Greetings, Highlanders! (Wait, can that even be plural? There can only be one, right?)
Anyway, in thinking back on high school, one of the things that continually comes to mind is the music that seemed to permeate everything. Music pumped up every great experience, amplified my teenage angst, and generally provided me with a constant soundtrack to accompany all the drama of those years. Many of the songs I listened to in high school are still favorites of mine, or at least continue to stir up fond memories when they come on.
With that background, I hereby present a “mixtape” of songs that remind me of high school, along with some commentary.
This list isn’t even close to comprehensive, of course, and I reserve the right to make more lists if I feel like it. I also invite you to share yours with us! Also of note: I am not including any hip-hop here as I will put together a separate mixtape for that.
If you just want the music and none of my nonsense, here you go: YouTube Mixtape
If you do want my nonsense, keep reading!
Here we go!
Say what you want about Billy Corgan‘s voice (cue comment from Sean Hayes), something about The Smashing Pumpkins spoke to me as a teenager. I am confident that I listened to Siamese Dream more than any other album in high school. The opening riff from Today, and the following blast from the guitars, is still one of my all-time favorite song beginnings. I remember listening to this song in Nate Anderson‘s basement and thinking it was like nothing I’d heard before. Plus, the lyrics (“today was the greatest day I’ve ever known”…”pink ribbon scars that never forget”) appealed to my love of juxtaposition.
Siamese Dream really is a solid album. I could have included several other songs from the album here as well–any of those listed might easily have been substituted for Today. I listened to this album at least a hundred times while at Highland.
One of John Popper‘s best. I remember several people being impressed with Eric Wadley for learning the lyrics to this song. I was a little jealous I hadn’t learned it first. That said, he was never anywhere close to as good as Emma Stone.
The first concert I ever attended was Steve Miller Band, and they were a staple of every road trip I went on in high school. Elliott Ferris introduced me to their Greatest Hits 1974–78 album, which was an amazing gift.
What’s not to like about a song about a guy who is known, variously, as the space cowboy, the gangster of love, and Maurice? Or a song that introduces a word with its own Wikipedia entry? Plus, it gave me that wonderful line that I get to sing to my wife now: “You’re the cutest thing I ever did see / Really love your peaches want to shake your tree”
Alt: “Fly Like an Eagle”
Elliott once told me that when he was skiing on great powder through the trees, this song would be playing in his head. Freedom, yeah!
4. U2 – “One”
There are few things as universal among teenagers than feeling misunderstood. “One” seemed to me to be a powerful anthem of differences being bridged. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the reunification of Germany was one inspiration for the song.
Another key element of One is that is was released with proceeds going to AIDS research. Magic Johnson retired just a few months before this song was released, at a time when HIV/AIDS was the scariest acronym in the world. Bono’s evocative lyrics made it easy for me to imagine an HIV-positive son talking to his father:
Well it’s too late, tonight,
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other
It was so compelling for me to think that there is just no time to drag our sins and shortcomings out into the light, and that the only thing we can really do is focus on carrying each other, regardless of our differences. I’m sure I wasn’t the model for tolerance and understanding during high school, but this song gave me something to shoot for.
I could write a novella on each of these songs, too, but I’ll refrain. Quick version: while on vacation in Lund, Nevada, a town of <300, Rick, Elliott, Eric, Nate, Scott, Georgia and I found a copy of Rattle and Hum in an abandoned trailer (along with a copy of Murder Off the Glass). “Desire” was and is my favorite song on that album. The other two are simply two U2 songs that spoke to me in high school and have never stopped speaking to me.
Scott Buchanan introduced me to this delightful ditty from the shaggy-headed Spin Doctors. Every time I tried to talk a girl into taking a chance on this guy who was not her equal–most notably, with my wife and amazing better half–I thought of this song.
When we were seniors, the Humanities classes took a bus trip out to the West Desert to see the Sun Tunnels. Garth Snow brought his guitar and we spent a good portion of the ride singing lots of different songs. When Garth started playing this, there were a lot of nods of agreement–this was an awesome song. But…nobody except Garth knew the words to the verses. However, when we got to the chorus, everybody came in at full volume. I think he gave the chorus about 5 times as many repetitions as it’s supposed to have.
