Last night while I was selecting eBay-worthy stuff from my closet, I stumbled upon a few mix CDs I'd forgotten about. Namely I'm talking about the Us CDs. Back in The Day when consumer grade CD-R drives were a brand-new thing and people still called them "CD-R drives," Us decided it would be really cool to make a mix CD. The tracklist was arduously decided by committee, the artwork was painstakingly designed by Keith (whose website, amazingly, is still up), and I burned the CDs which were finished in early Fall of 1998. We thought we were pretty hot stuff.
We made a second CD in 1999, and probably made a couple of abortive attempts at choosing tracks for a third. We worked on a few other projects, none of which ever reached completion, and eventually Us fell apart for really stupid reasons ("You got your Craig in my Alice!" "You got your Alice all over my Craig!"). Still, if there's one part of my life about which I get really nostalgic, it's that first year or two after I graduated high school, and I do miss all those good times on the way to Rocky Horror or Sitel or Denny's belting out Flagpole Sitta. Actually, Denny's was usually part of the picture, whether it was post-Rocky or post-picking Robert up from Sitel.
I thought it would be a nice stroll down Memory Lane to listen to those CDs at work. Here are my comments, which may only interest those who are obsessively chronicling my life. Text that's indented represents a quote we recorded and placed either at the front of or after the track.
Us Volume I: The Greatest Hits from the Other Side of Insanity
- Theme from Sam and Max Hit the Road
Max: Mind if I drive?For awhile we were all obsessed with early to mid-'90s Lucasarts games, and Sam and Max was probably the most popular with the group in general. The theme song is a nice jazz piece that makes great driving music. The brief snippet of conversation at the front of the track comes directly from the game and was often repeated in Keith's van.
Sam: Not if you don't mind me clawing at the dash and shrieking like a cheerleader.
- Goonies Main Titles
Another good piece of music for driving too fast. Keith had a habit of getting pulled over for speeding while I was in the passenger seat operating the stereo. Guess why?
- Marcy Playground -- Sex and Candy
I didn't realize it until long after the CDs were finished, but nobody else in the group even likes this song. Apparently everybody else was voting for it solely because of the line about having had too much caffeine, and by the time it was on the album people were sick of it. Not me.
- Queen -- Bohemian Rhapsody
I never really questioned why we put this song on the CD, but I think it just seemed like the sort of thing that should go on a mix CD. Keith is a big Queen fan, and we all associate Bohemian Rhapsody with driving thanks to Wayne's World, though we never reenacted that scene.
- Harvey Danger -- Flagpole Sitta
I don't really like this song. Never did. I think it's on this CD because the lyrics embody the kind of angst we thought we should be feeling at the time.
- Electric Light Orchestra -- Tightrope
Keith used to have these parties in his basement where everybody would bring their gaming console of choice and I'd sit in front of his 386 writing obscene qbasic programs. He had a much-belated 14th birthday party (I remember it was belated because Star Trek: The Next Generation was ending, and we watched the series finale), where in the small hours of the morning, we went through his parents' record collection and discovered Tightrope. Given the rest of our musical tastes as teenagers, this song was totally out of place, but we loved it. As I recall, we discovered the song at the same party where, in tribute to "Weird Al" Yankovic's song Happy Birthday, we ate a lot of broccoli and drank a lot of (root) beer.
- They Might Be Giants -- The Famous Polka
I was on the internet before your grandparents' grandparents were wearing diapers (adult diapers, that is), and the inclusion of this song was heavily inspired by a text file written in 1994 which contains this sentence:
You never hear people blasting TMBG, unless it's me blasting "The Famous Polka" and an elderly gentleman sitting in the car next to me tells me that he likes my music. It's true.
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- The Time Warp
What's there to explain about this one? We all loved Rocky Horror, and we were all on cast. The Time Warp was an easy song to agree on. I remember always skipping it if I was in the passenger seat of Keith's van because on each jump to the left he'd swerve without signalling into the left lane, and then "jump" back to the right lane. The pelvic thrust was accomplished by rapidly jiggling the steering wheel.
Oh, how I hated that.
- Monty Python -- Sit On My Face
The song was chosen because, well, we had to have a Python song. The quote at the end of the song comes from some dialogue between Waldorf and Sattler in The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Craig: It was dumb.
Tom: It was obvious!
Me: It was pointless.
Keith: It was... short?
Us: We loved it!
- They Might Be Giants -- Ana Ng
Easily one of TMBG's best songs (even to somebody like me who refuses to rank them). Like Tightrope, this one was simply chosen because we liked it. A lot.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic -- The Alternative Polka
Two polkas on one CD? Ugh. This is not my favorite of Weird Al's polkas, but it's so much fun (odd since the songs are so angsty). Also odd is the fact I don't know most of the songs excerpted in the lyrics.
