The National Mix: Best and worst songs received on a mixtape
Each week we ask our writers to submit their choice of songs for a given theme. This week, our writers choose the best and worst songs they ever received on a mix CD.
The mixtape. A source of endless mental consternation and middle school bonding. An opportunity to showcase one’s personality while sharing the music we love. We all have fond memories of painstakingly selecting the songs we could fit on a burned CD and digesting the new music we received in return.
But not all mixtapes are created equal. For every playlist that introduced us to a new band or gave us hope that we might share something in common with that girl from trigonometry because she liked the Arctic Monkeys too (7th grade was a confusing time), there was a mix that featured nothing but Jason Mraz, Motion City Soundtrack, and Bubba Sparxxx. What follows are the best and worst songs we ever received on a Mix CD:
“Wasted & Ready,” Ben Kweller
Nothing about this song makes sense. The lyrics don’t make sense (“She is a slut but X thinks it’s sexy / Sex reminds her of eating spaghetti”), the music video doesn’t make any sense, and it makes absolutely no goddamn sense that this song is so awesome and catchy. I received a lot of mixtapes in high school, and many of them turned me onto bands that I would come to appreciate as some of the most important musical artists in my life: Arcade Fire, Talib Kwelli and Mos Def, and Beck, for example. Ben Kweller isn’t one of those musicians. “Wasted & Ready” isn’t even that good of a song. But no matter what happens in my life, I will always cherish it as an exceptionally goofy yet undeniably enjoyable selection of early 2000s pop rock.
“The Underdog,” Spoon
As I look through the tracks of a Mix CD I got in 2007, I realized it was filled with mediocrity. There were a bunch of songs that just didn’t stick with me. There were a bunch of songs that were so “2007.” There were a bunch of songs that were just “meh.” That Mix CD was a whole lot of nothing with the exception of this Spoon song. I remember in 7th grade thinking that Spoon was a dumb name for a band. Then upon listening to “The Underdog,” I couldn’t fathom why a band with such a dumb name would have such an amazing song. “The Underdog” was the standout track on that Mix CD and it’s probably the tightest track on Spoon’s 2007 release Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Hell, it may actually be my all-time favorite Spoon song. I guess that speaks to the beauty of Mix CDs. A lot of times, they are a person’s first exposure to an artist or a band. That first song you hear leaves an impression on you and eventually it will be seven years later and you still blast “The Underdog” on your headphones after a tough day.
“Plush,” Stone Temple Pilots
You know what? I like 90s alternative hard/angst rock. And you know what else? I like Stone Temple Pilots. I really don’t give a fuck what you think. I know that the editors probably wanted their writers to put shit like Neutral Milk Hotel and Pavement and whatever here, but honestly? Fuck them. Plush is a good song, and Stone Temple Pilots are a kinda-good band, even though they’re in essence just a rip-off of two of the “Big Four” grunge groups (Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, both of which are waaaaaay better bands than STP). When I got Plush on a mixtape my freshman year of high school, I think the girl who put it on there did it ironically (she was kind of a proto-hipster; the rest of the CD was filled with The Shins and stuff like that), but I didn’t care. It’s a good song, even if it is probably a minute too long. Is it the precursor to Nickelback? A little, yeah. But Led Zeppelin was the precursor to Motley Crue, so, you know. Also I can’t believe I just compared STP to Led Zeppelin. Don’t hold that against me.
“How It Ends,” DeVotchKa
When I was 14 years old, I worked at an ice cream shop with a woman in her mid-to-late-twenties who had just been through a divorce. Oddly enough, we became friends — not the weird type of friendship you’d expect to find in a Wes Anderson film, but the type of friendship in which we just always seemed to have something to talk about. We eventually discussed music, and agreed that we should both share our music with one another (probably the most quintessentially 2006-like agreement one could make). She listened to some good music, but for some reason, this song struck a chord with me, and every time I hear it I think of our bizarre friendship. I have a feeling that she doesn’t feel the same way every time she hears one of the nine Beastie Boys songs I put on the CD I gave to her.
“Furr,” Blitzen Trapper
To be honest, my friends in middle school and even into high school had terrible taste in music, which made mix CDs tough, both giving and receiving. For that reason, I didn’t realize how awesome a great mixtape could be until one of my art teachers gave out a CD titled ‘You Did It’ to a few graduating seniors. In addition to being a really nice gesture from my favorite teacher, it was filled with the perfect mix of eclectic indie tunes, almost none of which I had heard before but would quickly become my favorite songs. The first track was Blitzen Trapper’s Furr, which opens with the lyrics, “Yeah, when I was only seventeen,” and hey! I was only seventeen and suddenly I knew the power of a great mix CD.
“Here (In Your Arms),” hellogoodbye
There are few songs that epitomize what it means to be a song on a mix CD quite like hellogoodbye’s 2006 awkward teen love anthem “Here (In Your Arms).” The song, 220 seconds of beautiful electro-candy pop giddiness, fits all of the requirements of any good mix CD song: 1. It is kind of popular, but not too mainstream. 2. It’s incredibly catchy 3. It leaves the listener unsure of whether or not you’re using the mixtape to flirt with him/her (A special note to most girls I gave mix CD’s to in junior high: I probably was). It is not the most musically intriguing song, nor do its lyrics have a lot to say — but as a person who never quite found out how to use mix CDs as a way of sharing interesting music, this doesn’t really bother me. It’s poppy, cheery, and I’ll be damned if you’re not dancing by the end of it. Sharing music is meant to share happiness, and this song is about as close to pure happiness as you can get.
