“CD for Driving, Mixtapes, and a Bit of Shamanism” by Richard F. Yates
A few days ago (almost a week now, actually), I made a new CD to play in the car while I drive around. Some folks might not understand my weird urge to do this. The current world seems enamored with streaming services, whether for movies or games or music. Names like Pandora and Spotify and YouTube and Apple Music are commonly bandied about as if they are good things. Well I say, “FUCK THAT!” I want to pick MY OWN songs... [Editorial warning. The author feels strongly about this topic and may indulge in unwarranted cursing. Don’t let the kids read this… Probably should have mentioned that earlier. Sorry! Hindsight…]
I grew up in the era of MIX TAPES, and they were fucking wonderful. I started making them in the late 1970s, recording stuff off the radio, or running around interviewing folks for fake radio shows, or sometimes I’d even record t.v. programs by putting my tape deck up to the television’s speaker. I used to drive around in my car LISTENING to the movie Tron, which sounds awesome (except for that Journey song at the end… Thank goodness for “Fast Forward.”)
At some point, I acquired a duel cassette deck, and I used to make mix tapes of my favorite songs to listen to in my “Walkman.” And, yes, I had a REAL Sony Walkman, bright yellow, with “auto-reverse.” For folks who may not know this, cassette tapes used to have two “sides” to them. You’d play the tape, which was wound around little spools and a motor would spin the spools and drag this long, thin strip of magnetic tape across a little sensor, which would read whatever was on the tape, and once the spool would unwind completely, it would stop. CLACK! And you’d pop the tape out of the machine, flip it over, and push play, and a second “track” on the cassette would play in the other direction… (Side note, I eventually got a Fostex Four Track Recorder, which used standard audio cassettes to record on, but you could assign your signal to ANY of the four tracks, so you could record an entire tape that would play BACKWARDS, if you wanted. Fun times!) Where was I??? Oh, yeah, “auto-reverse…” My fancy Sony Walkman had a super-fancy “auto reverse” feature, where the tape would come to the end of the spool, but instead of needing to take the tape out of the machine, the SPOOLS would spin the opposite direction and play the other side of the tape… What a great decade the ‘80s was…
I got pretty good at making mix tapes, too. I figured out how to edit and transition between songs (and other noises.) I would hit pause, back the tape up a bit, and then use the right pressure when hitting record, so that you got a “soft” transition into the new track, and it sounded like I had expensive mixing equipment, and I would make these 90 minute masterpieces, built out of obscure music, kids shows, radio preacher sermons, weird noises, hiss, and various other sounds, which would take the listener on a weird audio journey… (CD burning killed most of this, as the analogue control of the recording and playback heads was the key to good transitions… Although, now that I can use Audacity, making sound collages is fun again.)
My mix tapes became very popular. I think I gave one to a coworker at the pizza parlor that I worked at (back when I was about 21 or 22 years old), and he and a bunch of friends dropped a boat load of acid and said it was the best trip they’d ever had. (I’ve never taken acid or mushrooms, a little bit of pot when I was young, but it never really appealed to me---HOWEVER! I also never NEEDED drugs to get to those weird, psychological states that most folks require substances to achieve. I have a natural ability to think in strange ways, and I eventually became a guide for weirdos and freaks and other folks who are less-uptight and concerned about staying in the “REAL WORLD”… [See the next paragraph for more on this topic.] That one mix tape that I made got passed around to a few people, and suddenly everyone wanted MORE mix tapes. At the zenith of my production, I was making tapes for four or five people PER WEEK! (I never SOLD them, just gave them away. I am a SHITTY businessman. I LOVE sharing, though…)
This affinity for making works that transport folk into alternate realities is probably because I’m a goddam SHAMAN! I’m a storyteller, using whatever medium I have at hand to explore deeper questions about reality and meaning and dreams and values. You might think I’m being glib, but even though I am a secularist, an atheist, and a science advocate, I’m also a mystic…(in a psychological sense…) AND I HAVE COMPLETED MY SHAMANISTIC SPIRITUAL JOURNEY, which is essential to becoming a sha-person…
When I was four, I was run over by a car. I was playing in the next-door neighbor’s driveway, and she was running late for work. After I woke up in the hospital (suffering from a punctured lung, broken collarbone, and with a gigantic slash across my stomach where they’d gone INTERNAL looking for damage---they snagged my appendix while they were in there) I was DIFFERENT...TRANSFORMED. At a mere FOUR-years-old, I was aware of DEATH. I'd looked the fucker in the eye and come back. I’d visited the darkness. I GOT IT…
And naturally, this fucked my head up.
