In their ten-year-long effort to move me out of my old high school bedroom, my parents have occasionally dropped off boxes of my old “stuff.” So far I’ve received boxes of baseball cards (one of dozens), books, magazines, Super Nintendo and Genesis games, CDs, Transformers and now cassette tapes — a big ole shoebox full of cassette tapes, almost all of which are dubs. Plenty of the cassettes are completely free of label. So it might take me some time to go through them all. But I’ve found three labeled tapes, three labeled mixtapes, in the lot. I’ve created Spotify playlists for each. I’ve not “bettered” the mixes in any way. The awful tracks remain, blemishes on my taste (and lack thereof) as a teenager. What you see here is the track order as they were created from 1993-1996. Enjoy these time capsules (or not), these (ugh) plastic windows into my teenage schizophrenia.
The Mixtape Project: Volume 1, CAFFEINE
I drank my dad’s cold coffee when I was five. It should come as no shock that by the time I reached high school I was naming mixtapes “Caffeine.”
Caffeine (a mixtape c. 1994-1995) on Spotify (minus Psycho Realm, which doesn’t seem to exist).
“TNT” – AC/DC
I played AC/DC Live a lot. It was and still is the only AC/DC album I’ve ever owned. Any AC/DC album cut sounds odd to me. I can’t think of another band for which this is true.
“Judgment Night” – Onyx and Biohazard
Frankly I’m shocked this is the only song on this mix from the Judgment Night Soundtrack.
“Sabotage” – Beastie Boys
Check Your Head was my first real exposure to the Beastie Boys. Looking back I can’t remember a time before the Beastie Boys because this song opened the floodgates for obsession. An omnipresent MTV staple, friends called friends to tell them when the video was on.
“Bring the Noise” – Public Enemy and Anthrax
The Public Enemy only version of “Bring the Noise” is good, but without the Anthrax guitars, it’s not “Bring the Noise.” For a brief period, and likely due to Judgment Night, all of my favorite rap songs had heavy guitar.
“Batdance” – Prince
My parents were convinced the lyric “Get the funk up” was actually “Get the fuck off.” At the time I didn’t know what it was but I couldn’t convince them otherwise based on the lack of a parental advisory warning on the album. I continue to love this song shamelessly.
“Battery” – Metallica
I was listening to “Battery” between games at the Harmarville Hoops 3-on-3 tournament and waiting for the next game on a court. I had this song blasting in my headphones, but a dude broke his leg on the hoop base right in front of me. I heard the snap over everything else. That *snap* still haunts me. And I can’t hear “Battery” without thinking about it.
“Mama Said Knock You Out” – LL Cool J
I suspect that when I’m old and senile and every other detail has disappeared I will remember the lyrics to “Baby Got Back” and “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
“Great White Buffalo” – Ted Nugent
So my parents used to work for Ted Nugent, running a farm in Southwestern Michigan. Yes. I grew up on a farm. Moving along. I have a sneaking suspicion that my first concert was a Ted Nugent show. If all you know about Ted Nugent is “Cat Scratch Fever, you may be impressed with “Great White Buffalo,” a track originally written during the Amboy Dukes days. Or you’ll just consider it crappy 70’s guitar rock. And you’d probably be right either way. Footnote: I don’t care about anyone’s politics here. This is about Ted Nugent playing guitar.
“Scalped” – Dick Dale
Thanks to “Miserlou” appearing in Pulp Fiction I bought CDs from five or six different surf guitarists. Dick Dale’s essentially the beginning and end of this conversation for any0ne interested in the microgenre. Dale released this album in 1994 and it was just as righteous as his old stuff.
“Drum Trip” and “Ecstacy” – Rusted Root
For a period of two years here in Pittsburgh, Rusted Root might as well have been the Beatles. They were local celebrities and everyone recognized them. Hell, I sat across the aisle from them at a U2 Popmart show at Three Rivers Stadium. I was obsessed with the drums that opened the album When I Woke and segued into “Ecstacy.” Thus the two came as a pair to close out the first side of this mixtape.
“Another Day” and “Take the Time” – Dream Theater
That there are only two Dream Theater songs on a mixtape called “Caffeine” that I made sometime in 1995 is somewhat of a miracle. Including “Another Day” as the leader on Side B is just pure laziness because I liked the lead in to “Take the Time.” Have an original thought, 1995 self.
