"Goodnight and Go" by Imogen Heap
I'd like to play a song for you now that comes with an admission. This is probably back in 2005. I liked a girl a lot, and so I gave the girl my number, and I didn't get her number. And every day that went by, I was optimistic-slash-masochistic enough to believe that this was gonna be the day that she'd write. Because obviously you'd wait five. You'd wait five! And then it became six, I'd go: I get it, you wait six.
The call never came, but I bonded with this song as I lay heartbroken on the floor. It's Imogen Heap, "Say Goodnight and Go." It is such a beautiful, sexy song about desire. It's probably the crushiest song that's out there that I can think of.
Your Body is a Wonderland
The year is 2000, and back then they had loop CDs. This is well before you could just use Logic or Protools or anything on your computer to make records. There was just CDs of loops. And i found this one loop, and it was just [imitates simple drum pattern]. And I put it into the computer, and I played guitar over it.
I'm talking about a song called "Your Body is a Wonderland," that began for me as sort of like this R&B idea of a song. Now, here's where it gets really interesting. Whether or not you think that song is genetically high-quality, or genetically cool, everyone that I would go on to play that demo for would just melt. Check it out, it's "Your Body Is A Wonderland" on Sirius XM.
"Ram On" by Paul McCartney
One thing you learn as you start to dig into music of the past is that it's just impossible for any one artist to have every one of their albums be received relative to how great they are. No one is spared. Not even Paul McCartney, who released a record after his time with the Beatles called Ram. And only now is it getting the recognition that it so richly deserves. I discovered it some years back while I was making Paradise Valley. And I'm gonna play for you a song that just blows me away because it's so sweet, and it's unique, and it's interestingly recorded! What a touch. What an unbelievable touch. [Plays "Ram On"]
"Battle of Who Could Care Less" by Ben Folds Five
A giant influence on my songwriting is Ben Folds, and especially Ben Folds Five. I was attending Boston's Berklee College of Music in the late 90s, and was so happy to be listening to pop music with this kind of musicality. Because I was highly musically in-depth when I was at Berklee College of Music. And to have pop music introduce me to as much harmonic complexity as some of the other music I was learning, that was awesome to have both sides of the brain working at the same time. And perhaps I have a band like Ben Folds Five to thank for the music that I went on to write. I always hear a little bit of Ben Folds Five in No Such Thing, my first single on my first album.
I would like to play a lot of Ben Folds Five for you on this channel, and I'm going to. This is one of my favorite songs by Ben Folds Five, it's "Battle of Who Could Care Less."
Born and Raised
In October of 2010, I went into Electric Lady Studios in New York City for what would end up being a record called Born and Raised. And I remember being in Studio C up on the third floor, and I had a harmonica. And something about this cadence of playing the harmonica that I had sounded to me like the words: "born and raised."
And I was just in some mode where, I couldn't not write every day. And a song like this really began as the sort of DNA contributor to the entire album. There's always a song you write that stands up as the captain of the rest of the songs that you will write for an album. And the rest of Born and Raised was driven by the DNA of this song. And... glad that I went straight into the studio to work out whatever I had in my head and my heart.
"Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel
How lucky was I to be ingesting all of this great music in the world as I was a kid? I have the music of Billy Joel and so many others to thank for my career. This is such a fun song. It doesn't sound like any other song from the 80s. It's a love letter to doo-wop, maybe in the way that my album Sob Rock is a love letter to the late 80s. It wasn't until recently that I realized that artists like to go backwards and pay homage to the music that influenced them. And I think Billy Joel did that in the case of this song, "Uptown Girl."
"Joga" by Björk
I remember every place I was when I got knocked out by a song. The year was 1997. I was going to school in Boston at Berklee College of Music. And I was at an Urban Outfitters and I heard this song by Björk and it knocked me out.
Now, back then, there was no Shazam. You had to ask the Urban Outfitters sales associate, hey, what's that? Hey, that's "Joga" by Björk. To this day it still does the same thing it did to me the first time I ever heard it. Let it happen to you.