Only in retrospect did I realize that just as every rose has its thorn, so does every thorn have its rose. The Sun Tunnels sat alone in the middle of (seeming) nothingness, art in the midst of sand and emptiness, blooming like a concrete rose. Humanities was fantastic. Julie Hewlett changed a lot of lives for the better.
When Kurt Cobain died, I remember a number of students being in complete shock and even denial. He was truly the voice of a moment.
When I first heard this song, the first line rocked me right immediately: “What else should I be? All apologies.” Like so many other teenagers, I sometimes felt like what I was was not what people wanted me to be. Nirvana had an unmatched ability to channel that angst and fear and even self-loathing into enduring art.
I loved D.J. Hiller‘s performance of this our senior year. If anyone has a tape of it, I’ll gladly pay for it.
I remember driving around Newport Beach listening to Vitalogy just after graduation, and this was perhaps my favorite song on the album. That trip has lots of great musical memories associated with it, including “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” by U2, “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal, and “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine (which John Yeates was way ahead of me in appreciating).
Vitalogy was definitely not Pearl Jam’s best album, but I remember fondly saving my money to buy it. And I remember on the senior trip feeling like I knew what Eddie Vedder was talking about when he sang, “She lies and says she’s in love with him, can’t find a better man”.
Pearl Jam was one of my favorite bands from high school, and I still love them. I have so many good memories associated with them. Among those were sitting at the Ferris household with Georgia Ferris and Brianne Polson trying to figure out what the heck Eddie Vedder was saying on “Yellow Ledbetter”. I also remember Dave Van Tassell bringing Ten to Utah Boys State after our junior year, and all of us listening to it while we were sluffing whatever we were supposed to be doing there (prior to sneaking down to Salt Lake to get our late-arriving yearbooks signed). I also remember Garth calling my job at the picture framing store and telling them he was my uncle Eddie Vedder and that I needed to go home early. They believed him and let me off early–which allowed me to attend a Madrigals activity. Good times.
Yeah, I was plenty moody at times, just like most teenagers. Sometimes, it was probably reasonable moodiness; sometimes, it was just teenagerhood. But in the those moments when it made sense to hurt, this was a song that made sense to me. It’s not complicated in any way–it just says it how it is, and Michael Stipe is completely credible when he sings it. Great song then and now. I think I borrowed this CD from Scott and chances are that I never gave it back. Sorry Scooter.
I confess that I am not a huge Jesus Jones fan. In fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t think of another song of theirs. However, this song was a staple of our high school assemblies and it’s one I’ve always enjoyed. Plus, there were plenty of moments in high school when I could truly say that “right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be”. I remember one night, driving around in my sweet 1983 Honda Prelude and blasting this song with the sun roof open. Everything was right with the world in that moment.
Prior to high school, I don’t think I ever listened to reggae. However, I don’t think it was possible to get through Highland without listening to the entirety of Legend about 500 times. I’m pretty sure “Buffalo Soldier” was played at every dance. (Strangely, I don’t remember Peter Tosh‘s “Legalize It” being in the rotation.)
My favorite Bob Marley song has been “Redemption Song” for many years now. Although the song is surely not meant to reflect the “life struggles” of a middle class white kid from Utah, it somehow speaks to me:
Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
I love the idea that our struggles will not break us, that even from the depths of adversity, we can move forward triumphantly.
I remember working at Frank’s Foothill gas station one evening during our senior year and deciding to call into a radio station and request this song. When it came on, there were no customers around and I was by myself cleaning the bays. In one of my many moments of teenage angst and aloneness, this song seemed to speak my truth:
But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo,
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.
I might well have been a creep and/or weirdo–and might well still be–but the reality is that I belonged where I was. I had some good friendships from Highland that have endured, and some that were great in their time but have not remained as strong as I’d have liked. But all told, there are many many people from those years that I would happily call my friends.
I gained a greater appreciation for Radiohead through Matt Griff and Rick Kone later on, and have loved both their musical (Kid A, Amnesiac) and business (In Rainbows pricing model) innovation, but my love of Thom Yorke and company blossomed in that oil-slicked garage more than 20 years ago.
As if I needed any more reminders that I’m old, I recently took my kids to see an Idina Menzel concert, and she did a cover of this song, clearly designed to appeal to the parents in the audience.
A bleak but beautiful song, this is another one that spoke to me as a teenager dealing with loss for the first time.