“Charles in Charge,” Relient K
I’m not in much of a position to judge the musical tastes of my middle school peers. As a kid who once went around saying things like “Green Day is the Beatles of our generation” and put Weird Al’s “Yoda” on the mixes I burned for others and deserved a swift roundhouse kick to the balls, I can’t throw a whole lot of shade. But when a certain associate who shall not be sullied on these pages makes you a mix CD of all their favorite Relient K songs, then I feel qualified to label one of those songs as the worst I ever received on a mixtape.
Choosing the worst song on the playlist proved to be a challenge, however. “Sadie Hawkins Dance” is annoying, but that song will stick with you like a clingy King of Hearts date. And “Mood Rings” is obnoxious, but young and naive me didn’t know any better at the time. Know what I did figure out pretty soon, however? That Charles in Charge was not a good TV show. And that “Charles in Charge” was not a good song. In fact, it’s a very, very bad song. So bad that I feel real, genuine pity for Scott Baio. Nobody deserves their life’s work to be memorialized in a Relient K song. Especially a song as viscerally upsetting as “Charles in Charge.”
“Let It Rock,” Kevin Rudolf featuring Lil Wayne
There are few sins you can commit when putting together a Mix CD. My ex committed probably the worst of all the sins when she included “Let It Rock” in a mix she gave me late in 2008: SHE PUT A HUGELY POPULAR AND SUCCESSFUL SONG ON THE MIX. Seriously, “Let It Rock” was on the radio every couple of minutes; I didn’t need it buried within an otherwise perfectly fine Mix CD.And the thing that kills me is that “Let It Rock” is not a good song. I could excuse her sin, if she put a song like Ray J’s “Sexy Can I,” but no she choose “Let it Rock.” It’s a cheesy song that made Kevin Rudolf a ton a money. That’s how it should be remembered. In all fairness to my ex, I should explain that she didn’t know how much of a pretentious hipster I was.
“Never Gonna Give You Up,” Rick Astley
So yeah, I got Rick Roll’d on a mixtape. It was actually a brilliant move by the guy who made it: This was probably the spring of 2012, which was sort of at the end of the Rick Roll meme’s lifespan. It was a mixtape mostly of old Earth Wind & Fire tunes, and other assorted 70s funk classics. But right at the beginning of the CD (the dude also used a CD, basically unheard of at this point in tech history), as soon as I popped it into my laptop, I heard those over-produced drums, and I was angry. But I also laughed. So really, this isn’t necessarily a “worst” song that I’ve received on a mixtape, but if one were to objectively critique Astley’s classic dance song, it would be classified as “bad,” for many reasons. Ergo, worst song I’ve ever received on a mixtape.
“Us Against The World,” Hilary Duff
I need to write nothing more about this. This is among the most terrible songs ever written, and the fact that someone thought to give this to me on a mixtape sent me into a period of dark introspective searching during which I strongly considered joining an ascetic monastery.
I’m totally on board with giving mix CDs as presents. It’s thrifty, but it can also be a really personalized gift and I’ve certainly given my fair share of mix CD Christmas presents. So when I received a mix CD from a friend for the holidays a couple years ago, I was pretty happy about it and excited to check out what music my friend thought I might like. You can imagine my disappointment when I realized it was just a CD full of Christmas music. And not even cool covers of classic songs by your favorite rock bands, or original holiday songs by contemporary bands. If you turned on that radio station that plays non-stop Christmas music from October until January and recorded the first 20 songs you heard, that would be this CD. Like, what the fuck am I supposed to do with this?
“Your Body Is a Wonderland,” John Mayer
I’m all about the subtle, but not so subtle “I’d like my mouth to be in and/or around your mouth” song in mix CDs. John Mayer’s “Your Body Is a Wonderland” crosses that line though. By putting this song on a mix CD, you’re telling the recipient one of two things, depending on your relationship with that person. Option 1: Assuming you’ve done “things” (I’m not going to get into defining whatever weird ear sex you did in junior high/high school is in terms of sex) with the recipient, you’re telling them “hey, I’m so attracted to you that I frequently think of your body as this weird Willy Wonka playground. Also I cry a lot.” Option 2: If you haven’t done things with that person, you’re telling him or her, “I spend so much time watching you move that it essentially dominates my every thought and I might masturbate to you but maybe not, but probably. Also I cry a lot.” Neither of those options are good things to tell anyone. I don’t know what empowered you to steal your mom’s copy of Room for Squares, rip it onto Windows Media player, burn it onto a mix CD – but you shouldn’t have and you should feel bad.
“I Hope You Dance” – Lee Ann Womack
As I thought back on my mix CD history, I realized that I had no fewer than four grade school teachers who exchanged mixes with their students. By far the worst of these experiences was with my 7th grade social studies teacher, whom I shall refer to simply as Carol. Carol was in her first year of teaching, and was not very good at it. Aside from having classroom management skills so bad that she got into several shouting matches with 12-year-olds, she also didn’t know some fairly basic facts on the subject she was teaching. We gave her no respect for nine straight months, and yet, as the school year ended, she was confident that she could impart a final bit of wisdom to us. In our last class, she gave all of us a CD, told us it contained her favorite song and life advice, then played it for us. As this inane country track full of fortune cookie wisdom began to play, we all began to laugh. As we all began to laugh, she began to cry. She learned that 12-year-olds are awful people, and quit teaching two years later.