Your Body is a Wonderland
I'm admitting this, I've never admitted this to anyone before: I look at this channel as my autobiography. My audio-biography. High-five, everyone.
[Jeff Buckley] had a song called "Your Flesh is So Nice." I was very moved by the sort of fluorescently-lit utilitarian alien kind of direct language of that. And that, in some way, inspired me to write "Your Body is a Wonderland."
Paul McCartney is the king of melodies. That's all there is to it. Hearing his melodic ideas, I don't know how you do it. I mean, it's easy to reverse[-engineer] a lot of people's songwriting. You can reverse-engineer. At its best, you go, "cool." But the greatest to do it, you can't really quite reverse-engineer what would have made someone think the thoughts they thought to create those melodies. [Plays "Listen to What the Man Said" by Wings]
"Magic" by Coldplay
When you think Coldplay, you generally think big, anthemic, massive songs. Massive great songs. What I find so lovely is that they released a song fairly recently, within the last three albums, called "Magic." And it's really minimal and sparse and cool. And I'm gonna play it for you right now. You might not even have known it was Coldplay, because it's just not in their normal sort of language. But that's why I like it. I like the music that doesn't totally fit in the "This Is" category of a band. It's called "Magic," it's Coldplay, it's cool.
I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)
There was a little bit of "Your Body is a Wonderland" that helped me write "I Don't Trust Myself With Loving You." Because as I began once again to write a sort of sexy, slow R&B-style ballad, I thought: I cannot do this again and go into the "here are the ways in which I want to love on you" lyrics. And so I decided I would do the exact opposite, and that I would actually tell you why you should probably go elsewhere. I would later go on to sort of do exactly that! If nothing else, I'm a prophet of my own behavior. Let's look at this song, "I Don't Trust Myself With Loving You."
"Pretending" by Eric Clapton
One of my favorite Eric Clapton eras is the Journeyman era, which saw me pretty much as, like, a freshman in high school. To me, this just doesn't get cooler. It's "Pretending" by Eric Clapton. It's a wonderful way to kind of put the reggae thing in there without you really knowing it's reggae. Because as we all know: tough one to pull off, when you blend the reggae with anything else. But there's just something — there was something cool happening at the verge of the late 80s and early 90s, that was a blend of 80s recording sonic aesthetic and, like, just going into something really ambitious musically. And I'm so thankful I have this music in my early life. And I'm so thankful you get to listen to it. It's Eric Clapton with "Pretending" on Life With John Mayer.
Gravity is one of those songs I thought was just neat. I had written it in one night. And when I came home I thought, well, that's a nice one to have in the quiver. It grew overnight in my head and in my heart. And by the second day, I'd listened back for maybe the tenth time and went, "oh." It's like it had blossomed in front of me, as to what it really was. I'm very proud of the song. It's one of those ones that's gonna go with me through the rest of my life, and I'm happy it's in the sidecar going along with me. It's Gravity, check it out.
"Against All Odds" by Phil Collins
When I listen to a song, I'm listening to three things. The vocals, the lyrics, the music — okay, four things. Cause the fourth thing is the X factor, and that's the way the musicality helps underscore what the whole song is doing. And that can be done with harmonic differences, chord changes, interesting bass note substitutions. This is by Phil Collins, it's called "Against All Odds." And if you listen to the tension in the way that certain notes are held even as chords change on top of them, it's just gorgeous. It feels like the lyrics, and the lyrics sound like the vocalist, and the vocalist is singing exactly like the song should be sung. It's "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" by Phil Collins.
Friends, Lovers, or Nothing
If there's ever one lyric that I myself think about, more than any other one that I've written, it's "anything other than yes is no," when it comes to relationships. We know how to say yes. The "maybe"s, the "or"s, the "hey but"s — those are just synonyms for no. And I think about it even in my own life, still. Anything other than yes is no. And those are lyrics from a song called Friends, Lovers, or Nothing.
