Liner Notes for the Mountain Man Playlist

About this Playlist
I created the Mountain Man playlist on Spotify as a travel companion. This eclectic mix of 33 songs is a musical adventure to Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, and back.

As a teenager growing up in flat, suburban Houston, I dreamt about climbing mountains in Alaska. Although I saved enough frequent flier miles to get there, my life’s journey lead me elsewhere. Now, after some 30 years, I’m finally making my dream come true. I will travel to Alaska and climb Denali in 2018.

This playlists include songs from my youth and songs that remind me of my friendship with my dear friend, El Jefe, who inspired me to return to mountaineering three years ago. This playlist is dedicated to him.

May this playlist encourage you to follow your own dreams and to climb to new heights!

Liner Notes

  1. This playlist kicks off with an upbeat instrumental that showcases the amazing musical prowess of Rhiannon Giddens. The first track clicks my playlist into gear as Ms Giddens points the journey towards the North Star. I strongly encourage you to check out her silky smooth voice, which is aged like a fine, red wine, on her masterful new album, Freedom Highway.
  2. America’s finest vaudeville entertainers, Kermit and Fozzie Bear, get this show on the road. In The Muppet Movie, Kermit meets Fozzie after he leaves his home in the swamp to chase fame and stardom. The on-screen bromance of these two muppets is rivaled only by Statler and Waldorf, the two heckling, old farts in the balcony seats. My dear friend, El Jefe and I were often compared to the two geezers so I include this track as a tribute to our friendship and our verbal jabs with one another.
  3. The journey continues northwards with country music legend, Johnny Horton. This song shares a title with a John Wayne film about finding gold and love in Alaska. Since I staked my prospector’s claim elsewhere, I include this song to invoke the great western frontier, a sense of largeness that Alaskans share with Texans.
  4. Alaska might be the biggest state in the US, but it was never a country like Texas. As the first 1980’s hit on this compilation, this track reminds me of backpacking trips in Big Bend National Park and in the Scottish Highlands—two places that share the same spirit of independence as Alaska and Texas.
  5. The smooth cadence of this fresh hit from Maggie Rogers can soothe any transformation—physical or emotional. With this track, I signal my arrival in Alaska. I picture myself on Flattop Mountain near Anchorage walking in silence as I leave my worries behind and start anew in America’s last frontier.
  6. One of my favorite television shows as a student, Northern Exposure takes a humorous look at small town life supposedly in Talkeetna, Alaska. To climb Denali, mountaineers start in this small town outside the national park where they ski or take a bush plane to the Kahiltna Base Camp, the starting point for most expeditions.
  7. Once a year, I unfortunately never seem to miss the television broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest, where 27 countries compete for the title of the best song in Europe. This year’s Romanian entry was my favorite, and, since my lovely wife jokingly challenged me to add it to the playlist, the song increases the pitch of this compilation with a warning to leave your work behind and reach for the stars. Yodeleeii!
  8. A few years ago, I offered my services as a bodyguard to a television producer who trucked off to Alaska for an icy gig. Had I gotten the gig, I might have eventually met the Austrian apres-ski legend whose hit I borrowed as this playlist’s title track. Anyway, who cares what Alpine Andreas really sings in English and German! If you can make it through this song, you’ve summited the first peak on this playlist.
  9. The long climb up to the top of this playlist begins with Americana chart climber, M. Ward. The steady, marching pace of this track should help with acclimatization during the first few days at base camp. When I hear this song, I imagine myself packing sleds with equipment and supplies for the long, journey ahead.
  10. The restless, breathy voice of Americana’s newest sweetheart, Caitlin Canty, gets this playlist up and going. In her song, Caitlin sings about switchbacks and tall mountain grass. During the Denali expedition, the conditions will be less pastoral. The expedition is mostly snowshoeing and pulling a sled over snow-covered glaciers for endless hours, which will seem even longer since Alaska has many hours of daylight in the spring.
  11. The slow ascent to the four remaining base camps on Denali is just as difficult as the final summit climb. During a more than twenty day expedition, I will carry clothing, equipment, food, and supplies in a heavy, 100 liter backpack and on a sled. With this track, I symbolize how El Jefe (the boss) and El Jefito (the little boss or one of my nicknames) will have to carry more than their own weight. Besides, the hard work of listening isn’t done yet so take a short break, pitch a tent on frozen ice, and enjoy a little temporary house on the tundra.
  12. Ms. Giddens returns to speed up the pace of this playlist with her former band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Pulling a sled and carrying a heavy load won’t make the hard, uphill work any easier, but the light merriment of this song just may offer just enough of a distraction along the way.
  13. In one of my favorite cover songs, America’s southern gothic queen, Lucinda Williams turns the dial up to eleven. Forget disappointment; forget heartbreak. If you wanna rock and eventually make it to the top, you also have to roll.
  14. This playlist is not over the next hill yet. Overcoming crowds on the mountain and hunkering down inside a snowed-in tent are two common things that can go wrong. Master blues musician, Keb Mo, provides a list of what else could go wrong along the way.
  15. With temperatures hovering near minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit, this journey is no spring fling. A thick, down parka and snowshoes are required cold weather gear on this expedition. It’s time to push harder and louder through the winter landscape as this musical journey continues to its last base camp.
