This was a suggestion from a friend, based upon the format of the podcast Teenage Mixtape, wherein guests name a track for each of 10 criteria:
- The first single you bought
- The first gig you went to
- A song that reminds you of (one or both of) your parents
- A song that reminds you of a teenage crush
- A song that reminds you of your partner (or an ex)
- A song that you wish you could play on guitar
- A song that you hope never to hear again
- A guilty pleasure
- The opposite of a guilty pleasure (ie. an artist/song you didn’t like but pretended to like to look cool)
- A song you’re listening to currently
So here we go, the most uneven playlist I think I’ve ever made, with liner notes below.
1. First single you ever bought
Whitney Houston: ‘I Will Always Love You’ — I can’t swear to this being the absolute first single I bought, but it’s the first I remember buying. It would have been during the song’s 23-week run on the UK chart between November 1992 and April 1993, and I distinctly recall that my two purchases from the Hereford branch of Our Price that day were this single, and the Love Symbol album by Prince & the New Power Generation.
This is obviously a flawless vocal performance by Houston, of whom my dad was a fan but to whom I paid too little attention into my 30s. (Both Whitney Houston (1985) and Whitney (1987) recently warranted re-listens when assessing my favourite records of the 1980s.)
Ironically: I prefer the Dolly Parton original of this song these days.
Double ironically: I’ve never seen The Bodyguard!
2. The first gig you ever went to
M People: ‘Don’t Look Any Further’ — St David’s Hall, Cardiff. 1994? ‘Moving On Up’ and ‘Search for the Hero’ had the radio ubiquity, but whenever my dad would play the album, it was this song that captured my imagination. It is, as they say, still a bop.
In keeping with the previous track, my preference these days is for the Dennis Edwards original principally because of its bassline, and in spite of its mind-bendingly bad music video.
3. A song that reminds you of (one or both of) your parents
The Carpenters: ‘Top of the World’ — I may not have agreed to this if I’d known it would lead to floods of tears. I haven’t played this since my mum’s funeral, and I will never not think of her when I hear anything by The Carpenters. On a related note, this is why art is so very important: it provides intangible, permanent connection to things that we’ve otherwise lost, and a means through which to feel and express things we otherwise aren’t sure how to.
4. A song that reminds you of a teenage crush
Portishead: ‘Glory Box’ — my first relationship that lasted more than a couple of months was with a very sweet, tomboyish girl. A few of our friendship group were very into Portishead’s first record, but I remember distinctly that she connected deeply with this particular song. Somehow it made more sense to me after she broke our relationship off, and began seeing a girl.
5. A song that reminds you of your partner
The White Stripes: ‘The Air Near My Fingers’ — My partner recently estimated that I spend 70% of my time thinking about food, and the rest thinking about her. Those percentages are wrong, but the sentiment isn’t. As such I don’t really need reminding of her, but here’s the song I associate most acutely with our early relationship. Elephant was the record that soundtracked a lot of what you might call our courtship, and this song in particular – with its refrain: “I get nervous when she comes around” – is 100% tied up with what it felt like getting to know her, and falling in love with her.
6. A song that you wish you could play on guitar
Prince’s contribution to ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ from the 2004 Rock Hall of Fame induction ceremony — I can’t play any songs on guitar, so I’m shooting for the heavens on the understanding that if I could play this, I could play anything else I darn well pleased. I honestly can’t think of another single piece of guitar playing that is this transcendent. If I dedicated the rest of my life solely to learning this one guitar part I honestly don’t think I would ever get there. And even if I did, I still wouldn’t be able to make guitars magically disappear into thin air.
Side note: my second choice is Prince’s performance of ‘Purple Rain’ at the 2007 Super Bowl.
7. A song that you hope never to hear again
Foghat: ‘Slow Ride’ — Firstly, this isn’t a good song. It’s a bad song. But there are other bad songs of its calibre: ‘House of the Rising Sun’, ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, and ‘Hotel California’ could all disappear from the Earth today and I’d be quite happy never to hear them ever again. I’m choosing the Foghat track for one specific reason: I must have listened to it upwards of 100 times, sometimes ~20 times in a row, whilst trying to 5-star it on Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (which I never did). The song sucks. Please erase it from existence.
8. A guilty pleasure
This is the first tough one; I don’t really feel any guilt about taking pleasure in art. I’ll tell anyone who will listen that Madonna’s ‘Borderline’ (Immaculate Collection Remix (1990)) is my favourite song. Would you like to hear about why Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Cut to the Feeling’ is a masterpiece? Do you want to discuss how Meatloaf’s 12 minute rock opera classic ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ is, if anything, too short?
Honestly, I feel more reticence naming My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade as my favourite album because it carries all sorts of connotations with which I don’t entirely associate. But do I feel guilty? No your honour, I do not.
So here’s the best I’ve got: Michael Jackson: ‘Leave Me Alone’ — my favourite song by an artist I adored in the formative years of my music listening, and defended vociferously in the midst of allegations against him in the mid 90s. The music is still very special to me today, but that relationship is — obviously — more complicated now, and I’m not as firmly in the habit of loudly proclaiming my love of Michael Jackson as I once was.
9. The opposite of a guilty pleasure (i.e., an artist/song you didn’t like but pretended to like to look cool)
I’m glad this is framed in the past tense, because (as above) I’m not someone who feels any guilt about the art they do or don’t like. That wasn’t always the case, however!
In the mid-to-late 90s I had a circle of friends that were primarily into metal. I certainly loved a good number of bands under that label (Metallica, Sepultura, Korn et al) but for the most part my tastes paddled out of the shallow end to only chest-deep water. I was the grunge kid of the group really, but despite that being evidenced by my wearing petticoats and tights to club nights, for some reason I felt the need to at least pretend that I was on board with whatever the others were listening to. When you’re a skinny fifteen year old wearing a woman’s undergarment and mascara, and a six foot guy in all black leather is smoking directly into your face and telling you Cradle of Filth are the best band in the world, sometimes you bite your tongue and nod. So, here you go, enjoy: Cradle of Filth: ‘Forest Whispers My Name’.
10. A song you’re currently listening to
Oh shoot, so many options. Plus I feel an obligation to try and rescue this (very uneven) playlist from the clutches of Dani Filth. Let’s keep it simple: my favourite song from 2020 at the time of writing. Kill ‘em Selena: Selena Gomez: ‘Dance Again’