My Autobiographical Mixtapes

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Most everyone who’s an obsessive music fan – like many of us here – has to have a connection to High Fidelity:

Either the book,

the movie…

or both.

If it’s not in your vernacular, you’ve got to get into it.

It’s essential. At the level of The Big Lebowski for being quotable and a great shared cultural artifact.

Among many memorable scenes is this exchange between Rob, a record store owner (John Cusack in the movie), and one of his employees Dick (Todd Louiso). Dick has stopped by Rob’s apartment to ask if he wants to go to a Marie de Salle concert (who Dick describes as a “post-Partridge family, pre-LA Law Susan Dey, but… umm… black”).

He notices large stacks of LP’s all over the floor, and stops in his tracks.

Dick: I guess it looks as if you’re…

Both (in unison): Reorganizing your records…

Rob: Yeah.

Dick: What is it? Chronological?

Rob: No.

Dick: Not alphabetical.

Rob: Nope.

Dick: What?

Rob: Autobiographical.

Dick: No. F’ing. Way.

Rob: Yep. I can tell you how I got from Deep Purple to Howlin’ Wolf in just 25 moves.

Dick: Oh man…

Rob: If I want to find the song Landslide, I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.

Dick: That sounds…

Rob (cutting in): Comforting.


So:

I do not remotely have a huge record collection like Rob.

But I have spent the last five years practicing a form of musical autobiography.

Whenever I can, I like to have music playing.

While I’m at work. While I’m cleaning up around the house. While I’m taking a walk around the neighborhood.

I have music in my life quite a bit – it’s really part of who I am.

(OK, we’re all tnocs-ers… no surprise there…)

Here’s the thing: even when I’m not actively listening to something, I pretty much ALWAYS have a song stuck in my head, playing on repeat.

And to my good fortune, it’s something I like 95% of the time.

Sometimes I get those annoying songs I hate stuck in there, but usually it doesn’t last long. Like this past December, I sometimes found my head going toward those annoying Jennifer Coolidge Old Navy commercials, “hashtag sorry not sorry.”

I love you, Jennifer Coolidge, but those commercials are too much! #sorrynotsorry

“And remember, be sure to check in with us during this year’s Super Bowl commercials!”
“NO MERCY!”

Anyway, starting back in 2018, I decided to keep a spreadsheet of the songs that got notably got stuck in my head. Then at the conclusion of the year, I made a YouTube playlist “mixtape” with some of those songs.

Since then, it’s been a tradition I’ve kept up, and I just completed my 5th one for 2022.

I don’t play them on the “mixtape” in any sort of specific order – I just take the songs from the spreadsheet and try to make them flow reasonably well.

It’s always a mix of genres and eras – from the 1960’s to recent releases. Seems like there are themes every year – artists who stood out above the rest or genres that jumped up in my listening habits.

And of course, after I make my mixtape, it’s in constant rotation for at least a month.

It’s like comfort food. Some of the songs may be literally memories of childhood – for example, on the 2021 mixtape, I have Sneaky Snake by Tom T. Hall, which I remember as my very first favorite song, back when I was a preschooler.

The teachers at Kiddieland preschool in Clarksville, Tennessee, would play that for us – back when my dream job was stunt man!

Some of the songs are songs that really kick me in the gut – e.g. Tile by Tile by Alvvays on this year’s list (coincidentally, also Scott Lapatine’s song of the year). Or some are more like a punch to the stomach, like Slaughterhouse by Chat Pile – also on this year’s mixtape.

I share these mixtapes just among very close friends and family typically, mostly to complaints or generic praise.

They are not for everybody – really, they are for an audience of one:

me.

I do not give any thought to any other person’s like or dislike as I’m constructing the mixtape. I like to think that you could get some insight into my mental space in a particular year by listening to a mixtape, but I’m not sure anybody is interested in that.

At the end of the day, is it just some sort of mirror or a form of masturbation? And even if it is, is that such a problem? It’s something I really look forward to making at the end of every year – trying to order the songs, to make them flow. (Not claiming to be good at this either honestly – I think my mixtape skills are “mid” at best.)

And to encapsulate my year of musical taste in one place – to make a mixtape that I will remember and will remind me of the year in question.

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’…

Maybe a song here or there will remind me of some event in my life, but they mostly live on their own plane in my heart – stirring my melancholy, tugging at my nostalgia, making me want to dance, or just filling me with something large and inexpressible. (Seriously, listen to I Love Your Smile by Shanice – and tell me you don’t want to smile yourself.)

Anyway, I’ll share the mixtapes here in case you are interested. I can guarantee you that you will find something you’ll like… and something you’ll hate on every year’s mixtape.

Unless you’re me. In which case, it’s wall-to-wall gold!

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cstolliver
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January 9, 2023 5:04 am

Very cool, and thanks for sharing them with us. I guess I’d lean toward “introspective” and “expressive” as the adjectives describing this pastime. Not very different in some ways from scrapbooking (which I do and just recently finished for 2022) or even what we do here with our writing. Sharing pieces of our lives… Just to a great soundtrack!