I grew up STRANGE after that. My interests were different than most folks. My priorities, expectations, and motivations were based more on freaky dream logic than societal expectations. That’s why I’m into art and music and storytelling. Those things seem more important---more HUMAN---to me than accumulating money or big houses or fancy cars, which I don’t care much about.
But music---that’s one of the things that I’ve REALLY connected with in THIS world, (that and my wife and kids), so I’m constantly making new playlists, buying new music, and sharing my acquisitions with everybody. I think music touches something in our HEADS in a way that few other things can. It seems to be a DIRECT LINE to emotion and memory and imagination… And when you’re tired and driving a delivery at about midnight, a slamming techno track can help keep you from falling asleep at the steering wheel!
So here’s my most recent CD mix, made for playing in the car…
CD for Driving (aka: “Snootch”)
Approx: 1 hour and 17 minutes
- The Archies – “Jingle Jangle”
- Run-D.M.C. – “Christmas in Hollis”
- Sting – “Gabriel’s Message”
- Kitaro – “Everlasting Road”
- The White Stripes – “We’re Going to be Friends”
- Nazareth – “Hair of the Dog”
- Altered Images – “Insects”
- My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult – “Sex on Wheelz”
- Ween – “Push th’ Little Daisies”
- Praga Khan – “The Power of the Flower”
- The Prodigy – “Need Some1 (Jim Pavloff Remix)”
- The Associates – “Club Country”
- TR/ST – “Poorly Coward”
- Joey Casio – “Rituals”
- Erasure – “Ship of Fools”
- World Party – “Ship of Fools”
- The Beatles – “Blackbird”
- Ragga Twins – “Let Me See Your Hands (The Body Snatchers Crank Dat Mix)”
- Snake River Conspiracy – “She Said She Said”
- Paul Frees – “The Spectrum Song”
Let’s talk about these songs.
- The Archies – “Jingle Jangle” (1969). The Archies was a classic “Bubblegum” band, who are probably most well known for their cut, “Sugar, Sugar.” Bubblegum (sometimes used as an insult in later years) was happy, fun, upbeat music, often sung by younger vocalists, meant for popular audiences. Performers like The Partidge Family, Ohio Express, and Tommy Roe led the charge, and even though the songs are usually catchy and entertaining (which is why I like them), a lot of people in the early ‘70s thought of this music as garbage. (And they would sulk off to listen to Bad Company or Deep Purple or whatever.) I often throw a Bubblegum cut into my mixes to keep things fluffy and upbeat…
- Run-D.M.C. – “Christmas in Hollis” (1987). It’s getting close to Xmas time, and I like to ease into the holiday with a couple of novelty cuts, here and there, in my mixes. Few holiday tracks are as fun or funny as Run-D.M.C.’s classic Christmas rap. I recently picked up the CD A Very Special Christmas, primarily so I could get this song. (The rest of the album was also pretty good!) This is just a fun, upbeat song, built on a riff borrowed from Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa,” (a slightly less kid friendly Christmas song…)
- Sting – “Gabriel’s Message” (1987). This is another cut from A Very Special Christmas, and according to a Wiki page I looked at, this song was created FOR that album. Sting, as you may know, was the lead singer for the fantastic “punk” band, The Police. (They were part of the original British punk movement, but they never really SOUNDED punk to me.) Sting’s vocals are extremely strong, and this tune, which is almost a round, with the various parts all sung by Sting himself, is haunting and pretty. A great tune.
