Classic Rock (and Napster) and tries to stop feeling like a jackass

Jimi Hendrix – Easy Rider

The boys ran the squad-room stereo on my college debate team.  No longer in control, I learned about classic rock and its slightly more recent incarnations.  There was a lot of Led Zepp, a lot of Pink Floyd . . . some Stones . . . very occasionally Bruce . . . some Guns and Roses. There was a running argument about whether Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix was the greatest guitar player of all time.  I listened carefully and expressed no opinion, being only vaguely familiar with the names. I didn’t mind, really. It turned out that I pretty well liked guitar heavy rock and roll. Although every now and then, the women would hijack the stereo, play some “chick angst music” and drive away the boys.

David Bowie – Rebel, Rebel

My boyfriend (now my husband) was comparing some musician to David Bowie when I broke my usual stay-silent-and-listen rule and asked him who David Bowie was.  Much mockery later, someone asked me if I had seen Labyrinth.  “Oh!  Oh yeah, that guy. ”  Even more mockery later, I borrowed the boy’s David Bowie CDs to catch up.  I have jumped around to this song a lot. But I still refer to him as “that guy from Labyrinth.”
Naughty By Nature – Feel Me Flow

My husband-to-be really liked hip-hop.  I tried to appreciate it for awhile.  I found a few good lyricists, a few good songs here and there.  But this was pretty much the only song that I already knew and liked when we met.  So we listened to it together a lot.  This is the sound of young and awkward love to me.
Indigo Girls – Least Complicated

Scene Three. My senior year, second semester, the Indigo Girls played Wait Chapel, the campus church.  I secured front row seats for me, a group of college pals and my bestest best friend from high school.  She was in a rough patch and had dropped out of school.  The third of our trio was not speaking to me. We suddenly felt very distant.  But, girl, we could re-live our glory days like champs.

Simon & Garfunkel – Keep the Customer Satisfied

One of my sisters lived in Chapel Hill, a couple hours down the road from me. During my college years, we would frequently meet up in Chapel Hill and drive home together. If you start this track just as you turn off of Edgewood Drive in my hometown, crank it up really loud and drive just as fast as the music takes you, the really cathartic bit with the horns sounds as you round the big curve on our street. And it finishes up right after you park in my driveway. This works best if you both shout along at the top of your lungs. And whoever isn’t driving should mime the horns or the drums or both. We both still queue up this song like clockwork when we turn off Edgewood.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK:  Amy’s college laptop crashes; she loses all her stolen Napster tracks, and she starts over again.

Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight

This was my first dance with my husband.  Neither of us can dance worth a damn.  But still, it was our dance.  In the space of about 3 weeks, I graduated from college, got married, moved to New York, and started a new job.
Ben Folds – Your Redneck Past

I recently re-discovered a mixtape my best friend made me around this time.  It was intended to tweak me about abandoning my roots and seeking a new life.  It was sweet and funny and moving, and it had this song on it. 

Neil Young – On Broadway

A few months later, I stood in the street and watched the second of the Twin Towers come down. That’s a longer, sadder story, and it has its own soundtrack, and I don’t tell it.

The Clash – Death or Glory

I didn’t discover punk rock until I went to law school.  That may seem counterintuitive and unreasonable.  Or at least somehow hypocritical.  But it was the first time I was living in a city.  And having moved in with my husband, I had the run of his CD collection – which included heavy doses of early punk rock.   I wasn’t going out to shows at all.  Actually, for the first couple of years of law school, I wasn’t going out at all.  And I was only listening to enough new music to conclude that very little of it was interesting to me.  But the internets were a wide and wonderful place to learn about old punk music, even if you didn’t want to steal it.
Lucinda Williams – I Lost It

Studying for a tax law exam has a peculiar effect on one’s mind.  I had this song on constant repeat for about a month.  I also had an awkward conversation with my mother about what it was about.  This album — which I had owned for a long time before putting it on repeat — was actually my first inkling that I had been lying to myself for many, many years about whether I liked country music.  So, I said for awhile that I liked “alt-country”.  And then that I liked “old-timey” country.  It turns out, I LOVE country music.  So, having moved to the great Sodom in the North, I started to explore country and bluegrass music. I found an old Doc Watson cassette in my car last week; I’m pretty sure I stole in from my parents on a trip home.

