Monday, January 28, 2013

Mixed Results: "80s & Beyond" (circa 2003)

A few years ago, a friend of mine, who has always shared my passion for a breadth of musical topics, asked me when I first became aware that there was music out there "that was good." Music that we maybe weren't just hearing because it was on the radio.

I couldn't pin it down... old music always had a ton of currency in my house. My parents were big into the major Oldies station, so I knew a ton of ancient songs that my classmates in grade 5 wouldn't have. By the early 2000s, my dad had nudged the radio dial in his Buick Century over to FM and a station that specialized in "The hits of the 80s, 90s and today." So we got a lot of Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode and Bon Jovi and U2 in high rotation, and I could count on hearing The Police or the Proclaimers or Jesus Jones on almost any car ride, sandwiched between recent hits by Sugar Ray, Goo Goo Dolls, Avril Lavigne or Mary J. Blige (it still blows my mind though that my dad once listened to a station that regularly played "Family Affair.")

Though I no longer consider it the apex of musical innovation, the station painted me a picture of the 80s as a fertile time for esoteric one-hit wonders. The early MTV era was like the wild west when any odd act could somehow emerge with a quirky video or strange hook and briefly conquer the world. This may explain my lifelong devotion to Dexys Midnight Runners. It's clear that's the running theme of this Mix CD, potentially the first one I ever made (around this time but possibly later, I made a CD for a girl, a classic rite of passage for music nerds, but its contents have been lost to time.) The only really surprising thing is that I put on "Roxanne" and "Don't Stand So Close To Me" instead of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," which I considered my personal anthem. Maybe even then I was dismayed by the low production quality.

My career as a musical scavenger begins here, finding stray tunes to call my own: hence, Dokken's theme to the third Nightmare on Elm Street film, Huey Lewis from Back to the Future, and The Buggles, well known to me as the answer to the trivia question "Who had the first video played on MTV?" I genuinely loved that song and thought it was profound. There's also the inferior English-language version of Nena's "99 Luftballoons" and two Combat Rock-era Clash hits, a time period I would soon all but disown. I liked thinking of these artists appearing suddenly on the international stage before I was ever born, then disappearing and leaving behind all these low-quality videos to fill VH1 specials. I was very, very aware that there was music outside my everyday context.

I wrote the phrase "80s and Beyond" on the CD because it included a few 70s tracks (Kinks, AC/DC) and a few 90s ones - Beck's "Loser," and two songs that captivated me in my actual youth, Green Day's "Longview" (which began to appeal to me a lot more once I realized I was living it) and Offspring's "Bad Habit," which maybe wasn't the best track on Smash, but certainly had the most cussing.

None of these are bad songs and some of them (Beck, Dexys, and yeah the Clash) are genuinely great. It's clear from looking at this set that I'm very interested in looking outside my own everyday context for music, but still don't have any discernible taste... a lot of them are songs I found one way or the other and let stick with me.

I just finished reading Rob Sheffield's "Love is a Mixtape," and while I would be deluded to say my life is anything like his (even my devotion to the art of mixing is lacking) it's gotten me thinking about different stages of my life, and what songs I put together, and why. You might see a few more songs like this in the future... you know, when I'm behind on reviews and need something to fill space.

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