In honor of me turning 30, I made 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 3 is John Mayer.
John Mayer’s personal life has often overshadowed his ability as a musician and a singer/songwriter. From a series of failed high profile celebrity relationships to his occasional forays into the world of TV comedy to his infamous interviews with Playboy and Rolling Stone that turned the court of public opinion against him to health issues with his vocal chords, Mayer’s music has been mostly backstory throughout his career. Interestingly, the shift in focus seemed to coincide with a conscious decision by Mayer to shift his music from the acoustic rock/pop sound that first got him fame to a more blues-inspired sound that he felt passionate about.
Although there were some hints of Mayer’s musical direction shifting as early as 2003’s Heavier Things, Mayer made waves in 2005 when he formed the John Mayer Trio with bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan to play blues/rock music that was a clear diversion from what a large segment of Mayer’s pop audience was listening to on the radio. The band released a fantastic live album Try! that was adored by my dad and people like him and generally ignored by my sister, who is 6 years younger than me, and people like her.
Caught in between were people like me. Suddenly, my ears were opened to a new style of music. Previously, I had appreciated blues but it was not something I would seek out on my own or listen to over more genres that were more contemporary and popular at the time. Mayer’s decision to go against the grain probably cost him from becoming a top-level pop star, but it also cemented his status as a legit music guy. While his personal life may tell another story, professionally, Mayer was less concerned with being a star and more concerned about making music that mattered to him.
Since forming in 2005, the John Mayer Trio released just that one live album. They never produced a studio recording, and the group has only appeared together for a handful of appearances since 2006. Nonetheless, the influence of the group was felt on Mayer’s career moving forward.
Starting with 2006’s Continuum, Mayer’s solo albums have sounded significantly different than his 2001 debut Room For Squares. In addition to the blues influence, Mayer has also infused folk and country-rock in recent albums.
Without a doubt many people hear the name John Mayer and first think of the person, often in a negative way. That’s unfortunate for John Mayer the musician because at age 37 he already has an amazing discography that rivals anything anyone has produced this millennium. John Mayer the musician is one of the most influential performers of my lifetime, and I cannot wait to see how his legacy continues to evolve as he continues to mature and let his music speak for him in the years to come.
It wasn’t by accident that the first five songs on my ultimate John Mayer mix included the word “love.” The songs work like a five-part series of my understanding of love.
I open my compilation with “Love Song for No One” off of Mayer’s 2001 debut studio album, Room for Squares. It is a pretty straightforward mellow pop tune, but lyrically it was one of the first Mayer songs that stuck with me. It’s a narrow-minded view/misconception of love that focuses inwardly on what is missing. During my senior year of high school I spent more Friday nights than I’d like to admit relating to the opening lyrics:
Staying home alone on a Friday
Flat on the floor looking back
On old love
Or lack thereof
Track two is “Love Soon”, which comes from Mayer’s 1999 EP Inside Wants Out. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not use four letter words lightly. In addition to curse words, l-o-v-e was a serious word in my vocabulary that I reserved for the right moment. There was a time in my early dating stage with Jessie when we were saying “the opposite of hate” in an attempt to tiptoe around calling it love. This song was the perfect soundtrack during that era of my life.
The third track on this compilation is “Bold As Love” from Mayer’s Where the Light Is: Live in Los Angeles release. In addition to the excellent musicianship that comes with Mayer performing live—the guitar solos alone are worth the price of admition—this live version includes an inspiring spoken word interlude about love that begins at the 3:10 mark. While Mayer’s history as a player might make the listener take his words —do as he says, not as he does—the words are no less poignant. “I’ve done everything in my life that I want to do except just give and feel love for my living.” This is like a pre-game pep rally for deciding to commit to someone. Preach it, John.