  16. Blues rock, guitar virtuoso, Joe Bonamasse, ain’t the only one with an ax to grind. Wearing crampons and carrying an ice ax signals the final push to the summit. Leaving the final base camp at an elevation of 5,243 meters, the steady, repetitive pace of this song is a perfect accompaniment on the tedious trail to the top. I would have included Autobahn by Kraftwerk to honor the part of the final climb bearing the same name, but the original version of the German electronic song is more than 20 minutes long.
  17. If the endless whiteness of the climb hasn’t made you batty yet, Ozzy Osbourne arrives to take this playlist over the top. A high school favorite of mine, Ozzy is a known offender for improper disposal of human waste, which is also major concern on Denali. But, at this point in the playlist, a dose of heavy metal is just what this playlist needs to get over the mountain.
  18. Rejoice with America’s funniest private in the US Marine Corp, the television character, Gomer Pyle! Actor and baritone, Jim Neighbors, finally proclaims the summit of this playlist. As a teenager, I discovered this Christmas hit in my parent’s record collection. I include it as a reminder of my parents because Alaska is the only state in the US that they haven’t visited yet.
  19. A nobel effort well-done, this playlist takes time for a quick celebration with the world’s most famous partypooper, Bob Dylan. Let’s make a ruckus and a rumble before heading back down the mountain.
  20. Before departing, take a deep, acoustic breath, and briefly relax with The Wood Brothers, a funky trio based out of Nashville. The lively, open groove swing of this track offers the playlist a short pause for mindfull reflection. What did it take to make it to the top? Will it be possible to make it back down?
  21. A substitute for Loretta Lynn’s rocking High on a Mountain Top, which is not available on Spotify, this low-key bluegrass classic continues the pensive mood of the playlist. I already ask myself what it will be like to have finally achieved my dream after so many years.
  22. A tip of my hat to El Jefe, the guy who inspired me to reach for my dream, John Denver’s song ends the summit celebration. I originally did not want to include this song in the playlist because Alaska is far away from Colorado, but the song represents our common background of hiking as children in the Rocky Mountain state. The track is also a bunny mine, a digital watermark that checks whether El Jefe listened to the playlist, and, well, he already found it.
  23. Having reached the peak of this playlist, it is time to head back down. With this song from Iron & Wine, I shift the focus of reflection from myself to others, in particular, my mother, who may be worrying at this point in the journey if I will make it back or not.
  24. Jason Eady and his wife, Courtney Patton, continue my reflective focus with an upbeat song that I dedicate to my own wife. Although she enjoys hiking with me and our children, she is not interested in mountaineering. I only wish I could afford for her and the kids to meet me in the middle of the national park at the end of my journey.
  25. A love song to Ténéré, a desert region in the south central Sahara, this song is about moving forward without leaving what is most important behind. Friendship, faith, and longing are such powerful emotions, and the lyrics of this song match them with a thumping, driving beat, which reminds me of Robert Plant’s masterpiece Lillaby and … the Ceaseless Roar.
  26. In another shout-out to El Jefe, who included this song in his video about our adventure to Mt Rainier in 2016, this playlist gets its second wind. Climbing down a mountain can be just as difficult as climbing up one, especially if you are in a rope team with me. Unfortunately, I always have more problems going downhill than up—a skill I am still trying to master.
  27. On the same Mt Rainier trip in 2016, I sang this Jane’s Addiction tune to myself as we descended down the mountain from the Muir snowfield in a cloud of snow. This track reminds me of Austin, Texas where I was a drummer in grunge bands, and Hamburg where I saw this band perform on the Reeperbahn the first night I emigrated from England to Germany.
  28. A favorite song from my childhood, Merle delivers a cautious warning about returning home that sounds quite similar to the theme from Benny Hill. Although I have no reason to doubt my wife’s fidelity, I include this track as a nod to the greatest travel story of all time, Homer’s Odyssey.
  29. While compiling this playlist, I couldn’t decide whether to include this track or Carry that Weight from the Abby Road album. This song won for many reasons. With themes of love, remorse, sadness, and longing, I felt this track was a better fit, especially a hero’s journey should always lead back to its start.
  30. In a cover version of the Brandie Carlile song, the Avett Brothers invoke the sense of self and well being I often feel when I am walking in the woods or hiking in the mountains. Surrounded by nothing but my own thoughts, I can meditate and clear my mind. While some prefer yoga due to its calming rituals, my return to mountaineering three years ago confirmed my own need for more activity whether it’s walking, running, riding bikes, or swimming.
  31. I almost cut this incredibly touching love song from this playlist, but I decided to keep it for many reasons. On one hand, El Jefe and I both like Emmylou, and the chorus shares my frustration of remaining behind while he makes the first attempt. On the other hand, leaving aside the themes of death and romantic loss, I feel this track is an excellent summary of many themes this playlist explores.
  32. A classic, show tune from The Sound of Music, this final track on the playlist is a reminder to continue to dream. As a teenager on his first trip to Europe, I landed in Salzburg and was awestruck by the Austrian Alps that we briefly experienced. As an adult enjoying an advanced stage of youth, I returned to the Austrian Alps to refresh my mountaineering skills. This tune is a reminder for all the dreamers like myself, Kermit, El Jefe, and many of my other dearest friends. Keep climbing your mountain!
  33. In an age when facts are debatable, The Sun Sets Behind a Mountain is either an alternative ending or a bonus track. This classic, Soviet folk song from 1948 exclaims the toil and suffering of solders as they come back home from war. I include this track in the hope that I may also return from my next expedition.
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