“Coma” – Guns ‘n Roses
That I’d blow ten minutes of quality mix time on this song is a mystery. Rule #6 of mixtape creation, don’t waste ten minutes on a song that’s not m’f’ing epic. I don’t remember ever really liking this song, but apparently for a fleeting moment in time, my G’nR fix came from this 10-minute burner off of Use Your Illusion I.
“Don’t Ever Tell Me That You Love Me” – Huey Lewis
I went all the way back to Huey Lewis’ debut record for this kinetic New Wave popper. It’s not shocking. As you may well know (faithful reader), I’m obsessed with Huey Lewis and he used up almost all of his energy on that debut, self-titled record.
“Slam” – Onyx
Man. Before DMX came along and made every rapper look like wussies, Onyx sounded hard. Their style was brand new in 1995 (and still never really duplicated). I’m disappointed in my extremely obvious choice of Onyx songs, but it’s hard to beat “Slam.” And don’t neglect their undersold, underappreciated second record.
“Superstition” – Stevie Wonder
A great song. But out of left field much? Did I even listen to Stevie Wonder in 1995? I certainly don’t remember even having one of his albums. I must have gone raiding my parents’ stash. Hell I don’t even really listen to him now.
“The Girl Tried to Kill Me” – Ice T
I’ve always been on team Ice Cube in the battle of the Ices, but out of all the early Ice T tracks, this is the one. And the only one I would have ever picked for a mix. Also note the guitar. Kind of a running theme in these rap song selections.
“Scandalous” – Psycho Realm
From the soundtrack to Mi Vida Loca. The movie sucked. But the soundtrack deserved more press. The bands you knew phoned it in, but the groups you didn’t know and don’t remember provided some interesting tracks — Psycho Realm (before B-Real got his hands on them), Shootyz Groove and Funkdoobiest included. This was Psycho Realm’s first recorded track and reeks of a solid Cypress Hill tribute band.
“Partyman” – Prince
“Gentleman. Let’s broaden our minds… Lawrence!” Another choice cut from the Batman soundtrack to conclude the tape. Another mixtape staple, “Partyman” showed up whenever I needed to wrap up a short remainder. You’d be surprised how many times you need a three-minute song for filler.
Rock, rap and Batman… and then there was Rusted Root, Huey Lewis and a moonlighting Stevie Wonder – who must have stumbled onto the tape looking for the (now lost) Soul Mixtape because he fit the required time stamp. Unfortunately this mix hit a short time before I discovered electronic music. What this mix desperately needs is some Prodigy and some Gravity Kills… but alas, both were yet undiscovered.
Side A starts strong. Four tracks I could legitimately put on a similar mix today. “Batdance” puts a kink in the method, but it could have survived had I followed Prince up with something less jarring than “Battery.” Three pairs of tracks from the same album = lazy. The Rusted Root pair works since they blend into each other. I shame my sixteen year old self for not venturing out into the depths of the CD library for a few more deep cuts, like Psycho Realm’s largely forgotten track on the B-side. Speaking of the B-side…
Side B’s a damn mess. A ten-minute track. A pair of unlinked songs from the same Dream Theater album. The Ice T song feels out of place. Stevie Wonder? Why not just throw some goddamn Bee Gees on there if I wanted to derail the tape entirely. If not for Psycho Realm and Onyx, I’d just rewind Side A over and over again.
I joined the U2 fanbase just after the release of Achtung Baby. I was 13 and mired in a two-year monogamous relationship with early 90s hip-hop. And then as night follows day I made my way through Joshua Tree, War, and Boy like a fat kid at the McDonald’s dollar menu. By the time I began high school I’d acquired every album except October (what was wrong with October, I have no idea) including Wide Awake in America EP and the Live at Red Rocks Under a Blood Red Sky.
Hi. You may not remember us but we're a band from Pittsburgh that had a couple of big songs in the 90's back when it would have been cool to sit next to us at a U2 show.
My first show came in 1997. The PopMart Tour at Three Rivers Stadium. Three members of Rusted Root sat just to our left and we all basked in the glow of the 40′ lemon. They opened with “Mofo” – a song they have since disowned. More about this is a moment.