The Hold Steady – Cattle and the Creeping Things

I wanted to hear more new music but I wasn’t hearing much that interested me.  A colleague at my job told me that I should check out Arcade Fire, who had just made “the greatest album of all time” and that they were Pitchfork-approved.  I glowered at him but bought the album.  It was fine.  A buddy from law school told me about the Hold Steady around the same time.  It’s hard to describe, he said, it’s like this spoken word thing but over rock and roll.  And, there’s this line about the bible “the dude blamed the chick and the chick blamed the snake.”  I glowered at him too and bought the album.  I found it kind of hard to listen to on the first run through.  But I kept coming back to it.

BANNED IN DC:  A new obsession, live music, and D.C. hardcore 

The Hold Steady – How a Resurrection Really Feels

So, not long after I moved to DC, the same law school buddy called me up to rave about the new Hold Steady album and the show he went to.  I picked up two tickets to the show at the Black Cat.  There are a lot of stories from that night, but they’re a little blurry.  Some whiskey.  Some dancing.  One fistfight.  One wholly embarrassing moment.  And a hazy light gives everyone and everything a halo.  Resurrection segues into Killer Parties and a stage invasion.  A fire was lit.  The next morning, I sent emails to everyone, everywhere about how they need to see this band.  I started to lurk on the Hold Steady message board, where I eventually started helping out as a moderator.  A year or two later, I fly to Ybor City to see a Hold Steady show, and I met the fans known affectionately as the Unified Scene.  These days, I have traveled thousands of miles and made many dear, dear friends from several countries.  I jumped the border once myself. These songs have soundtracked my life more than any other since 2006.  Next month, the Unified Scene invades Harrisburg, PA, and I’ll be there too.  Look for me up front in my nerd shirt – #0.
The Dismemberment Plan – The Ice of Boston

Having (re)discovered live music, I searched around for other shows.  I found myself in the audiences for They Might Be Giants, The New Pornographers, Lucero, Against Me, Constantines, Drive-by Truckers, the summer shows out at Fort Reno, and many more followed fast upon.  Hip indie bands. Serious noodly bands. Big band. House shows. Joke bands. Friends’ bands. Punk shows in suburban garages and urban basements. I started to consume music at a frenetic pace. Good music is great, but the perfect live show was the one sweet fleeting feeling.  There have been a few here and there.  The Dismemberment Plan reunion shows at the Black Cat have to be near the top of any list.  There was pornographic cake!  And a stage invasion!  And I did not know it at the time, but there were at least 2 Unified Scene folks in the crowd that I would soon consider near and dear.

Minor Threat – Bottled Violence

So, I knew a little about DC’s hardcore scene before moving here. But living here, I decided to explore it more – Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Teen Idles, etc., and then their current offspring.  These songs soundtracked my life as a government lawyer under the Bush Administration who drinks too much in her spare time.  If you think that involves a degree of cognitive dissonance, you would be right.  But anyone who works in government and doesn’t occasionally want to burn it all down is either dense or dissembling.  Or both.  So, imagine these songs occasionally reverberating in the halls of the Justice Department.  You can hate it if you want, but we’re better off.

World/Inferno Friendship Society – Zen and the Art of Breaking Everything in this Room

Exploring the back catalogue of Hold Steady people led me quickly to WIFS. Riveting. The fans seemed kind of toxic on the internets, but have always been pretty decent bunch of kids in person. Well, except for that first time. The husband and I were visiting NYC for the weekend; seeing some pals, some sights. Somehow, in the 6 years he lived in NYC, my husband had never visited Coney Island, which seemed important to rectify. In my zeal to spread the word about this stunningly awesome band, I planned the trip around a World/Inferno show. Also, the opening act was billed as pirate puppet rock opera; key chorus – “dirty, dirty scurvy pyrate love.” So, it was like they designed a show just for me. I took the husband and a friend. We hung in the back by the bar with the old people. The pirate band was sans puppetry that evening, but still pretty swingin. The show was oversold; the 15-year-old punks were packed in skinny jean-clad cheek to temporary-tattooed jowl. They chatted and chewed gum right through the pyrate set, which was a shame for those of us in the back. But my between-sets conversation with the professional clown was interrupted by the band taking the stage.

