Around the year 2000, there was one station in the Boston market that did a phenomenal job of playing these bands. Tune into Mix 98.5 (WBMX) and you could hear (with some regularity) the Barenaked Ladies, Vertical Horizon, Third Eye Blind, Sister Hazel, and Matchbox Twenty.
Though the suits in the biz would clinically describe this music as "Modern Rock" and eventually "Modern Adult Contemporary", these bands were rock bands. Sure, songs like "If You're Gone" and the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" would end up becoming shopping mall music staples--loved by moms everywhere--but the vast majority of singles and radio hits from these bands were enjoyable and made life a whole lot better in middle school.
Then something terrible happened. Suddenly, radio stations were all up and changing their formats and crap (because, really, who listens to the radio anymore?) and Top 40 was everywhere. The niche for a station that played rock songs with thoughtful lyrics and jangly guitars evaporated. Mix 98.5 went with this wave and a small part of me was lost on the day the music died (I believe the exact moment was the day that they played Madonna's "American Pie").
I decided, ten years on, to make a mix CD compiling my favorite songs from back in the day (8th grade, 9th grade, and 10th grade), and my track list is contained here. I bypassed the obvious title choice ("The Mix Mix") as well as more accurate ones ("Buzz Ballads 3") for the blandest one imaginable ("The Mix 98.5 Throwback CD").
Everything You Want - Vertical Horizon
Slide - The Goo Goo Dolls
She's So High - Tal Bachman
Last Beautiful Girl - Matchbox Twenty
Change Your Mind - Sister Hazel
Absolutely (Story of a Girl) - Nine Days
You're a God - Vertical Horizon
Pinch Me - Barenaked Ladies
The Space Between - Dave Matthews Band
Bent - Matchbox Twenty
Broadway - The Goo Goo Dolls
If I Had $1,000,000 (live) - Barenaked Ladies
Never Let You Go - Third Eye Blind
Desert Rose - Sting
Sweetest Thing - U2
Drive - Incubus
Hanging by a Moment - Lifehouse
Save Me From Myself - Vertical Horizon
Ghost in the Crowd - Sister Hazel
- I had been mulling over this CD for some time, and repeatedly told my friend (a fellow listener and fan from back in the day) that I was about to make one. We listened to this on the way into Boston last night and it was fantastic to hear these tracks again. These songs were there and played loudly when I was finding myself, falling for the girl, getting over the girl, and discovering singing and writing. They mean a lot to me.
- This is not a comprehensive cover of this period in music, but rather a conscious effort to compile my favorite songs from then (minus the extra slow or sad ones--"Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)" for example). I didn't listen to Radiohead or the Foo Fighters then so they aren't there. Also, after this phase, I more or less stopped listening to the radio and got a little too into classic rock.
- Considering that most of the tracks here have a "pop" vibe, I was surprised to recall the quality of the lyrics. It was especially interesting to hear VH's "I've been unable to put you down/I'm still learning things I oughta know by now" and realize that, a decade later, I still feel that way.
- As a tenth grader, I was certain that if you sang "Slide" to any one girl, she'd have to fall in love with you and be yours forever. "Put your arms around me/What you feel is what you are and what you are is beautiful". I'm still about 45% sure that this would work.
- "Never Let You Go" has appeared on pretty much every other mix CD I've ever made, and I can play a serviceable version on guitar at college parties when people have been drinking. It's a dark horse for "Favorite Song from the Last 12 or 13 Years" (a category I just made up now).
- Except it might actually be "Falling For the First Time" from the Barenaked Ladies, which I cannot believe was left off. Other notable omissions include "Semi-Charmed Life" (overexposure), "Mad Season" (forgot), "Kryptonite" (also forgot), and "All For You" (reminds me of my college a cappella group). I think I would swap out "Desert Rose" and "Sweetest Thing" for "Kryptonite" and "Mad Season" because they better fit the vibe.
- I still love Matchbox Twenty. Those songs hold up.
- The last two songs actually came out in 2009, and to my knowledge, have not been played on WBMX (which was coined to be the Black Music EXperience according to Wikipedia--surprise racism!). I included these songs because both of those bands are still making great music, even if radio isn't listening.
- Also in the Where Are They Now category, Matchbox Twenty put out six new songs on 2007's retrospective Exile on Mainstream and they are pleasantly excellent. I haven't heard BNL's latest album so I can't vouch for it, but Third Eye Blind still enjoys strong, sustained support from Providence, RI, among other places. It goes without saying that Sting, U2, and DMB are still active.
- I have no idea where Tal Bachman is, but I'm guessing his one hit got him the girl. It had to. She couldn't walk away from that.
- I like a lot of The Goo Goo Dolls' mainstream grab Dizzy Up The Girl, but hardly anything else they've done before or since. I think this is strange and alarmingly conformist of me. Also, for the record, "Slide" blows "Iris" right out of the water.
- Vertical Horizon's Matthew Scannell is a fantastic and underrated songwriter.
- "Change Your Mind" is definitely a song I need to hear more often. Noted.
- Don't do a Google Image search for "Barenaked Ladies Pinch Me" if the filter isn't turned on. Nothing good coming from that. Lesson learned.
I wish these bands got the airplay now that they did then, because there is something unifying about liking music that other people like, too. Until then, I will refuse to listen to the "new" Mix 104.1 and work on "The Mix Mix Strikes Back" (or "Buzz Ballads 4"). Or maybe I'll just buy "NOW 2".
PS - If Nick Hornby and Stephen Chbosky co-wrote an article about music, it would sound exactly like this one. If you understood that, color me impressed.