As the drummer for both Superchunk and the Mountain Goats, Jon Wurster has spent a lot of time getting to know America's interstate highway system. "I'm on the road, like, 250 days a year," says Wurster (who is also a very funny comedian). "You're always doing these rest stops in the middle of these long drives, and 80 percent of the time, there's some weird song from your past playing in the convenience store. "
Before hitting the road with Superchunk to promote their great new album, I Hate Music, Wurster called to tell us about a few of his favorite rest-stop radio tunes. At least, that was the idea at first. He ended up veering a little off-topic. But that's okay.
Helen Reddy, "Angie Baby"
"Possibly the most frightening song ever written. It's the story of this girl, Angie, who's described as 'a little touched.' She lives in her own imagination, and she's listening to this rock station all the time. And then this creepy guy who's been lurking outside of her house comes over and convinces her to let him hang out with her. But the music is so loud that he's thrown off his game and he's disoriented. And as she turns the radio down, he gets physically smaller, and he's sucked into the radio. Then the scariest line ever is 'never to be found.' He's in there forever! I think as a child, that's what scared me the most. Like, Cannibal Corpse and Slayer, bands like that, they sing about being mutilated and butchered – but I don't think any of their songs are as scary as a song with the idea of being shrunken down and sucked into a radio for eternity."
The Carpenters, "Ticket to Ride"
"Maybe the second-scariest song. I heard this in a supermarket around 2:00 in the morning, so there was no one in the store, and it kind of stopped me in my tracks. There was something about how Richard and Karen's voices blended together that gave me that same feeling when you're in a nightmare and you're being chased by something or someone and you can't run fast enough."
Yvonne Elliman, "If I Can't Have You"
"I would always turn this song off as a kid, just because it was disco. But [recently] I'd been reading this book about the Bee Gees, who wrote this song. Then, by chance, it came on in a store I was in. I was struck by how it's almost like a Joy Division song, in terms of the desperation of the lyric. It's almost like a suicide note. 'I don't know why I'm surviving every lonely day, when there's got to be no chance for me / My life would end, and it doesn't matter how I cry.' Very dark."
38 Special, "Caught Up in You"
"When I was in high school, around '82, I was very much into The Clash and the Ramones and punk and new wave, so this kind of music – this southern rock – was the enemy to me. But I heard this song recently, and it got me looking at the video, which is kind of the perfect object. It's everything that was great about mindless early-Eighties culture, all in one place. There's two drummers in the band, for reasons I’ve never been quite sure of. I make up little back stories for people; my fantasy is that the second drummer was .38 Special's weed supplier who would travel with them sometimes, and they decided to let him play."
The Spinners, "One of a Kind Love Affair"
"I saw this recently in a documentary about the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire in '74. The lyrics really hit me. As a kid, it felt like a very happy song. But upon closer inspection, it's really heavy. I looked up the song, and the lead singer of the Spinners, Philippe Wynne, was known to scat on the outro. One of the lines he says here is 'One of a kind love affair, makes you want to love her, you've just gotta hug her, yeah.' And I read that radio stations wouldn't play it, because they thought he was saying, 'You've just gotta fuck her.' I was obsessed with this song for weeks, playing it over and over again in the car. The last time I played it, I stopped and went into the supermarket, and it's playing!"
The Four Seasons, "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)"
"This song is kind of disturbing, in that it's about this guy having anonymous sex with a woman whose name he doesn't even remember just a month after the assassination of President Kennedy. I think that's fairly tasteless, don't you? Recently I was playing on a record in the same studio where this was done, and I thought it was interesting that they had the gold record for this in this little corner right by the bathroom. You had to open the bathroom door to actually see it."
Katy Perry, "California Gurls"
"This is just a catchy pop song in the tradition of the great catchy pop songs. A few years ago, in '09, a friend of mine called and said, 'Hey, I'm trying to put together this little drum section to play with Katy Perry at the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City.' I said, 'Oh, I have to do this.' So I went to practice. It was me and three other drummers, doing 'We Will Rock You,' by Queen. Katy was there, and she was introduced to all of the people in the band – just these drummers and her. She goes, 'You look familiar,' and I said, 'Oh, I've been around.' And that was it. We never spoke again."
"I may be the only drummer of my age on earth who is not in the Rush camp. I like concise songs. But that's why I love this song so much – it's almost like if Rush did a Raspberries song. About a year ago, the Mountain Goats were on tour, and we had a day off in Philly. John [Darnielle] said, 'I want to go see Rush.' He bought us all tickets – [bassist Peter Hughes] and I and Brandon, our tour manager, and Trudy, our t-shirt person. So we all went, and it was really fun. There were these two guys in front of us, total ne'er-do-well Philly dirtbags. One of them was even in pajamas. They must've been in their late forties. So we're watching the show, and there's that song 'Spirit of Radio,' that has what could be considered a reggae section in it. One guy in front of us, when that section of the song started, he turns to us and he makes the 'smoking a joint' gesture, and he goes 'Bob Marley, that's what it's all about!' And he takes his imaginary pot and he does an imaginary skank. Then the song got prog again, and we left, of course, because that was too much to handle."