Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Lost Art of the Mix Tape

I love my iPod nano (3rd generation). I love being able to stuff 1500 songs on it, in various carefully-crafted playlists, and then hit random. It's my own DJ.

Now that summer's here, I made myself a "Summer 2009" MP3 CD. I've crammed 156 songs onto it. All of them have the feel of summer to me. I include everything from old Chicago (really?!) And the first thing I do when I put the CD into my player in my car (after rolling down the windows, mind you) is push random. Viola! Instant 'radio.'

However, there's still something to be said for the art of putting a certain number of songs together on a CD. You know what I'm talking about: taking one song into account, the instrumentation, the vocals, the tempo, and pairing it up with another like-minded song (or not, depending on how you make mix CDs). I've always enjoyed it. For the first six years of this decade, I made myself "Year's Best" CDs where I spread the 27 or so songs over two audio CDs. (Back then, I didn't have an MP3 CD player in my car.) I haven't done it in awhile and I thought I'd give it a go with my summer music. Thus, from the 156 song collection of Summer Songs, comes this specific playlist.

-Steve McQueen by Sheryl Crow - It was this or "Soak up the Sun" so I went with the guitar rock riff. And, besides, it's about friggin' Steve McQueen.

-Come to Me, Do by Chicago - The best song from Chicago 30, this sunny, summery tune will put a smile on your face no matter how bad your day is. It's like a Mountain Dew commercial. The horns are judiciously used and really make the song.

-Girls in Their Summer Clothes by Bruce Springsteen - This is the Boss in full Phil Spector mode: strings, bari sax, and a broad singing not found in Bruce's early days. You can feel the sunlight on your face with this song.

-Sister Lost Soul by Alejandro Escovedo - A mid-tempo song from arguably my favorite new discovery from last year, this features some of his string quartet work. A song you'd hear driving just after dusk any summer night.

-Slow Burn by David Bowie - The first single (do they call them that anymore?) off his brilliant 2002 album, its got Pete Townsend on guitar and a rougher edge than Bowie's other recent work. The second of my older male singer mini-trilogy who can really hold out long notes.

-The Road by Tom Jones - Tom Jones released his latest CD late last year and it's wonderful. This is a mid-tempo ballad that makes use of Jones's incredible voice. He holds back a bit which makes the tune all the much better. This is a driving-in-California song.

-Hey Eugene by Pink Martini - Another new discover from last year, this quirky tune has got some background brass and fun singing by the female lead. Definitely a late-night, post-club song when all you want to do is regain your hearing after hours in a club.

-This Life by Springsteen - Arguably, the sequel to "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," Clarence Clemons' solo to the fade-out is gorgeous. This is the kind of song you'd hear on a remake of American Graffiti.

-Same Time Next Year by "Chicago" - Keith Howland, guitarist for Chicago, wrote this song about touring every summer. Jason Scheff (current singer/bassist) sings and all the horn players are here. If CHI were to write songs like this, you'd get some folks saying "Wow. Chicago's back."

-Viva la Vida by Coldplay - Jumping back to the 80s sound with this one. It's the kind of song that should have been featured in a John Hughes film when the guy finally figures out he wants the girl and is running through the city, avoiding everything, to tell her.

-Lead Me On by Amy Grant - My favorite Grant song. Period. Sure, it sounds like the 80s but it's aged well. If the Hughes film featured a female lead, this is the tune *she'd* be running to.

-Keep Talking by Pink Floyd - The opening minute or so is the kind of music you'd hear in a documentary of Africa as dawn broke over the Serengeti. The guitar work, like almost all Floyd, is the soundtrack to summer nights.

-If You're Gone by Matchbox 20 - No surprise here that I pick the most Chicago-sounding tune Rob Thomas has ever made. Gotta love that horn break.

-Hollywood Nocturne by Brian Setzer Orchestra - Oh, does this song drip 1930s LA. Bari sax solo, mysterious lyrics, and kick-ass guitar, this is a noir movie in song.