I heard a bit not too long ago about U2 being the best U2 cover band in the world. I forget who said it. Props to whoever that was: I’ve used it in conversation thrice and at least peripherally taken it to heart. While I was pretty excited to be attending my first U2 show in ten years this past Tuesday, I was also acknowledging that there was some truth behind the jest. But as I watched this show in all its lavish overabundance, I couldn’t get this thought out of my head. Had this band, a longtime favorite artist, a staple on my desert island record list (Achtung Baby, FYI) become so self-aware that it had ceased to be itself? Let’s ponder this together for a moment while I rattle off a few thoughts from the show.
Some things I learned on Tuesday night:
360 Tour at Heinz Field, pre-game, err... pre-show. Super-sized for effect.
There is no better way to kill a raucous, stadium rattling crowd stirred by “I Will Follow” than to play “Get On Your Boots”. The song is such a tease. Opens with a gut thumping Adam Clayton bass groove before it succumbs under the weight of its inane, repetitive chorus and schizophrenic tempo. Sure a few innocents wooed when the song began, clearly caught up in the moment. But then I stood in awe of how a single song could stop a show dead. Stone cold. No Line on the Horizon isn’t a terrible record. It boasts a subtlety that How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb lacked. But that song, for the love of all that is holy, just absolutely cannot be the record’s ambassador. I didn’t even bother putting it on my iPod. Which is a shame.
I like the Pop album a lot. I listen to it with regularity. There. It’s out there. I said it. And therefore I find the disownership of the record disappointing. During the show, we got a whiff of “Discotheque” in a reverb-laden medley among other snippets from “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” (a much better cut from No Line on the Horizon) and “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads. I consider this even more disappointing than when Bono and the Edge played it as an acoustic breaktime for Adam and Larry. It’s called goddamn “Discotheque” and you play beneath a disco ball on top of a 30′ spire above the stage. Now you consider this remedial 90’s pop-tronica too embarrassing? Play “Mofo.” Play “Discotheque.” These are great arena- and stadium-thumping songs. Embrace the chaos. Own up to the album. And I’d bet these tracks would get a bigger reaction than anything from Zooropa, No Line or Atomic Bomb (save “Vertigo”). Pop just isn’t as bad as everyone remembers. I promise. It’s not perfect but there’s something innocent and infectious about its imperfect birth into this world. If you have any nostalgia for those killer (and sometimes not so killer) electro-grooves of the late 90’s, give it another shot.
Even Bono can't hide his man-crush on the Edge.
Confession: I have an enormous man-crush on the Edge. Confession: I have developed a secondary man-crush on Larry Mullen which has displaced my former secondary man-crush on Bono. Mostly because I kind of feel for Larry and even Adam (though he’s become too sparkly) because they almost always seem like the third and fourth wheel at a kickass party.
Speaking of Zooropa… this is a solid, subtle album that was never embraced by the U2 fanbase. Why doesn’t anyone listen to it? If “Boots” killed the buzz on Tuesday, “Stay (Faraway, So Close)” just left everyone confused because they lumped it into a marathon of songs produced during the Achtung Baby era (which it was). Later they played “Zooropa” from behind a honeycomb of monitors and everyone just fell into their seats. Granted it’s a chill song and there are better tracks from the album… soooo… during “Zooropa” I stopped paying attention to the music and instead considered who would play each of the band members in a U2 movie. Here are my thoughts: Okay, I didn’t really have any profound thoughts except that Anton Yelchin (from Star Trek) is Larry Mullen. Spot on. I’m inking Colin Ferrell for Bono. It’s the attitude. Plus we need star-power to headline a solid ensemble cast and nobody’s more bloody Irish in Hollywood than Colin Ferrell.
Only he knows if he's Anton Yelchin or a young Larry Mullen.
