October 2005: CD-R

1975: Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes, "Get Dancin'"
1976: Stevie Wonder, "I Wish"
1977: Blondie, "(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear"
1978: Patti Smith, "Because The Night"
1980: David Bowie, "Fashion"
1982: Indeep, "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life"
1985: The B-52's, "Summer of Love"
1986: They Might Be Giants, "She's An Angel"
1988: Morrissey, "Suedehead"
1989: The Mekons, "Learning To Live On Your Own"
1991: Kirsty MacColl, "Walking Down Madison"
1993: The Magnetic Fields, "Strange Powers"
1994: Ani DiFranco, "Hell Yeah"
1996: Amy Rigby, "20 Questions"
1998: Emm Gryner, "Summerlong"
1999: Super Furry Animals, "Northern Lites"
2000: The Dandy Warhols, "Bohemian Like You"
2002: Ivy, "Kite"
2003: The Weakerthans, "The Reasons"
2004: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, "Me and Mia"
2005: The New Pornographers, "The Bleeding Heart Show"

I turned thirty earlier this year. No, I didn't have the requisite pre-midlife crisis, bemoaning my lost twenties or obsessing over missed opportunities and all the things I hadn't accomplished; a decade ago, I couldn't even imagine myself at 30. All year long, I've been working on a project I started (and originally aborted) two years ago where I reminisced, year by year, what presence music had in my life, and how my tastes had evolved and changed.

Naturally, a lot of my old friends are also hitting the big 3-0 this year, mostly people I knew in high school or college. Every year, I make a mix CD for one particular friend's birthday, which is on November 1. Months ago, knowing her 30th was around the corner, I came up with the idea of crafting a chronological mix that would include one song for each year of her life, from 1975 to the present. Unfortunately, it's awfully hard to fit thirty-one songs on an 80-minute CD-R (and I'm not about to go back to making mix tapes, 120 minutes or not). For awhile, I toyed with the idea of stretching the project across two discs, but that would lack cohesion and purpose--the idea was to pop in one disc and get a clear sense of how music has evolved and changed over three decades.

So, I had to leave out a few years, rather arbitrarily. I originally tried not to skip more than one year in sequence, but damn if I just couldn't find anything I was satisfied with from '83 or '84. The selections here weren't necessarily meant to represent what most music sounded like in a specific year. You could argue that the oddly hip-hop flavored (but by today's standards, relatively tame) "Walking Down Madison" could've only come out in '91, or that "Fashion" practically screams 1980, right down to its very last "beep, beep". However, "Northern Lites" didn't kick off a huge tropicalia revival in '99; nor should "20 Questions" suggest that feminist rockabilly was all the rage in '96.

If anything, the selections feel less representative of their time as the disc goes on and the years fly by. "Get Dancin'", of course, is arguably the most dated track here (although I cheated--it actually came out in 1974, but it made the US top ten in 1975, and it works so well as an opener) and even the most casual listener knows who Blondie and Bowie are. By the late '80s/early '90s (or, when my friend and I were teenagers), there's a noticeable shift towards semipopular and cult artists like The Mekons and The Magnetic Fields (bands, by the way, that I had not heard of at that time). Once I reach the late '90s, there's no attempt whatsoever on my part to include songs that were genuinely popular (though "Bohemian Like You" was huge in Europe after its inclusion in a cell phone ad).

Do the better-known songs from my youth translate as nostalgia for those formative years, while the later, more obscure songs figure in as wish-fulfillment for what I thought should've been popular then? Probably, but it's more like a happy accident--as with every mix I make for a friend, I pick songs I think that person might like. I will say that "The Bleeding Heart Show" is my favorite track of 2005 so far: like many songs I love, its momentum gradually builds until it practically, surprisingly erupts into an euphoric, transcendent outcome (in this case, it's a tremendous "hey la, hey la" chorus). I'm not sure it's a significant advance on "Get Dancin'"; if anything, this mix hopefully suggests that every year produces good music--or at the very least, one memorable song.