I don’t really know how to explain this one, but I can start at the beginning.
I’m an only child. I didn’t have any older brothers or sisters to get hand-me-down music from. So for the longest time I didn’t really listen to music. It wasn’t until around my seventeenth birthday that I got bit by the musical bug. As today’s my 21st birthday, that means I’ve been actively seeking music for about four years now.
Now I don’t have a younger sibling either. But if I did, this mix would be my starting point for them. These are songs that I had to discover on my own, through friends or by accident. So I guess you could say that this mix is “if I had a younger brother, these are all songs I would make sure he was handed at a relatively young age.” I left off some that he/she would be sure to run into without my help: Beatles, Beach Boys, Stones, etc. Add your suggestions in the comments!
My 21st Mix: Songs No One Should Grow Up Without
MP3: Billy Bragg – A New England
I was introduced to Billy Bragg after wandering headfirst into his collaboration with Wilco somewhere around my 18th birthday. I didn’t explore him further until a ways later, but I was instantly glad I did. Besides being a classic, “New England” is something I think most confused kids can identify with. Plus the bit about wishing on space hardware is just unbeatably funny.
MP3: Brian Eno – The True Wheel
I think Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy was a random download for me during my first year of college. I remember I kept revisiting the first half of the album so long that it wasn’t until some months later that I would get around to listening to what would become my favorite Eno tune. He’s a genius, and this is just one of many, many reasons why.
MP3: The Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen in Love
The best part about this song is that it’s pretty much a blending of so many of the best musical traits. There’s no doubt that their patches belong on your punk jacket, but that melody would make Andy Partridge proud. Plus there’s the universally relatable subject matter. It’s as lyrically touching as much as it is an earworm.
MP3: The Clash – White Riot
For the longest time I only had London Calling. A great, great album to be sure, but I can’t help but think that I would have benefited from an infusion of different types of Clash at an early age.
MP3: The Cure – Pictures of You
The Cure are sort of responsible for this whole project. A bit after starting work at the record store, I realized that one of the larger gaps in my musical tastes was the Cure. I didn’t really know anyone who listened to them until I was nearly twenty, so I had just never run across them that much. I’m still not done patching that hole, but I’m working on it more and more.
MP3: Dangerdoom (feat. Talib Kwali) – Old School Rules
I heard Dangerdoom’s album when it came out and wasn’t really struck by it. I had liked Danger Mouse and MF Doom’s collaboration on “Somersault”, but didn’t really get into this. After exploring Doom’s albums, I felt this record like a punch in the face. Danger Mouse gave Doom the production that he so deserved, and Doom returned the favor in kind by donating some of his best lyrical performances. Plus this line kills me: “We’ll be right back after these messages / Fellas grab your nutsacks, chicks squeeze your breastesess.”
MP3: David Bowie – Moonage Daydream
Bowie. Ziggy. I can’t really imagine my life without him, or that album. I don’t remember how I first heard Bowie, but I remember when I first got Ziggy Stardust. As a freshman in college, I picked that record up around the time that I bought my ipod. The two were a vicious combination that left me strolling around campus with the sounds of a space age moon man ripping through my brain. From there I moved to Hunky Dory, and on to Aladdin Sane, and Low before shooting off all scattershot. I’m still picking new records up, but progress is slow as I can’t stop revisiting the old ones long enough to let the new sink in. Ask me what the best record of all time is and I’m likely to tell you it’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
MP3: Dead Prez – Hip Hop
Don’t laugh, but the way I heard “Hip Hop” was through their thing with Static-X. I sought out the original and have been soaking in it ever since. It’s not my favorite hip hop track, but I think it’s great introductory work.
MP3: Echo and the Bunnymen – The Cutter
One day at the record store, one of my coworkers popped in some Echo and the Bunnymen. Maybe I’d never heard those songs before, but I’d definitely never heard it like this. I bought some Echo that day and studied it like I was preparing for an exam.
