457. Merle Haggard’s ‘The Best of Merle Haggard’

6 facts about Merle Haggard:

  1. His first job was digging ditches. Literally.
  2. Most of his early hits were wild conservative; he was country music your grandpa could love.
  3. He was pardoned by Ronald Reagan, pretty much for the above reason.
  4. He started smoking marijuana at 41, which, lol.
  5. He bought out his own record contract in order to release an anti-flag burning song once. He’s that kind of cowboy.
  6. He and I share a birthday. 

456. The J. Geils Band’s ‘Freeze Frame’

It’s a weeknight, and A and I are settling into our routine of laying in bed and reading like an old domesticated couple even though we’ve only been dating for a few weeks, and she says the thing every music geek wants to hear from the girl he’s dating because we’re all shallow and want to be acknowledged: “Put on a record.” So, I go out into my living room and look at the stack of vinyl I brought home from vacation, and instead of, you know, playing something that might facilitate…more than laying in bed and reading…I pick up Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band because it’s the next record up alphabetically for me to listen to.

I realize my mistake as soon as I lay back down; this is basically a record by a bar band and A was expecting me to play something semi-romantic or at least not an album that includes an ode to a girl in Playboy. She kind of raises her eyebrows, and goes, “Why did you play this?” and I say, “Because it was up next alphabetically and I’m an idiot.” She laughs and goes back to her book.

It’s probably time for me to admit that I have a problem.  

455. The Doobie Brothers’ ‘Minute By Minute’

1. Here’s a story I’ve been told roughly 49 times since I was old enough to know that the Doobie Brothers totally ruled and also that my parents loved them. So I guess since I was about 4-years-old:

In 1982, my parents, who had been married for three years at the time, went to a Doobie Brothers concert at Alpine Valley in Milwaukee with my aunt Kathy, her now-ex-husband Brian, and my uncle Karl. This was an important tour, because it was the Doobie Brothers’ farewell tour and my parents were 27 and still without kids and could be wild irresponsible. They rode into Alpine in the back of Brian’s pickup, and they ended up sitting way up the incline hill at Alpine, to the point where Michael McDonald and the boys were “like ants performing somewhere in the distance.” It was the best concert my parents had ever seen, and I could only hope to see a concert that good when I got older.

As I got older and started going to concerts, this story got another element: it was one of the last times my parents could remember smoking pot. They sat on blankets, and my uncle Karl, the plug, had an ample supply, and there were many joints going around and my parents got prodigiously stoned at a Doobies concert. I was consequently unsure whether to believe the “best concert ever” platitudes.

2. About 5 years ago, I was visiting my parents at home, and we were driving somewhere and “What A Fool Believes” came on the radio. All three of us sing every word—I would bet my parents and I agree more on how rad “What a Fool Believes” is more than anything other than that my sister is crazy—and then I brought up the “you guys got wild stoned at a Doobie Brothers concert, how cliché is that,” thing. And to the surprise of my mom and I, my dad doesn’t get it.

“What? Why would smoking pot at the Doobie Brothers be cliché?”

 “Dad, because of their name.”

 “What? Brothers smoke pot?”

 “Dad. Doobie means weed.”

 “What? It does? No it doesn’t! I’ve never called it a doobie. We called it weed. Who calls it a doobie?”

 “Wayne, a lot of people,” my mom said.

“No way. I have never heard that.”

 “Dad. How is that possible? You smoked weed till almost right before I was born. Didn’t you know any of the names for it?”

 “Sure, we called it weed.”

It was in that moment that I realized my dad was cool enough to be a hippie and smoke pot for 10 years, but was so clueless he never learned alternative names for it. My dad literally never knew that Doobie Brothers was a weed reference, and he listened to the band for 30 years. Dads are incredible. Go talk to your dad about things, he will make you laugh.

3. This isn’t the one my parents saw, but it took place 3 years earlier, so whatevz. There are days when I can’t be convinced this isn’t the best song of all time. 

