Okay, so here’s the thing. A couple months ago I was cleaning out my car and found a bunch of mix CDs I made in high school and college. I’m not the type of person to pass up a trip down Nostalgia Lane, so I popped one into the CD deck and got back to cleaning.

About four songs into the random playlist, I tried to think of where I was when I made this CD. Based on the songs I’d already heard, I could narrow it down to sophomore year of college. But what I was really interested in was this: where was I…psychologically?

As fate would have it, this discovery (pun most definitely intended) happened around the same time I was putting things together for this blog. This site is hosted on WordPress, and it just so happens that I’d started a blog shortly after graduating college (also on WordPress) that I never actually did anything with. I had even forgotten about it. But, on that blog, I found that I’d written a short story that broke down the very same CD I was listening to that day. Woah.

So here are the first four songs on that playlist, along with commentary originally written by a 24 year-old Sam Gapinski:

1.  Hinder – Better Than Me – http://youtu.be/TEXBmw2jBcA

Ok, so it’s a pretty sappy song, but this one got a lot of play at the old house on campus.

2.  Fuel – Falls On Me – http://youtu.be/DUlG_bHG0Ks

Hmm…another sappy song. Not sure it’s a trend yet, but definitely shouldn’t go unnoticed. A good song though, so I’m not too worried.

3.  Hinder – Lips Of An Angel – http://youtu.be/RiSfTyrvJlg

Really? Hinder again? I mean, they’re ok, but I don’t remember liking them that much.  Especially since some idiot country singer ripped it and did a garbage version of it that makes me sick to my stomach! Whatever. Country music is awful.

4.  Keane – Somewhere Only We Know – http://youtu.be/Oextk-If8HQ

What can I say? It’s a solid song. It catchy, melodic, romantic, the guy singing is British, I think. What more do you need?

So, a couple observations. First, country music is awful and I don’t really care to hear your contrarian opinion. Second, and more to the point, it dawns on me that this was a break-up mix. I find that to be pretty entertaining, especially since the girl who prompted me to create this break-up mix is now my wife. Again, though, it’s somewhat telling that I selected rock bands singing sappy music to get over my heartache. I won’t bore you by breaking down the rest of the mix because it only gets darker – although at one point there’s an R. Kelly song and I don’t really have an explanation for it.

Thinking about this while cleaning out my car, well, it was a fun thought experiment. I could imagine myself at my desk sophomore year making a playlist on iTunes that I’d eventually burn onto a blank CD.Were tears streaming down my face as the music paraded from my speakers? Probably not. But maybe. I don’t remember. But as I look back, it sure is a lot funnier to imagine it going down that way. Or maybe I was filed with passionate rage, just stewing in my room, and the only thing that could bring me down was…Hinder? Too funny.

I started looking around the house for more of these little gems, and hoo boy, there were plenty of them. I had a few variations of “Summer Mix”. There were at least three labeled “Random Hits”. I had the “V-day mix” (which stands for Valentine’s Day, which I still haven’t listened to because I’m afraid of what I might have put on it). And of course, my very favorite, “It doesn’t get any better than this”. That one was the crown jewel of my collection. I’ll tell you more about it another time.

The more I thought about it, I started to realize that there’s no way I’m the only person to do something like this. So recently, I enlisted the help of a few good people in my life who were willing to let me borrow some of their old CDs – mixes they created and haven’t listened to in over a decade. What better way to get to know a person than to spend some time listening to the music they thought was good ten years ago and then judging them ruthlessly for it?


This is where my friend, Kevin, comes on the scene. I threw out a general request on our workout group’s message board asking for old mix CDs. The response was overwhelming, but the first person to actually physically hand me a mix was Kevin (that’s not his real name, in the interest of anonymity. His real name is also the name of a Greek god, but we won’t go into that).

So, without further ado, here’s Kevin’s mix CD, accompanied by 31 year-old Sam Gapinski’s commentary:

Title/Label: All good mix CDs have a title. Usually written in Sharpie, but sometimes people live dangerously and use a pen. Anyway, the title of this mix is “Random Hits”. I’m always excited to pop in a “Random Hits” CD, because I’m fascinated to know what people consider “hits”. Right off the bat, Kevin’s CD loses me.

