Shuffle Oracle: From John Denver to the Cure, in harmony

Many days, at some point, I hit “shuffle songs” on my iPhone, and periodically, the sequence interests me. Occasionally, I immortalize the shuffle list with a post here. 

This morning, as I was driving my kid to school, we were grumbling about the selection on the radio. At the stoplight before the school, I hit “shuffle” instead. Today, iTunes brought a selection of songs that I know all the words to (with one exception), so I spent the next twenty-five minutes in the car, harmonizing away and laughing at the links I heard in the mix.

      1. Erasure, “River Deep, Mountain High [Private Dance Mix]” — What eighth-grader doesn’t fantasize about her mother dropping them off while she sings, “I’m gonna love you just like that rag doll”? Yep. (That’s Erasure last fall at the Ogden, up above–I’d never seen them live, but a friend took me. We thought we’d just stay for a few songs but we wound up having so much fun we just. couldn’t. leave.)

      2. Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Amore” — Now that I was warmed up, iTunes dropped this song. It’s a kind of bad recording, from an early-’90s mix tape. It made me smile to hear it, although I’ll confess I didn’t listen to the whole thing. I had no reason to dwell on the erstwhile boyfriend who gave me the tape. (Doing so brings up questions like: When he gave me the tape, I don’t know if I would have had the spine to call him my “boyfriend,” and so should I call him that now? But he gave me a tape with “Amore” on it. Going for it. No more thinking.) Besides, the song is five minutes long. It felt like enough to absorb the mellow vibe for a minute or so and move on.

      3. John Denver, “I’d Rather Be a Cowboy (Lady’s Chains)” — Here’s where it starts getting good. Strangely, I don’t remember ever hearing this song before. I know, I know, this isn’t so amazing to many people. But I’m a Colorado native, a girl from a country-music-listening family in a country-music-listening town in a state that has made a John Denver song its official anthem (“Rocky Mountain High,” and that was before pot was legal). What’s more, this song is from a double-live album that I feel like was constantly stacked on the record player in our house — you know, one of these:
        But as it happens, this song wasn’t on the original album An Evening With John Denver — it’s an extra, on the re-released CD version. My dad bought me the CDs when he was in town and I mentioned that now that I was a grown-up, I didn’t have any John Denver music for my daughter to grow up on. One quick trip rectified the situation, but apparently in those ten years, I’ve never really paid attention to “I’d Rather Be a Cowboy.”

        After “Amore,” a faint memory of E.B. (erstwhile boyfriend) still resonated in my mind as John Denver started up. E.B. has nothing to do with John Denver, except that this song is about a guy preferring to be a cowboy, while his lady gets sick of picking daisies and making his breakfast and heads off to LA. E.B. certainly never made me breakfast or picked me daisies, and I’m hardly a cowboy/girl, but we couldn’t make it work when he headed to New York City and even bigger cities elsewhere, and I stayed in Colorado, so this shuffle pick is funny.

        Also, this song doesn’t quite seem like a regular John Denver song to me. It’s more like a standard country song than a lot of John Denver, and it reminded me of Bob Dylan’s songs, almost like Denver was mimicking Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” kind of songs.

      4. Bob Dylan, “I Shall Be Released” — And what do you know! iTunes must have agreed about the Bob Dylan thing, because next up, here comes Bob, the rough-voiced version from Greatest Hits Volume II. Again, funny, because E.B. was a big Bob Dylan fan (though I always think of another male friend as the one who introduced me to Dylan). This song is completely different from Denver’s, but somehow they are wonderful companions, men crying out about their loneliness and kind of accepting the slings and arrows of fate. (It’s a nice tie-in with my dad, too, because I don’t remember having Bob Dylan records at home when I was growing up, but I did nab a copy of Joan Baez covering Dylan songs, called Any Day Now.)

      5. The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” — I haven’t had this album in ages, but I put this song on one of the mix tapes I made to take on a trip to Germany in 1989. Remember the days of cassettes? I could only take one suitcase for a month-long trip. I had two or three wooden racks of cassettes on my wall — knock-off versions of those Napa Valley crates:
        … and no way could I take them all, so I spent weeks writing and rearranging lists of songs I absolutely had to have with me, and then recording them into four mix tapes that would have to entertain me for weeks abroad. (This tape was mostly moody: Mission UK, Camouflage, Morrissey, That Petrol Emotion, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Modern English, Simon & Garfunkel. I assume the Proclaimers provided levity, along with the Housemartins and TinTin Duffy.) I still know all the words to this song, which provide a not-too-shabby reflection of longtime relationships — the person you haver to (I looked it up back then; it means “hem and haw”) and give all your money to? that’s the one — but I think I always liked it best for the harmonizing twins. I listened to this song — and all my tapes — inside out, walking around Germany with my insta-best-friend Eric, a boy I met on the trip.

      6. The Cure, “The Caterpillar” [from Standing on a Beach: The Singles cassette] — As I pulled into my parking spot, the piano at the start of “The Caterpillar” trilled out, and I sat there and sang along. I know all the, er, words (?) to this song too. The version I have is a gift from another boy from the old days, a good friend of the Bob Dylan introducer, who digitized Standing on a Beach: The Singles… [edited 4/30 to add this, which somehow was cut off — I blame a new computer system] … and shared it with me a year or so ago (my cassette long gone).The video of this song is priceless. The Cure look like children. Robert Smith appears bombed out of his mind, despite his flawless porcelain complexion (he’s what, 25?), wearing — what the hell IS that? A waxed cotton shirt? With leather pants? But they’re trying so hard — they’re so into it, so young and gifted — they’re in the conservatory with the Chinese dragon outside — it’s a thing of beauty that I wouldn’t have seen today, but for shuffle. 


P.S. When I finished writing this post, I set it aside, and thought, “Who cares about this shuffle? Will anyone see any meaning in it? Does God exist?” Then I had to drive in the car again, and shuffle crapped out this combination: Bob Dylan singing “Tomorrow Night,” followed by some ambient song from a Buddha Bar compilation I must’ve downloaded a decade ago. Now THAT doesn’t make a lick of sense. By comparison, this post is golden, and I’m standing by it.

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  1. Tracy Henderson
    April 29

    I listened to Standing on a Beach so many times my cassette blew up. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    • Susanna
      April 29

      Ha, love it!! That was always so heartbreaking when a tape died ….

  2. April 29

    I never knew the word was haver nor did I know what that meant. I guess I didn’t pay close enough attention when that song was on.

    My dad was a big John Denver fan and there was a time when I knew all those songs. He has actually been a CO resident for probably 30 years now but his love for John Denver started back when we lived just outside of NYC. A foreshadowing perhaps.

    I love the symbolism that can be found in the oracle of the shuffle. Never hesitate to post these kind of things!

    • Susanna
      April 30

      Hmm, I think John Denver brought many a person to Colorado back then … And I’m glad you commented, because it made me look and realize the post editor cut off the end of my post at some point.

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