The middle school years are awkward, and nothing represents that pre-teen angst better than a snapshot of your music tastes at the time. I’m lucky enough to boast the Beatles as my favorite band since the age of 6, but that doesn’t mean I was impervious to the songs of the moment in the early 2000s, and some of those songs were… not so good.
As luck would have it, the first mix CD I ever compiled and downloaded from Rhapsody in 2002 is still intact, which I named KROQ Hits. For those that are unfamiliar with the airwaves of Southern California, KROQ 106.7 FM is the local alternative rock radio station. It’s what my mom played in the car during my formative years, which is why my favorite song at the age of 2 was “Give it Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and why it feels like Nirvana runs through my DNA. I would venture to say that whenever you turn on KROQ, 65% of the time they’ll be playing a good song. I wasn’t quite as discerning at the age of 13.
Now, it’s time to dive into KROQ Hits and judge each song. For each of the 15 tracks, I’ll rate the overall quality of the song on a scale of 1 to 10, and then determine whether that song still fits my tastes by answering a simple question: Would I put it on a mix in 2017? I was prepared to annihilate and ridicule this mix, but while listening to it again, many of the songs I assumed I would hate nowadays are still pretty appealing to me. Let’s go through it.
1. Sum 41: “Still Waiting”
We’re certainly starting off with a bang. “Still Waiting,” by the skate-punk blink-182 contemporaries, Sum 41, is the epitome of spiky-haired, middle-school angst. Pop punk has kind of received a positive reappraisal since its heyday in the late ’90s and early 2000s, partly due to nostalgia, but also because the melodies and riffs were definitely catchy. I would never choose to listen to anything by Sum 41 anymore, but I still dig the energy and hooks on “Still Waiting.” Plus, bonus points for sending up the Strokes in their music video.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Nope
2. Queens of the Stone Age: “No One Knows”
I haven’t spent as much time as I should with Queens of the Stone Age, but I’m currently obsessed with a particularly groovy new single of theirs, “The Evil Has Landed”. As for “No One Knows,” the band’s biggest hit, it was a killer song then, and is still a killer song now. It’s all so precise and tightly wound, and that guitar riff is sublime.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Yeah, for sure
3. Linkin Park: “In the End”
I never got into Linkin Park enough to buy any of their insanely popular albums of the time, but like most people my age, I was obsessed with “In the End.” I remember eagerly learning the piano intro from someone at school. I liked how it was part rock, part rap, and felt so intense. I thought I was so cool when I rapped along to “what it meant to me / will eventually / be a memory / of a time” and then breaking out into “I TRIED… SO… HAAAAAARD!”
The tragic suicide of lead singer Chester Bennington in July inspired a lot of love for Linkin Park in its aftermath. While I recognize the band’s value from a nostalgic standpoint, and certainly understand wanting to do right by Bennington after his death, I think some of the praise was a bit overblown. Linkin Park is still the “poster band” for the absolutely horrible genres of nu metal and rap rock, and they’ve released some of the most overwrought, unpleasant songs of all time (sorry, but I can’t deal with “Crawling”; “Shadow of the Day” is cool though).
I strongly dislike Linkin Park, BUT… “In the End” is undeniable.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Nah
4. Sugar Ray: “Every Morning”
I remember asking for Sugar Ray’s self-titled album for my 12th birthday, most likely because the end of my 2001 Los Angeles Lakers championship VHS randomly had a music video of “When It’s Over” interspliced with Lakers highlights. Don’t ask me why. “Every Morning” wasn’t on that album though, so I had to make sure I downloaded it, because it’s unbelievably catchy. There isn’t a weak moment on the whole song. The acoustic guitar hook, the tight two-part harmonies during the verse (“Every morning there’s a halo hanging from the corner of my girlfriend’s four-post bed!”), the dreamy “Ahhhhh, oh-ah-ahhhh” meshing with “Shut the door baby, don’t say a word,” and the end of the middle eight where he goes “She always rights THE wrongs….. for me!” “Every Morning” is a masterclass in catchiness.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Maaayyyybe
5. blink-182: “What’s My Age Again?”
