What Happened to John Mayer?

John Mayer turned 34 today, and that means that I’ve been listening to his music consistently for all of 10 years. I don’t think I’ve stuck with any artist from start to present the way I’ve suck with John, so I wanted to dedicate this Sunday evening post to looking back at what I consider to be the top 10 recordings of his entire career. After all the celebrity romances and Borat swimsuits, it’s all about the music.

What the hell happened to John Mayer? Part 1

1. BACK TO YOU listendownload
From Inside Wants Out, 1999.
Notable lyric: “Back to me, I know that it comes back to me. Doesn’t it scare you? Your will is not as strong as it used to be.”
This is arguably the most produced song on the EP, with the majoirity of the other songs on the album consisting primarily of John and his guitar. But it’s not the production that makes this song the kick off to this list. It’s the versatility that gives it an edge. If you’ve ever heard it live, on acoustic or electric, you know that John injects something different into it every time. He does it with every song, but on here he can break it down, or rock it out, and still maintain the same heartbreak that the song is built on.

2. NEON listendownload
From Inside Wants Out, 1999.
Notable lyric: I’ll be honest. This song isn’t about the lyrics. Don’t you hear all that, going on, just in the first 12 seconds? That’s one guitar.
This is my favorite John song, but this list is in no particular order. This was the song that made me want to pick up a guitar. I had never had a single ambition before in my life to play guitar; I was always more of a piano girl, what with choir and everything. But hearing this song, and all the things he was able to create with his instrument – the melody, the rhythm, the feeling. I was hooked on that, and hooked on wanting to create something similar to it one day. Note: I never have. But playing guitar is one of the single most fun things I can think of doing on a weeknight.

3. WHEEL listendownload
From Heavier Things, 2003.
Notable lyric: “You can’t build a house of leaves, and live like it’s an evergreen. It’s just a season thing. It’s just this thing the seasons do.”
“Wheel” is the closing track off the first of John Mayer’s musical departure albums. (Heavier Things is believed to have two meanings as an album title – content wise, as he grapples with ideas of identity, flight, and the future; and musically, as he separates himself from the various other singer-songwriters of the early 2000s and takes hold of his electric, putting his skills on display.) My favorite thing about “Wheel” is its ability to perfectly reflect the point of the song. It’s rolling along with a certain clockwork-like energy, and despite its consistence, it feels perfectly peaceful. There’s a sense of duty, and of acceptance, and that’s the way things go. And that’s okay. There’s a real power in hearing a man comfort himself (and in turn, you) that that’s just the way this wheel works.

4. CLARITY listendownload (live version)
From Heavier Things, 2003.
Notable lyric: “By the time I recognize this moment, this moment will be gone. But I will bend the light pretending that it somehow lingered on.”
The counterpoint to “Wheel” in sound, but with a similar concept and feel. It is bright, it sounds like morning, and with the fuller instrumentation (the horns are perfect) it is just a big song. Letting go and accepting and appreciating everything. Life is beautiful. And if you’re familiar with this song, download the version I linked. It’s from his As/Is collection that he came out with. The version is flawless. In typical John fashion, he rewrites the song on the spot. “Don’t be scared about next Tuesday, ’cause Tuesday hasn’t happened yet. And summer isn’t over.” The whole band builds and builds and the release is incredible. By far the best version of the song recorded, in my opinion. Also, as seen in the music video, this is when he starts to get sort of undeniably attractive, even if it’s for a reason you can’t explain.

5. VULTURES listendownload (live album version)
From Try! (John Mayer Trio), 2005.
Notable lyric: “How do I stop myself from being just a number? How will I hold my head to keep from going under?”
John’s public persona starts to get shaped around the same time that Try! gains steam, and it’s simultaneously the best and worst time to be a John Mayer fan in ’05/’06. He starts dating Jessica Simpson, which drew all kinds of media. Plus his forays into comedy, which were basically random unlisted shows at the Comedy Cellar in NYC, led to even more attention. He started to become known for his interactions with tabloid media (like TMZ and Perez Hilton). At the same time, he released a live record that allowed him to explore and grow as a blues musician. “Vultures” is one of the original songs off Try! and its groove is undeniable. The metaphor is vivid, the solos are always sweet, and to me, it’s hard for anyone not to really love this song.

Tomorrow, songs 6 through 10 will be posted, so stay tuned! If only for free music.

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