A Playlist For Amber

Yesterday, writer and actor and awesome person Amber Benson tweeted wistfully:


to which I responded:

to which she responded:



Click here for it on Spotify (if you have Spotify)

Click here for it on Rhapsody (if you have Rhapsody)

Click here for it on YouTube (dude, if you don’t have YouTube, you’re on the wrong internets)


87 Comments on “A Playlist For Amber”


  2. I should have said this 2 days ago on Morning After Thoughts on Completing The Human Division. BENNETT CERF was an early television celebrity not because he was the publisher and co-founder of Random House (in which capacity my father knew him) but because he was dapper in his bow tie and had a seemingly infinite supply of anecdotes. Here’s one from a collection he published in 1943:

    Cass Canfield of Harper’s was approached one day in his editorial sanctum by a sweet-faced but determined matron who wanted very much to discuss a first novel on which she was working. “How long should a novel be?” she demanded.

    “That’s an impossible question to answer,” explained Canfield. “Some novels, like Ethan Frome, are only about 40,000 words long. Others, Gone with the Wind, for instance, may run to 300,000.”
    “But what is the average length of the ordinary novel?” the lady persisted.

    “Oh, I’d say about 80,000 words,” said Canfield.

    The lady jumped to her feet with a cry of triumph. “Thank God!” she cried. “My book is finished!”

  3. Man, old school make-a-mix-tape-for-a-girl was partly about the craft. It took dedication and work to record each song, making sure you had an appropriate gap between each one and didn’t cut off early or have a snippet of the beginning of the next one. Plus, if you were really serious, you made a cover. Did you make a cover, John?

  4. *amused snort*

    I have to admit: some forms of progress really are progress. If you want the feel of creating a mixtape while still using modern tech, that’s what things like AudaCity and Garageband (among other programs) are for!

  5. Oh, I adore Amber Benson – she’s so beautiful, such a wonderful actress, and seems like a really nice person. I’ll definitely be checking those out when I get a chance. The chance to possibly interact with Amber Benson almost … I say ALMOST … convinces me to try Twitter. She’s not on GR often and I’ve never seen her interact there. Not that I blame her.

    Hey, OtherBill – I’m a huge Styx fan, too – approaching geekhood, but not quite. I managed to accumulate almost every single album they released on cassette when I was in high school by doing demeaning chores for my mom so she’d buy them for me – there was one uber-rare one I couldn’t find, but the rest… I still have ’em, but don’t know they’d even play after all these years. I’ve accumulated quite a number on CD subsequently… :-)

  6. Terrific selection! I love that you remember Letters to Cleo. Also, that you appreciate the art of the mix. Still, I do miss a good cassette mix tape. Better than a love letter in some cases.

  7. “I just made a playlist for a girl. I am suddenly 15 again.”

    Never grow up. And never give in!

  8. I miss the “tssssss” sound you got on tapes, and the faint click between songs if you home taped it. Even better if it was recorded off the radio and you’ve got the DJ talking over it for a second or two. God, I’m old. I can’t be this old, I’m only….shit.

  9. You’ve given me this really vivid memory of someone I’d almost forgotten about.

    Back when I was about seventeen, I met this guy through mutual friends. We lived in different cities, but I was visiting every few months, and we grabbed lunch a few times. Then one trip, when I was starting the car to leave, he handed a mix cd through the window and said something about ‘hey if you want something to listen to on the ride home…’

    And I was like “ooh, music! Thanks dude! Bye! See you around!”

    Several visits later, mutual friends found it among my cds, and started reminiscing about how he’d spent months working on it, bugging everyone who knew me about what kind of music I liked.

    “Pfft,” I said, “No way. What would he do that for?”

    In my defense, I saw this guy about four times in a given year. But for years after that I had to endure our friends making fun of me for not knowing that mix tapes are courting gifts.

    And wow, I just checked, and I still have it. I’m kind of curious/scared to check what’s on it.

  10. I think every music-playing website ought to take a simple text based playlist, and just fricken figure it out. Google is working on a self-driving car, I’d think we could have playlists that are just common text files that can be used anywhere.

    Then we’d have one playlist to rule them all in the darkness and bind them.

  11. One of the few occassions when I’m plugged into the cultural conciousness: just posted a few days ago how very little in my adult life compares with the satisfaction I got from making a mix tape of songs that exactly filled a cassette!

  12. Annalee: “But for years after that I had to endure our friends making fun of me for not knowing that mix tapes are courting gifts.”

