Having set this up earlier this week, let’s dive right into it. I used to call this feature “Songs to Close Out Your Summer” when I wrote it for Cru Jones Society, and I think I was probably a bit too optimistic regarding my ideas about its impact on the readership.
“Oh hey, I’ve been hoping for something to listen to as I say goodbye to the summer… and what’s this?! Jackpot!” said no one, ever.
Here’s a bunch of music I’ve been digging this year, and a few anecdotes that should prove illustrative. A handful of these songs will look familiar if you’re a regular reader here. I’ll point you to where you recognize them from. Thanks for hanging on the patio with me once again and letting me talk about myself.
1. The Bouncing Souls – “Static”
I wanted to kick off this year’s mix with something other than punk rock. I failed. This is a perfect opener. I need my mixes to leap out of the stereo, and the Bouncing Souls are one of the most reliable bands for this. I think my three favorite punk bands are Face to Face, Strung Out, and The Bouncing Souls.
2. Crash Kings – “Mountain Man”
Every mix is built around at least one song – that song you love that you can’t get enough of. You never know where it’s going to come from, but it always comes from somewhere. And when it does, it hooks you and it doesn’t let go. Sometimes not for weeks, sometimes not for months, sometimes not ever.
I heard “Mountain Man” while absent-mindedly watching a Warren Miller video one weekend on Encore. I have no idea why, but this song hit me like a right cross I never saw coming. I’ve been reeling ever since. I love this song. And I knew I wanted this on the mix, and I wanted it early so that every time the mix cued up, I knew it wouldn’t be far from the front.
3. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “Can’t Hold Us” (feat. Ray Dalton)
My friend Jitter used to host the punk rock show in college after mine, and she had a segment she called “It Isn’t Punk, But It Should Be.” She’d play songs that embodied the punk spirit from other genres, and I always hated her because I loved that segment and wished it was mine. This song definitely fits that mold for me as this song energizes me in a way few songs outside the punk canon can. This song makes me want to jump up or move around or WIN AT EXERCISE. Or just sandwich it between some punk rock and blast down the highway.
4. Pennywise – “Let Us Hear Your Voice”
“The point is, while the world has changed dramatically in a decade and a half, Pennywise’s message largely has not, which makes this song both anachronistic, and just plain confusing. Whenever I engage with the lyrics in a more pointed way than I usually do on the elliptical machine, I give myself a chuckle because it seems like Pennywise is writing political punk using a book of Mad Libs and nothing more.”
I still can’t help but giggle when I sing along, but it doesn’t detract from this song’s face melting quality, which keeps the energy from the first three songs perfectly. I wanted the first part of this mix to be really propulsive, and this was one of the best bullets I had, so fire it I did.
5. Queens of the Stone Age – “3’s & 7’s”
Kristin: Why is this song on your mix? Wasn’t this from like 3 years ago when we were playing Guitar Hero on Wii all the time?
Jon: Yes it was. That’s why when I heard it in the wild a couple months ago I remembered that I never put it on a mix and wondered, “Hey, why didn’t I put this on a mix?” So I put it on this mix to make up for the mistakes of the past.
Jon: It’s sort of like the concept behind Reparations…
Kristin: (quickly turns attention to phone out of fear of where I’ll go with this analogy)
6. Gaslight Anthem – “45”
It took me way too long to find Gaslight Anthem despite my friend Stephen recommending them to me for at least, I don’t know, half my life. I found them finally, and yes, they are excellent. Thank you, Stephen. Sorry it took me so long.
7. Hole – “Celebrity Skin”
Remember that scene in American Pie where Tara Reid gets eaten out by Rookie of the Year? This is the song that plays in the background. I loved that song then, but never knew what it was. Listen to Lithium enough, and you’ll happen upon it as I did. Thankfully, Kristin’s a huge Hole fan (huh huh huh huh), so I was able to shoplift this from her iTunes. Awesome riff, and solid sneering from Courtney Love.
Special note to anyone going to Jamie’s bachelor party a little over a week from now: Make a note of this song. It will come up again. That’s all I’m saying.