MP3: The Flaming Lips – Turn It On
Transmissions From The Satellite Heart was probably the second Flaming Lips album I ever had, after Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I remember initially being drawn to She Don’t Use Jelly, but rediscovering “Turn it On” after a trip back to my parent’s house two years ago. This song hits like a fuzzed out joybomb and will forever be one of my favorites.
MP3: Gang of Four – Damaged Goods
I wish there were a more glamorous story behind this one. We got a used copy of Entertainment! in the story and I thought “hmm… I’ve never really listened to Gang of Four.” I’d heard this song on Youtube and liked it, so I gave it a shot. If you’re ever bored, pick up a copy of NME and circle all the bands that owe their popularity to Entertainment. You’ll be out of ink before you’re done with the index.
MP3: Hank Williams Sr. – Lost Highway
I actually first heard this song through Mixmas. Bishop Allen picked the theme of songs about streets and there it was. Since then I’ve had it in heavy rotation (especially when I drive through Nashville). It’s a sad reminder of all that country music used to be.
MP3: Harry Nilsson – Gotta Get Up
I had a fiction writing class last semester in which I wrote an entire ten page story that featured Schmilsson as a major plot point. It — like this mix — played off the big brother / younger brother relationship and relied heavily on music to tell that story. Call it a fixation. But the point is that Nilsson was crazily gifted as both a songwriter and a lyricist. Do your younger sibling a favor and toss on a copy of Nilsson Sings Newman on top of these mixes.
MP3: The Jam – Going Underground
The Jam were a slow accumulation for me. I think I heard this song first, bought Sound Affects and moved on from there. “Going Undergound” makes me wonder how the Jam aren’t played on all kinds of radio stations. You just can’t play this song for someone and be met with anything other than a request to play it again.
MP3: John Cale – Hanky Panky Nohow
This is probably the most recently discovered of all of these on this list. You may remember that I fell head-over-heels for Miracle Fortress earlier this year, including their cover of this same tune. After wearing it out, I went looking for the original and haven’t turned back since. I consider the fact that you aren’t handed a copy of Paris 1919 or Vintage Violence on your college move-in day one of the system’s greatest injustices.
MP3: Jonathan Richman – Roadrunner
When I saw Bishop Allen for the first time, they soundchecked with “Roadrunner.” I know I’d heard it previously, but that was the first time that I fully realized what a killer song it is. I don’t think I’ve ever made a driving mix that didn’t feature this song. In fact, I’m just as sure as that as I am that I’ve never been able to listen to it at least three times in a row on those mixes. It’s so simple, but still so perfect.
MP3: Joy Division – Isolation
At this point, I don’t think it’s possible to reach your teenage years without hearing “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” So rather than give them a pass on Joy Division, I’m including a song that I feel is largely responsible for many musical trends of today.
MP3: The Kinks – The Village Green Preservation Society
Scratch the whole teenage thing here. My kids will know this song from birth onward. I’m sure a compelling case could be made for blaming most violence in the world on people not having listening to enough Village Green Preservation Society.
MP3: The La’s – Callin’ All
My friend Kristine put this on a mix for me just when I was starting my “devour all music” phase late into high school. I was sure they were Kinks contemporaries or Beatles buddies, but no. The La’s were just some kids in the late ’80s who made some compelling, mindblowing music.
MP3: The Magnetic Fields – I Don’t Believe You
If I included many more contemporary bands, I’d have to give a nod to my good friend Cory. He’s dragged me kicking and screaming into some of the weirder of my favorite bands (The Unicorns). Around age 17, Cory played “I Thought You Were My Boyfriend” for me and his sister. She found it funny, but I thought it was too weird. Not a short while later, I was cautiously dipping my foot into the pool of Stephin Merritt. Mid-college I had jumped in and now I’ve happily drowned.
MP3: Miles Davis – So What
So what. So what. I bought this record on a whim last year. Upon hitting PLAY, I found myself more relaxed than I’d been since entering college. Since then it’s rarely been something I just casually throw on, but it’s never been something I can skip once its been started.