    Mix tapes are courting gifts?! Oh, fer … and here I thought that by this time I had already discovered all the ways I’ve been oblivious.

    [makes note to thank the spouse *again* for being patiently unsubtle]

  13. When I was dating my now wife, before I left on a vacation with my family I gave her a mix-cd. (This was just a bit over 2 years ago.)

    I was a bit careless in creating that mix-cd, as I didn’t listen to the entirety of each song before adding it to the burn folder. And my memory didn’t recall every verse. There was actually a lyric in one of the songs about returning from a trip with a ring. Freaked her out. But it’s all good now.

  14. Amalee, Bearpaw: Yeah, I’m thinking that this would be another example of someone making themselves available and me not noticing. Of course, nowadays I would say it’s because I’m out of practice (married 22 years this past summer!) but really, it’s because I’m oblivious. I have never met a social cue I couldn’t ignore. (I count the time they started getting naked, then got up and closed the bedroom door on me as less a social cue and more a whack with a metaphorical two-by-four.)

    Wendy Whipple: Yeah. I beat you by one, but one of them I know by reputation, not from hearing.

    But as Our Host says, more to discover!

  15. I cannot get teen-angsty JS out of my mind now. So many vignettes…I punched a hole in this double glazed window for you, Amber. I ate like 2 and a quarter pies for you baby, but then the contest switched from blueberry to rhubarb..and I found out, like, I am gluten intolerant too; so I got to go home now. I beat the Devil in a typing contest, but he totally cheated me; this golden Brother word processor is only gold foil, bogus. [It helps if you can remember Bruce from Kids in the Hall or maybe it doesn’t.]

  16. Yay, John! One of my friends (hey Anne!) and I have been trading mix-tapes (or CD’s) since the dawn of the nineties, only to watch the frequency drop off as we started to not listen to tapes (in the mid-90’s) or even CD’s (past few years)

    My recent solution -> send her a copy of the MP3’s to put on her own listening machine of choice. The playlist might be a good secondary solution! Thanks for the idea!

  17. Audra – that’s it exactly! Getting your timing right, getting a good ‘flow’ of songs, having a few small filler tracks if you were running short. My case covers in the latter years were very elaborate fold-out collages, with the track listing inside.

    A cd or a playlist isn’t quite the same, as it doesn’t have the time restraints you had to work within for a tape.

  18. I always cheated at the exactly-full-tape thing. I’d get the track lengths of all the tracks I wanted, shuffle them around into two lists of approximately (within a few seconds) the same length, record the longer set of songs on one side of the tape, stop the tape, splice away the remaining empty tape, and then record the other set of songs on the back side.
    Obviously this wouldn’t work if order mattered, but order never mattered. Noboby listened to my tapes anyway.

  19. Having spent the morning streaming the soundtrack to “Once More, With Feeling” this is…apropos.

    Also: John, you put “Growing on Me” on a mix cd for a girl? I am giggling away.

  20. I really enjoy how you turn Twitter into a stage for these mini plays of yours – and how you get others to play along. No one else does it quite as well!

  21. I’m with Greg. The concept of a portable play list across music services and players is not rocket science. It should be a Consitutional Amenment, for heaven’s sake.

    I do still make mixed CD’s for the car occasionally, and once made a huge apocalyptic progressive rock playlist for a weekend of Axis & Allies with my son. I think the playlist was 13+ hours. We wrapped around the whole list twice.

    I have to say, though, that I only recognized a couple of songs on John’s playlist. Muse is a recent discovery (through my kids), but most of the rest is completely foreign.

  22. This is (I hope) only a little bit off-topic, as it relates to a hashtag John used, specifically #YesTheWifeKnows.

    My wife abhors, despises, hates that phrase, “the wife” (vs. “my wife”), and has for decades. To her, it’s horrible and sexist, horribly sexist and sexistly(?) horrible. Obviously, not a lot of people feel that way, as it’s in fairly wide circulation (I’ve never been especially exercised about it one way or another myself, though I avoid it for what I hope are obvious reasons. It may be telling, however, that none of “the husband”, “the daughter”, “the son”, “the mother” are of equally common currency).

    Is it Political Correctness gone overboard or is there a justification for her ire?

    (Note: I’m not trying to derail the thread – can a comment thread have multiple topics? I’m a little inexperienced at this.)

  23. Incidentally, I was looking back on high school recently and realized that on at least 2 separate occasions, I was socially clueless enough that I didn’t recognize what was going on when girls I was friends with walked up to me in the hallway/library and handed me a mix tape.

    High school was…not my finest hour.

