Now this is the weirdness I’ve been looking for.
As part of our Memorial Day
scramble to catch up on long-ignored work festivities, I pulled an old vehicle of mine out of storage to use during the summer, and in the process discovered an old mixtape (…okay, an old burned CD) in the radio that had long been forgotten. I was a serial CD maker back in the day, forever trying to capture the zeitgeist of the moment by mixing together both the hottest hits of the era with some of the new old stuff I’d recently gotten my hands on. The results were about as zany and random as you could imagine, and this one (which based on the evidence was created in late 2013) was no different.
Zany randomness was exactly what I was looking for in my last LITS post, and to have it end up as conventional as it did was kind of disappointing. With this CD in hand, I decided to rate my musical tastes from a decade ago: Did the song selections still hold up, or have they curdled like milk left out in the sun? There’s only one way to find out.
The normal concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist. This time, however, we’re examining a carefully-selected list of tracks from a decade ago, seeing what the best and the worst choices are, and whether or not my younger self should be lauded or shamed for their tastes.
Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.
(Editor’s Note: Since there are 22 songs on this list, we won’t go into the details of every one, and instead be sticking to the high, lows, and weirdest selections of the bunch.)
1. The Band Perry, “Better Dig Two”
The CD kicks off with a long-forgotten group (although Kimberly Perry recently resurfaced briefly with “If I Die Young Part 2”), and honestly I think this might be my favorite of the group’s singles. With the deliberate banjo, heavy electric guitar, prominent fiddle, and generally dark/ominous vibe, this feels like the gothic sound that Blake Shelton keeps chasing (and failing to catch) done right, and it fits perfectly with the rantings of an unstable narrator proclaiming that the pair will have to die together if their romance ever fades. Kim Perry captures the narrator’s passion and, er, eccentricity perfectly, and brothers Neil and Reid provide solid instrumentation and harmony vocals to back her up. I’d say this track still holds up ten years later, so things seem to be off to a good start.
2. Brad Paisley, “Beat This Summer”
Ah, to have experimental Paisley back again! After several years of pushing the boundaries of the genre, Wheelhouse was the album where the genre slapped Paisley’s wrist and said to conform or else, which is too bad because I always felt like Paisley had a knack for blending modern and classic sensibilities in his songs. “Beat This Summer” was the second single from the album, and although the banjo was slow-rolling and the steel guitar was choppy (the fiddle didn’t get any airtime), the mix still managed to sound both fresh and familiar. The summer-fling topic wasn’t exactly novel, but Paisley had a knack for pointing out enough different details to make his take distinct (for example, explicitly referencing “rolling up windows and putting up tops”), and Paisley’s easy charm and charisma could make even the most mundane of topics seems compelling and catchy. I’m on board with this selection too!
3. Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky”
…Okay, I might quibble a bit with this one. The most notable feature of “Get Lucky” is it sparse-but-catchy beat, especially when Daft Punk jumps in with its more-robotic take on the sound, but the lyrics, while well-delivered by Williams, don’t really have a lot to say. It’s a generic party song that dials back the intensity and relies on the beat to establish a groove, and while I’d call it a bit more successful than country music’s attempts at such tracks, it’s kind of a sugar rush that is quickly flushed from your system, meant to move you physically for however long the song lasts (the version on the CD is over six minutes long!) and then quickly fade away to make room for the next banger on the turntable. It’s not bad, but I wouldn’t say it holds up as well as the first two.
4. Florida Georgia Line, “Cruise”
Welp, I guess was on the list too. I can’t really explain (and certainly can’t defend) the presence of Brian Kelly and Tyler Hubbard on this CD, but I think it speaks to novelty and allure of such a sound in country music. We’re all sick and tried now of the heavy guitars and deliberate tempo and token banjos and objectifying lyrics that barely reached a third-grade level (my inner Twilight Sparkle is still yelling “‘Baby you a song’? Where are the verbs?”), but at the time this sort of thing was still a fresh idea, and even a little exciting! No, the song is no better now than it was then, but I think if Bro-Country hadn’t become such an overwhelming trend and dominated country music for the better part of a decade, the occasional song like this (which had always been a part of the genre in some form or another) would have been a bit easier to stomach. I’ll hit the skip button on it today, but I can understand why it’s here.