But back to the rumble…
I write about Music because it moves me. If this music didn’t still affect me I wouldn’t be compelled to spend free time writing this rumble for this bl-g. As someone that writes about music I feel that I’m expected to write through a veil of cynicism, like Vaseline on a camera lens. And because of this expectation I find it difficult to write anything about U2. If I gush, I’m docked cred points for being a fanboy. If I’m negative, I’m disingenuous. I thought about the quip again. U2 is the best U2 cover band. And while I believe that there is some truth to that in that there are similar truths about any band that has been around long enough to reinvent itself three or four times over. After a decade or more we are no more the same people as they are the same band. We become covers of ourselves going through some of the motions established by our more successful, more handsome, younger selves. My friends expect me to be Jay, to live up to their perception of Jay. Sarcastic and full of useless knowledge about music and movies. I talk baseball and hockey whenever possible but don’t ask me about work because my work is my writing and it doesn’t pay any bills. And I oblige them. A band must experience a similar identity crisis each time they step on stage to play songs that they could no longer have written. Consider U2’s origin. Consider where they are now. Our environment shapes our creative output. Our muses and motivations come as much from external stimuli as they do internal.
Really? You're above playing an honest version of "Discotheque?"
I cannot lambaste U2 nor praise without reservation. I admire. I reflect. I grovel at the feet of the Edge for just a sample of his swag. Was the fourth show as thrilling as the first? In some ways yes. In others I can’t help but be disappointed. I found myself a little overcome when they played a snipped of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which segued seamlessly into “Where the Streets Have No Name.” I immediately felt guilty about calling U2 a U2 cover band. Were they the same band? Of course not, but they, like us, still feel that connection to their music and to their fans (who, let me tell you, haven’t nearly aged as gracefully). They weren’t merely going through the motions, fawning over their fans for coos and playing old favorites for applause. This could be argued (because it really is all perception), but Bono engaged and conversed with the fans, talking Pittsburgh-centric matters with a unique ease and candor, name dropping Perry Como, Andy Warhol and Bo the White House dog (this in particular caused a stir — Bono knowing more about Pittsburgh in some small way than the Pittsburghers themselves). He talked about their first performance in Pittsburgh in 1981 and called down to the crowd for the name of the club. It came as no surprise that a sizable portion of the crowd cried out “The Decade” without hesitation. I could only remark to my wife how amazing that must have been. She seemed shocked that I bothered to state something so obvious. I’d just never thought about U2 like that, a small intimate club — a short, by necessity set list, Bono and his old Euro mullet commanding a crowd with only the 11 songs from Boy and a few from the forthcoming October. Where would the 40’ lemon go? How could Bono grapple onto a glowing microphone hanging from the rafters and swing out over the crowd during “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me?”
Pittsburghers moving up in the world.
And there it is. There’s the problem inherent to calling U2 a cover band.
Maybe they could have played those early shows inside the Lemon.
This is my perception of U2. I’m just as guilty as the next asshole complaining that they don’t play such and such song and don’t write songs like they used to or play them exactly the same way they played them in 1984 (or in my case 1992). I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band play Phillips Arena in Atlanta nearly ten years ago now. I knew the songs on his Greatest Hits CD. I went with my (to-be) wife and her mother and couldn’t help but admire that I probably knew less than 50% of the songs he played. I didn’t have the history with Bruce that I have with U2. With Bruce I could just sit back and admire the spectacle rather than complain that U2 didn’t $%#$ing play “New Years Day” or how they insist on massacring “Discotheque.”
Being part hipster, I understand the underlying criticism. Widespread popularity has made them fodder for Top 40 radio rather than rebel music. It’s uncool to love U2 – even if you own all of their early records on vinyl. It’s like trying to use an expired passport to cross the border. There will always be people out there more excited to hear a song by the Au Pairs than anything by Bono and Co. The Au Pairs have been largely forgotten, relegated to the collections of 80’s Post-Punk enthusiasts. U2 survived. And they just keep going, for better or worse. But that doesn’t lessen our attachment to that music with which we originally fell in love (whether it was in 1981 or 1991 or 2001. If we love, we forgive. I will forgive “Get On Your Boots.” Others will forgive Pop or everything after Rattle and Hum. Others can’t forgive and give up entirely. They go back to listening to the Au Pairs because, other than completely disappearing, they never had the opportunity to disappoint their fans. The rest of us will continue to pay $100 per ticket to be conflicted, exhilarated and in constant awe.
Hi. We're the Au Pairs. You may not remember us but we're a British band that had a few killer jams in the early 80's when it would have been cool to... oh nevermind.