454. Phil Collins’ ‘No Jacket Required’ (Written By Aidan Cusack)

Hey y’all, I have a guest on the blog again today. Today, my mans Aidan Cusack writes about Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required, a classic #sadboy album. He’s about the most earnest college grad in America, and he wrote a guide for breakups centered around this album. Here it is: 

The summer after high school ended I had the romance to end all romances. After pining over a friend for more than a year, I finally mustered up the courage to go in for a kiss, and was summarily rejected. I swallowed my pride and went about business as usual, but a week later I found myself cuddling with her in the backseat once again. Being young and reckless wasn’t a concept I was very familiar with, but she was nuzzling my cheek with hers so I figured that this is one of those “signs” you hear about, and I went in for a kiss. I knew this was a risky move because being rejected twice in the span of a week wasn’t something my 18-year-old heart could take. But I went full speed ahead and was once again stopped before my chapped lips made any sort of contact. After being questioned as to whether my motives were “a heat of the moment kind of thing” or the result of romantic feelings, I was allowed to pass go, collect $200, and we made out for what seemed like hours.

Fast forward to a few weeks later and I’m picking her up at her house. She climbs into the car and I proudly show her the Phil Collins greatest hits collection I had just picked up from the library. That album ended up being the soundtrack to that summer, and Phil Collins will forever be the Peter Gabriel to my Lloyd Dobler.

One of the things I remember most vividly about that summer was singing along to “Easy Lover” with this girl. I turned the music down, laughed nervously, and said, “I’m pretty sure this song is about you.” We both rolled our eyes and laughed, but I should’ve stopped the car and immediately listened to Phil & Philip’s Bailey’s advice because that girl ended up breaking my heart like they said she would.

At some point in the weeks following our breakup I found a used copy of No Jacket Required and picked it up because I recognized “Sussudio” and “One More Night” on the tracklist. I played it over and over again alone in my room and the album became the soundtrack to the emotional coaster I was riding after the breakup. There was a song to describe exactly how I was feeling on any given day of those following weeks, and I’ve decided to share the six stages of a breakup through the songs on this masterpiece.

Stage One - “Only You and I Know:” This Must Be a Mistake…

“Just try to remember / Now I’m the one you love / You told me, ooh try to remember/I’m the one you’re always thinking of”

The first step of any breakup is trying to ascertain what exactly is going on. You think about all of the events leading up to it and what was said. You think about the “always” and “forever” statements and think that those MUST have been true and this is just some rough patch you’re going through. This is some silly mistake. How could YOUR relationship be falling apart? You think about how you said you’d always love each other and figured that everything would work out in the end. You hold on to how things were in the past and don’t realize how foolish and naive you truly are.

Stage Two - “Who Said I Would:” Maybe This is for the Best

“I’m not the only one but I do fine / I suit her purpose and I’m just her kind”

This is the part where you think back and start to sift through the all of the shit that transpired over the course of the relationship. You start to remember all of the not-so-fun moments and the things that should’ve been red flags. You begin to understand that things weren’t exactly as great as you thought and maybe this particular girl was just using you. Maybe you weren’t so good to her yourself. This is where you throw on “Who Said I Would” and realize that maybe you were just a pawn in her game and accept it. Maybe this breakup is for the best…

Stage Three - “One More Night:” COME BACK!

“Like a river to the sea / I will always be with you / And if you sail away / I will follow you”

Remember how you felt like you were finally moving on yesterday? Forget that. Today is a different day and all you can think about is getting another chance. Whether it was a dream, a chance encounter in public, or a little too much wine, you’re deep in your feelings today and all you think that all you need is one more night to make things right.

Stage Four - “I Don’t Wanna Know:” Ha, What Was I Thinking Yesterday?

“She can cry all she wants / she’s not gonna bring me back”

This stage follows any moment of weakness in which you think “I wish things were back to normal!” Remember all of those things you were saying the other day about how you’re better off now and you’ll never be with someone like her again? You now remember all of those things and realize you were silly for wanting to give her another chance. You’re finally on the road to recovery and happiness.

Stage Five - “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore:” It Wasn’t Meant to Be

“I wonder why doesn’t anybody stay together anymore?”

This stage usually occurs after consuming a copious amount of whiskey. You start getting deep and think that love is bullshit and that the relationships you see in movies haven’t existed since your grandparents met at that sock hop in the ‘50s. You think about the fact that Ciara and Future couldn’t make it work and you realize that true love is a sham. Tip: don’t try to sing along to this after gulping down a bottle of Johnnie Walker. Your roommates WILL knock on your door and you’ll have to say something like, “Tears? Noooo, that’s sweat. It’s really hot in here. I was just doing some pushups.”