5. Chris Young, “Aw Naw”
6. Jason Aldean, “1994”
As ambivalent as I am about Aldean these days, I actually still think this is a decent song, simply because it’s so over-the-top that it falls into the “silly fun” category (and also because Joe Diffie deserves all the praise that he gets, even if it’s in a weird package like this one that doesn’t sound like anything like Diffie’s singles). I liked how the writers were able to weave so many Diffie song titles into the lyrics, and unlike 90% of his tracks Aldean actually sounds like he’s having fun on this one. The sound was a standard Bro-Country mix with hard-rock guitars and token banjos (however, the drums were mostly real this time around), but when paired with the lyrics it start to feel like a parody, a song that absurd that you can’t help but laugh at it. I liked it then and I still kind of like it now, so I won’t give past Kyle too hard a time over its inclusion here.
7. PSY, “Gangnam Style”
This song pretty much took over the world in the early 2010s, and I guess it falls into the same category as “1994” for me because I still couldn’t tell you what the lyrics are (apparently they talk about coffee a lot?). Instead, it was the rest of the presentation that attracted the audience, with an bright, mostly-synthetic beat and an ebullient vocal performance by PSY himself (you also can’t discount the impact of the bizarre music video and iconic horse-riding dance move that accompanied the craze). This was simply a fun song to listen that also introduced much of the world to the power of K-pop, and I can’t really argue with its place on the CD either.
8. Carrie Underwood, “Two Black Cadillacs”
9. Easton Corbin, “All Over The Road”
Be honest: This is the first song of the last six or seven that you actually might have expected to see here, right? It might be hard to remember (heck, it’s hard to remember Corbin at all anymore, although “Marry That Girl” appeared briefly on the Mediabase charts recently), but Corbin was a promising traditionalist back in the day, and “All Over The Road” (for all its issues with promoting reckless driving) was a bright, upbeat fiddle-and-steel track that would have fit in on the radio ten or fifteen years before its release. Corbin played the role of the aw-shucks, what-can-you-do narrator to the hilt, and the lyrics managed to feel playful and romantic without seeming too cheesy or creepy. Corbin may have wound up as one of the many victims of the Bro-Country onslaught, but I think his early work still stands up well.
10. John Conlee, “Domestic Life”
Okay, now this is starting to look more like 2023 Kyle’s music than 2013 Kyle’s, but how did a random #4 from a not-all-than-famous artist from 1987 wind up on this mixtape? The truth is that I had been a Conlee fan for some time, but was never able to find his work from Harmony or American Faces online…until I found a double album of these records on Amazon randomly and immediately ordered it. Conlee had a lot of good work from this era (“Got My Heart Set On You,” “The Carpenter,” etc.), but “Domestic Life” was always my favorite of the bunch because it seemed to capture the 1980s middle-class lifestyle perfectly, with the narrator proudly mentioning their position in the PTA and noting that “I owe my soul to Mastercard.” Conlee’s distinct voice and the slicker sound of the era (complete with a saxophone, which was a lot more prominent in the genre then) make this a period piece worth checking out, and I have no qualms about finding it here.
11. Trace Adkins, “Dreamin’ Out Loud”
12. Alan Jackson, “There Is A Time”
Jackson’s career was winding down around this time, but he just took is as a sign that he could focus more on passion projects, and here it meant finding some excellent bluegrass musicians, writing a whole bunch of his own songs (although this particular track was not one of those), and putting together one of the better bluegrass projects I’d heard. This track in particular stood out for its minor chords and more-ominous warnings about not waiting too long to settle down (huh, I guess I never did take his advice. Oh well). The instrumental breaks are as superb as you would expect from a bluegrass band, and I’ve always loved that this genre can take so many different pieces (guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, dobros, etc.) and make them blend together so well while also giving them room to show off and stand out. Jackson is…well, he’s Alan freaking Jackson, and he’s able to get his point across without it feeling too sharp or aggressive. It’s a solid song, and continues to fill out what I’d call a solid CD.
13. Brad Paisley, “Harvey Bodine”
14. The Kendalls, “Heaven’s Just A Sin Away”
Bailey, “Who’s Got It Better?”
Ah, the Jim Harbaugh era of the 49ers! The former 49er and current Michigan Wolverine coach had the city of San Francisco in the palm of his hand back in the day, so much so that a local rapper named Bailey wrote a song centered around Harbaugh’s famous catch phrase “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!” The lyrics do a great job weaving together Bay Area neighborhoods, 49er legends and standout on the “current” team (although the choice to include Reggie Smith instead of Justin Smith on the iTunes version was always a head scratcher). Bailey demonstrates solid flow through the verses, and the beat, while nothing special, at least establishes a decent groove and keeps the song moving forward. Niner fans have been spoiled by the Kyle Shanahan/John Lynch era that started not too long after Harbaugh left, but it was fun to remember the era in song all the same.
