In 1994, I found an unlabeled mix tape buried under the passenger seat of my car and named it “The Other Mix I Made For Casey.” Casey was — and continues to be — a dear friend and one of my favorite people on the planet, and we discovered that our relationship was able to truly flourish once we stopped dating in junior high. I had made a mix tape for her when I was in 11th Grade and promptly lost it, forcing me to make her another one that wasn’t nearly as good. Thus, this tape I discovered, though named “The Other Mix I Made For Casey,” was really the FIRST mix, the gold standard, the Vatican I of high school mix tapes. It was better than all that had come before it. Better than “Four Bands I Like” (Crowded House, Squeeze, Split Enz, XTC). Better than “Assorted Singles and B-Sides” (Adam made one with the exact same name that was SO MUCH BETTER). Better even, with strange irony, than “Best Songs Ever” (a bunch of new stuff, one horrible misstep by a hot new band called the Spin Doctors, and a lazy Side Two that descended into nine consecutive Billy Joel songs, which…tsk tsk). It was also the first time I fully enforced the golden rule of straight-acting high school mix tapes: No Songs From Broadway Musicals Allowed. Sorry, Evita.
I’m sure I listened to this mix one billion times more than its recipient ever would have. To the best of my recollection, here’s how it went. Welcome to my high school time capsule.
Break out your 90-minute Maxells, people. Here we go:
“Way Down Now” by World Party — For some reason, I had it in my head for most of my mix tape career that the first song had to be something from the popular music scene. Y’know, to draw the listener in. Even though the album featuring this single was released in 1990. Whatever. The lyric “The clocks will all run backwards / All the sheep will have two heads / And Thursday night and Friday / Will be on Tuesday night instead” is still one of my favorites.
“I Won” by The Sundays — God, I love that band. They put out one of my top ten favorite albums ever, “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic” in 1989, and became the first salvo in the battle of contemplative girl groups that started the division between the music my brother listened to and the music I listened to. We had never disagreed on any music before The Sundays, and let me make it amply clear when I say that he does NOT like this band. But for me, they defined this period of my life. After a slightly lesser follow-up album that was so ethereal it went floating right over my head, the band broke up and I, as a direct result, had a nervous breakdown. I scoured the world looking for someone who could replace them and their lead singer’s signature sound, and ended up wasting most of my discretionary income purchasing music by the likes of The Cranberries, Des’ree, and, at my low point, something called Tasmin Archer. When The Sundays unexpectedly reunited to put out one more album, “Static and Silence,” I had the happiest senior year of college ever.
“Ten Feet Tall” by XTC — Three minutes of pop perfection by a band that ranks second only to the Beatles in British pop. I’m not kidding. This song doesn’t seem to be on iTunes, which is a total shame because you should all own it. It’s effing great.
“Walking Down a Road” by Split Enz — If any of you has even heard of this band, it’s because of their one hit, “I Got You,” written by Neil Finn after he took over the band and made them New Zealand’s Most Famous Thing That Isn’t A Joke About How Many Sheep New Zealand Has. This song is from their early, early days, when the band was fully fronted by Neil’s older brother, Tim, who didn’t know where songs began or ended. This song is prog-rock masquerading as early New Wave, and I’m not convinced it is New Wave and neither should you be. Later mix tapes featured more mix-tape-appropriate songs of theirs, such as “Ships” or “Nobody Takes Me Seriously” or “One Step Ahead.” For some reason, I felt I needed to challenge the listener with a “you’re in or you’re out moment” early in the mix, so the third song was usually nine minutes long and not very good. (See also: “You Enjoy Myself” by Phish on “Winter Break Mix ’94”)
“Which Describes How You’re Feeling” by They Might Be Giants — You made it through that Split Enz song! Well done! Here’s a really short song that all the kids will love. Frequently used alternates for this song included the superior “Letterbox” and the too-funny-for-its-own-good “Dinner Bell.”
“Dirty Back Road” by The B-52s — Look, I loved them just as much as anybody else, but if you’re trying to be — what’s the word — “not gay” in high school, you need to put on the B-52s song that leaves out the voice of Fred Schneider. In later years, I’ve stipulated that I would like “Dance This Mess Around” played at my funeral, so clearly I’ve gotten past all that. Nevertheless, great song.
