The Serpico Mixes: The Professional Opinion Disc

In a joint collaboration with my weekday roommate and Bronx ally Skip Serpico, I’ll be discussing a mix CD a week. He makes them, I listen to them and provide my in the moment commentary. You, hopefully, read said commentary and maybe open up your musical horizons. You can come here every week for the Serpico Mixes. And you should also visit Skip’s site, Fission Spaghetti, for his musings on food and Saturday Night Live (and more!)


Mix #27

Theme: The Professional Opinion Disc

 No one does therapy like this anymore. (image from

No one does therapy like this anymore. (image from

Somebody to Love Me by Mark Ronson & The Business Itnl- Good opener. Unusual sounding lead singer, interesting lyrics, and a musical track that, while simple, has variety to it.

Creep by Radiohead- I know this Is from the early era of Radiohead, the accessible era if you will, and is therefore not artistically on par with the band’s latter offering, but there’s no convincing my ears of it. I love “Creep.”

Johnny Get Angry by Joanie Sommers- Musically, this is a song I quite like. It has a kazoo for goodness sake!

Vocally and lyrically though, alas, I’m not as enamored of it.

Rehab by Amy Winehouse- Even knowing how it all ends (or perhaps that adds to the effect) this is one of those instant classics. Winehouse’s voice is so assured, the product so spot on…there’s no such thing as perfection in this world, but surely this gets close.

Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa by De La Soul- Posdnuos’s voice has such a playful quality and so resembles the “The Humpty Dance” that it takes a moment to realize that this is a desperately sad story being presented here. Once I did, those qualities, for some reason, just amplified the pain of it.

Every Breath You Take by The Police- As gift to all of you, I’m not going to point out that this is really a song about stalking. I’m sure you’ve gotten that memo.

Besides, do you really care? This song is too damn good to spend any time worrying about the people that miss out on the fact that it also, in the right light, super creepy.

Adam’s Song by Blink-182- What did they call this subgenre of music back when it was all over the radio? Brat rock? Something like that.

Anyway, there was certainly plenty of songs bad enough that I don’t begrudge anyone of any hate they might have for that music. Unfortunately though, if you used that broad brush, you would songs like this, legitimate gems in the rough.

The part of the song that I like best/hits me hardest is the bit about spilling apple juice in the hall. Songwriting wise, it is problematic; you can feel the song stretching and sagging to accommodate the awkward phrasing. However, it is such a telling and human lyric. It elevates a very benign moment from someone’s life in the same way we all fixate and elevate on things that, for others, might not have been much but for us are exhilarating or devastating simply because they are part of our lives. In some ways, the fact that it fits so poorly into the rest of the song rather slick packaging adds to that. It is the moment that can’t be fit in quite right because it is the detail that is most important to the POV character and the least understandable to the casual observer/visitor to the POV character’s life.

And Then You Kissed Me by The Cardigans- There’s something in the way that Nina Persson sings this song that sounds very casual, as though she could be relating a story about anything to the listener. But she isn’t. Thus, as you increasingly focus on and catch up with the lyrics, with their heavy use of blood and blood related metaphors, the disconcerting nature of it sneaks up on you. It doesn’t announce its horror to you and is more disturbing because of it.

Nobody Believes Me by Styles P- A tune that opens as a jealous love song from a gun to his (I guess) negligent owner is a tune that is demands you attention immediately. And it holds that attention as the lead singer also encounters a knife and a stack of money that feel similarly unappreciated. It’s a weird conceit, but Styles sells it.

It must also be said that it is a well-paced song, offering, I think, 3 instances of the chorus and allowing the singer/POV character to encounter three other “characters” over the course of the running time, building a strong sense of the world of the POV character.

Black by Pearl Jam- It’s impossible, I think, to convey what a big deal this song was when it came out, how attention grabbing it really was, so I won’t try. What I will say is that even divorced from that moment in time, it is hard and aggressive while still being a well-written, well-sung, and well-played song. It does not sacrifice songcraft for power or vice versa.