16. Hank Snow, “Old Doc Brown”
From a 2011 rap to a 1955 recitation? Apparently that’s just how we rolled in 2013, and honestly I’d rank this song among my favorites from “the other Hank” in country music. I just always loved the story of how Doc Brown served his patients and how they paid him with respect and admiration because it was all they could afford. (The way the hook tied into the sign used to advertise his place of business was a nice touch as well.) The description of the funeral and the procession were vivid enough to put you right at the scene, and honestly the writing made it feel like the kind of funeral you wanted to have when everything was said and done (and by extension, to be the kind of good person that the doctor was to earn it). The music might be stolen from another song (I think its “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”), but it’s just there as a placeholder, and never gets in the way of the song. It’s just a nice song from start to finish that never feels too sappy, and I’m a bit surprised that past Kyle had the presence of mind to include it here.
17. Easton Corbin, “Dance Real Slow”
18. The Cutie Mark Crusaders, “Babs Seed”
At this point, I’m not even surprised that there’s pony music here. To be honest, I kind of grew to dislike the music numbers from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episodes, but the stuff from the early seasons wasn’t bad (for example, “We Are The Cutie Mark Crusaders” was a nice 80s pop homage),and the CMC’s run-in with Apple Bloom’s cousin bully of a cousin apparently moved me enough to toss it onto this mixtape and add to its musical chaos. The sound is a bit lightweight, but the voice actors did a great job putting feeling and emotion behind their character’s takes, and the harmony work is nothing to sneeze at either. I may not be the diehard of the series that I was once was, but I’ve got no beef with including this song on the CD.
19. Bobby Bare, “The Streets Of Baltimore”
20. Randy Travis, “What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana”
I’ve already discussed this song to death in previous posts, but let’s be honest: It can’t be a mixtape of mine unless Randy Travis is included somewhere on the list.
21. Epic Rap Battles of History, “Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates”
For some reason I liked to sneak ERB tracks onto my playlists in the penultimate, but at least I put a decent one here. Peter Shukoff and Lloyd Ahlquist do a nice job in the role of shade-throwing tech giant MCs, and the twist to include a secret third competitor in the end feels a bit prophetic now that AI is all the rage in Silicon Valley. The beat is suitably squeaky and synthetic, the disses are biting and (mostly) well-written, and the presentation (which featured a bit more back-and-forth than previous battles) made the battle feel a bit more competitive and interesting. The battles have mostly been on hiatus for the last few years, so it’s nice to recall how good they could be when everyone was on their game.
22. Don Williams, “And So It Goes”
Looking back, this seems like an odd closer for the mixtape. Yes, And So It Goes was a solid album all around, and if the title track was good enough to close that album, it’s more than good enough to round out this one…and yet, there wasn’t really any special meaning to the song besides “this things is darn good.” Williams sounds as good as he always did, the lyrics was a poignant tale of how lives can simply drift apart as people’s wants and needs change, and the sound was a soft, polished mix (complete with a string section) that probably would have felt like a bit much had the Gentle Giant not been behind the mic. I’d probably give this track a fairly high grade were I reviewing it today, so maybe that’s good enough of a reason to give it the last word here. The question now: What is the best word of the bunch?
|#2||“Better Dig Two”|
|#3||“Dance Real Slow”|
|#4||“What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana”|
|#5||“Beat This Summer”|
|#6||“There Is A Time”|
|#7||“Old Doc Brown”|
|#8||“Streets of Baltimore”|
|#9||“Who’s Got It Better?”|
|#10||“Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates”|
|#11||“Two Black Cadillacs”|
|#12||“Dreamin’ Out Loud”|
|#13||“And So It Goes”|
|#14||“Heaven’s Just A Sin Away”|
|#17||“All Over The Road”|
Despite the dalliance into Bro-Country, I think this old mixtape actually holds up pretty well a decade after the fact (I actually think most of these songs are pretty good, even if some are certainly weaker relative to the rest). It’s interesting to chart how your musical tastes have changed over the years, but I was surprised to find my tastes were more steady than I expected, and I’m wondering if the playlists I’ve made here at the Korner over the last few years will have similar staying power. In the meantime, I think I’ll move this disc over to my current car…but perhaps after one more summer in the old ride, for old times’ sake.