Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mixes, Part 2

At this point, I've recreated all but a couple of my old mixes in the new iTunes library - and those two are all but done, just missing a few tracks that somehow I've found I don't actually own anywhere else after all these years. The "Mix Master" playlist that I'm using to string them all together is just shy of 500 songs, forming one hell of a 30-hour playlist. On my birthday several years ago I tried to listen to all the mixes, from start to finish, and though I didn't come close it was the perfect soundtrack for that day of BBQ and friends.

It fascinates me now to take a look through the whole shebang and see what trends emerge. With so many mixes (and the wonderfully searchable iTunes software) I can take a broad assessment of my whole mix-making world, and see which artists or bands or albums have turned up the most over the years.

As far as artists goes, Dylan and Springsteen run away with the crown, partly because for quite a while I made it an explicit policy to put one track from each on every mix, and partly because even without such a policy the same damn thing probably would've happened. Bob Dylan has been left off only three mixes, but each of those had somebody doing a Dylan cover. Bruce has been slightly less prevalent, but each time I leave him off a mix it doesn't feel right. Jeff Tweedy ranks next, combining Wilco songs with his solo recordings and contributions to Uncle Tupelo and Golden Smog projects.

Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has placed three songs on mixes, and another one from an officially unreleased collection of demos pushes it to the forefront. This Desert Life from Counting Crows also accounts for three songs, which kinda surprised me at first until I looked and remembered those are the only tunes I even like on that album. Okkervil River's Overboard and Down EP has the best percentage, landing two of its five songs on mixes. Numerous albums have supplied two songs for various mixes, and I think my several-decades-late approach to Dylan makes it easy to understand that various volumes of his Bootleg Series are represented in five songs over the course of my mixes, rather than the original versions of the songs.

What I've long counted as my four favorite albums of all time - Blood on the Tracks, Born to Run, Ruby Vroom and Anodyne - only come in at two, one, one and two songs. And there's an interesting point in that - great albums actually make it very difficult for me to chose one favorite, or even one representative song. I'll take a cop out any time, picking some live song from somewhere else or even turning away from a band all together if I can't make up my mind.

It's also interesting from this perspective to see at which point in time any particular bands showed up. Some that are my absolute favorites now had a slow arrival. On the other hand, some bands or songs that I've come to rely on through the years show up surprisingly early. I was turned onto Morphine from practically the very beginning, something that didn't really happen too often with me in those days. I took quite a while to progress into soul and hip-hop. And local artists started showing up frequently once I started going out to seem more shows. Live songs have been a strong component in the last couple years as the Internet has made bootlegs easy to find and bands have realized that an open taping policy only leads to more fans.

The song stretch from Billy "The Kid" Emmerson's "Every Woman I Know (Crazy 'Bout An Automobile)" from 1955 clear through to several 2008 songs. Each year since 1962 is represented by at least one song somewhere along the line, which I hadn't known until writing this post. Songs from this decade make up about a third of the total, and the 1990s account for slightly fewer songs. I have put some effort toward balancing older and newer songs, to give the new-to-me their space alongside the purely new.

The overall process has stayed pretty much the same since the first couple mixes. It starts with a notebook, and over the course of a few months I'll jot down the songs as they come to mind. The first few are always totally obvious and kinda come all at once. There's just no doubt that those particular handfulls of songs are really the defining ones of each time period. The list grows and eventually I reckon it's time to start putting it together. Finishing it always includes cutting at least a few, and struggling to choose between a few songs for at least one band on the list. Then comes ordering, and finally naming. I linger over all that for a couple days, just to make sure the picks are right.

As I've been putting all this together, I've started thinking of another mix that I ought to develop: The Considered. This one would include all the songs that I've barely left off mixes - those should've beens and also-rans. I have no doubt that in hindsight many of them are far better than ones that I put on to begin with. I also don't doubt that many of them are garbage that I rightly turned away from when it really mattered. But I reckon curiosity is going to win out here and soon I'll be digging through old notebooks in search of bands or songs that were crossed out somewhere in the process. I'll bring new life to my 22nd and 23rd song of any sixth month period. Who knows what that'll bring? I'm also going back to the original cassettes of the early mixes and bring back whatever songs I had to chop off when I converted the 90-minute tapes to 80-minute CDs. And finally, I think I'm going to start reconstructing the various mixes people have made for me over the years, and string all those together in their own Mix Master playlist. Shuffle on.

And in case you missed the latest, download Howling Moon as a zip file.

The Drakes - Later On
Goshen - Believe It's True
Little Rooms - Peanut
Lost Armada - All Light Exchanged For Sight
The Seychelles - 13 hundred songs, three and a half days
Tricky Luz - Trace
Rainer - Last Fair Deal (live Robert Johnson Cover)

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