Claire at 16: A Mixtape

Picture above: Me at 16! I’m the one in the glasses making the serious face. Rahnia Mersereau is the one rocking the tiara.

I had a writing teacher in high school who once told me “Don’t look down on your former self. Once upon a time, she was everything.” So with that sentiment in mind, this week we’re taking a look back at our music collections at age 16. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, some it’s worse—it’s a cringeworthy good time (don’t worry, just for us—that is the price of having ever listening to DMB). Sit back, enjoy, and as always, leave your musical memories in the comments.

“Rising Sun,” by The Bridge

Junior year of high school, Joshua and I worked at an after school daycare center for kids. It was a solid high school job, one that I’m not sure either of us were any good at, but one of the perks was that our coworkers were awesome. Faye Berman helped teach me how to drive and introduced me to Israeli food. Our boss Bob unintentionally taught me how to dress for work. And Kenny Liner gave me a seemingly endless stream of advice on boys (they’re the worst), school (stay in it), and music (don’t listen to crap). Part of that music lesson involved Joshua and I seeing his band, The Bridge, all the time. Kenny didn’t tell us to follow his band; we liked them, and him, enough that we didn’t need prompting.

After we graduated from high school, The Bridge exploded on the jam band scene. Friends loved them, they were at all the big festivals, they were everywhere, and we were stunned. Everyone has local bands who they follow and think “Man, these guys should be bigger”; it was wild to watch that actually happen. The Bridge has since broken up, and by the time they did, I had stopped listening to jam bands and moved across the country. But still, so many of my memories from being 16 involve standing in a sweaty crowd with Joshua and our high school friends, singing along to “Rising Sun.” It would have been nice to see them one last time.

“Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” by The Ramones

The first time I ever drove by myself, this song came on the radio. My adventure options were limited since I wasn’t allowed to stray too far from my street, so I think I bought a lipgloss and visited my Grandma. But driving for the first time solo, windows rolled down and this song blasting—I had never felt cooler.

“The Scientist,” by Coldplay

I don’t know what to do about Coldplay. I know we’re all supposed to hate them, I know—I got the memo, just like the rest of you. But sometimes they’ll have a song that I genuinely enjoy, like “Green Eyes” or “Lost!”, and I thought Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends was a solid album, and this is all information I feel uncomfortable with because it grates my inner snob (who, between this and another post this week defending Top 40 radio, is not having a good time of it lately).

This song doesn’t currently fall into the category of Coldplay songs that I like, but listening to “The Scientist” now, I know why 16 year old Claire was so into it. At 16, this was the kind of quasi-deep nonsense that I ate up, along with David Grey and Dave Matthews Band. A Rush of Blood to the Head (which this song is from) is the soundtrack of hormonal melancholy and suburban ennui, developed to facilitate clumsy backseat makeout sessions and terrible post-makeout session poetry.

“Nugget Song,” by Voodoo Blue

If you were a teenager in Baltimore County in the early 2000s, you know who I’m talking about. Voodoo Blue was THAT local band—everyone listened to them, everyone went to their shows, everyone knew someone who knew someone who partied with the band, and they were totally going to get invited to an after party, one of these days. I saw them at least a dozen times with my best friend Jamie, usually at Fletchers or the Recher.

I don’t remember the music very well, and I don’t even know if I liked them. What I do know is that this marked the beginning of a solo show going time for me. My dad had taken me to tons of concerts, but this was the first time I was seeing live music with friends. And these weren’t shows he would’ve remotely approved of, full of sketchy guys and cigarettes and songs like the one posted above. It was a solid stab at independence. Nugget Song? It’s terrible. So was everything else by them that I listened to today. Terrible like I blushed furiously at the “Diggity-dank” line, and I’m sitting in a quiet apartment, by myself. But even though I’ll never listen to “Nugget Song” again, they were important to me in a classic teenage way. I’ll always associate Voodoo Blue with hanging out with my best friend, dancing in dirty clubs in the city, and listening to music that my parents would’ve hated.

“Karen by Night,” by Jill Sobule

I liked Jill Sobule because she told stories and because she had a weird, nasally voice, which years of listening to Bob Dylan and Dave Matthews had really primed me to enjoy. Her songs had a totally different narrative flow from anything else I was listening to. I picked up this album at a record store called The Electric Fetus, at a time when I was really into purchasing random albums, taking them home, and devouring them. No context, no recommendations—just a gut feeling and solid cover art. It felt really daring and adventurous, and of all the experiences I could’ve gotten into at 16, I’d like to believe my parents enjoyed the fact that holing up in my room with a random CD was my go-to crazy thing to do.