That’s the first 21. The second half after the jump.
MP3: My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallows
I’d heard this record was “perfect” before I’d ever heard one note of MBV. I wish that I could have heard this album immediately after getting into the Smashing Pumpkins (the first band I ever loved). I think it would have opened a lot of doors for me that I remained unaware of for a long time.
MP3: Paul Simon – Boy in the Bubble
I had bought Graceland a ways back, but it wasn’t until I went on a date with a girl who had a serious love of Paul Simon that I put it in heavy rotation. I had a hard time picking one to include, but I think “Boy in the Bubble” is just the right amount of weird to contrast the beauty.
MP3: Pavement – Two States
I won’t turn this into a Malkmus v. Pavement issue (Malkmus wins, sorry all). I do want to say that entering college without having heard Pavement is a good way to give yourself a lot of albums to catch up on.
MP3: The Pixies – Debaser
The Pixies. Ah, where to start? I discovered them after going backwards from Weezer and fell in love with Surfer Rosa. Since then I’ve grown to see them as one of the most important bands in my musical development. Few albums will light the fire of musical hunger as much as those by the Pixies, and few will keep it burning as as long or as brightly as the same.
MP3: R.E.M. – Nightswimming
If I’m being completely honest, the first two bands I listened to were probably the Beatles and R.E.M. My parents were fans, what with their being in Georgia during the mid ’80s, so I grew up with cassettes of Automatic for the People and Monster in my back pocket. “Nightswimming” was always a favorite of mine. I remember having my ipod on random, laying on the wet grass outside of UK’s library one night. I hadn’t heard this song in probably three years, but I knew every word, every note and every pause like it was written on my soul.
MP3: Radiohead – Paranoid Android
I remember grabbing “Paranoid Android” off some early filesharing network because it reminded me of Marvin from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I played it over and over again, nearly wearing the zeros and ones off the MP3. From there I moved chronologically through Radiohead’s catalogue. Once I hit OK Computer, I knew I was home. Radiohead are my favorite band and their show at Bonnaroo 2006 is my favorite show I’ve seen. I don’t know any better way to put it than this: when I woke up from my skiing accident I had a concussion and partial amnesia. The first thing I asked my roommate was “Is Radiohead still the best band on Earth?”
MP3: The Replacements – Gary’s Got a Boner
Pretty sure the chorus alone is enough to get anyone between the ages of 10 and 17 to listen to this song. Yeah, it’ll get some giggles from the younger set, but this song is killer. I’m a better person for having heard it.
MP3: The Rocky Horror Picture Show – The Time Warp
The first glimpse of Rocky Horror I ever caught were when I was young and my dad watched it on VH1 in our living room. It was the part where Frank freezes Janet, Brad and Dr. Scott’s feet/socks/wheels to the floor. I was quite scared and promptly left the room. Years later I would randomly download this song and fall headfirst into a world more crazy that I could ever imagine. At 18 or so I would attend my first “showing” — my best friend’s parents back yard with a sheet and a projector. As a sophomore in college I went to my first proper show and I’ve gone ever chance I’ve ever had since. In fact, I’m going this Saturday. I kid you not when I say that the Rocky Horror soundtrack would be surprisingly high on my list of desert island albums.
MP3: Siousie and the Banshees – Hong Kong Garden
I should not have had to hear this song for the first time in an advertisement for a Kirsten Dunst movie.
MP3: The Smiths – Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One
One of my oldest friends, Isaac, used to have impeccable taste in music. The Smiths? Radiohead? The Flaming Lips? He was into all that before we could drive. How was this possible? Why through his musically-hip older brother. And while I found the Smiths a bit whiney upon first listen, I didn’t have anyone nice enough to shove them down my throat. It’s a real shame that I didn’t pick up on them until my freshman year in college; no one knows how to appreciate over-emoting like a teenager.