"Roll To Me" by Del Amitri
The year is 1996. I'm working at a Coconut Music, that was a record store in my town of Fairfield, CT. And there was this incredibly precise, short, pristine song that came out called "Roll To Me" by Del Amitri. They were ahead of their time. I think the song's like two minutes and, like, ten seconds. So enjoy the next two minutes and however many seconds and listen to a perfect pop confection. It's "Roll To Me," by Del Amitri.
Edge of Desire
The year is 2008. I was in a relationship that I was so desperate to make work. And I love desperate heartbroken thinking. Just some of the most twisted logic in the world. Maybe, I thought to myself, if we don't talk, we'll never collide. We'll never have these collisions and these misunderstandings if we just never talk. And this song, Edge of Desire, began as a demo called Words. And the key idea was: don't say a word, just come over and lie here. This is Edge of Desire.
"To Hell & Back" by Maren Morris
You know, there aren't many modern songs that put a lump in my throat. Maren Morris has a song called "To Hell and Back," and it is just as powerful as a song could ever get. I think Maren's great, I think this song is great, and I think we should both listen to it.
"Madwoman" by Annika Bennett
Occasionally I will hear a new song that is so good that I can't believe it is not more popular than it is. And it makes me want to say something, and I do. I say it in my head all the time. And I say it to the record companies in my head. I don't say it out loud. I won't even say it out loud right now, cause it's in my head. But what I say is: do your job! Do your job! Listen to this song! Is your only job as a record company to just enter your artist into the TikTok roulette game?! Do your job! Listen to this song, people! It's Annika Bennett, "Madwoman," and it is as good as any pop song has ever been. And I'm proud to play it for you. Do your job. LIFE With John Mayer. Do your job.
You know, I think everyone has that one album where their musicality intersects with the happiness in their life. Sort of attaining the first feeling of control of happiness in their life. For me, that's an album called Continuum.
I remember the making of the album as much as I remember the music on the album. And I was only interested in making the music that moved me the most. And at that time, it was soul music. It was R&B music. In fact, I was listening to [Smokey Robinson's channel] Soul Town on Sirius XM every day on the way to work.
What I'm most proud of is that I didn't walk into the studio to try to cover anything, or say, "I want a song like this Ray Charles song." I just brought the feeling of that music in with me, and created something that I think was pretty new, and was married with blues music and pop music.
"Friday I'm In Love" by The Cure
Happy Cure's day. It's Friday, are you in love? Would you like to be? I would like you to be. I'd like that for myself too, but you know what guys? You first. "Friday I'm In Love" by The Cure.
"Gentle on My Mind" performed by Glen Campbell
People ask me, John, what’s your favorite song? This is my answer, and it’s always been my answer. It will take a song—I don’t know how it’s going to exist—to knock this off the perch of number one. I can tell you why. I can teach a class on why. I can teach an hour long class as to why this is my favorite song and why this does, in one song, metaphysically, what no other song can do. This is a deep exploration of absent, distant love. It’s performed by Glen Campbell, and it’s called “Gentle on My Mind.” And I hope that if you are in a relationship that your significant other always resides gently on your mind. That is the test. If you are dating someone, if someone new in your life has entered. Ask yourself the question, are they gentle on my mind? And if the answer is yes, I would like you to proceed. Glen Campbell, “Gentle on My Mind.”
If I Ever Get Around to Living
This would be what I would call a deep cut. I was hung over, driving to Brooklyn, going over a bridge, watching a plane fly when I heard the rough mix of this song back through my headphones. And I went, there is something about this song that I don’t deserve. This song is just outside of my deserving this song, and it’s called, If I Ever Get Around to Living.
"Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog
The year is about 1992. The band Pearl Jam has just released their song “Alive” from their album Ten to us high schoolers. And then we find out there’s more music, but it’s from before the album “Ten.” It’s from a band called, Temple of the Dog. Sort of like The Avengers of Seattle. Featuring Chris Cornell and Matthew Cameron, who went on the play drums for Pearl Jam. And there’s a moment in the video for "Hunger Strike," where Eddie Vedder, who gets the second verse, just emerges through a thicket of brush, like Iron Man, and sings, “I don’t mind stealin’ bread…” It’s just one of those cinematic moments, both sonically and visually.
"The Downtown Lights" by The Blue Nile
Hi, my name is John, and I'm a Blue Nile fan. If you've listened long enough, you know I love The Blue Nile. And I love that other artists and people I come in contact with in the world who are younger are starting to really discover The Blue Nile. And one of the songs that you can get any young person to love—which is the test of a great song, is like, it doesn’t matter when it came out, do you love it?—is "The Downtown Lights" by The Blue Nile. And it makes me want to write more songs like that, and then I try to, and I go, I don’t have what this guy has. But I’m still going to try, I’m still going to try to write a song like this. "The Downtown Lights" by The Blue Nile.
"Tinseltown in the Rain" by The Blue Nile
You know I love Blue Nile if you listen to LIFE With John Mayer long enough. This is "Tinseltown in the Rain." For our muso friends, this record [1984's "A Walk Across the Rooftops"] was actually a sort of prototypical test of the Linn drum. So most of the drums on this record are Roger Linn's Linn drum, which would go on to be just absolutely fundamental in the creation of '80s music. Prince is famous for just being an artiste with a Linn drum. The record is so clean, it is like a sushi meal when it comes to the cleanness of the tracks, and the use of negative space. It's just gorgeous. I can't recommend The Blue Nile enough. Check it out.
"Best of What's Around" by Dave Matthews Band
It's no secret that Dave Matthews Band deeply inspired my songwriting. I would say it inspired me so much that I became a songwriter. I had been darting back and forth between pop music and guitar music, and there was something about the erudition in the music of Dave Matthews Band, that I went: oh, this is how you can play pop music with music made by people who would use the word "erudition." And I bought the album Under The Table And Dreaming, and heard this very first song, and I'll never forget the popping of that drum fill. [Imitates drum fill, guitar lick, "hey my friend—"] Why am I singing it? You're about to hear it. I've done you no service at all. I've certainly not done myself a service. It can only get better from here, and believe me it will. This is The Best of What's Around by Dave Matthews Band.
Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967
Thank God you don't have to write the same song twice. Cause if I had to, I would never have been able to write Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967. Whatever the elements that magically fell into place to write this song were, I can assure you they will never appear again. I was just thrown into this other world. And the world I was thrown into was very Wes Anderson. I knew it was something special. It was a story. It was the first and only third-person narrative I've ever written. I'm just so honored to have it. Doesn't even feel like my song. It's Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967.
"The Downtown Lights" by The Blue Nile (Live comments, 1/27/24)
This is a song that I have always loved, and I love turning people on to this band, The Blue Nile. This is "The Downtown Lights," and everyone I meet who hasn't heard The Blue Nile will eventually have heard The Blue Nile. Because I am a staunch advocate for this band. And I am continuing my work in that regard. This is "The Downtown Lights" by The Blue Nile.
"Something So Right" by Paul Simon
I’m going to assume that I don’t have to tell you about Paul Simon’s songs like "You Can Call Me Al," and "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard," and Simon & Garfunkel. There’s an era, however, in the 70’s, of really mellow, cool, great, groovy Paul Simon records. And one of them is called, “Something So Right.” [sings part of the song] To be able to write like that and keep the lines going and it’s not just one line, one line, one line. He’s writing, like, a book. That’s hard to do. Boy, that’s hard to do.
I don't know how we got Gravity to sound like gravity, which is to say it's almost devoid of any other sound but the sound you hear. It's almost in this beautiful vacuum, like it's taking place in outer space. I can be effusive about it because, A, I don't know how to do it, so it was done by accident. B, I have no idea how to do it again. It's just good work when you can get it. It's a lovely recording. I'm very proud of the song. It's Gravity, on LIFE With John Mayer.
