THE LINER NOTES:
There was a lot of big talk in the last post about how we would be entering the Silver Age of mixtapes. And how the next mixtape would either prove or dispel that idea based on the song choices. Well… we’re all going to have to wait a few weeks to find out the results, because we’re going to a rock concert instead.
On April 27, 2000, at the Orpheum Theater in Boston, Oasis played in support of their recently released fourth album, Standing On the Shoulder of Giants. Their opening act was a little band called Travis. And I had two tickets and a date.
I started seeing Carrie in October of 1999. Eight days into the relationship, I made her this mixtape. (The “eight days” is a rough estimate.) On that tape, I tried to impress her with my musical taste and stellar sequencing skills. Strangely absent from that mix were a couple of my favorite bands of that moment: Oasis and Travis. Clearly, I had bigger plans for these two musical acts: their very own, dedicated mixtapes! Honestly, I’m surprised it took me until March to make them. Leave it to the impending concert to finally get my butt in gear and my tape heads to recording.
So, Opening Act is a VERY big deal (in my own tiny, little, personal world of musical triviality). Though I’m sure I had Travis playing in the background of every moment we hung out together at my apartment, this tape was the “official” introduction. It would be a collection of songs Carrie could listen to on her own, away from the guy saying, “Check out this Travis song.” I wanted her to have enough familiarity with these songs so that when we were at the concert, it would be more enjoyable than just waiting to hear “Wonderwall” and learning British swear words. As much as I wanted Carrie to like me, I honestly wanted her to like Travis more.
Opening Act was my first attempt.
THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:
Regardless of how I feel about it now, this tape served its purpose. Carrie ended up loving this band.
I’ve written before about how this band and these songs soundtracked our courtship. The Man Who (their second album) was on constant rotation in my bedroom where we would listen while we… quietly… knitted. More than once, we would drunkenly serenade each other at the top of our lungs to “The Line is Fine.” And the timing of this concert/tour likely solidified Travis’ place in our lives.
I opened this tape with the most obvious of songs. In fact, it’s the song I open all my Travis mixtapes with. There have been a few.
“All I Want to Do is Rock.” Pretty simple message. The song has a bombastic start– from absolute silence to a sudden, loud, drawn-out “Heeeeeeeey”– and then it proceeds to thump and crash its way through four minutes of lovelornness. It’s a simple, but damn effective song. It’s the first song on their debut album and it’s the first song here. Mission statement #1.
Mission statement #2 was the first song off their second album. And it’s the second track here. “Writing to Reach You.”
It’s a vastly different song. Deeper lyrically, tunefully melancholy. I needed Carrie to hear these album openers side by side. It was the easiest and best way to introduce her to the two sides of Travis. Plus, both tracks were absolutely going to make it onto the concert’s set list. Not as likely to make it, but still added here, are the great Travis B-sides put out with the singles for these two albums. Again, in 2000, I only had the two albums to work with. And seven or eight singles.
The B-sides were always fantastic, and there are eight of them on this tape. Tragically, not a single one was played at that concert. Not the silly rocker “High as a Kite.” Not the Oasis-sounding “Hazy Shades of Gold.” Not the silly/smart acoustic jam “We Are Monkeys.”
The band also used their B-sides for some fantastic covers. And while their first album was mostly comprised of Britpop-ish rock and roll, the true heart of Travis was in their love of The Band and, most of all, Joni Mitchell. Well… I don’t know if the entire band was inspired by Joni Mitchell, but lead singer and chief songwriter Fran Healey certainly was. So to show this side of the band, I included their covers of “Urge For Going” and “River.” Both are great tracks, but looking back on it now, I wish I had kept it to original songs only on this introduction-to-Travis tape. There were plenty more to choose from, and these two covers slow things down far too much.
All originals would have better. Except for “Be My Baby.” No regrets there. But that’s a story for another time.
PLEASED TO MEET YOU:
The day of the concert, Travis had a signing and in-store performance at Newbury Comics on Newbury Street. We were there, front of the mob, to hear their acoustic renditions of the hits off The Man Who, and we lined up to get our CD inserts signed. So, yeah, we kind of “met” the band. We didn’t exchange phone numbers or anything, but there was definitely a connection.
I stole a tour poster off the wall on the way out.
WAIT. WHAT? WHY?:
There’s one song that I’ve heard Fran regrets writing. I remember reading about it, in fact, about a year before the time of this tape. It was before The Man Who was released and I was digging for any Travis news I could find. It’s a vague memory, but the article talked about the band’s more mature sound and a new lyrical approach. “There won’t be anymore ‘U16 Girls’,” I remember reading. But this new sound wasn’t exactly new. Several of the songs on the band’s second album were written before the recording of the first. The first album got made, in part, because of the songs that sounded more like Oasis, the biggest band in the world at the time. They were harder, edgier, crunchier. And the one most out of character song for the band as we know them today is “U16 Girls.” Travis’ one and only ode to underage teenage girls.
Probably not the best choice of song when wooing a lady to love a band.
But I still kind of like it.
THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:
To be clear, I absolutely love this band. Yes, they played a huge role in my existence during some major life changing years, and that has obviously influenced my fandom. But they are also a damn fine band. They’re genuine. And consistent. Now eight albums into their career, there’s been little decline in their ability to produce catchy, heartbreaking, inspiring music. So picking one song here that stands out above all the others is a difficult task.
I’ve already added “The Line is Fine” to this category, so that narrows things down to 21 or so other choices. Should I pick the first sign of the sweeter tunes to come with “More Than Us”? Or keep a rocker on this list, like “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” or “Happy”? How about some heartbreak, like “Luv” or “Last Laugh of the Laughter” or “Driftwood”? Honestly, they’re all contenders.
At first, the best I could do was narrow it down to three. I almost went with “Village Man,” which is an answer song of sorts to “All I Want to Do is Rock.” Its opening line: “I don’t want to rock, baby, don’t want to rock.” But then I listened to the amazing B-side “Where Is the Love?” for the one millionth time. And it’s so right for the state of our world today. It’s lyrics ask where the love has gone, and could the answer to our problems be as simple and bold as to find it again. It’s a song more people should hear. And while I’m not making it the official choice for Super Mega Ultra Song from this tape, I am encouraging you to listen to it here.
So, after a lot of back and forth within the confines of my own nostalgic brain, I’m picking “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” This was the song that really broke Travis… in England, anyway. It’s a soulful lament about nothing ever going your way, with an underlying beat that gets you hopping, especially when performed live. For me, it’s opening cello tones will forever trigger a sense memory back to cold Boston nights, holding the hand of a woman who I would gladly walk through the rain with.
Until the summer. When she’d be moving away.