Last edited 19 days ago by Chuck Small
JJ Live At Leeds
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January 9, 2023 8:05 am

Thanks for sharing those. Had a quick look through and there’s some really great songs i already know and the added bonus of ones I’m not familiar with so can broaden my own horizons with. Made me smile to see Biz Markie Just A Friend in the 2021 list. Was it the continual mentions from Tom that did it to you?

The songs that get stuck in my head – as in go to bed and suddenly the internal stereo kicks in or sat in a waiting room with nothing else to do – tend to be the inanely catchy ones that don’t reflect my actual tastes and listening habits. Therefore a playlist of them would be very bad for me. I need my regular listening to get rid of that song from the toothpaste commercial from the mid 80s that my brain inexplicably dredged up from nowhere.

Totally get the compulsion to make your playlists and I like that they aren’t ordered by genre or theme, just a reflection of whatever comes up. I haven’t made any annual playlists but have numerous ones named according to the month and year I compiled them. I keep a note of anything I hear that I like as a one off song and every few weeks or months put them all together into a random playlist and then have separate playlists covering every decade from the 60s in where I would sort them all into as well. Though the decade lists started reaching the point of containing many more hours than was feasible to listen to so haven’t added into those for a while.

JJ Live At Leeds
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January 9, 2023 12:44 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Here’s a couple of mine. November 21 – a fine vintage. They’re generally a mix of new and old songs I’ve just discovered or rediscovered, sometimes swaying more in one direction than the other. As you’ll be able to tell they aren’t collated in any particular order, I like the randomness they throw up like Iggy Pop into The Flamingoes into Nick Lowe into Rostam.
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7DnpD3YILGx80QkPlglwtV?si=UCDEsjCCRYK8rcNtLQkOjA

March 22 – a shorter album length list;

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/16K4IiEYk2OE9URq1EAiU0?si=jBgJuid5SjWzZT83LbsATw

JJ Live At Leeds
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January 10, 2023 12:42 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Hmm, not sure why that is. I’ve never actually shared a playlist before but it’s not set as private and the link is what I got from selecting the share option. Glad you liked the previews anyway!

Ozmoe
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January 10, 2023 8:53 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

I’m considering sharing a playlist as a future blog post on here. I’ll run it by mt58 and maybe we’ll see it soon.

mt58
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January 10, 2023 9:09 am
Reply to  Ozmoe

 👍 

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 9, 2023 8:52 am

Yay, a fellow fashioner of “phono albums!”

I wrote about my own hobby in a previous tnocs.com post. But your slightly different rules are intriguing. At least early on, I tried to capture the stuff I was absorbing at the time, and so I mostly selected songs that I had encountered for the first time, and also did not allow repeat artists for any mix. Thus, I was prioritizing “newness” for each year, be it a new release or newly discovered classic.

You prioritize “ear-worminess,” and the mixes thus serve as veritable snapshots of what’s bouncing around your head the most in a given year. That’s pretty cool. If I were you, I’d be tempted to chart the frequency of most re-occurring songs over the years, assuming there would be much to chart. Do you see any notable patterns of re-occurrence across years? Those would be the Earworm kings, at least for your brain.

Looking forward to checking out your mixes, thanks!

Last edited 18 days ago by Phylum of Alexandria
thegue
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January 9, 2023 11:16 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

By the way, HUGE shout out to the Grimes/Tennis playlist. I’ve seen Tennis a few times (their first album was one of the best since 2000, IMO), and my daughter and I fell in love with Grimes when Art Angels came out.

We don’t like to discuss her private life choices…

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 9, 2023 11:40 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Speaking of earworms I just can’t get enough of…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6FBfAQ-NDE

Virgindog
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January 9, 2023 11:13 am

What a great idea. I’m very tempted to start one myself, seeing as how we’re only nine days into the year. Right now, the only earworm I remember this year is “I Know What Boys Like” by The Waitresses, and that was before Tom mentioned it in today’s Number Ones. How very odd.

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 9, 2023 11:41 am
Reply to  Virgindog

This one’s on the house:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOYZaiDZ7BM

Virgindog
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January 9, 2023 1:36 pm

Where did you come from?

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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January 9, 2023 1:49 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Where did you go?

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 9, 2023 2:21 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Tokyo, Japan, most recently.  😀 

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 9, 2023 2:20 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Philadelphia, originally.

thegue
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January 9, 2023 11:14 am

Man, there is some solid stuff there (I’ve already added “Fire” to my 2010-2019 Spotify playlist)!

  1. How do you avoid commercials on YouTube? They’ve reached a point of no return for me, so I have an app on my phone that blocks the ads. No such luck for the laptop.
  2. I’m impressed with the variance of genres/timelines within each. That is VERY High Fidelity.
  3. Great movie; great book. I make lists like Rob Gordon ALL. THE. TIME.
LinkCrawford
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January 9, 2023 11:19 am

I came up with the same concept as you back in college around 1990. Write down and keep track of songs that get stuck in my head. I found it became too difficult to do.