Emoji of a Wave
This next song is from The Search For Everything, and it has an interesting title. I'm an interesting title guy. It's called Emoji of a Wave.
I think the word "emoji" is going to be in the lexicon for the next fifty years. I think fifty years from now you'll be able to say "emoji" like you could say "transistor radio" or something. But people were confused as to whether it was an emoji of a wave from the ocean, or a wave of the hand. And what it really was was the emoji of a wave from the ocean. And when I look back on this breakup that I had, there's something very elevated about the idea of two people who are broken up who have to remain radio silent but who have taken to code to write to each other. To say hey, I'm having a moment, I'm thinking about you. And that for me was literally an emoji of a wave.
No Code by Pearl Jam
When I was writing and recording my record Born and Raised, one of the records I thought about a lot was No Code by Pearl Jam, because it was a departure album, and it was one I really really loved. To me it was a very successful, cool departure. And inspired me to take chances, because with the album No Code, it’s a very very big pay off for a chance that’s taken, because the album is great. So here’s a song from that album, it’s called “Who You Are.”
No Such Thing
This is my first single from my first major label album, Room For Squares. It's called No Such Thing. And I remember people saying, "I like that 'real world' song," and thinking to myself, uh, mighta shoulda called it something else. But it's No Such Thing. And it is really inspired I think by Ben Folds Five. In the spirit of both the sort of rhythmic aspect of the song, and also the harmonic aspect of the song. It's called No Such Thing.
"Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney
I knew good guitar playing before I really learned how to play the guitar all that well. Would have made more sense to say "good," but I'm a devotee of the English language. Paul McCartney "Maybe I'm Amazed" has a guitar solo in it that's so lyrical and memorable, there could be no better solo for that song. And there are few better songs than that one. And they're Paul McCartney's anyway, so I'm not throwing anyone under the bus. I just looked up to make sure that it was Paul McCartney playing this solo, and it is. One of the best guitar solos ever on a rock song was played by Paul McCartney. Here it is now: "Maybe I'm Amazed."
"Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh
I went to go see Eagles at The Forum not long ago, and was reminded it's not "The Eagles" — this isn't football — it's simply "Eagles." And it was beautiful, and it was great. But even in beautiful great things there can be a standout. And the standout of the night to me was Joe Walsh.
Now, I've always loved Joe Walsh, but I had to see him live to understand how positively incendiary he is. This guy is pulling guitar notes out of a deeper well in the ground than most anyone else alive right now. You have to see it to believe it. Nothing tells the truth more than a live performance onstage, because you're all in the same room at the same moment. And so everything that the guitar player is doing is speaking for the crowd all at once. And this guy was speaking with a flamethrower.
He played on a lot of cool stuff, but a song that he played that reminded me of how clever it is, is "Life's Been Good To Me." It is a miniature rock and roll opera. It's got these little pieces and parts. It's clever. It's kind of funny. It's super revealing and honest. And life has been good to Joe Walsh, and life has been good to us, because Joe Walsh is in it. It's "Life's Been Good To Me" by Joe Walsh.
"Midnight Rider" by The Allman Brothers Band
There are certain songs that, when I hear them, I don't want to write that song. Because I can't, it already exists. But I want to write one like it. "Midnight Rider" by The Allman Brothers Band is a song that I think probably inspired Queen of California.
I love a road song. I also love lyrics that beat against one another. And in the case of "I don't own the clothes I'm wearing, and the road goes on forever", they are seemingly disparate ideas that are actually incredible when you combine them and get that large sense of that abstract world from these two competing ideas. I don't own the clothes I'm wearing, and by the way, the road goes on forever. "Midnight Rider" by The Allman Brothers Band. It's as cool as cool gets.
One of the chords in the song [Gravity], when I say "dream of ways to throw it all away," is so interesting because I put the bassline down first, and I played the wrong string on the bass. It wasn't because I had this clever harmonic idea. I just was an idiot, and played the wrong chord on the bass, and I went "that sounds good."
