One of the things I enjoyed most about creating the Universal DNA playlist was collecting the songs. It reminded me of (prepare to listen to me sound really old) back in the day when friends would make each other mixtapes just because. The deliberateness of choosing songs for someone and turning them into a mixtape was the most affordable, thoughtful gift that you wanted to get from someone you loved and I still have a few because they’re so special and each one has a story. (Also, I’m calling CDs mixtapes too just for consistency.)

Here are a few of those stories:

  • In college, my friend Kate was my music source, we bonded over, among other things, our love for Garbage and she is responsible for making one of my most cherished mixtapes—the one that introduced me to Audioslave. That’s been over a decade and the songs on that disc are still some of my favorites.
  • Being from Memphis, it’s no surprise that Blues is one of my favorite music genres. And when I moved to Dallas and told my neighbor as much, she surprised me by making a mixtape of her favorite blues songs just for me. Turns out a lot of her favorites were my favorites too—she had B.B. King, Johnnie Taylor and a lot more.
  • In the mid-2000’s I was going through a divorce and it was a mix made for me by my friend Mignonne that helped me through. This mixtape had so many gems. I fell in love with Better Off Now (that You’re Gone) by Will Hoge, but my true favorite in the mix was this song called “You Can Have My Husband.” It had this one verse, “You can have my husband, but please don’t mess with my man.” I would run around the house belting it out at the top of my lungs and my aunt and mom were very concerned.

These stories and these songs are great and sentimental, but what I like most about the mixes is that each of them led to discovery and I often feel like the connection-through-discovery piece of music sharing has been lost, at least for me. Yes, music is still created and there are some good songs being made, and yes, people do say “Hey, here’s a new song to try,” but that deliberate, “I made this just for you and your current situation” feel of a mixtape plus the “You haven’t heard this over and over on the radio, so you’re not tired of it” piece just seems lost.

That’s why in addition to profiling DNA relatives, I’ve decided to do a weekly (okay, probably biweekly), top 5 playlist, to sort of help folks discover songs like we used to—not the next super-pop hit song, but just songs that mean something to me that could mean something to others. Full disclosure: The songs on my playlist will probably be older because the older songs mean more to me and have a larger role in my life. And because I like stories, I’ll try to give context to the songs I choose, which means the top 5 may be more like one song and a story.

Of course, my hope is that sharing my favorites and the stories behind them will lead you to do the same so that we all can discover new music.