Between 1985 and 1995, I bestowed a dozen or so mix tapes on my college roommate James. The first I’d simply called, “Stuff,” and subsequent cassettes incorporated that word as well in their titles (“Son of Stuff,” “More Stuff Than You Can Shake a Stick At,” etc.). During our occasional conversations now he’ll mention having recently heard a “Will tape” song on the radio. While I think I remember some good portion of what I might have chosen to include on those tapes, I sure would love hearing them again (hint, hint, James)–or at the least getting a peek at the playlists…
In those first years after college James rented a house just a few blocks south and east of downtown. On my visits, he was happy to share musical discoveries since the last time we’d gotten together, some new, others much less so. And somewhere in the middle of it all–it’d have to be 1989 or 1990–James returned the favor of giving the gift of music, handing me two tapes chock full of goodies from his collection. One was called “Somewhat Elderly Stuff,” and unsurprisingly, it focused on the 60s and 70s. The other, which we’re going to examine more thoroughly, spanned a wider range of years and was simply called
I don’t disagree with the assessment.
There was nothing written down on the J-card to use as a cheatsheet; I’ll confess that several years ago I had to use Shazam to ID a couple of these. But let’s get it on–the listening’s going to be fine.
Shaking Family, “Girl on the Edge”
I am pretty certain that James introduced me to this Louisville outfit. The song on the tape comes from their self-titled first album, released on the indie label Big Ole Records (think James picked it up after seeing them perform?). The version below, alas, is the more polished take that appears on their Elektra disk Dreaming in Detail.
One big chasm in our musical tastes at this time apparently was how much attention each was paying to female voices. I was seeking them out left and right;
this is the only song on the tape with a woman on lead. Apologies to Grace Slick below.
The Beatles, “She Said She Said”
That said, it’s only fair to note that during the late 80s James prodded me into buying a few Fab Four albums, particularly Abbey Road. Eventually, I’d peg Revolver as my favorite of theirs.
Camper Van Beethoven, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”
We discovered this gem independently. Simply brilliant.
The Who, “Another Tricky Day”
It wouldn’t surprise me if James had bought Face Dances while we were still in college. I love me some “You Better You Bet,” but you better believe that this one’s been a long-standing favorite as well…fella.
The Dickies, “Killer Klowns”
One recurring theme on the tape is James’s penchant for the slightly off-kilter tune. Exhibit A: the theme song of the cult movie Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The Dickies’ EP, with the same name as the film, also includes a cover of that Jetsons’ classic, “Eep Opp Ork (Uh Uh).”
Elvis Costello, “Accidents Will Happen”
Is this my all-time favorite from Mr. McManus? It’s at least in the running, and I’m quite happy it’s making an appearance.
Jethro Tull, “Thick as a Brick”
Okay, so there’s no song on the album with that title, but this edit is pretty darn close to what James included on the tape. Did I mention that James went for prog rock a lot heavier than I did?
Devo, “Uncontrollable Urge (Live)”
My guess is that this comes from the two-LP soundtrack of the 1982 film Urgh!–A Music War, an album I could easily imagine catching James’s eye in the used bin at Cut Corner Records.
The Pursuit of Happiness, “I’m an Adult Now”
Another point of intersection in what was grabbing us at the time. Pretty sure I’ve previously noted this is not my fave tune from Love Junk, but it’s a classic nonetheless.
Hot Harris takes, part 6,245: I’ve never been a huge fan of “Tempted.” Hard to know for sure why–maybe I don’t think Carrack’s the right singer for it? Does the roundabout of voices in the second verse bug me? Full marks for “I fumble for the clock/Alarmed by the seduction,” however.
Buster Poindexter, “Castle in Spain”
I probably would have enjoyed the Disney tribute album Stay Awake, given the A-list of performers on it. Another fun but off-beat selection here.
R.E.M., “White Tornado”
I’d bought Dead Letter Office back in the day as well, but didn’t listen to it all that much (well, except maybe for the drunken take of “King of the Road“). By the time I slid this tape in a player again maybe two decades later, I was tricked into thinking this might be some long-lost single from the Ventures.
Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”
James seems to be mimicking a technique of mine here, closing out the side with a short song as he watched tape inside the recorder spool toward its end. 60s psychedelia was definitely in his wheelhouse, too–the first song on side B, coming next week, will confirm that in its own way.