At Random

  1. David McCallum, “House of Mirrors” (Capitol; originally released 1966).iTunes
  2. Coachwhips, “Did You Cum?” (Narnack). iTunes
  3. Mabel Scott, “Catch ‘Em Young, Treat ‘Em Rough, Tell ‘Em Nothing” (Membran, Germany; originally released 1951).
  4. Ousmane Kouyaté, “Beni Haminanko” (Network, Germany; originally released 1982).
  5. Nicolay, “Sunshine Life” (BBE). iTunes
  6. Kinski, “The Wives of Artie Shaw” (Sub Pop). iTunes
  7. Funkadelic, “I Wanna Know If It’s Good to You?” (45 version) (Ace/Westbound; originally released 1970).
  8. Crazy Frog, “Axel F” (Next Plateau/Universal). iTunes
  9. The Chap, “Woop Woop” (Lo). iTunes
  10. Capone, “U So Craaazzzy” (Fastlife). eMusic
  11. Armand Van Helden ft. Spalding Rockwell, “Hear My Name” (Southern Fried). iTunes
  12. Love Joys, “Sweet Feelings” (Wackies; originally released 1977).
  13. John Tejada & Arian Leviste, “Geriatrics” (Playhouse).
  14. Todd Snider, “Alright Guy” (Hip-O; originally released 1994). iTunes
  15. Mahala Rai Banda, “Mahalageasca” (World Music Network). iTunes
  16. Earl Washington All Stars, “Opus No. 3” (Hip-O Select/Motown; originally released 1962). iTunes
  17. Street Gangland Rhythm Band 4, “Rhythm” (Lo; originally released 1959).
  18. The New Pornographers, “Star Bodies” (Matador). iTunes
  19. Brad Paisley, “Alcohol” (Arista Nashville). iTunes
  20. SCSI 9, “Mini” (Kompakt). Kompakt
  21. Amy Rigby, “Like Rasputin” (Signature).

Sometime in the late ’90s, a guy I knew introduced me to his friend, a college-radio DJ. As the three of us were talking, the DJ told me that he programmed his radio shows and mixtapes “completely at random.” I recoiled—even if I weren’t already a budding segue Nazi, reveling in your own laziness and then expecting a pat on the back is pretty repellent behavior, as a rule. So how do I explain that the songs on this week’s attraction were gathered piecemeal over a month only to have their final outcome, with a couple of exceptions I’ll outline below, be determined in a half-hour by my iTunes’ random-play button?

I had barely begun to find and rip songs for the mix’s consideration when I realized the direction I wanted it to take: hairpin turns, abrupt segues, everything different from everything else. In theory, this should be easy—my tastes are plus/and rather than either/or by habit, I love a good jump cut like nobody’s business, and the choice pool I wound up with seemed to defy my ability to locate whatever through line might have been lurking within. But even if you’re as chronically disorganized as I am, “random” isn’t a mind-set that comes naturally to most human beings. Just for fun, I’d try out a sequence, only to find it pedestrian—the snap I was looking for, ease of transition combined with shock of the oh-yeah-that-one. I’d try a couple more with no more satisfying result. Then I clicked on the icon with the crisscrossing arrows, and voila!—the connections I wanted to make were right there for me to accept or reject. I resorted to the button to do what I couldn’t do myself.

There were two exceptions: David McCallum (which opens Capitol’s new David Axelrod compilation; he produced and arranged) was always going to lead it off—you’d have to fight your mind’s eye from seeing opening credits while the song’s on—and Kinski was always going to be followed by Funkadelic. Otherwise, the complementary, willful leaps between my selections’ disparities wound up being honored by machine logic, a fact for which I’m grateful. Since a good mix should teach you how to hear things a bit differently, whether you’re creating it or receiving a copy, every little bit helps.