Stage Six - “Sussudio:” I Met Someone New and Feel Alive Again

“There’s this girl that’s been on my mind / all the time…”

This is by far the best part of life after a breakup. You finally feel like you can move on and then you meet someone! Remember all that stuff you said about love being bullshit and non-existent? Fuck that! This new person is way better than your ex and you can’t believe you were mopey and drunk for almost three months following your last breakup. You’re meeting people, dating, and open to anything. Maybe you WON’T sell all of your stuff and move into a cave (or to the Midwest) after all. Life is good once again.

Aidan Cusack is writing sonnets in your girl’s DMs right now. Trust me. He’s on Twitter—@royalswords  

453. Robert Flack and Peabo Bryson’s ‘Born to Love’

“They were wonderful singers. That’s all that it was about. There was nothing more to it, really. They sang that genre of songs your dad and me loved. Whatever genre that was. That’s up to you to name it. I’m not a music critic and I don’t know genres. I like what I like and it doesn’t matter if it was full of hits, and I liked Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack”

That was my mom, after I called her to ask why she took my sister and I to see Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson three times when we were kids. Peabo and Roberta have been an ever constant in my life; my mom still plays Christmas songs that the two of them sang together every Christmas. There was a period in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when Peabo was my mom’s favorite singer, without question. I think the thing I appreciate most about growing up with my mom as my mom is that she had far ranging cultural interests, and she had to be the only mom in Oshkosh, Wisconsin making her kids dress up and go see Peabo Bryson when they were still in Pampers. She thought it was a cultural event, and her kids needed to be there. My mom rules. 

452. Peabo Bryson’s ‘Straight Thru The Heart’

I’m not sure I have much to add here, after covering Peabo as an entity 46 records ago, except that it’s become common knowledge amongst people in my life that I plan to buy a dachshund in the next two years and name him or her “Peabo Bryson” because I can’t imagine anything more hilarious than taking a small wiener dog to a dog park and yelling “PEABO, GET BACK HERE” as I amble behind a tube shaped canine. Shouts to Peabo Bryson; this album is totally dope. 

451. Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet’

When I worked at a pizza restaurant from junior year of high school through junior year of college, I worked with this guy Brian. Brian was an older guy—like mid-40s—working in a kitchen with no one over 25 (hell, most of us were under 18). I feel like working with a guy like Brian should be required for every teenager; you learn a lot about life from the weird older guys you work with in service economy jobs as a teen.

Brian taught us about buying weed: never buy shake, because it’s probably oregano (because Brian used to sell bags of oregano as weed as a teen). Brian taught us that if you’re ever locked up, fake like you have back pains, because they will give you an extra mattress, and penal system mattresses are thin, so if you have 2, you have a chance at sleeping well (he did time for using a checkbook that wasn’t his for a year. He thought he’d run out of money, but he never did, so he kept using it). Brian was the one who invented the warning system for if a hot woman was buying pizza—He’d say, loudly, “Can I get a slice count?” and all of the kitchen staff would come looking out the pass thru windows—and it was Brian who came up with the horrible nicknames for the people we didn’t like working with (I won’t reprint them here because I was horrible and said them too).

As a consequence of working with Brian, all of us have stories about him. Graham remembers working at the pool, and hearing Brian’s voice (a mix between comically high nasal and gravelly and ravaged) from the pool saying, “Hey Graham!” and looking over and seeing Brian bouncing in the pool eating an ice cream cone while wearing a Zeppelin T-shirt.

My story is from when the power transformer blew up near the restaurant from overheating, and we spent an afternoon sitting on the curb outside the restaurant as our owner paid us to hang out because he refused to believe the power wouldn’t come back on immediately. Me and Brian sat away from the group, him smoking a cigarette. Brian exhaled and let loose. 

“You know, you guys laugh at me and shit, and think I’m joking all the time, but the thing I’m most serious about is that Bon Jovi are the best band of all time. That band meant so much to me in the ‘80s. They were great. Bon Jovi, baby.”

I laugh.

Brian laughs too. “Bon Jovi, baby,” he said in his voice—the only voice I can hear to this day when someone says “Bon Jovi”—as he exhaled again. We end up going back to work an hour later, and Brian sings along to “Livin on a Prayer” when it comes on the classic rock station.

I haven’t seen Brian since I left Oshkosh in 2008. I imagine he’s out back at the pizza place, smoking a cig and telling a new 18-year-old about the redemptive powers of Jon Bon Jovi. This one goes out to Brian. Bon Jovi, baby. 