This song reminds me of some of the guys and girls I hung out with consistently in my sophomore and junior years. I remember having a Tom Petty album on with this song playing while hanging out at Rob Christiansen‘s house along with Scott Buchanan, Rick Kone, John Behunin, Angie Lowe, Becca Clark, Katie Holman, Ann Christenson, and others.
It’s also such a classic road trip song and reminds me of a summer trip passing through Wendover with Rick, Elliott, Eric, Nate, Scott, and Georgia, including a stop to eat at a casino. We played an amazing game called “devour the tower”, where you had to make as tall a tower of soft serve ice cream as possible and then eat it all in under 2 minutes. Good times.
Cake is one of a number of groups introduced to me by Garth Snow. I don’t remember if he was a fan of the group or not, but he was the first person who talked to me about this song and the unique sound of the band.
Cake is a band that I’ve enjoyed ever since I was introduced to them. This song was especially appealing to high school me as it was very much in the vein of Holden Caulfield calling out “phonies”. I confess that I wasn’t ever (and still am not) on the cutting edge of music, so I smugly enjoyed lines like the following:
Now tickets to concerts and drinking at clubs,
Sometimes for music that you haven’t even heard of.
And how much did you pay for your rock’n’roll t-shirt
That proves you were there,
That you heard of them first?
I hope I’m a little less smug today, but there’s still some joy to be found in chuckling at hipsters who delight in being into things before they were cool.
This classic scene from So I Married an Axe Murderer was a great send-up of coffee shop culture, and many people did their own comedic extensions of this scene. However, there was one such homage to the scene that tops all others: a Humanities-class performance by Britain Morris.
I regret that I don’t have video of that performance to aid my memory, but I know that Britain was back by Aaron Torres on bass and someone else on drums (and maybe trumpet). I also remember that his send-up was full of witty Humanities jokes along the lines of “Oh my gosh / Hieronymus Bosch / all those x-rated things in your scenes!” Britain has always been one of the funniest people I’ve known, and this performance was no exception.
The soundtrack for “So I Married and Axe Murderer” was in regular rotation at Elliott Ferris‘s house, and this song appears on it multiple times, performed by different artists. This song and “Saturday Night” by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin pop into my head with some regularity and always remind me on the mid-90s.
16. Beck – “Loser”
In retrospect, it’s clear to me that everyone has their insecurities in high school, but there were plenty of times when Beck‘s “Loser” felt like my theme song. (I know many of you will be only too happy to agree that this is an appropriate theme song for me, but you can just go ahead and keep that to yourself.)
I remember Becca Thornton pointing out to me that the chorus to this song started in Spanish–“soy un perdedor”. The fact that I had listened to the song dozens of times without even realizing that was a foreign language only further convinced me that this song was written for me.
I remember listening the single for Beck’s “Jack-Ass”; I think it was at Britain Morris‘s house. The titular track is strong in its own right, but the re-recording of the song as “Strange Invitation” and in Spanish as “Burro” seemed perfect in a Beck sort of way. I still always love this track when the randomizer grabs it.
Sting is a guy who has always seemed totally comfortable with being who he is and who he wants to be without having to conform to anyone else’s desires. He’s a seriously interesting dude with a particular talent for romantic songwriting. When I first heard this song, I thought, “If I could ever write a poem like this song, I’d just quit after that because it would be tough to get any better.” Although my opinion of this song has moderated substantially over the years, it still reminds me of trying to improve my own writing with the help of Jill Sorenson, Ruth Campbell, and many others.
Lots of people enjoy hating on Rivers Cuomo in particular and Weezer in general, and I confess that I felt awfully disappointed to see them hawking insurance for State Farm. One commenter even wrote, “What started as a clever pop-rock band has turned into one of the sickest jokes ever played on music fans.”
Regardless of what you think of Weezer these days, the Blue Album was a terrific record, and “Undone (The Sweater Song)” was one of the best songs on it. I remember listening to this album in Eric Wadley‘s basement (likely just before going over to Taco Bell for some sweet $0.59 tacos–muy delicioso). Eric probably wanted to listen to Neil Diamond or some crap like that, but luckily cooler heads prevailed.