  24. Wilson –

    Her ire at least understandable, since within living memory, married women couldn’t get store charge cards in their own names, but were required to to have them be in their husbands’ names (are you old enough to remember when department stores had charge cards which were little metal plates, kind of like dog tags? that’s the era to which I refer). Here’s a quote from Encyclopedia.com: “The final version of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) enacted in March 1977 prohibited the use of gender, race, national origin, and marital status as criteria for evaluating credit card applications, and required that unsuccessful applicants be notified in writing of the reasons the application was rejected. With ECOA, married women were first allowed to hold credit in their own names and to establish their own credit history independent of their husbands’. Also see http://www.wic.org/misc/history.htm about the same topic.

    So a phrase like that, which implicitly relegates and limits a wife to her role as a wife could be seen a return to the bad old days. Not by me, but hey, I’m a guy.

  25. A few years ago, my friends and I used to trade Holiday/Year-in-Review playlists, mostly reserved for stuff we’d listened to over the previous 12 months (not really limited to music from that year, just stuff that we’d enjoyed then. The only one I’ve still got a track list for is from 2009, but I think it still holds up. Here’s the Spotify link. (Sorry, a couple of these tunes don’t seem to be available. If you can find me a link to some more Charlie in the Box tunes, I will love you forever. The Soul Coughing and David Byrne tunes are somewhat inexplicable in their unavailability.) Cover art, if you care.

  26. Someone’s mention of “Once More, With Feeling” brings up an interesting question. When you are making a mix tape for someone who has actually recorded music, would it be appropriate or inappropriate to include something they actually made? How about a cover of one of their songs? This isn’t exactly a situation I’ve ever found myself in.

  27. Mix tapes aren’t always a courting gift. (As, you know, John’s gift to Amber proves.) When I was in college and getting into Rush, a friend made me two tapes of what he felt were their best songs, to help encourage me. I’m 99% certain it wasn’t a courting move.

    (Honest, folks, men and women can just be friends. All it requires is that they don’t think of each other as separate species.)

    Each year on the drive to Readercon, my passengers are required to pay a toll of one (1) Mix CD each. They should endeavor to include songs/bands I would not otherwise discover on my own. I also make a CD, with the same requirements. We spend all year collecting new stuff to share. Since we started doing this, my music purchase rate (either to get more of what they’ve give me a sample, or to buy the things I’ve hunted down to share) is up about 500%.

  28. Wilson:

    Krissy does not object to being called “The Wife,” nor Athena to being called “The Daughter” or “The Child.” I commensurately do not object to being called “The Husband” or “The Dad.” How anyone else does it in any other tribe is not of particular interest to me.

  29. I had no idea that mix-tapes were courting gifts either.

    I’ve never made a mix tape. I did burn a mix-CD once, just to demonstrate that my shiny new computer with a CD burner was good for something. To this day I generally only use play lists to aggregate the few songs I’ve bought online as individual tracks rather than as a whole album. I’ve also used a playlist to add “bonus tracks” to an album.

    Yes, primitive being that I am, I actually use the Album view and play whole albums in the intended order. It’s like those machines from the late ’70s that turned an IBM typewriter into a printer by using an array of solenoids to emulate fingers.

  30. Cute, Scalzi. Points for Letters to Cleo. Do you have the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack?

  31. I also had no idea back in the days of cassettes that mix tapes were courting gifts. But I suspect I didn’t get any along those lines anyway since courtship was not a big feature of my junior high & high school years. I mostly traded with female friends. We never did fancy covers.

    Lately I’ve done mix CDs for male friends that were friendship-gifts, and been part of a monthly mix club wherein 12 people took turns providing everyone with a mix CD and people did do fancy covers.

  32. I totally made a playlist for my wife on Spotify while she was out of town a few weeks ago (that doesn’t happen often). “Missing Jen” was the name. We went out to dinner a short time after she got back and on the ride home I whipped out my phone and said,

    “Hey I made a a playlist for you while you were gone, I called it ‘Missing Jen’, wanna hear it?”

    “Sure… Wow I love these songs. And no one is screaming”

    The results were… spectacular.
    Best use of time ever.

  33. … no playlist is complete without Beethoven ;-D
    Yes I used to make classical mix tapes – for my own use, from LPs I had purchased for real cash money, so no piracy for me. Still doing it, but with playlists on my iPod – latest is a compilation of hummable tunes – from 1600’s dances to Billy Joel – EVERYONE should make one of these – source of happy joy!
    Seriously, this was a cool thing to do for a friend. Glad you had fun!