- Kitaro – “Everlasting Road” (1980). This is an odd one... “Everlasting Road” (which I got from Uncle Randy---that guy who loves Sabbath and Rush and Nazareth) is somewhere between New Age, Contemporary Classical, Progressive Jazz, and (what Randy would call,) “That synthesizer shit.” It’s a cinematic, mellow, dreamy cut, evoking strings and synths and a soundtrack or movie score mood. I actually listen to a lot of this type of music, especially from folks like Wendy Carlos, Tomita, Thomas Wilbrant, and such… It’s chill and cerebral an evocative. Good stuff.
- The White Stripes – “We’re Going to be Friends” (2002). I know this song from the opening credits of the 2004 film, Napoleon Dynamite. It’s a heartfelt, strange, weird little song---sort of acoustic, but with a bluesy foot-stomp of a beat---about growing up. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the tune. It makes me feel happy, so I put it in the mix. GOSH!
- Nazareth – “Hair of the Dog” (1975). Another tune from Uncle Randy. This is a “Hard Rock” CLASSIC, and I’d argue that this tune was about as HARD as it got before “Heavy Metal” became a thing in the late ‘70s. You’ve probably heard this song (if you’ve seen Dazed and Confused), and the classic chorus, “Now you’re messing with a son of a BIIIIIITCH,” is about as ‘70s as anything I can think of. It’s schlocky and over-the-top, but that’s what a great ROCK song should be. I didn’t want this mix to be too wimpy, so there you go… Let’s throw in a little Nazareth. (And not “Love Hurts,” which is probably their most well-known song today.)
- Altered Images – “Insects” (1981). Altered Images was a Scottish post-punk band, who you might know for their songs “Happy Birthday” (which plays in the movie Sixteen Candles) or “I Could Be Happy” (which used to play on MTV every once in a while back in the ‘80s and sometimes shows up on ‘80s flashback programs.) The lead singer’s voice is cutesy and kind of squeaky (maybe even shrill on a couple of notes), and her high-pitched, kidsy vocals contrast nicely with the skittery, creepy, odd, and angular music, which is wonderfully unsettling and spooky. I love Altered Images. If you’ve never heard them, give them a YouTube search and enjoy.
- My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult – “Sex on Wheelz” (1991). Thrill Kill Kult is a weird one. I LOVE this band (seen them live like five times), but I can understand how they might scare or irritate or confuse folks. In their earliest incarnation, they were a Satanic industrial noise band, making creepy, rhythmic sound collages out of old horror movie samples, crunching and scraping sounds, and scary-distorted-chanted vocals. THIS song, however, comes after the band split in half (with the most ghoulish members leaving to form the entirely evil Electric Hellfire Club), and TKK became more of loungy, sleazy, disco-tinged industrial act. You MIGHT have heard this song on the soundtrack to Cool World, that creepy live-action-but-also-animated freak fest from 1992, directed by Ralph Bakshi. (Actually, now that I think about it, you probably didn’t see that movie, did you…) Anyway, this is fun, sleazy, horny (it has blasts of brass horns in it every so often), dance track. Not my favorite song by TKK, but good for a laugh!
- Ween – “Push th’ Little Daisies” (1992). Ah Ween… Before they were darlings of the animation and film world (they’ve contributed songs to everything from The X-Files movie to Spongebob Squarepants), they were WEIRD. I think their later, more polished stuff is fantastic, (songs like “Beacon Light” and “Ocean Man” are brilliant), but I also loved their quirky, freakish early cuts---like “Push th’ Little Daisies.” This song has helium vocals, incomprehensible lyrics (like Beck’s “Loser”), and a fun, twisted tone. It gets a bit shrill in the chorus, but that’s half the fun. (Making listeners feel uncomfortable USED to be Ween’s thing!) Very entertaining song.