Top 5 Covers (by Claire and Joshua)

Claire’s Top 5 Covers

Song: Go Straight to Hell

Cover by: Lily Allen

Originally by: The Clash

Lily Allen’s lullaby-sweet vocals and borderline-cheery background music, paired with these classic Clash lyrics, makes an already haunting song doubly so and gives “Go Straight to Hell” some dichotomous whimsy.

Song: I Go To Sleep

Cover by: Sia

Originally by: The Kinks

Sia will haunt your f**king dreams. I know it’s a different song, but can we talk about the end of Six Feet Under? Come on. This is also a song made for covers: Look up versions by The Pretenders, Peggy Lee, and a very young Cher.

Song: Magnet

Cover by: Yo La Tengo

Originally by: NRBQ

I listened to this song at least a thousand times when I was eighteen years old. It was one of those classic “Oh, you wrote this for me” moments you have with music in early college, where heightened emotions and self obsession are at their peak. My father and an old boss of mine would call it blasphemy, but I like this version way more than the original, which has a grating level of upbeat NRBQness.

Song: I’m On Fire

Cover by: Bats for Lashes

Originally by: Bruce Springsteen

Also, haunting, because this is apparently Claire’s haunted covers collection. Boo.

Song: Needles and Pins

Cover by: The Ramones

Originally by: Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono

This was originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, which is a great version. It’s another song made for covers: Look up the Cher version (I know, Cher again, who knew super young Cher was so awesome?) and the Tom Petty/ Stevie Nicks cover, which is lovely.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Raspberry Beret,” cover by Warren Zevon and The Hindu Love Gods
  • “Naive,” cover by Lily Allen
  • “Hard to Handle,” cover by Toots and the Maytals

Josh’s Top 5 Covers

Song: I Will Survive

Covered by: Cake

Originally by: Gloria Gaynor

This song encapsulates everything Cake is about: emotionally subdued vocals, fat-ass bass riff, and funky guitar. They take the original version, a glitzy, disco’d-out dance number by Gloria Gaynor, and strip it down the bare necessities: punchy drums and a thumping bass line. They then add John McCrea’s staple singing and quite possibly the best one-note guitar solo ever recorded. Plus he swears! And there’s a vibraslap! And a mid-song count-off! It doesn’t get much better than this.

Song: Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight

Covered by: The Isley Brothers

Originally by: James Taylor

The original version is done by James Taylor. This version can convince anyone to drop their pants and get it on. Being able to do that with a song written by James Taylor? Priceless.

Song: Take Me to the River

Covered by: Talking Heads

Originally by: Al Green and Mabon “Teenie” Hodges

This version nails the song in a way Al Green never conceived. It’s harrowing in a way only David Byrne’s vocals can convey and the backup singers only further that goal. The sparse instrumentals are the kicker in this version: the majority of the song is one drum riff and one repeated bass line. I don’t know how Byrne decided to do the song this way, but it’s another version where the desperation of the lyrics is shown off better in the cover than the original.

Song: I Know I’m Losing You

Covered by: Rod Stewart

Originally by: The Temptations

I’m gonna go out on a limb here. I think this is a better version than the original…which is done by the Temptations. I know that sounds blasphemous, but this version wins on every level. The guitar work is funky, the drumming is amazing, and Stewart’s raspy vocals appeal the song’s message in a way the smooth sounds of the Temptations never could. It’s all together more desperate and wanton than the Temptations ever had the capacity to be.

Song: Hallelujah

Covered by: Jeff Buckley

Originally by: Leonard Cohen

The original was haunting and vaguely spiritual. This version is all sex, dripping with lonely reverb-laden guitar notes, plucked individually and rarely strummed, and filled to the brim with regret and shame. It’s like sleeping with your ex-girlfriend and then seeing her the next day in another man’s arms, laughing coyly and casually playing with his hair. It’s the kind of broken-hearted that makes you want to drink scotch all night listening to Charlie Rich and smoking profusely in the dark. This song is not for the faint of heart.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “The Guitar Man,” cover by Cake: A great version of a great song, with the ever present Cake “YA!”.
  • “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” cover by Toots & the Maytals: So much better with a Jamaican accent. Isn’t everything?
  • “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These,” cover by Marilyn Manson: Put this song on in the dark at three in the morning. It’s actually scary.
  • “Hurt,” cover by Johnny Cash: A cover so good that the original writer, Trent Reznor, said that the song was Cash’s from then on.