“Love Is a Verb” is track four. The song speaks to a truth that I only fully realized after being married. Love is not just a feeling. Happiness, sadness, and everything in between are feelings that will come with love. Love is a choice. Love is an action. Love is a verb. Taken from 2012’s Born and Raised, “Love Is A Verb” proclaimed a message at a time when I was mature enough to hear and understand it because I was living it.
Track five, “Who You Love” feat. Katy Perry, comes from Mayer’s latest release, 2013’s Paradise Valley has less lyrical nuances, but I like the fact that the final of my five track series of songs with “love” in the title is a duet because love is ultimately a tag team effort.
Tracks six and seven shift gears a bit jumping back to Room for Squares with “Your Body Is a Wonderland” and “No Such Thing”, a pair of catchy, crowd favorite singalong hits from Mayer’s early days.
Track eight is “Wildfire”, my favorite song from Paradise Valley. I love the guitar sound on this song. It’s a great summertime song, featuring the line “’cause a little bit of summer’s what the whole year’s all about.”
Mayer’s cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” from the Where the Light is: Live in Los Angeles album is my track nine. Although Petty’s original is an all-time classic, Mayer’s slowed down, acoustic version is awesome and worthy of standing on its own. If you haven’t heard Mayer’s version yet, be sure to give it a listen.
Tracks 11 an 12 come from Mayer’s 2003 album Heavier Things. “Daughters” is among Mayer’s finest bit of songwriting. The lyrics are primed to take on added significance in my life in the near future, especially if my child-to-be is a girl. Regardless, it’s an excellent bit of songwriting.
“Something’s Missing” shows a more philosophical side of Mayer. This song and this album came out during a soul-searching period of my life. Like Mayer, I had a sense that something was missing from my life at the time, even if I was unable to put my finger on exactly what it was.
I think Track 12, “Stop This Train” is one of the most underrated John Mayer songs. As a 30-year-old, these lyrics stick with me even more so than when the song first came out on 2006’s Continuum. As I prepare to watch my parents become grandparents it’s hard not to want to stop the train and prevent time from going by too quickly.
Don’t know how else to say it,
Don’t want to see my parents go
One generation’s length away
From fighting life out on my own
Stop this train
I wanna get off and go home again
I can’t take the speed it’s moving in
I know I can’t
but, honestly, won’t someone stop this train?
Track 13 is “A Face to Call Home” from Born and Raised. It is no surprise that this song shares an album with the aforementioned “Love Is a Verb.” Again, there is a maturity in the lyrics here about building a life with someone. I really connect with the idea of the idea of home being about a person more so than a place.
Track 14 “Gravity” and track 15 “Come Back to Bed” are great examples of Mayer’s ability to slow down the tempo with bluesy love grooves. Each song features a memorable guitar solo and lyrics that get into the soul and squeeze.
Finally, track 16 “Born and Raised” and track 17 “Wheel” felt like the perfect pair of songs to close the compilation. In “Born and Raised” Mayer puts his fears and anxieties out there about growing up. You spend so much time dreaming of and thinking about what you’re going to be when you grow up. Then, all of a sudden, you’re a grown up, and you’re left wondering, OK, now what?
“Wheel” is my favorite Mayer song and my number five favorite song ever. The song came out in 2003 when I was having my first real experienced with love and heartbreak. As I wrote in that article about my favorite songs, “more than just another love song, this is a life song. Like a wheel, life rolls onward—sometimes over and through difficult obstacles. Although there is certainly sadness in this song, I ultimately view it as a hopeful anthem based on the repeated outro:
I believe that my life’s going to see
the love I give return to me
MM 30 at 30: John Mayer tracklist (finalized August 13, 2014)
1. Love Song for No One
2. Love Soon
3. Bold As Love (Live in Los Angeles)
4. Love Is a Verb
5. Who You Love feat. Katy Perry
6. Your Body Is a Wonderland
7. No Such Thing
9. Free Fallin’
11. Something’s Missing
12. Stop This Train
13. A Face to Call Home
15. Come Back to Bed
16. Born and Raised