My summer mix habit emerged in 2006. My first important CD compilation was the result of a brand new driver’s license. Naturally, I needed the best songs to blare out the windows and moon roof of an old, green Toyota Camry named Harold.
Convinced that my close-knit group of high school friends enjoyed my musical selections (spoiler alert, this assumption was wrong) and still mad with power from “Feel the Drive,” my ultimate car mix, I decided to gift my friends with the perfect summer mix.
This mix was a celebration of the last summer before senior year—the first year of true freedom of movement—physical and literal. It was the first summer we all had fancy driver’s licenses in tow. It was the last summer before the weight of college decisions and preparations caught up with us.
With the intention of unifying our group’s summer experience, my track choices incorporated my extremely varied friends’ tastes and preferences. 2006 was a glorious mismatched musical mixture. Like every blind attempt, it had flaws.
The next few years, I learned the meaning of a summer mix. I asked myself questions: Was the mix about songs I’d heard recently? Was it about events from the past year? Was it about my vision for the summer? Was it about the lyrics? Was it about the sound? Was it a narrative from track to track?
Each spring I make those decisions again. Sometimes you just know that you need certain songs—a song that resonates with you for some reason, a song you can’t abandon to the graveyard of an overly large iTunes library. Those songs create a theme for a portion—or the whole—of your mix.
Other years, you have to let songs go. As I discover the sounds of 2016, it’s breaking my heart that a “Hamilton” tune won’t fit. I turn up the radio when I hear Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” but that’s not me this year. Those tracks aren’t reflective of my 2016 experience or expectations.
My mother tried to offer helpful suggestions last week, listing every “beachy” song she knows. I adore my mom, but Beach Boys “Surfin’ USA” is not going to make the cut on a mix about me. In Nebraska. Working a regular 9-5 type job.
I have standards and rules. I refuse to repeat songs, and the whole mix must fit on a standard CD (under 80 minutes). Every other decision is feeling and intuition. And sometimes that intuition misses the bulls-eye by a few miles, as you’ll discover when you read about 2012.
I’m not sure what this project will look like. Sometimes it might read like liner notes. Other times I imagine it will be more reflective of a journal entry. Much like that first summer mix, I’m making it up as I go. But this is the introduction to my countdown—a (self)reflection on the songs of my summer for the past decade plus.