Eventually about 20 years later I finally came up with a solution. I started producing a weekly personal top 30. It was nerdily produced via spreadsheet with points awarded to each song, tallied strictly to produce a top 100 playlist at the end of the year. I did this for about 7 years. (What made me stop? Tom’s The Number Ones column! I started spending too much time writing for it.)

My rules weren’t very strict. If I wanted to hear it in a top 30 playlist that week, then it made the chart, though I did try to limit re-entries during the same year. I have been working pretty hard lately at tidying up my iTunes/apple music database lately (a labor of love) and I hope to get my countdowns going again eventually. Maybe not until Tom finishes his TNO column.

Here’s my list of my #1 songs for the years that I did my countdowns:

2012: “Linus and Lucy with the Band” – Vince Guaraldi
2013: “Genius in France – “Weird” Al Yankovic
2014: “Perfect Mother” – Basia
2015: I can’t find this spreadsheet! I hope that I didn’t delete it 🙁
2016: “Sausalito Summernight” – Diesel
2017: “Undun” – The Guess Who
2018: “Rio” – The Doobie Brothers
2019: “West Coast Blues” – Nancy Wilson

I can totally relate to your efforts. Keep up the good work!

LinkCrawford
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January 9, 2023 11:23 am

Also, I’ve talked about this before over at stereogum, but the most intense earworm that I’ve ever had was the Theme to Little House on the Prairie by David Rose. I had owned the 60 second song for years on a collection of TV themes, but for some reason in 2005 one time I got that song stuck in my head for about 4 days in a row. Would fall asleep thinking of it, would wake up thinking of it. I love the song, but that was crazy. Eventually it went away like a bad case of the hiccups. Weird.

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 9, 2023 11:44 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

My Mom would always sing “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone,” and so that constantly runs through my head. Waking, sleeping, whatever.

Seems there’s a worm for every ear, and there’s a worm for me.

Edith G
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January 9, 2023 1:03 pm

I loved this piece Pauly, and making the mixtapes it’s a great idea, actually it sort of reminds me the long procrastinated idea that I have about making a playlist with my irrationally loved songs, but I couldn’t even know how to start.

cappiethedog
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January 10, 2023 12:29 am

Sheer Mag is my favorite contemporary band. I think David Letterman would have put them on American television. Also, Hop Along and Soul-Glo. Those three bands are unquestionably great. Philadelphia is amazing.

I can’t locate Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape, so I can’t quote verbatim, but Sheffield has this great passage about freeing a song from its original context and giving it a new life. I like what you did with Eddie Rabbitt’s “Drivin’ My Life Away”. For me, the transition into “Pretty Pimpin'” makes sense because Kurt Vile has some pretty big Nashville fans. Keith Urban, in particular. He singles out “Pretty Pimpin'”. He described it as “automatic writing”. Was there alt-country in the early-to-mid eighties? I don’t think so. You’ve got “Passionate Kisses” on the 2021 mix. Nashville covering Austin. Lucinda Williams is like the missing link between both worlds. And then I notice Jason Isbell. He’s alt, but he could pass as both, like Kacey Musgraves before she went “pop-timistic”. Williams passes as both, too.

Oh, god. I could go on forever, but I’ll stop here.

Quick shoutout to June, Eric Bachmann, and the awesome Jessica Pratt. I forgot to buy Quiet Signs. On Your Own Love Again reminds me of Julie Delpy in Before Sunset.

Iben Hjejle is pretty convincing as an American. I’m not sure what happened to her stateside. Her filmography is mostly Norwegian-based.

cappiethedog
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January 10, 2023 3:17 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Geez. It’s been three years. Nobody sounds like Tina Halladay. “Fan the Flames” sounds like rock’s last stand.

At first, I thought people were down on Everything Now because they graduated to a major, but I don’t think indie cred is a thing anymore. Superchunk is so accessible. I’m not sure why they never came close to crossing over. Either “Web in Front” or “Underachievers March and Fight” should have broke Archers of Loaf.

I have no idea who Shiny Beast is. I have to check them out. I do remember Small 23 and Vanilla Trainwreck. I’m not sure if the latter has a signature song, but “True Zero Hook” approaches Eric Bachmann greatness.

I got friends to check out Dolphins/Niners, but there was zero interest in seeing The Connells live. In retrospect, I should have gone by myself. Writing a political song that doesn’t sound overly preachy is hard. That title track to Steadman’s Wake gave me chills.

Thanks, Pauly.

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 10, 2023 7:26 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

And Mannequin Pussy!

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 10, 2023 10:53 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

No scuttlebutt as of yet, but I am ever searching!

cappiethedog
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January 10, 2023 2:35 pm

There are so many godawful band names out there.

Scuttlebutt works.

What would Scuttlebutt sound like?

Phylum of Alexandria
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Ozmoe
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January 10, 2023 8:45 am

Yes, please share the mixtapes with us! Can’t wait!

mt58
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January 10, 2023 5:11 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

 🖐   🙂 

dutchg8r
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January 11, 2023 5:49 pm

Fascinating. It’s like a journal in song form, where you play a song and immediately associate to a particular event. Saves a lot of writing!

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