- Praga Khan – “The Power of the Flower” (2000). Hailing from Belgium, Praga Khan is a LEGEND, one of the true pioneers of Acid House, New Beat, and Hardcore Techno. He has recorded in more bands than I can count, including The Lords of Acid, Digital Orgasm, The Immortals (remember that super-fast “Mortal Kombat” song? That was him and his buddies), Angel Ice, MNO, Channel X, plus his solo work as just Praga Khan… Pretty much if you have any techno compilation from the ‘90s, there’s a good chance that Praga Khan is on there somewhere. (Maybe more than once.) This track, which is just a good, solid, straight-ahead, techno track, is great for driving. Nice, persistent rhythm, but with a break in the beats for the somewhat psychedelic chorus (which reminds me of both The Beach Boys AND Psychic TV at the same time!) A perfect song for playing in the car (and staying awake after being on the road for hours…)
- The Prodigy – “Need Some1 (Jim Pavloff Remix)” (2018). Another techno pioneer, Liam Howlett (aka The Prodigy---he has backing performers and guest vocalists, but Liam IS The Prodigy) has been a STAPLE of my mix tapes / discs since 1992, when I first discovered his futuristic, noisy, hyperactive brand of dance music on the CD compilation, Only for the Headstrong. (The track was called “G-Force,” and it’s still one of my favorite dance songs.) This newer cut, from the 2018 album, No Tourists, is a slamming, banging aggressive cut, and this remix makes it even noisier and more glitchy. Again, it’s perfect for staying awake while driving late into the night!
- The Associates – “Club Country” (1982). Another Scottish Post-Punk act, The Associates are unlike any other group I know. The vocalist, Billy MacKenzie, was operatic and eccentric and just about as far over the top as you can get. (Don’t believe me? Try listening to “Party Fears Two” and see if you can keep up with MacKenzie’s vocal gymnastics!) “Club Country,” meanwhile, is probably my favorite song at the moment. The vocals are a bit softer than on “Party Fears,” but the guitar is used in a wholly unconventional way, being scratched and attacked so that it becomes a cross between a percussion instrument and gunfire, and yet the track is somehow also hypnotically soothing. It’s such a strange, dream-like, anti-pop-but-pop experience, unique in my collection. I have frequently “rewound” this track and listened to it two or three times in a row before letting the CD player move on to the next track.
- TR/ST – “Poorly Coward” (2019). TR/ST (I think it’s pronounced “Trust”) is another odd band, kind of a mix of goth / industrial / synth-pop / dance / and glam. They’ve been featured in a few soundtracks, including songs for shows, like 13 Reasons Why, American Horror Story, and Hemlock Grove. This newer cut is dreamy synth-pop with gothy vocals, but it has a hard-edged, industrial-percussion breakdown towards the middle of the song. Very unusual.
- Joey Casio – “Rituals” (2010). Sadly, Joey Casio died in a fire in Oakland, CA, in 2016, but luckily for us, he recorded a handful of great electronic songs before he left us. I think of him in relation to the Olympia, Washington, “Crunk” scene. Crunk is something like a mixture of hip hop, electro, punk, and has a strong sense of gender fluidity, and its best practitioners include bands like Scream Club, Jenna Riot, Electrosexuals, and Casio himself. This song has driving percussion, fuzzed up synths, and Casio’s distorted, chanted indie/punk vocals. The track manages to FEEL punk (or at the very least D.I.Y.), while still being driving, dance-oriented synth-pop. I could easily call this “synth-punk” and feel good about it. If you’ve never heard any “crunk,” give Joey Casio a try, and then feel free to explore Scream Club and Jenna Riot, too. (Warning: Most of these bands aren’t really kid friendly…like AT ALL… But they’re very good!)
- Erasure – “Ship of Fools” (1988). From the classic synth-pop / New Romantic album, The Innocents, (which brought Erasure their first mega-smash hit, “Chains of Love”), “Ship of Fools” is slow, melancholy, dreamy, and operatic. Vince Clarke, the musician and songwriter for the group, is pretty well known for his upbeat dance songs (he was a founding member of Depeche Mode and Yazoo), but this cut shows his softer, slower side, which is also very strong. It’s just a good, sort of sad, synth-mope track. I like it…
- World Party – “Ship of Fools” (1986). This version of “Ship of Fools” is a completely different song from the Erasure track, and it’s also about the polar opposite as far as mood is concerned. This song is soaring, new wavey, “college rock,” at it’s finest. Vocalist, Karl Wallinger’s, style falls somewhere between David Bowie or Mott the Hoople-esque glam (he actually covered “All the Young Dudes” on the soundtrack to the movie Clueless), and more contemporary acts from this era, like Echo & The Bunnymen. So if you like good, glam-inspired alternative rock, give World Party a try, and this song, in my opinion, is the perfect place to start.
