17. Jack Johnson

In honor of me turning 30, I’m making mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 17 is Jack Johnson.


Jack Johnson was raised in Hawaii, the son of a well-known surfer. Knowing that bit of biographical background explains the style of Johnson’s music.

He plays mellowed out, chill, mostly acoustic folk/soft rock songs that all have a laid back vibe. Johnson sings catchy songs with memorable, singable melodies. The average song on this 24-track compilation is just 3:18, with nine songs clocking in under the three-minute mark. There is a familiarity in Johnson’s style. While the songs don’t necessarily stand out much from one another musically, they blend together in a feel-good way that makes you as a listener long for that beach in Hawaii where Johnson seems to be singing.

Beyond the laid back, relaxed mood created by Johnson’s acoustic guitar, it is his lyrics that consistently bring me back to his music. Using his lyrics, I loosely constructed the narrative of this compilation. Starting with his cover of The White Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends,” the songs trace the stages of a relationship from the initial meeting and forging of a friendship all the way through to “Do You Remember?” when the speaker of the song is looking back on their relationship 10 years later.

Who can’t relate to “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” from 2005’s In Between Dreams. In it, Johnson sings of unrequited love from that special someone who keeps him in the friend zone no matter how hard he tries to win her affection.

But Lord knows that this world is cruel
and I ain’t the Lord, no I’m just a fool
learning loving somebody don’t make them love you

“Fortunate Fool” off 2000’s Brusfire Fairytales  seems like a fitting title for our poor protagonist here who is clearly stuck in the dreaded friend zone. That is followed by another track from Brushfire Fairytales, “Flake,” which includes the following lines:

It seems to me that maybe,
It pretty much always means no
So don’t tell me you might just let it go

That brings us to “If I Had Eyes” from 2008’s Sleep Through the Static, which is the sad song that is essentially the low point of the relationship, when it’s seemingly hopeless for things to move forward.

But it’s not hopeless. “Better Together” from 2005’s In Between Dreams is probably my favorite Jack Johnson song because of the simple, astute observation that “it’s always better when we’re together.” If you and your special someone can agree on that much, the rest can all be worked out. And so the narrative of this compilation progresses.

Brushfire Fairytale’s “Bubble Toes” hits with the line “I remember when you and me mmm how we used to be just good friends…” suggesting a progression in the relationship. That’s followed by “Never Know” from In Between Dreams as well as “Times Like These” and “Cocoon” from 2003’s On & On, which represent the challenges and bumps faced in making a relationship work. 

Sleep From the Static’s “Angel” is the first breakthrough that this is clearly more than just any relationship. This is a love song that includes the powerful declaration, “We share the same soul.” This song serves as the transition point, and the rest of the compilation focuses on the romantic relationship and its ups and downs. From the wistful notion of “Wasting Time” together with a loved one and the lullaby, creatively titled “Lullaby” to the challenges faced in “Dreams Be Dreams” and “Tomorrow Morning.”  

“From the Clouds” off of 2010’s To The Sea brings the relationship back to earth. The singer wises up and actually says some of those things that people in love too often let go unsaid.

And I know you know me well enough to know I’m lucky to have you.
But all this just the little things, the words that I should tell you all the time.
You’re so sweet to me when you beat me in doubles solitaire.
You’re so sweet to me in a world that’s not always fair.

“Traffic In The Sky” speaks of words of wisdom that go unheard. In “No Other Way,” the singer follows with a promise to share whatever wisdom he does gain with his significant other. “Breakdown” has been broken down quite interestingly here, but to summarize it very quickly, it’s about simplicity and appreciating the beauty of all that is around us, including, perhaps most importantly, the people who we interact with every day.

“Upside Down” ends with the rhetorical question, “Is this how it’s supposed to be?” which could be directed in a number of different ways. For the purposes of the narrative being told by this compilation, it fits in with the relationship motif. Even the strongest relationships have struggles, and one can imagine the singer questioning his life and relationship with this self-posed question.

Sleep Through the Static’s “Losing Keys” provides some key insights on the ways of the world:

The world has its ways
To quiet us down
The world has its ways
To quiet us down comes the rain
Down comes our spirits again
But down comes the strength
To lift us up and then…

Johnson calls it “the world.” You could just as easily substitute “God” or some higher power for the words “the world,” depending on your spirituality. Regardless of which language and worldview you’re most comfortable with, I think there’s some truth in Johnson’s lyric. Tragedy and tough times strike and people overcome, time and time again, even when it sometimes seems impossible. That strength has to come from somewhere or someone—family, friends, faith, etc. The next track, “Ones and Zeroes” off of 2013’s From Here To Now To You also has a bigger-than-this-world quality to it.

Sticking with From Here To Now To You, “I Got You” builds on what’s been said so far and takes a more mature approach to love:

This weight’s too much alone 
Some days I can’t hold it at all 
You take it on for me 
When tomorrow’s too much 
I’ll carry it all 
I’ve got you 

Once again, Johnson is at his best keeping the song and lyrics sweet and simple yet somehow so profound. “I Got You” is in many ways the grown-up version of “Better Together,” demonstrating the strength of a true partnership.

Finally, “Do You Remember?” closes the compilation with a nostalgic look back at the relationship. And if you think the fact that he sings about meeting in September (the same month I met Jessie, nearly 11 years ago) and a piano taking up the living room makes me a little sentimental, well, you’d be right.

MM 30 at 30: Jack Johnson tracklist (finalized May 25, 2014)
1. We’re Going To Be Friends
2. Sitting, Waiting, Wishing
3. Fortunate Fool
4. Flake
5. If I Had Eyes
6. Better Together
7. Bubble Toes
8. Never Know
9. Times Like These
10. Cocoon
11. Angel
12. Wasting Time
13. Lullaby feat. Matt Costa
14. Dreams Be Dreams
15. Tomorrow Morning
16. From The Clouds
17. Traffic In The Sky
18. No Other Way
19. Breakdown
20. Upside Down
21. Losing Keys
22. Ones and Zeroes
23. I Got You
24. Do You Remember?

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