9:01 p.m. - April 08, 2006
Well, as time has marched on, I have made mix CD sets for a lot of people, and I have many who I am in line to make mixes for. Yeah, I opened my mouth and the floodgates opened, but it’s fun, and what’s better than being surrounded by tunes all the time (if not surrounded by the ones you love – OK, I’ll stop being sappy…geez…)
Honestly, my comment on her entry was that I couldn’t really explain it – that it was just a feeling, and that if it felt right, I kept it, and if not, I rearranged it.
But then I gots to thinking, and since a) dangerous and b) inevitably winds up with an essay on this here time-waster, I decided why not go through the art of a mix?
First off, let me say that I don’t make just ONE mix. That’s not enough toys in the sandbox, there. I make at least three per set, depending on the mood I’m in and the vibe I get from the person. (Mind you, getting three, four, five, six, or 15 doesn’t mean that I like the person any more or less – it’s just that’s the proper amount of songs that reminded me or inspired me at that time – it’s about QUALITY, not quantity.)
So, with that in mind, let’s get on with the gettin’ on.
First off, I select the songs. Usually, this is about a weeklong process. I start a playlist for each person and then drag tunes into it. Currently, I’m making four mixes and selected songs for each person. What I normally do is find a playlist on my iPod that has tunes that I haven’t heard in a while (as I like to keep my mixes quite fresh). The recent ones I’ve hit were songs I haven’t played since 2004, especially my top rated songs, plus my 2006 new purchases. If something catches my ear, I write it down and then park it in the persons play list for consideration.
(I’ve also accumulated a play list called “New Mix Possibilities”, because I know I have a lot to do this spring / summer and want to be reminded of good tunes)
I also comb through my top rated songs on iTunes visually and if something sparks me then it goes in that persons list.
When I’ve reached about 80 – 120 songs per person, I then listen to that playlist, on random, for a while, to make sure I have the right versions of the songs, and make sure I didn’t accidentally select a clunker.
When I’m satisfied with the song selection, I then break the playlists into individual CD playlists. Thankfully, iTunes lets me see how much time I’ve accumulated, as I always try to get between 1:16 and 1:19.30 on each mix.
Usually, I can group the songs by a theme, like parking all the 60’s and 70’s pop tunes, or cheesy 70’s and 80’s arena rock, or danceable new-wave tunes from the 80’s to today, or whatever.
Those playlists, that have similar ilks, as it were, are fairly easy to sequence. I try to listen to the intros and outros of each song in my mind whilst selecting a running order, and since I’m very familiar with almost all of those songs it’s pretty seamless to get a proper mix together. Normally, the genre based mixes only need tweaking every once in a great while. I do futz with them from time to time, though, especially when I’m trying to hit the magic time markers.
However, what happens is that there are the ‘leftover’ songs that didn’t really fit into one of the genre CDs, yet are quite worthy on their own. Perhaps there were too many songs for that one genre, or they didn’t fit, or I just missed them.
Here’s where the fun begins.
Let’s take the basic miscellaneous mix from Harri3t, which, of course is her disc #1. (The way I number them, when I start making mix CDs, I start with #2, #3, etc. and cut and paste songs from the original playlist there, and the leftovers wind up in the original playlist at the end).
The songs there included:
(I Spy For The) FBI - The Untouchables
Quite the odd bunch of songs there, at first glance. I mean, you have Portishead and Johnny Cash elbowing for the same space.
Well, the first thing I noticed is that there are some similarities. A lot of the songs have country or alt-country tinges to them. They can go in a group on the CD.
Then some are humorous, offbeat, or odd. They can be lumped into a group as well. So I have two groups of songs that I can work with as a ‘block’ per se.
But first, I decided I really needed to kick start this CD off right, since it is #1. I wanted a strong, powerful opening, with high energy, but one that I could lead off, slowly, into the country-ish songs. I thought of “C’est La Vie” but then that would lead off into a direction that I didn’t want to go in right away.
So I chose “I Changed My Address” by the Jam, a proto-punk Who-esque song from their first album (even though this is a BBC recording of it, as I like the immediacy of it).
Now, how to get from there to a place where the Cowboy Junkies fit in?
The cold ending of that song, with it energetic guitar seemed like a perfect fit, oddly enough, for the smooth guitar lines of Television’s 1992 reunion album. It was like an album, where you start hot, then ease back a bit. (Think Rubber Soul, “Drive My Car” into “Norwegian Wood”.) So that song plopped in next, and it worked. From there, the mysterious sounding “My Wicked, Wicked Ways” fit right in, and then right to Elvis Costello’s story song about Chris Bentley’s tragic hanging.
Now, with Costello’s story song, it seemed right for a story from the Man In Black, and from there, the country-ish songs fit in. “Back to Me” had an acoustic guitar intro, and that fit right there. And normally, I don’t stack artists almost on top of each other, but the lyrics and the ending energy of the Kathleen Edwards tune made it a natural for “My Old Faded Rose”, which is Cash at his loosest. The ending suggested that I needed to ease it down again, a bit, so “Misguided Angel” fit in, a quiet, reflective song. It’s a paradigm shift, but you need that at times.
Because of the sound of the Junkies, it was easy to choose the next song. The Meat Purveyors recorded a hilarious pastiche of Madonna songs in a bluegrass motif, and the bluegrass sound fit right in with the reverence of the Junkies. And that led right from the country to the silly.
But it had to be the right silly one, not something frenetic or jarring. So the quiet piano of “Jesus Was Way Cool” fit right there. From there, you could go a number of silly directions, but “I’ve Got a Fang” fit in better, going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Then “Sleeping With Your Devil Mask”, with it’s totally off the wall lyrics (“Some things go in / some things go out / and next time ‘round I’ll be a trout”) was a natural fit. Hitchcock is such an engaging weirdo, and you can go in a number of directions.
However, I had a tough song to fit in there. “Doctor Dark” is off the great, yet quite difficult Lick My Decals Off, Baby album. It has odd time signatures, a lot of rhythm changes, unpredictable meters and, uh, unique instrumentation. Hell, it’s Beefheart, OK? Hitchcock is weird, sure, but Beefheart is full blown from another galaxy.
However, the cold ending helped again. Instead of shoehorning Beefheart after something that would lead into a dead end, the cold ending of “Devil Mask” allowed me to plop this one here. The intro definitely helped, because it’s not full out nutso until about 40 seconds into it. And this is a rare Beefheart cut with a fade, and the ending is rather traditional and has a more traditional beat.
You know what, a live version of “Mind” fit right with that outro. And from “Mind”, which has a great bass line and beat that you can sway to, I could get the neo-R&B (ok, neo for 1986) revivalist Untouchables in there. Only four songs to go and the opening drum line of the Stone Roses tune worked nicely as a follow up.
The ending, though is a long drawn out jam that sounds totally different from the martial beginning, and it was easy to put in the Roseland NYC version of “Mysterions” next to it. And because that song is fairly electronicy sounding, the 80’s synth pop of Robbie Nevil worked wonders next to it.
That left one song, a hilarious, yet short, They Might Be Giants tune. Out of place, stranded at the end? Nope, it was a great coda to a great CD.
And as a bonus, for reading until the end of it, I want to show you something. Just to prove that I AM a rock and roll dude (and at age 27, I was a bit of a wilder one than I am at 40).
(Mind you, about six months after I got this, I also got the chicken pox, so that’s why it has a few blotchies on it!)