This mix would be sorely deficient without at least one blink song. I went from loving blink-182 in middle school to hating them in high school, and then eventually went back to loving them again. They just have too many catchy songs to deny. “What’s My Age Again?” is one of the band’s best, with a great opening guitar line, one of their trademark excellent choruses, and lyrics about the novelty of caller ID.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Probably not
6. Eminem: “Lose Yourself”
“Lose Yourself” is one of the greatest rap songs ever. It’s a rite of passage to rap along to “His palms are sweaty / knees weak, arms are heavy / there’s vomit on his sweater already / Mom’s spaghetti / he’s nervous, but on the service he looks calm and ready / to drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting / what he WROTE down, the WHOLE crowd….” I could go on, but you already know it. Eminem is one of the best at rhyming, and “Lose Yourself” is his masterpiece.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Yeah
7. Green Day: “Basket Case”
“Basket Case” kicks off a trio of ’90s Green Day songs I put on KROQ Hits. They all pre-date the rest of the songs on here by a few years, but KROQ still had them in heavy rotation at the time. It’s become cliche to say that Green Day was good in the ’90s, and then since pivoting toward pop punk on American Idiot in 2004, it’s all been downhill. I personally agree with the cliche (although I do like “Holiday”). “Basket Case” is my favorite Green Day song on most days. It’s perfectly constructed and rife with energy.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Yeah
8. Smash Mouth: “Walkin’ On the Sun”
Smash Mouth have become something of a joke over the last 15 years, but hey, they can still take pride in the fact that every single white person born between 1984 and 1994 knows all the words to “All Star”. “Walkin’ On the Sun,” their biggest pre-“All Star” hit, is legitimately a good song, with a slinky groove and a great chorus.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: I don’t think so
9. Everclear: “Father of Mine”
I completely forgot about this song until listening to this mix again. The “Father of mine, tell me where have you been” hook is appealing, and the subject matter about a deadbeat dad is interesting.
Also… is that Beans in the music video?!
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Nah
10. Puddle of Mudd: “Blurry”
I absolutely hate everything about this kind of nu metal garbage, but I do admit I have a soft spot for “Blurry.” The melody is actually pretty solid. And this song wins the award for “most likely to get unwittingly stuck in your head,” for what that’s worth.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Definitely not
11. The Strokes: “Last Nite”
Okay, now we’re talking. The Strokes are one of my five favorite bands ever, and here they are right next to freaking Puddle of Mudd. It’s interesting to look back and see that I liked both “Blurry” and “Last Nite,” with no thought of what I would perceive to be “good music” 15 years later. The popularity of the Strokes (and the White Stripes, the Hives, the Vines, etc.) was partially made possible by bands like Linkin Park and Puddle of Mudd — people were tired of this nu metal dreck dominating alternative rock radio, and were desperate for rock bands that got back to basics and breathed new live into the genre. The Strokes rode this wave, but were also really cool, really handsome, and wrote really good songs.
“Last Nite” is their biggest hit — an energetic shuffle that, if you strip away the guitar distortion and raw-sounding effects on Julian Casablancas’s vocals, could be a song by the Beatles in 1964.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Absolutely, 100%, yes
12. Green Day: “Longview”
Another ’90s Green Day classic. “Longview” relies on a really great bass line and drum groove during the verses, contrasting with the loud and fast, ultra-punk chorus. Green Day were excellent at filling in little details, like subtle harmonies, or the quiet, ringing guitar line that closes out the song.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Possibly
13. 3 Doors Down: “Kryptonite”
My peers might flame me for this, but “Kryptonite” is trash. Do you know what’s worse than a song that’s bad? A song that’s bland. “Kryptonite” is one of the most boring songs in existence.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Haha, no
14. Green Day: “Brain Stew”
As I mentioned in my countdown of the greatest Led Zeppelin songs, “Brain Stew” is part of a long lineage of similar chord progressions: Zep’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4”, and the White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”. It’s a good progression.
Also, I should note, this was not the best choice of mix sequencing on my part, putting two tracks by the same artist so close together. I would eventually learn.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: If the situation were right
15. P.O.D.: “Youth of the Nation”
What a way to close it out. Rap rock was really a dark spot in the history of alternative rock, but I mean, the highlights were pretty freaking catchy. “Youth of the Nation” is so bad, and yet, I still can’t help liking it — which, really, perfectly sums up this time period in music.
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Assuredly not