Track 1:
Song: “Toxic”
Artist: Britney Spears

Commentary: Wait, what? I actually ejected the CD to make sure it was Kevin’s. It was, and I was confused. Britney Spears? Kevin? But then I thought about it. Kevin has been with his wife since they were in the second grade, so this track was most definitely the girlfriend’s pick. If you don’t know what a girlfriend’s pick is, well, it basically goes like this:

G/f: Hey, what are you up to?
Kevin: Making a mix CD. I’ve got space for one more song so I’m trying to figure out which one to go with.
G/f: Oh cool. What’s on it already?
Kevin: Oh, a little rap, a little rock.
G/f: I don’t like rap or rock. You should put one of my songs on there.
Kevin: Done.

Way to stand up for yourself, Kevin. Really put up a good fight there, bro.

Track 2:
Song: “I love Rock’n’Roll – Remix”

Artist: Britney Spears, again (seriously)

Commentary: At this point I’m just about ready to pull the CD out and burn it until there’s nothing left. Then I’d scoop up the ashes, build a multistage rocket, place the ashes inside said rocket, then shoot that sucker into space. What I’m trying to say here is…wait, what?

Track 3:
Song: “Ignition: Remix”
Artist: R. Kelly

Commentary: Given Kevin’s first two song selections, he only had one chance to pull me back in. I was half a second away from destroying this mixtape, but decided to give it one more song to see if he could redeem himself. And do you know what he did? He dropped the hammer.

I don’t like R. Kelly as a person. I don’t endorse anything he says or does. But this song? This song is everything to me. I have so many good memories associated with this song. Seriously. This is one of those songs that as soon as that very first note hits your ear, it’s like nothing else matters. The only thing that matters is clearing your throat so you can rap and dance your way through the entire track. If I ever hear this song in the car, I’m forced to pull to the side of the road until the song is done because I can’t be trusted to safely operate that vehicle. How are you supposed to drive when all you want to do is scream at the top of your lungs and dance like you’ve been possessed? You can’t. It’s not safe.

What I’m saying it this: Kevin – you’ve got two strikes, but if track 4 sucks, I’m just gunna put track 3 on repeat for the rest of my life. I’m not kidding, you guys. I love this song so much, I rapped the entire thing verbatim to my brand new wife at our wedding reception!*

*I’ll let you decide if that’s true** or not

**It’s not

Track 4 – 8:
Song: Various, but they’re all basically the same thing
Artist: Various: Chingy, Nelly, Shaggy, Sean Paul, 50 Cent, and a cameo from Snoop Dogg

Commentary: I’ve always appreciated hip hop and rap. Tracks 4 through 8 were the sort of hip hop made-for-radio, and man, I just can’t really get down with that. I’m getting a little disinterested in this mix of Kevin’s.

Track 9-13:
Songs: “The way you move”, “So Fresh, So Clean”, and others
Artist: Outkast

Commentary: And I’m all the way back in. Legends. André 3000 and Big Boi are incredible. Between these five tracks and Ignition: Remix, this CD has earned enough respect for me to spare it a trip to space. Well, as long as the rest of the CD isn’t Britney Spears.

Track 14-18:
Songs: The only one I remember is the one where the singer is super angry and wants to break stuff…which is every song they’ve ever created.
Artist: Limp Bizkit

Commentary: Welp, now I’m really confused. I didn’t think there’d be much crossover between fans of Outkast (pioneers of hip hop) and Limp Bizkit (a weirdly aggressive and super angry rock band). Kevin is a unique guy though so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. As the mix winds down, my guess is that this truly was a “random” mix, meaning there wasn’t much thought put into the formation of it.

There are two ways to construct a mix. One is to thoughtfully place songs in a way that makes sense to not only you, but also the listener. If you do this well, any time you hear one of the songs in the mix on the radio, you’ll expect a specific song to start playing next and it really throws you off when it’s something completely different. The other way is to collect songs and put them in a playlist without thinking.

And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it does make me question whether I was wrong about the girlfriend’s pick. I’m starting to think that was Kevin’s idea. Not that there’s anything wrong with liking Britney Spears as a college-aged kid back in the day when she was relevant. It’s just that I know Kevin as a 38 year-old man. And the thing is, he’s the kind of guy who would slide this CD into his old boombox in the garage and turn the volume knob to 11 without knowing what was actually on it. He’d think to himself that this old “Random Hits” CD was going to be some early 2000s country music. Then Britney Spears blasts through the speakers and he literally craps himself trying to get to the stereo to shut it off before his neighbors hear it. It makes me giggle and I can’t help it.

In summary, what do Britney Spears, Limp Bizkit, Outkast, and other generic hip hop music have in common?

Kevin. And that’s about it.