Around the time we graduated from high school, Tommy Boy hit the dollar theater. I recall one day, some combination of Digby, Garth, and Nate (I might have one of those wrong) went to every showing of the movie. Chris Farley and David Spade were the perfect odd couple in this movie, and the highly-quotable script came into our daily conversations quite often. (“Housekeeping! You want mint for pillow?”)
The movie also had a strong soundtrack, including this song from Soul Coughing, a band with a sound that seemed unique to me. Soul Coughing always reminds me of the years right around graduation.
Another song from the Tommy Boy soundtrack. I remember hiking with Scott Buchanan in about 1998 and making up a ridiculous and not particularly safe-for-work version of this song. All other details redacted.
Great memory associated with this one. While “working” at Frank’s Foothill one evening, Rick Kone climbs onto one of the hoists, raises the hoist to about 6 feet up, and proceeds to lipsync (or maybe full sing?) this song with an amazing depth of emotion. I’m talking a real powerhouse performance that would make any rock star proud. While standing on a greasy hoist with the very real possibility of falling off and cracking his skull. Why this song? I honestly don’t know. Why would Frank hiring a bunch of screw-off teenagers to run his shop for 4 hours every night? That’s a mystery that will never be solved.
Here’s a throwback for you: I bought this album second-hand at Graywhale Records in Salt Lake. While writing this, I was seriously shocked to learn that that place still exists. Mind blown.
Anyway, I bought “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” there and remember being mesmerized by Anthony Kiedes‘s singing and Flea‘s bass playing. Plus, I’d seen pictures of these guys with helmets that shot fire–and they were wearing very little else. They seemed like a group that just couldn’t give a single crap about authority or trying to be like anyone else. This track was one of my favorites then, and in various modified versions now makes it into the rotation of songs I sing my girls when I put them to sleep. I know that’s kind of ironic. A little too ironic, don’t ya think?
Two more great Chili Peppers songs, one from Blood Sugar Sex Magik and one from the Coneheads soundtrack. I specifically remember the “Soul to Squeeze” video coming on while sitting in our little beachfront condo in Newport Beach the week after graduation, and talking to Nate Cannon about how much I liked it. I miss that guy.
Between this song and “Red Red Wine”, UB40 was getting the best out of their unique music in the late 80s and early 90s. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they were the best English/Scottish/Irish/Yemeni/Jamaican reggae/pop band of their era.
Although I personally prefer the original Elvis version, UB40’s was the one I heard a hundred times during high school. And it’s the version that I started humming when I first considered asking my wife to marry me.
I admit that my fondness for Aerosmith is primarily just nostalgia these days–in the battle of “Livin’ On” songs, Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” wins easily (Jared Robinson–agree?). The lyrics to this song are pretty weak. That said, I can’t deny that “Livin’ On the Edge” and other songs from this album–“Amazing”, “Crazy”, “Cryin'”–always take me back to high school.
This is a song about a drunk guy, written by an alcoholic who played guitar in a band named for one effect of excessive drinking. That stuff isn’t really in my wheelhouse, and yet, this is a song that I loved in high school and continue to enjoy today.
I remember sitting in the parking lot at Dan’s Foods listening to this song in my rockin’ 1983 Honda Prelude and thinking that I’d made too many decisions because of jealousy or fear or regret. I decided to try to limit decisions made in that manner. I surely haven’t been anywhere close to perfect, but I’m better off for trying.
Two other memories of this song: Cade Strate was the king of getting the “cops [to] chase us around” by modifying ground bloom flowers to explode very loudly, thereby drawing suburban cops to a pointless chase of a bunch of dumb teenagers. Also, this song always reminds me of Jenny McQueen, who I called Jinny all senior year after this band.
This song was everywhere in the mid-90s, particularly after being featured in that Johnny Depp/Mary Stuart Masterson movie “Benny & Joon“. (I haven’t seen that movie since the 90s, but I do remember them using a clothes iron to make grilled cheese sandwiches, which would honestly probably work just fine in a pinch. But I digress.) But despite it being on the radio all the time, I always remember one place where I heard it–driving over to John Behunin‘s house. I always thought John was a hard worker, always working on some new project. And I thought that he was the kind of guy who would walk 500 miles for someone he loved. It made me want to be more like that.
I’m sure most of you don’t remember, but the Madrigal Choir sang this song at our graduation. I thought it was an unusual choice at the time, and reviewing the lyrics–yeah, it’s an unusual choice.