- The Beatles – “Blackbird” (1968). My guess is that you’ve heard of The Beatles. They were fairly popular for a little while…back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth… (Snicker…) “Blackbird” comes from The Beatles’ self-titled album, which most people call “The White Album,” ‘cuz the cover is just a big, white blank, with the name “The Beatles” written across the middle. (You probably know this already.) The song, “Blackbird,” is very cool, very dreamy, very minimal---just McCartney and an acoustic guitar with a little bit of percussion---not unlike The White Stripes’ “We’re Going to be Friends.” (I wonder if Jack White was influenced by this song…) This isn’t the most popular Beatles cut, but I enjoy it. A nice mellow-out tune…
- Ragga Twins – “Let Me See Your Hands (The Body Snatchers Crank Dat Mix)” (2015). Ragga Twins bring us a slamming, break-beat, dance-hall influenced banger with this cut, (which features Aquasky, who also makes great ragga-funk influenced breakbeat and techno.) This version is noisy, fuzzy, crusty, glitchy---and INCREDIBLY dancy. I can’t help but groove along to it---but it is a bit harsh. Might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I’m a fan!
- Snake River Conspiracy – “She Said She Said” (1999). Snake River Conspiracy was a female led industrial rock band, who I thought were pretty fun. This cut was a “b-side” from the single “Vulcan,” which was released a few months before their first album, Sonic Jihad, came out. It’s a cover of the classic, psychedelic era Beatles song of the same name, and I think they do a decent job. It’s not as dreamy as The Beatles version, but it’s still a fun cover. They pump up the noise, add some industrial-esque percussion and synth-sounds, and turn it into a groovy dance track. Pretty dang good, for what it is.
- Paul Frees – “The Spectrum Song” (1961). This is a CLASSIC goofy novelty song, recorded for a Disney cartoon called, “An Adventure in Color,” which was aired on the t.v. show, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. I have never actually seen the show, but instead, I discovered the song on a collection of Disney tunes, called Classic Disney Volume 1. I love old Disney songs, but that’s probably because I grew up watching The Wonderful World of Disney. (We only got three channels on our t.v. when I was a kid, and we watched whatever we could get out there in the woods, because we didn’t have cable and V.C.R.s were REALLY expensive back in the 1970s and early ‘80s---like $500.00 or more!) Another thing to note about this song is that it’s sung by Paul Frees, who was one of the greatest voice actors to ever live. He did THOUSANDS of voices for cartoons AND he is also the voice of the “Ghost Host,” who tells you the intro story to the Haunted Mansion in the famous “stretching room!” The guy was brilliant---and this song is silly and stupid and funny! Makes me happy…
And that’s my most recent car CD. I put it in and hit random while I’m driving all my late-night deliveries, and it helps keep me awake and entertained! If any of these cuts are new to you, I’d recommend looking them up on YouTube and giving them a spin. I know it’s a weird mix, but I believe in DIVERSITY. You know how when you ask people, “What kind of music do you listen to,” and they always say, “Oh, I listen to everything…” Now you can say, “Oh really? Do you listen to Kitaro and The Archies and Nazareth and The Associates and Joey Casio and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult? NO? Then you don’t listen to everything… Jerk. Now tell me what you REALLY listen to so I can play something that you might actually enjoy… Jeeze…” It’s a conversation we’ve all had, right?
Okay. It’s taken me almost 24 hours to write and edit this dang post (what with the myriad interruptions and pauses I’ve had to deal with), but I’m pretty happy with the final result. Hopefully, it won’t take quite as long to finish my next one!!! See you then!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!