The tweeny-bopper punks became a single, seething mass. I was utterly entranced. I suppose it’s not possible that I really didn’t breathe for the next 20 minutes or so. The band was stunningly awesome, but the real spectacle was in the free space they created for the kids. Being kids with visions of punkdom, they used their newfound freedom to tear down the kitsch from the walls and the ceilings, to jump off the stage, the railing, the bar, each other, and to become one flesh with many flailing arms and legs, soundtracked by WIFS. When the owners asked Jack to tell the kids to settle down, he said something precatory and launched into the next song on the setlist – “zen and the art of breaking everything in this room.” The hive-mind energy was overwhelming. I passed back the crowdsurfers. I saw the broken glass and pressed closer. A boy with too much eyeliner tugged on a live wire from the light fixture he had just smashed, apparently because he enjoyed the sparks. I’m pretty sure most of the blood was fake. I was just enough outsider that it fleetingly occurred to me that I was an adult and should do something about the kid playing with the live wire; but the thought was lost in the tumult. The plug was pulled. The music kept going. When one of the owners climbed on the soundboard and begged everyone to stop destroying her bar, I momentarily thought it was a bit of performance art. They jeered her.

Peter and Jack eventually led the kids pied-piper style out of the bar. I stood transfixed until being surprised to see that I was still holding the remains of my drink. By the time the police arrived, the band had played all of about 20 minutes. The bar was all demolished stuff and broken glass and unidentifiable stains. The seabreeze soothed our crashing adrenaline and then our arguments. There was a cop with one hand on a gun, performing his best command presence and ordering people to disperse. He ignored the three of us for a while – I assume we didn’t look the type — but he couldn’t avoid our scrutiny after awhile. He gave us a funny look and glanced at our wristbands. “Uhhhh, I don’t know if you were part of all this but you need to move along.”

Faith of our Fathers

In summer 2008, my husband and I traveled to Italy. Part of the trip was with a group to study the church my mother’s family comes from. They were pre-reformation Protestants in the Alps near the French border. About 30 of us climbed the rocky slope in the rain. There was nothing but old forest, not even the occasional stone home with a garden we saw elsewhere in those hills. It was grey and cold in the wind, even at midday in June. Some of the more frail turned back to the bus, but my 85-year-old great aunt soldiered on, as did I, my husband, a sister, my mother, some cousins, both preachers, and a large crew from the church my mother grew up in. One by one, using flashlights, we ducked and clambered into the rock cave through an entry barely big enough for one, hidden by the same rockfall that formed the cave inside. Once past the dark, damp, and claustrophobic entrance, the cave opened up. The ceiling was 20 feet high at least, and the cavern could have uneasily hit 150 people. And did at one time. I have been hearing about this cave since I was crawling. They held church services in secret here hundreds of years ago. 2 thin slats of light at either end of the cavern let us see each other’s faces dimly. One ray of light fell directly on a raised rock at one end of the cavern – a natural pulpit. No one re-told the legend. We all knew it. Christ, I think I first heard it before I could read. It’s possible this cave wasn’t even actually the cave from legend but our collective imaginations made those walls echo with the screams of the slaughtered, choking on the smoke, mothers choosing between letting the children smother in here or running outside so they might be gutted. So, we beat back the darkness. A few people climbed the pulpit. The preacher said a short blessing. But only music could fill the space. We made a circle and grabbed hands. I was between my husband and my mother – both clammy-handed – and we sang faith of our fathers. And the walls sang back.

Franz Nicolay – Hi Lili Hi Lo

I like this song. I love this guy. And tonyrockyhorror for recording this guy singing this song. And DC9 for putting on a show where tony records this guy singing this song. And everyone everywhere who buys music, goes to shows, offers up their couch, some food, a drink to help this guy sing this song and any other tune he feels like playing anytime and anywhere he wants. And everyone everywhere who lends a musician a hand.