448. ABBA’s ‘Greatest Hits’


1. It is sometime in 2011, and after months of trying to convince S that I am “boyfriend material,” she decides to quit the big box store we’re both killing time at as we struggle trying to find work that befits our degrees in the “arts.” She moves back to Milwaukee, and tells me she needs to start over, which means I am out of the picture for good. I haven’t been able to tell my friends what’s been going on with S, because I’m embarrassed that she’s kept me at arm’s length, and refused to think of me as anything other than a weird guy who had a crush on her and who she’d occasionally kiss when we were both lonely. 

So I’m at home the day after S moves, and I’ve decided to get drunk because that’s what you do when you’re 25 and heartbroken. I also decide, for some reason, to listen ABBA’s Greatest Hits because my roommate has it in her collection, and I’ve never listened to ABBA except for in a soundtrack capacity, and at middle school dances when they’d do disco medleys. It’s at this point I realize every ABBA song is about relationships; ones you wish you had, ones you used to have, the ones you have that cause you distress, the ones you have that make life seem worth living, and the ones that are falling apart. I “get in my feelings,” and mostly stare into the middle distance and drink Southern Comfort and 7Ups in my pajamas.

My roommate comes home, sees me, and starts laughing. She thinks I’m listening to ABBA ironically. “Why are you listening to this?” She asks. 

“Because this shit is so deep. These songs are beautiful. I never realized how great this is.”

She just laughs, goes into her room, and carries on with her day. I go back to drinking. I wonder if S has heard ABBA. I think about texting her. I don’t.

I vow to buy my own copy of the same greatest hits package she has. I finally did on vacation last month.  

2. I never feel entirely comfortable flogging things via this Tumblr—because this is supposed to be about MY FEELINGS and MY RECORDS and usually in that order. But anyways, fuck it: Last month, this kid Erik Sateren, who works for the Badger Herald, a student newspaper at UW-Madison, interviewed me and profiled this Tumblr for the incoming freshman issue of the Herald. He wrote a very beautiful story about me, and about this blog, and now I feel a lot of pressure to live up to what Erik wrote about me. I’m going to try hard to do so.   

3. I suppose this is a good time for one of those “State of the Blog” things I write every once in a while. Today is the two-year anniversary of when Eric and I were up late, him in Brooklyn, me in Madison, and decided to make this Tumblr. This last month was maybe the most productive of my “professional” writing career; I went to Country USA, saw Neutral Milk Hotel, talked to scene kids at P4K, and saw Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth play my hometown for Noisey. I had to take two weeks off from writing anything at all because I wrote more words than I maybe ever had in such a truncated time. I’m going to try to do that more than once a year. 

Meanwhile, this is the 448th record I’ve written about, and I’m looking at the stack of 30 other records I have piled up to listen to from my recent trip to the Yard Sale in Laurium, MI. I have some special things planned for this next batch, and I can’t wait to get back to writing about the music that makes up my life. It’s good to be back.     

4. It is mid July, 2014, and I am searching for records alone, at Yard Sale in Laurium, MI. A starts texting me, wondering what I’m buying, because she knows, already, only a couple weeks into our relationship, that searching for records is how I spend a lot of my time, on vacation or not. I tell her about the Michael McDonald, about the country records I’ve found, and about Elton John’s Honky Chateau. It’s one of her favorites. She says she has to go back to work, and I say goodbye. I find the ABBA record the moment I put my phone away.  

447. ZZ Top’s ‘Eliminator’

11 months, and 148 records ago, I considered closing up shop here at Vinyl in Alphabetical because I wasn’t sure if I should spend time writing stuff about the records I just bought at the record store. I had completely caught up with my record collection, but ultimately, I decided to keep going, and being that I have a job with a bigger disposable income, I have somehow accrued nearly 150 records since then. I obviously found that I had things I could write about those albums; some more than others, obviously. But still; I was able to keep going for 11 months and 148 records.

As of this ZZ Top album, I have now, again, caught up with my record collection. I have nothing left to write about. Except for a quip about how the one guy in ZZ Top sans beard is named Frank Beard, and how ZZ Top fucking shred, I am not sure I even have much to write about here.

But! I am not quitting. I have plans to hit this incredible pawn store in the U.P. next week, a place that boasts literally 30,000 records for sale, and plan to walk out with arms full of shit. I am just going to take some time off from this blog. Maybe the rest of this month; I’m not really sure. I just realized I’ve written—or gotten my friends to help write—about 447 records in 23 months. That’s 19 a month. That’s too many.

See you in a bit.