8. Guster – “Barrel of a Gun”
“What was funny at the concert was there was a group of dudes a few rows in front of us who were, like, really fucking jazzed to see this mellow hippie shit. They were bopping around and singing along and bro-ing out with each other totally incongruently to the vibe coming from the stage. It was awesome.”
When I picture these lovable dipshits doing this, it’s them doing the “4-3-2-1” thing from this song’s chorus. I never want to forget those dorky motherfuckers rocking out to this, and Guster has a subtle Beach Boys vibe about them that necessitated another listen. I smile whenever this comes on.
9. The Mowgli’s – “San Francisco”
If you want to know what’s going to be on your local alternative radio station two months from now, listen to Altnation on SiriusXM. I got the drop on this song, and HOLY SHIT is it infectious. It took me a minute to figure out why, but then I realized it’s because it feels like there’s about 9 people singing at all times. It’s like the alternative band equivalent of Up With People. I was in the car with Jason recently, and this song came on. Jason was like, “Holy shit, I love The Mowgli’s.” I was tempted to say, “I love everything about them except for that godforsaken apostrophe in their name” (which I do – I hate that godforsaken apostrophe) but thought better of it because this music is just so damned infectious.
10. Peter Bjorn and John – “Second Chance”
Hipsters got mad when the sitcom “2 Broke Girls” used this as their theme music and for scene transitions. Hipsters can be fucking dumb. If you don’t like the show, while it’s on, instead of watching it, maybe just crochet yourself another ironic piece of dumb headgear. I like the show just fine, and I like the song even more.
11. American Authors – “Believer”
One night Kristin and I were drinking beer on our patio (this is not uncommon), and she had a bunch of new music she wanted to share with me. So we listened to it. And then I linked up our computers and imported it from her library into mine. This one made it into the mix not because it was the only one I liked, but because the lyrics resonated most with me. Hope, insecurity, regret, an affable veneer – that’s all me, baby. Big ups to my wife for the late assist here.
12. Churchill – “Change”
Hooray for Colorado! My one problem with this song is the way the lead singer expands the syllable in the line “You want me to chaaaaange, change, change… You want me to change.” I can only think of that episode of South Park where all the homeless people are like zombies asking for change, and Cartman and the rest of the boys lead them to California with that cover of “California Love” by 2Pac with Cartman going “Californyah-NYAH!” in the chorus. I like this song (a lot) but I always fucking think of that episode, and I realize I’m 11 blocks past where I wanted to go and I’ve been thinking about a cartoon for the last 3 minutes. It’s like when I started work at my current job, and between me and the bathroom was a woman named Rhonda’s office. Every time I walked by her office, I sang “Help Me Rhonda” in my head for the next 20 minutes or thought of that scene where Fisher Stevens and Michael McKean are locked in that Chinese freezer in Short Circuit 2 and type out the tones to this song on their calculator so that Sandy girl can rescue them.
You know how long I did this? Seven months.
I will move on from my South Park/Churchill association, but it might take awhile. I really look forward to enjoying the song without thinking of Cartman, but it might take awhile.
13. The Shins – “Simple Song”
They used this in the final montage of “How I Met Your Mother” and I don’t think they could have chosen a better one. I’m a sucker for anytime someone nails a song choice in a show or movie I like. I’ll almost certainly listen to the song over and over again just to get the feeling of watching that moment whenever I want. Sometimes I’m too easy. I should be in focus groups.
Special Bill Simmons style analysis for no reason that you’ll either get or skip hastily: The Shins were one of the most reliable indie bands of the early century, sort of like a Rueben sandwich or Tiki Barber before he retired from the Giants and I had to rename my Ewing Theory (which I stole) for him when the Giants won the Super Bowl on a call with three different holding penalties, and I’ll go light myself on fire and take the dog for a long walk thinking about it. And what about when Lenny Bias died? No Boston fan likes thinking about that. Women ruin everything.
Anyway, The Shins then were in that scene in Garden State which caused everyone to overrate them. But is it possible we overrated them so long that now they’re underrated? No one denies this. My friend Joe House can eat more than some people.
14. Cage the Elephant – “Back Against the Wall”
Sultry, slinky, and still rocking. I admit this song doesn’t really fit thematically at this part of the mix (nor anywhere, really), but I don’t give a shit. It’s sort of like Kings of Leon without having to think about that whiny gash of a lead singer they have. If it’s a choice between sexy rockers, take the non-whiny gash one every time.
15. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “My Oh My”
Seattle is lucky to have Macklemore. I want someone (besides fucking 3OH!3) to lionize my city the way Macklemore brilliantly glorifies his beloved Seattle. I don’t give a fuck about the Mariners and don’t know anyone who really does. But this song gives me chills. It captures how easy it is to get moony-eyed over baseball, the way memories become more cherished over time, and the love of a city. This thing hits me right in the softest part of the softest spot of my black little heart.
I get chills every time it comes on, and I wish I could claim Macklemore as my own. I’m not lucky enough to do so, but I am lucky enough to bask in some of the resplendent glow of those who do. This is my favorite song of the year.
16. Macy Gray – “I Try”
“‘I Try’ by Macy Gray comes on. This sweet, sad, quirky song transports me to the backseat of Kenny’s Subaru on the way to a children’s theater performance at some nearby elementary school in the middle of a Spring day senior year of high school.”
That article was sort of my first little toe dip into the world of writing more personally. It felt great. More importantly, this song is filled with so many quiet moments, I immediately mellow out every time it comes on. I’m happy this weird little song is there whenever I want it.
17. Big B – “Here Comes the Lightning”
This is sort of a rap ballad, and surprisingly tender. I love the vulnerability of the chorus where he invokes an old childhood rhyme preceding a concession that life is sometimes going to make it difficult for you and all you can do is grit your teeth and dig in. There’s more than a little going on in this song, which is one of my favorite qualities of a song.
It’s for that reason I wish I hadn’t looked this dude up. He’s a big, fat, cheesily tatted up white dude who’s on the same label as the Kottonmouth Kings. Guh. Damn you, Google. And since misery loves company, here you go, fuckers…
18. The Darlings – “Hypnotize”
“It’s got a big old hook and will kick your ass right out of the gate as you march along on your elliptical master toward a slimmer ass and sexy town where the missus wants to jump your bones.”
When I compile songs for this mix each year, I start months in advance just putting shit in a folder that I can look at later. A lot of the stuff that gets added early doesn’t make the final cut. This was the first song in the folder. It never left.
19. Strung Out – “Swan Dive”
Fun fact: Strung Out has appeared on more of these birthday mixes than any other band. They have such an impressive and deep catalog, I can’t seem to exhaust new favorite Strung Out songs. Case in point: this song. It’s buried deep (second to last) on the Strung Out album I’ve probably listened to least. And the one day Pandora’s like WHACHOW!!! PEEP THIS SHIT, and I’m like WIKKITY BAM that’s a fucking great song!
On a more serious note, thematically, I’ve always liked this line from the chorus:
If you ask me what went wrong
I’ll tell you no one is doin’ fine
We’re all fucked up
And doin’ time.
The more I talk to people, the less I feel alone about my insecurities.
20. Joey Ramone – “What a Wonderful World”
On 93.3 KTCL here in Denver, every Saturday from 10 pm to 11 pm, they turn the airwaves over to “Complete Control with Joe Sib,” a syndicated punk rock radio show. Joe Sib runs Side One Dummy Records, an awesome punk label that has housed (at various points) The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Flogging Molly, The Suicide Machines, Gaslight Anthem, Gogol Bordello, and about a hundred other awesome bands.
Complete Control is the absolute tits. It’s what my college radio show would be if I had actual radio DJ talent, better taste in music, and industry connections. He takes all sorts of requests, and the show just flies by.
On a recent Saturday, I was working an event for work, and headed home at about 10:45. I turned on Complete Control, heard Pennywise, Lagwagon, and Joey Ramone’s cover of Louie Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World.” I love that song as it is, but nearly lost my mind when I heard in the style of a punk deity. I did not realize Complete Control ends every show with this beautiful song, so when I heard it again the very next week, I knew it had to close out this year’s mix.
Brace for sentimentality because after an extraordinarily bizarre and emotionally exhausting year, it’s good to feel like it’s ultimately a wonderful world. I’m not sure I would have told you that six months ago, and maybe not even three months ago. But I say it heartily now, and that’s how I enter the newest year of my life.
Here’s hoping it’s a good one for you.