“A Campfire Song” by 10,000 Maniacs — Sorry again to the brother who was trying to relate to me musically during this period. Gah, I even dragged him to a concert of theirs at Jones Beach. At least I was in college by the time I started listening to Tori Amos. He would have fucking killed me if he’d heard that shit going on in the house.
“Could’ve Been Anyone” by Aimee Mann — Now this is kind of a weird one. As anyone who knows me knows, I love Aimee Mann and always have. I discovered her solo work on a CD sampler from a new record label called “Imago,” which featured two songs, “I Should’ve Known” and its b-side, “Jimmy Hoffa Jokes.” Also on this sampler CD were the early works of a young Paula Cole (shut up, her first album was kind of good) and a bluesy lady named Suzanne Rhatigan who put out one album and then disappeared in an almost epic way. Imago went belly-up right after Aimee’s first album, and I have been chasing her around the planet, watching her career ever since. Her first solo album, entitled “Whatever,” has one of the best pop songs (“I Should’ve Known”) and one of the best break-up songs (“Stupid Thing”) and one of the best story songs (“I’ve Had It”) I’ve ever heard. The song on this mix, frankly, is not one of the album’s best, but I think the reason it was on there is because it was Aimee at her most conventionally poppy: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, instrumental solo, chorus, fade. Which is the part of Aimee I fell in love with to begin with.
“Half Harvest” by Michael Penn — Weird that this song comes right after an Aimee Mann song, even though this mix was made before these two were married. I wonder if they met originally because they were seated next to each other on this mix.
“Exhuming McCarthy” by R.E.M. — “You’re beautiful, more beautiful than me. Honorable, more honorable than me. Loyal to the Bank of America.”
“The Key to her Ferrari” by Thomas Dolby — He who blinded you with science had quite a career after that song, and this is one of my favorites. From the brilliant spoken opening (“There was one room in her house that was always kept locked. It was…the garage!”) to the truly disgusting monologue in the middle (you’ll have to look that up), this song rolls and is so very much fun to sing when you’re driving alone. I would sometimes throw “Airhead” on if I needed a less aggressive Dolby song, but this was a hell of a way to end Side One on a light note. Particularly considering what was going to happen next.
“Golgi Apparatus” by Phish — I’m not going to lie to you. In early 1993, I barely knew anything about Phish. I had been to just one concert and was just starting to dip a toe into the musical juggernaut that vacuumed the discretionary income out of my wallet for the next five years. This song was the most mix-appropriate because, like my other new love Aimee Mann, this song sounded the most like what I was listening to at the time. Nevertheless, this Side Two kick-off was a shot across the bow: I had exciting new music on the horizon and it was not to be ignored. It was like Dylan plugging in for the first time. I had come far, baby.
“Dies Irae” from Mozart’s Requiem — But not THAT far.
“I’m Looking Through You” by the Beatles — Not that far at ALL. See that? Try something new like Phish, and the backlash will be great and swift. Notice as I continued to wallow in the familiar.
“Canary in a Coalmine” — Ah, now we’re back on track, but still kicking it old school. Nothing makes me feel more nostalgic for my middle school days of sitting in my basement playing video games on the Commodore 64 than the middle three albums of the Police. By the time I put this song on Casey’s mix, I was already hearkening back to those times. Hello, the game “Hardball”? I could still beat you today, if I hadn’t let my mom throw that computer out a couple of years ago.
“Shoot You Down” by Apb — Apb was an 80s Scottish band who made one killer fucking song. I don’t even know why I know this, but it’s great.
“Vanishing Girl” by the Dukes of Stratosphear — I’ve discussed this song elsewhere on the blog once or twice, but DoS was the name XTC took on when they wanted to do more weird-ass, psychedelic, silly stuff. This is still one of my favorite pop songs, and helped create a loophole in my policy of not allowing myself to include two songs by the same artist on any mix tape. A big, big no-no.
“Slightly Drunk” by Squeeze — Words cannot even describe the greatness of this song. Also included by Squeeze on mixes before and after: “In Quintessence,” “Mumbo Jumbo,” “It’s Not Cricket,” Stranger Than the Stranger on the Shore,” “Labeled with Love,” Picadilly,” “Woman’s World,” “Cigarette of a Single Man,” “Can’t Hold On,” and “The Prisoner.” And ninety others. I liked Squeeze.
“Souvenir” by Billy Joel — Shut up and just be glad I had already included a 10,000 Maniacs song so I couldn’t end this thing with “Verdi Cries.”