Self Esteem by The Offspring- Remember how I was talking about “brat rock” before? This was be the quintessential example of it. It is also, unlike a lot of what we think of as brat rock (although very much like the previous example of it on this mix), a song that is very much about vulnerability and self-loathing. You could easily, with a couple of lyric tweaks here or there, put this in the mouth of a softer sounding singer, group, or band and it would be a sad torch song about a terrible, exploitative lover.

However, set against the loud guitars and drums and sang with a sneer, it almost sounds…defiant? It’s the song of a guy who knows what a mess he is, how he’s being taken advantage of, and chooses to celebrate it so he doesn’t have to stop loving his girlfriend(?) or feel the pain.

Not An Addict by K’s Choice- “It’s not a habit, it’s cool, I feel alive,” maybe one of the most heartbreaking lyrical progressions of the mid-90’s. A song of drug addiction that puts you right into the head of the user as the rush comes in and makes drug use even less mystically alluring in the process than all those full of regret morning after songs.

And then Sarah Bettens goes there as well and does that better too.

Two Lovers by Mary Wells- There’s a few of short burst responses I want offer to this right now, so bear with me.

a.)           Polyamorists, I give you your anthem.

b.)          Remember this song the next time someone tries to tell you how we’re losing our moral center with all this sex and stuff.

c.)           See, women are just as interested in sex as men. So there.

As far as my actual opinion of the song, this is the kind of tune that pops up every now and again on Skip’s mixes as he has a deep, abiding love for the 50’s and the 50’s sound. I don’t necessarily share that love, but songs like this remind me that I don’t have to buy into an entire era to find tunes that I enjoy it into.

This is not my favorite of the 50’s tunes he’s put out on these mixes, but there’s not denying it is a good song. It’s got a great big sound, strong female vocals, the “plot” of the song is interesting…these are the kind of things we should look for in our music.

Sour Times by Portishead- This was a great “wallowing in my own misery” song when it was released. It nicely joins heartbreak and self-loathing for an effective musical package that seems custom built for late adolescent sad time.

It does suffer a bit now for being a bit repetitive and that last 50 seconds of solo music that is just the same motif over and over again.

Father of Mine by Everclear - So, much like how the above song was bioengineered for late adolescent mope-fests, this song is aimed directly at the heart of all divorced children ever

To be perfectly so no one is confused, I was four when my parents were divorced and my Dad handled the predominant day-to-day parenting as a single parent for years after (until he remarried  and then it was he and my stepmom Diane and there were grandparents and aunts throughout because it takes a village and so on and such of) and I still saw my Mom with some frequency so it is not as though I actually lived Mr. Everclear’s life here or anything. (Also there was no abuse or anything, again so everyone’s on the same page here.) However, there’s something about the anguish of it that, I think, just makes sense to a kid whose parents weren’t together while they raised him or her. I’m not even sure it is a good song, but it has a sort of lizard brain code breaking in its DNA that can get right to you.

Medication by Garbage- I wish Manson’s voice was a little more expressive here. The lyrical content really seems to call for it and I think, without it, some of the song’s power is swallowed up. She sings clear and above the music but the song has the experience of the levels favoring the music track just because it seems to convey the emotional content of the song so much better than the vocals do.

Who’s Gonna Save My Soul by Gnarls Barkley- You guys remember Gnarls Barkley? I really like/liked Gnarls. I hope we have not heard the last of Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse.

“Who’s Gonna” is a great example of why as it is not particularly flashy and yet just so well done. They are a group that always seems to find and deliver just right on the tone they’re reaching for.

How They Want Me to Be by Best Coast- As I mentioned earlier, Skip has an affection for the 50’s and the 50’s sound and although this is certainly not the former, it feels a lot like the latter to me. Unlike other throwback tunes—the Heavy’s “What Makes a Good Man” or a lot of Amy Winehouse’s catalog—I don’t think this entirely successful.

Having said that though, the last minute and a half or so is very arresting. As Bethany Cosentino’s vocals really take the forefront, the song gathers a quiet power around it that I found affecting.