That said, it’s a song that always reminds me of the end of high school. It also reminds me of the Mads, some of the best people I knew in high school (even if I wasn’t always at my best with them). Here’s a shoutout to Robert N. Christiansen, Carl Curtis, Steve Nelson, Kevin Ford, Garth Snow, Scott Buchanan, Brian Mecham, Cregg Terasa, Britian Morris, Kristin Slagle, Beth Spencer, Stacey Morrison (my awesome choir partner!), Jenny Killpack, Meoung Uoon, Katie Middleton, Amber Bigelow, Heather Russon, Brittani Eyre, Andrea Larson, and Emily Wagner (who I wish I’d spent more time getting to know–you were much nicer to me than I was to you).
Lots of good memories of that group–truly some of my favorite people. The only people in our graduating class who I’ve known longer than Beth are Dan Seaman, Alma Jeppson, and Mike Bollinger. She’s one of the best people I’ve ever known, hands down. Carl did a truly amazing solo of Silent Night that blew my socks off. Rob took me to my first ever car show, and was a constant friend and a guy whose intellect and humor were always on point. Kristin and Meoung both played the piano so beautifully I knew it was pointless for me to ever take it up since I’d never be that good. That’s why I quit. Emily took me to a dance and was nice enough not to comment on the fact that I did a poor job of patching up my face after I cut myself shaving (which was probably unnecessary in the first place since I only had peach fuzz.) Brittani embraced Humanities in a way beyond anyone else I knew–and she dyed her hair red with Kool-Aid and it took way longer than expected to wash out. And the list could go on and on. Good people. Good times.
Plus, Billy Joel was rocking it when we were in high school–popular music, married to Christie Brinkley, dude was on top of the world. I remember seeing him in concert at the Delta Center and he put on a great show. We also hit up Training Table before that show. I spent an indefensible percentage of my income at that place.
I am pretty sure this was the theme song of every pep rally and assembly slide show we had in high school. My memory might be hazy here, but I think I remember Dave Ward and Rosie Nelson doing an acoustic duet of this. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll do it for us at the reunion. Anyway, I’m looking forward to singing the 5% of the lyrics I know at the reunion. Looking forward to seeing you all there!
I saw Keegan Hill in the summer of 1994, not long before school started. He had already seen The Lion King and had this song more or less memorized. A group of us–including Camie Welch, Susan Buxton, John Brooks, and others–went to see the movie later, and Keegan was right: this was the best song in the movie.
It takes a special songwriting team to put warthogs, lions, meerkats, Shakespearean references, fart jokes, and Swahili phrases into a funny, catchy song that also presents one of the key ideological constructs of the film.
Even more impressive is the fact that this song continues to be well-liked among people of all ages who see the film today, including kids (like mine) who weren’t a glimmer in their parents’ eyes when this movie was released. Great movie, great song, and reminds me of some excellent people.
2 Bonus 2 Furious: Peter Breinholt, “You Wear Flowers”
Our trip to Lund, Nevada was a memorable one that I’ve already referenced a few times here. In addition to “devour the tower”, riding horses with NSFW names, losing all our money in Elliott’s grandma’s home slot machine, listening to Eric read us a truly terrible murder mystery, and playing some epic Candyland games, we were also introduced to Peter Breinholt by Scott Buchanan. Peter’s album was so new, it had a different title and Scott’s (tape? CD?) didn’t even have a liner–just a plastic case and the music. It also didn’t have the cello/bass addition that Steve Nelson later provided.
At any rate, Scott introduced us to an album that would be in heavy, heavy rotation among our class for the coming year and more. I remember later seeing Peter Breinholt (and Big Parade, at the time) play at an auto dealership for one of our dances, and later at the Gallivan Center in a larger venue. (At that concert at the Gallivan Center, Nate Romney was directly in front of me and I kind of wanted to reach out and grab one of his dreadlocks. It was hard to resist.)
AT ANY RATE, this song was the obvious hit of the album, although there are lots of other strong ones on there. Now that I’ve lived in Chile, and in Philly, and been to Tallahassee, I think I just have to get to the Kiwi Land to complete the quad-fecta of Peter Breinholt-referenced places from that song. This song always reminds me of the happiest parts of our senior year. I can remember lots of different people dancing together to this song at stomps and dances, in the courtyard and in the cafeteria.