- The Presidents of the United States of America -- Naked and Famous
I love the album this song comes from, and I never figured out why it was chosen over some of the better songs on the album.
- They Might Be Giants -- They Got Lost
This song was based on TMBG's experience getting lost in Madison, Wisconsin. This CD was designed to spend most of its time in vehicles. It was appropriate.
- Green Day -- Basket Case
One of a handful of songs on Dookie that I actually like, Basket Case was chosen for two reasons. Certain people liked the song, and those who weren't crazy about it liked certain phrases in the lyrics when taken totally our of context. This is really funny to me.
- They Might Be Giants -- She's An Angel
This is the live version of this song taken from the album Severe Tire Damage, and Tom always complained that the oboe is too overpowering. Problem? There's no oboe in the song. Perhaps he meant the tuba. Anyway, Tom -- ever the TMBG detractor -- didn't like the inclusion of She's An Angel, but the rest of Us voted for it. For awhile She's An Angel was tainted by a really painful breakup I was going through (any guesses as to who?), but sinse then it's become associated with so many nonspecific painful memories that I like it again. And I wouldn't be mentioning the painful memories if they were that painful.
- Barenaked Ladies -- One Week
I never liked this song. Period. I'm actually a big old-school BNL fan (as in I'm still miffed that The Ballad of Gordon has never gotten a proper album release), but I really think they went downhill after Maybe You Should Drive.
I know how alone I am in this.
Anyway, One Week was chosen entirely based on a couple of lines in the lyrics.
- Warren Zevon -- Mr. Bad Example
Tom:And you wrote all those songs and we all hated them. And you said -- you said you didn't care. And we said we did because we hated them so much.The CD ends with tracks chosen by each member of Us to represent himself. Tom's choice was Mr. Bad Example, which is quite appropriate. It always bugged me though that the liner notes of the best-of CD this track was was ripped from list it as a polka (it's not), and that Warren Zevon sticks a B in the middle of the word "cummerbund." I know -- everybody else does too. But it's wrong and it bugs me. Tom's quote at the beginning comes from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams.
- Day of the Tentacle Main Titles
Colin: I'll have the Deli-Dinger darlin', because you know that I am a swell guy.This was my track. DOTT is probably my favorite Lucasarts game, and the music is absolutely rockin'. Definitely worth checking out. I mean it. The quote at the front was sung to the tune of the line "clear off the kitchen table darlin', for on the kitchen table I must lie" from the song I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die by TMBG. The Deli-Dinger is a sandwich that used to be on the menu at Denny's, and I ordered it once by serenading our middle-aged waitress. She rolled her eyes, said "be right up, hon," and walked away.
Colin: Yeah, I'll ding your deli.
- Singin' In The Rain soundtrack -- Singin' In The Rain
Keith: Huh?Keith's tribute to Singin' In The Rain and A Clockwork Orange -- two of his favorite movies.
- Tom "T-Bone" Stankus -- Existential Blues
Craig: We are the people who invented park hopping and street dancing. We are not intelligent people.Those who have seen my old website may remember park hopping and street dancing. I hope not, though. Existential Blues is one of the strangest songs I've ever heard, combining soul-searching, dadaist imagery, and The Wizard of Oz. Check it out.
- Full Throttle Soundtrack -- Ride of the Valkyries (bunny version)
Full Throttle was our other favorite Lucasarts game, and this is the music that plays when you release the wind-up yellow bunnies onto the minefield. Don't know what I'm talking about? Play the game.
- Us -- The Time Warp
This was recorded around 4:00 AM in Keith's parents' basement with Keith, Tom, Craig and I, and contains roughly 60% of the callbacks we were doing for The Time Warp at the time.
Us Volume II: Why Do We Even Bother?
- Arabian Nights from Disney's Aladdin
I believe Arabian Nights wound up on the CD because of an in-joke I wasn't part of. Tiny Fools will understand what I mean when I say that this is the same type of joke as "ginko biloba" and "rutabaga."
- Antz Main Titles
Neither Antz nor A Bug's Life interested me when they came out, but eventually I ended up seeing both of them. I liked Antz a whole lot better, in large part because of the music, which is totally not the sort of thing you want to listen to if you plan on driving safely.
- Collective Soul -- The World I Know
I think this ended up on the CD because everybody else liked it. I skip it and have never heard it all the way through.
- Lorena McKennitt -- Magellan
Robert, Keith and Craig are big Lorena McKennitt fans, and they chose Magellan because Keith had put The Mummer's Dance on so many other mixes
- The Rocky Horror Show, 1992 Australian Cast -- Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me
This is the second dirtiest-sounding version of Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me (the 1976 Mexican cast version wins). I dunno, I think we all wanted another Rocky Horror song on the second CD, and we wanted to branch out from the movie.
- Sisters of Mercy -- Temple of Love
This is probably my favorite SoM song, but unless I'm depressed I can't listen to it with a straight face because of this.