MP3: Stiff Little Fingers – Suspect Device
The first time I heard this was in High Fidelity when the nerdy record store clerk is playing it for his soon-to-be-girlfriend and someone asks “Is this the new Green Day?” They snicker, knowingly. The first time it really stuck was seeing Ted Leo play it live. It’s far more lyrically sharp than most of its punk contemporaries, but loses none of the edge or power.
MP3: Syd Barrett – Octopus
Here’s another for the file. Proving yet again that I pick the worst times to get into musicians is “Octopus” by Syd Barrett. He died and I decided then would be a good time to explore his works. I’d heard some early Floyd, of course, but songs like this are so delightfully off-kilter that they stick with you despite your best efforts to clear your mind.
MP3: T. Rex – Jeepster
I heard this one day a few years ago while waiting to catch a studio session on KEXP. From the very second the guitar entered, I was hooked. Marc Bolan is a curly-haired musical god in my book.
MP3: Talking Heads – Found a Job
As a child, I remember two songs my dad would crank the radio for: Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” and the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.” I can’t say I really took to either when I was a kid (but I did like Prince’s soundtrack to Batman), but at least one translated into a lifelong love. My freshman year of college, I pretty much exploded into the Heads. I bought Stop Making Sense and any record I could get my hands on.
MP3: Television – See No Evil
I downloaded this at the end of my sophomore year. I’ve heard people say that Marquee Moon requires multiple listens to really get into, but I was slack-jawed and wide-eyed by the riff in “See No Evil” alone. To get an idea for how much I’ve grown to love that album and this band, for one moment I considered skipping Bonnaroo to fly up to New York and see Television play in the park. I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t. But I thought about it for a second.
MP3: Tom Waits – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up
As I just confessed a few days ago, I’m still getting into Tom Waits. I first heard “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” when I downloaded the Ramones’ cover of it when I was around 16. I didn’t know it was a cover until years later, and I didn’t look for it until embarrassingly recently. Still, it’s on here for another reason besides being an incredibly great song. Tom gives a simple lesson important for a kid to have: hold on to your youth. At least the good traits, that is.
MP3: The Velvet Underground – Rock and Roll
This isn’t my favorite VU song, but it so closely aligns with the theme of this mix that I had to use it. There’s really no better way to put it than by saying that “her life was changed by rock and roll.” And as David Bowie pointed out, pretty much everyone who picks up a Velvet Underground record will go on to pick up a guitar and start a band.
MP3: The Violent Femmes – Add it Up
At this point in American culture, I think we’re born with the riff from “Blister in the Sun” ingrained in our memories. But as for exploring the Femmes any more? That’s a move that few seem to make. I think their self-titled record was one of the first that I downloaded in high school. I played it on and off, but it wasn’t until just before I graduated that it really grabbed me. The lyrics — especially in “Add it Up” — are so wonderfully selfish and juvenile that there’s a part of everyone that can identify with them.
MP3: Wire – Ex Lion Tamer
Thank Mixmas for this one. My good friend Kathryn Sanders gave me a backup mixmas submission two years ago in case I ran out. I didn’t wind up needing it, but it did introduce me to Wire. I picked up 154 and wasn’t as in love, but Pink Flag will always do it for me.
MP3: XTC – Senses Working Overtime
There’s only so many times you can see a band cited as an influence by your favorite bands before you listen to them. It seemed like every band I enjoyed was crediting or being compared to XTC, so last year I finally gave them a spin. And I spun. And I’m still spinning.
MP3: The Zombies – Care of Cell 44
“Feels so good, you’re coming home soon!” I believe you could walk into any music lover’s home, shout that lyric and become fast friends. There’s a reason for that. The Zombies are a fantastic, perfect band, and “Care of Cell 44” is the same. Odessey and Oracle is the stuff of dreams, both for musicians and anyone with ears. I’ll probably give a copy of the expanded version to my kids on their second birthday (they’ll have had a year to soak up Sgt. Pepper’s and Pet Sounds).