-Follow Me by Pat Metheny Group - Metheny is always airy and breezy, the epitome of summer. Here, his solo is on the synth guitar. And the vocals (no words) evoke that midday heat burning down on you.

-The Obvious Child by Paul Simon - The opening, drum-laden track from 1991's Rhythm of the Saints (follow up to Graceland), this song's lush with the world music vibe. I dare you NOT to start moving with those drums playing.

-Inching Towards... by The Howland/Imboden Project - Chicago's drummer (Imboden) and Howland made a modern fusion/rock/instrumental CD. This track features Robert Lamm on piano and Chicago's trombonist, Jimmy Pankow, playing a Latin song with rock elements. Pankow's solo is reminiscient of his early avade-guarde (yes, I'm using that word) work on Chicago III and VII and Howland's guitar work is subtle and in-your-face simultaneously. This instrumental closes out the CD and always makes me want more.

So, do y'all have some favorite albums/songs that are quintessentially summer? And do y'all still make mix tapes/CDs?


Richard Prosch said...

Slow Burn --Love that HEATHEN album. One of Bowie's best and edgiest. "Everyone Says Hi" caught me completely off guard.

Chris said...

Awesome post. Enjoyed reading your choices. Way to include Pat Metheny! I'd probably have a lot of his stuff on my summer playlist.

Two things that come to mind right now are pretty much anything from Joni Mitchell's The Hissing of Summer Lawns and that Kool and the Gang song "Summer Madness." George Benson's "Breezin'" works for me, too. (:

Lois Karlin said...

Great list...some of them are unknowns I'll now try. Alas, I have misplaced my 6 month old nano. They're so darned tiny!

Charles Gramlich said...

I like the idea of hitting random. That would have far more variety than any of the radio stations I get here.

Scott D. Parker said...

Richard - I think Bowie's 90s material ranks as high as his 70s material. It's just so good and Heathen, arguably, is the best of this lot. It's the one I return to over and over again. As I will write in my forthcoming review of the Heathen CD, ESH is probably my favorite song of the CD.

Chris - Metheny is, at times, way too uppity for me. I admire his talent and that of his band but it can be quite complex. For summer, I don't want to think much. Thus: Follow Me. Another tune from that same album I really like is "The Roots of Coincidence." Love the techno-metal thrash of that song.

Lois - Thanks for stopping by. The Howland/Imboden Project is available via, a nice independent label/distributor. You can also pick up Robert Lamm's bossa nova CD from them, too, if you like that type of music. "Same Time Next Year" I got from Keith Howland's myspace page.

Charles - I almost, without question, hit random on just about everything I listen to, even this CD sometimes. The best thing about making an MP3 CD (with 150+ songs) is that I hardly ever punch "next" b/c I love all the tunes. And, with 150 songs, repeats are hard to come by.

Richard Prosch said...

I like Metheny's LETTER FROM HOME. My first real exposure to Pat Metheny was his album with Charlie Haden, BEYOND THE MISSOURI SKY. Haden is one of my favorites for his album HAUNTED HEART (Quartet West).

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nice mix, Scott. If I figure out how to download songs on to my MP 3, I'll use some of these.

Ray said...

Just started doing this myself. Had a load of tapes which I have transferred to CD. Although I didn't set out to theme them they seem to have turned out that way.
A Summer disc would have included The Lovin' Spoonful's Summer In The City.

Scott D. Parker said...

Richard - To date, my only Metheny is the Group. I've not explored his solo/duo work. I'll have to check the library and see what it has available.

Patti - Unless it's some newfangled player, a USB cable should all you need. Maybe some software. If you have a Mac, it's all done for you.

Ray - I agree with you re: Summer in the City. I just have that song. We have a hits station here in Houston that is the greatest hits of the 60s and 70s. It's a summer soundtrack all year round. Also, I could make a summer CD with music solely from 1965-1972 and I'd be more than happy. I really dig the psychedelic sounds of early Doors, Hendrix, Sons of Champlin, and many, many others. If you haven't been there, check out Wolfgang's vault (link there on the right) which has tons of old concert recordings.