- Imperial March from Star Wars
This has got to be one of the all-around best pieces of music ever to grace a soundtrack. It's catchy, instantly hummable, recognizable (even to non-Star Wars people), and evil-sounding as hell. We loved it.
- They Might Be Giants -- Doctor Worm
A little contrast from The Imperial March. This is the studio version (not the demo) which we were obsessed with.
- The Violent Femmes -- American Music
I have a love/hate relationship with this song because I associate it with some fairly painful memories. We all liked it though, because it's so much fun to belt out in the car.
- The Curse of Monkey Island -- A Pirate I Was Meant To Be
This is my geekiness shining through. CMI was still fresh in my mind and I fought hard to get this on the CD. Everybody likes it, but nobody wants to admit it. Whenever we (any of us) were hanging out really late at night, we reached the point of what is known in medical circles as "silly tiredness," and we would have to watch this part of the game.
- Forest for the Trees -- Dream
This is Robert's robertness shining through. Robert's musical tastes run heavily toward mainstream pop, and during our senior year of high school he was listening to a lot of Forest for the Trees and Chumbawamba. Somehow -- I'm not sure how -- he managed to get everybody into this song, and I must confess to liking it myself. I think it's the techno bagpipes.
- Little Shop of Horrors Soundtrack -- Dentist!
This is me again. I went through a phase where I was really into musicals that didn't fit the traditional Rogers & Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Weber molds. It was during this time that I really got into things like Rocky Horror, Shock Treatment, Forbidden Zone, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, Labyrinth, etc. Anyway, it had been years since I had last seen Little Shop of Horrors, and I became obsessed with it for several months. Especially Dentist!
- "Weird Al" Yankovic -- The Saga Begins
This was another consensus track that everybody agreed on because either they liked Star Wars or Weird Al. There was an infamous trip to Noah's Ark in 1999 (or so) when Robert insisted on singing these lyrics to American Pie which is a much longer song. As a result I chose not to sing Ouch! by The Rutles to the tune of Help! by The Beatles.
- Inspector Gadget Theme
Crag and Keith: Go go, Gadget Nail Polish!There was this waitress named Amy at Denny's who really liked us (because we tipped like rich drunks) and whom we liked because she'd come and talk to us when she wasn't busy (which was usually). The quote at the front of the song was actually the name of a shade of green nailpolish she was wearing one night.
- Microsoft Windows 95 -- Clouds
Keith: Here, just stick this somewhere and turn yourself on.Clouds is the name of a MIDI file which was played if you found the easter egg in Windows 95. Keith and I were overly fond of it, though it's definitely muzak of the worst kind. Keith's quote at the front came from a conversation where it was actually a logical thing to say, but nobody remembers what the conversation was about.
- Monster Magnet -- Spacelord
Tom: Woah man, this is not groovy.Tom chose this song to represent himself, and everybody but him skips it when it comes on. Oh, well.
- The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets -- Robot Dinosaur
*crash!*TDotHT are a band whose existence revolves almost entirely around the workds of H.P. Lovecraft. This is one of a small handful of songs of theirs that does not. Instead, it's about a kid who gets beat up at school, so his father builds him a robot dinosaur to kill the bullies with. The idea is actually better than the lyrics. I was taking a film class at the time, and decided to adapt the story as a screenplay for my final project. My version is better. Craig's quote at the beginning comes from the recording session where we were doing our quotes (duh). He couldn't think of one, and as he was explaining this he tripped over something. Luckily we were recording.
Craig: That didn't sound good.
- Labyrinth soundtrack -- Introduction and Underground
Colin: Your door is a door, but it's open.I never liked the spoken "your door is ajar" warning on cars, and I was in cars on multiple occasions when the passenger would inquire (quite seriously) what "door is a jar" meant. I like my version better. Anyway, I chose this song at the height of my Labyrinth obsession. It's a great song. It ends with a second quote from me, taken from a game of Super Mario Bros. 3:
Colin: Ow, I died.
- Bach/Gonoud -- Ave Maria
Robert: Well... I don't know...Robert participated on the second Us CD, and for some reason chose an instrumental version of Bach and Gonoud's Ave Maria to represent himself. I think it was used in a game he liked or something. The quotes at the beginning and end of the track are exactly the sort of answer he always gave in response to any suggestion to do anything at all.
Robert: Yeah, but still...
- Track 20
Colin: You get right back here and turn me back on, you big weenie. I know where you live.That's the entire track. It's one minute and 53 seconds of silence, and then me saying that line, which I'd actually recorded some months previously. Keith is one of those people who never changes his wallpaper, sound schemes, etc., so once when he was out, I recorded this as a new shutdown sound for him. I have since learned that I should never record sounds on other people's computers, as they will end up permanent fixtures in the system scheme. That's why Keith's computer has "Hey, Buttboy!" as its default beep.