  34. All these youngsters who think a story about a burned mixed-CD is the same as making and gifting a mixed-tape need to go, RIGHT NOW, and try to make themselves a mixed-tape, with at least a few songs recorded off the radio. And yes, the order of the songs does matter.

  35. My youth spanned both the analog cassette and digital CD eras. (I once spent an enjoyable afternoon RWD/FFWDing my tape of “Document” just to learn all the lyrics to “It’s the End of the World as We Know it.” Lyrics sites are for quitters!)

    I made enough tapes that Writeable CDs were a godsend to me. I was in the thick of the CD format wars, too. Anybody else remember when it mattered whether you got a blank CD-R vs. CD-RW vs. CD+RW?

  36. I knew fewer than half the singers/groups and only had heard two of the cuts. That is why trading mixtapes was so wonderful!

  37. Love it! Exchanging playlists on Spotify: a true modern-day romance. Complete with ads, alas. Thanks for sharing, John! I am, unfortunately, a little too young to have remembered mixtapes – and probably wasn’t cool enough to have known about them anyway.

  38. Wilson: You still hear “the mother” — usually in the phrase “I blame the mother.”

  39. Mike @ 1:24
    It’s not a sin to play albums in order, even when they’re all just files. I keep separate playlists for stuff to be juggled and albums to be played intact.

    On the other hand, for a good time search for “ARTIST = Original Broadway Cast”, hit “random play”, then see if you got lucky – the results can delight, but it’s a real crap shoot.

  40. We sometimes use “the {realationship}”, we also frequently refer to our dogs as “The {dog’s name}”. I think the intent is that the referred character is more real than a mere proper name can signify.

    I started referring to things this way after seeing Highlander where one of the characters was “The Kurgan”. The analog isn’t perfect, because the reason that they called him that in the film is that he was a member of the tribe of Kurgans from the Russian steppes, it wasn’t the character’s name and calling him The Kurgan was grammatically correct. But ever since I’ve felt the urge to describe something that seems a bit larger than life as “the {foo}”.

  41. I thought Zelazny too. Nine Playlists in Amber.

    That said, Amber Benson is the coolness. And that lady can SING.

    When I say “the mother” I mean the Mother. As in JAGATAMBE JE JE MA, Victory to the Mother.

  42. Re: Discovering new artists

    One of the ways I have found to discover new artists/music is through streaming music services like Pandora. I start a station with an artist I know and Pandora will select a playlist based upon that artist’s style of music. As each new song is played the user can thumbs up/down the song to fine tune the type of music preferred. Since Pandora has restrictions from playing the same artist consecutively, the artist tends to change frequently, usually to artists I’ve never heard before. This is how I discovered Regina Spektor whose music I like a lot..

  43. As a clueless guy, now that I know that mixed tapes were a courtship ritual?
    I wish I hadn’t listened to some of the songs.
    I mean, now I feel all ughy* and voyeuristic.
    But seriously, I recognized six groups, and judging by that I’ll have to listen to
    the others, and (whimper) take notes.
    I miss WOXY, woxy.com, and lala. Keyword: ’97x’

    If I could, I’d do something nice for Amber Benson and am happy that you,
    Mr S. did.

    *Ughy: shudder with horror and say “That’s ughy.”

  44. That is one great playlist, John. If you were both 15, she would totally be into you. The one thing I miss about mixtapes is the crossfade. While admittedly you needed two inputs and a steady hand it made it just a little bit more “meaningful” to me. The amount of emotion I would try to impart with a great crossfade still startles me, even in retrospect. Of course, I have spent most of a professional career in pursuit of the unattainable perfect crossfade. But it is the attempt that matters, no?

  45. In the mid-1990s I actually wrote a program (simulated annealing, no less) to assemble mix tapes that would fit exactly onto 45 (and later, for a brief shining moment, 50) minute sides of tapes, with no extra. But the splicing trick mentioned above is hard-core.

  46. Weird! I was thinking about mix tapes in the car a few minutes ago. And that playlists are similar… but… yeah. On the plus side, since playlists take less time and love, maybe it’s less intimate to share them (for those who remember sharing mix tapes, anyway).

    I also thought Zelazny’s Amber, but because we had a playlist for our Amber LARP.

  47. I only ever did mixtapes for me and my passengers to listen to in the car, but remember some pretty neat effects I pulled largely by accident. Colonel Kurtz quoting “The Hollow Men” leading into The Cure’s “Hollow Man”; the Klingon Attack theme from ST:TMP leading into “Unknown Tongue” by Blue Oyster Cult (the drum work near the end is so close it really could be part of the song!).