The guitar you hear on this song is the demo. It is the first time I played the guitar on this song. If it wasn't, it would have been way chestier, it would have been way more confident. It would have been like the fourth snowball fight in Groundhog Day. You know, the fake-looking one. What you hear on the song Gravity is my first attempt at playing, and it's the purest I think I've ever sounded on guitar, cause I don't know what I have as I have it. Check it out, it's Gravity.
"It's Good to Be King" by Tom Petty
Tom Petty's Wildflowers is an album that I was very lucky to have in my collection growing up when it was brand new and it came out. It was a very popular record and it also had great songs on it. There's a song called "It's Good to Be King." There was a video, I believe Harry Dean Stanton was in the video for "It's Good to Be King." And there's a moment at the end of the song that really changed me and inspired me as a songwriter.
The end of the song, as you're about to hear, has a piano line that repeats. In music terms that's called an ostinato pattern. And so you'll hear [sings repeating ascending three-note pattern] as the chords change underneath it. It's not that different from No Such Thing, where I'm going [sings guitar riff from verse of No Such Thing]. It taught me, like, oh, you can recycle these notes around and around, and change the music underneath. Well, Tom Petty did it with a lot more gravitas, cause the end of this song is just so beautiful and deep. It's "It's Good to Be King" by the great Tom Petty.
"Harvest Moon" by Neil Young
Let me tell you what's hard to do as a singer-songwriter. To write a song thirty years after your first album, and have it be sonically able to be confused with your great work, your great legendary work from thirty years past. "Harvest Moon" by Neil Young sounds as if it could have lived on Harvest, both sonically and spiritually and conceptually. It lives perfectly in the Neil Young library. And it's just beautiful. And there are songs in the world that make me desirous of a dance partner. And nothing can make me want a dance partner more than Harvest Moon by Neil Young.
"Bittersweet" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters
I'm no get-off-my-grass kind of old man. I'm okay with the passage of time and the way culture changes.
But there's something I miss, and that's Good Morning America performances of bands that you just happen to click through and find.
I remember in the early '90s seeing Big Head Todd and the Monsters play on Good Morning America. And I was blown away by this song called "Bittersweet" that I'm about to play for you. It's the very rare combination of blues and pop together. Seemingly simple to write chordally. But the lyrics are just gorgeous, the vibe is gorgeous. I'm a big Big Head Todd and the Monsters fan. Very hard to create a blues-pop hybrid. Many, many songs die on the table. This is a great example of how to do it. It's "Bittersweet" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, on LIFE With John Mayer.
Something Like Olivia
I remember working on my album Born and Raised and writing songs pretty quickly. One of the fastest songs I wrote for the album was Something Like Olivia, because I was in the studio and Jim Keltner—the great legendary drummer Jim Keltner—was there playing on some tracks. And he sounded so good. And I knew that I had him in the room and he would play on anything that I gave him. I actually came up with the song on the spot. And this song could be played by no one else than Jim Keltner on the drums. His lilt rubbed off on me on the guitar, and vice versa, I think. It's what makes the track feel so good. It's called Something Like Olivia. Pay attention to Jim Keltner's unbelievable drumming on this song.
There's three types of songs. There's the songs that are good. There's songs you think are good. And then there are songs you just feel like are gifts that drop down into your hands and they get to be yours for the rest of time. That's a song like Wild Blue to me. I can listen to it like it's someone else's song. It has this sort of 70s Boz Scaggs super-dry 70s tape recording vibe.
A lot of people have said it channels Mark Knopfler. I don't think they're wrong, I suppose I might have thought about it a little bit. But one artist I thought a lot about in the vocal department is the great JJ Cale. And I sang this with that lilting sort of relaxed JJ Cale thing. And I double-tracked it. And it's really fun to sing in the style of JJ Cale. Because you just sort of utter it. You don't really have to push. It's Wild Blue from Sob Rock.
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