Rich Tarbell’s Eternal Mixtape

:: 88 lines about 44 bands ::

carroll was a catholic boy
he held out until the bitter end
exene was a different type
she’s the one who put it in
violent femmes sand about black girls
never been afraid of a girl like that
david lowery painted pictures sitting down
like the buddhists sat

stipe was an aimless man
With geographic memory
tweedy wasn’t a jesus freak
but he seemed to dig the misery
liz had this special way
of turning sex into a song
bun e. couldn’t sing
kept the beat and kept it strong

suicidal were the archetype
A voodoo king, king of rap
mbv were just loud as shit
no rhyme goes with this
rotten was an anarchist
he really had that gift of gab
devo’s point of view was this
can’t take whatever you can grab

mclusky was another band
who left their mark upon the map
material issue tied me up
then left us all hanging by a strap
urge overkill had this nightclub walk
that made grown women feel underage
chrissie who had a son
said “i must go” but finally stayed

mick had the last taboo
shattered by his tongue one night
iggy brought the taboo back
and held it up before the light
alex chilton who knew little fame
was never satisfied
d. boon came and went so fast
he couldn’t even say goodbye

well dulli had a house in n’awlins
lived on brown rice and cocaine
alejandro had a house in Houston
shot cough syrup into his veins
paul thought his life was empty
filled it up with alcohol
lftr pllr was much too pretty
they didn’t do that shit at all
uh-uh. not lftr (yeah right)

lou said that love was simple
turn it on and turn it off
bowie was complicated
like some french filmmaker’s plot
sweet was like a perfect lady
always kept their stocking straight
julian was a rich punk rocker
silver spoon and china plates

david byrne was a modern dancer
lean pristine transparency
morrissey wrote bad poetry
in a crazy kind of urgency
lux interior liked to fuck
while wearing leather biker boots
craig’s strange obession
was for certain alcohols and fruits

mark sandman was an artist’s son
the deeper image shook him up
dee-dee’s mother left her father
took his money and his truck
bill carter had no such problems
perfect norman rockwell home
black francis had his band
then he kind ended up alone
kim joined a new wave band
and changed her name to the breeders

bob mould who played guitar
sang songs of loss and regret
killing joke didn’t give a shit
just a nihilist
joe was much more my style
he wrote songs just like this
kim gordon went 40 days
drinking nothing but perrier
jello drove his chevrolet
into the san francisco bay
gbv came from ohio
i am a scientist
the nails – here’s a kiss
i chose you to end this list.

:: endnotes ::

jim carroll band – “people who died”
x – “Johnny hit and run pauline”
violent femmes – “black girls”
camper van beethoven – “tania”
r.e.m – “maps & legends”
wilco – “jesus, etc.”
liz phair – “Stratford on guy”
cheap trick – “surrender”
suicidal tendencies – “institutionalized”
my bloody valentine – “sometimes”
public image ltd. – “fff”
devo – “uncontrollable urge”
mclusky – “to hell with good intentions”
material issue – “Valerie loves me”
urge overkill – “sister Havana”
pretenders – “tattooed love boys”
rolling stones – “can’t you hear me knocking”
iggy pop – “the passenger”
big star – “watch the sunrise”
minutemen – “king of the hill”
afghan whigs – “rebirth of the cool”
alejandro escovedo – “last to know”
replacements – “here comes a regular”
lftr pllr – “nice nice”
velvet underground – “pale blue eyes”
david bowie with arcade fire – “life on mars”
sweet – “ballroom blitz”
strokes – “new york city cops”
talking heads – “life during wartime”
the smiths – “what difference does it make?”
the cramps – “goo goo muck”
the hold steady – “barfruit blues”
morphine – “buena”
ramones – “Havana affair”
screaming blue messiahs – “wild blue yonder”
pixies – “tony’s theme”
breeders – “hellbound”
husker du – “makes no sense at all”
killing joke – “eighties”
the clash – “the right profile”
sonic youth – “kool thing”
dead kennedys – “too drunk too fuck”
guided by voices – “shocker in gloomtown”
the nails – “88 lines about 44 women”