    My masterpiece, which I can’t reconstruct since the tape was stolen: Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Close My Eyes Forever” with an intro cut from HUSTLER Magazine’s Shauna Grant suicide tape flexi-disc, and it was perfect and beautiful and awesome, in spite of how totally skeevy the source sounds.

  48. Wow, mixtapes were supposed to be a courting thing? I always used to make mixtapes for myself. Suddenly that seems so creepy I’m almost embarrassed to admit it in public. :)

  49. When I saw that John made a mixed tape for a fifteen year old girl my first thought was, creepy. Then I wondered if his wife new and maybe hes a stalker. If you were, because people don’t do it anymore, a girl making a mixed tape for yourself or friends no problem, because your a girl. If you were a guy you made a mixed tape for that special someone and that’s it. Otherwise you carried your metal over to your friends house and played stuff in it’s entirety.

  50. Evilsteve:

    “When I saw that John made a mixed tape for a fifteen year old girl my first thought was, creepy. ”

    Steve, man, you need to read a little more closely next time.

  51. Finally got to listen through the whole list. It’s a little more… pop-y… than I expected. Or top-forty-ish? Then again, I’ve been listening to some really off-beat music.

    Yoshida Brothers being a recent favorite. Kodo, “National Anthem”, “Mr Nagano’s Foolish Proposal”, “Red Bird – Akai Tori”, “Storm”, and more.

    “Xavier Rudd – ‘Fortune Teller’ (live at Melkweg)” still blows my mind when I watch him playing guitar.

    Got to see the Avett Brothers in concert. Damn good. Ballad of Love and Hate lyrics choke me up every time I hear it. “Head Full of Doubt” is also good. And “kick drum heart” is one of their songs with lots of energy. Lots of gems there.

  52. As a late, tangential follow up, we just saw the movie “Perks Of Being A Wallflower”. It’s excellent, has a great 80’s soundtrack, and (the relevant, on-topic point) mix tapes are a key plot element.

  53. John, my youngest child is seventeen. All her friends hang out at our house all the time and my wife and I enjoy having them around. They even call us mom and dad. If one of them all of the sudden said they missed mixed tapes the last thing I would think is, “I’ll make you one”. Only because of what they meant back in the day where I grew up. That’s all I was saying there.

  54. Xopher,
    Yeah not my best communication day. The second sentence in my first comment was supposed to be,”Then I realized who he was talking about and wondered…”, thanks for pointing it out. I didn’t look back at it after John’s comment. I just went, “what” Sorry about that. I can appreciate you standing up for John but so were clear I wasn’t ripping on him. Age of recipient actually has little to do with it. Also sorry about the humor after about his wife knowing and being a stalker when I figured it out. It’s just an opinion on the mixed tape that I was sharing. I’m not trying to put it on him or you. let me clarify. The girls all like pulling out my vinyl, tapes and cds. They like browsing the music I have on the computer and they can borrow what they like. However I’ll not put music together for them because of who I am. I’ll help them with the equipment the rest is their project. My weight trainer in a very nice 30 year old woman. She often comments on liking a song here and there that I have playing. She has even asked if I could put some together for her. I’m not going to put them together for her. That’s just me. Why? I made them in high school for my then girlfriend now wife of twenty seven years, thirty years together. I sent them to her as a young wife,along with messages of you can imagine, when I was overseas in the service. I made one recently for her that let her know I still feel the same way i did then. That”s what the mixed tape was for in my time and place. So they were probably something a little more intimate for me the the average tape maker. Do you care, probably not. Do you understand me better now, probably. I realize my feelings toward them are mine not every ones. Who would have thought the mixed tape would turn Scalzi nation upside down. I thought that was primarily reserved for politics ans religion at whatever! (Please note last two sentences meant to be humor.) Sorry for getting you guys all worked up. I’ll try to remember to use the preview pane here before I post comment!

  55. Commenting on a really old post. Which is kind of my point. I loved the Amber Alert playlist and replicated it on my Rhapsody account. But I’ve got it memorized now and while I still love it, I’m curious if you have a few new playlists in you. I’m sure the thrill of having a 50 year old male asking you for a mixtape playlist doesn’t carry the same charge to bring you back to your 15 year old self but… still… could ya?

    You’ve continually written about social issues, political issues, SFWA business, economic inequality, and cats. But only one totally excellent playlist (that I can find). So I’m putting in my request.

    Thanks –

    (But seriously, Amber Alert was a REALLY well crafted playlist)

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