It’s no secret I’m a John Mayer fanboy. I have been for years. When I heard Mayer play ‘No Such Thing‘ on The Panel in October 2002 I was transfixed. I went out and bought a copy of ‘Inside Wants Out’, and the latest edition of Guitar One magazine and set about learning how to play it. I remember listening to ‘Neon’ and wondering how one person could possibly be playing that glorious main riff. The first song I ever sung for a live audience was ‘3×5’. The first concert I attended was John Mayer at the Hordern Pavilion in 2003. I have never been ashamed to say how much of a fan I am of his work.
Mayer has just dropped his new album ‘The Search For Everything‘, and in appreciation I decided to dig back into his catalogue and pick out my top 10 songs. As the new album has only just released, I will refrain from choosing any that appear on it (although In The Blood could easily make this list).
10. ‘Badge and Gun’, (Paradise Valley) – Almost nobody would know why this song is so special to me, and the story that goes behind it. I like it that way. This song is my personal gem, something I get to keep without anyone else tainting it. It’s one of the few highlights from Paradise Valley, a simple fingerpicking acoustic number that could fit onto any blues highway collection. Mayer’s earnest and honest vocals really get a chance to shine here.
9. ‘I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)’, (Continuum) – One of Mayer’s most underrated tracks. Perfect guitar tones, a mix of smooth falsetto and speech vocal, and a simple yet effective rhythmic groove provide the platform for this bluesy number. No doubt it was songs like this one (and admittedly the Continuum album in whole) that cemented Mayer’s place amongst blues royalty, and opened the doors to interactions with Clapton, B.B. King, Herbie Hancock and more recently, Dead & Company.
8. ‘St. Patricks Day’, (Room For Squares) – The beauty of this song is how it sounds exactly like the holidays that Mayer is describing. It sounds like a Christmas song. His knowledge of jazz to colour the acoustic chord progressions really resounded with me, and something that can be found littered throughout Room For Squares. This song is a monster to play on the guitar, but it’s also one of my favourites. Also, the use of mellotron and Hammer organs really typified that New York City winter feeling, feeding right back into the Christmas/loneliness/winter canvas that Mayer is painting on in this song.
7. ‘City Love’, (Room For Squares) – Another song that encapsulates that New York feeling. This song took a long time to grow on me, I remember skipping it all the time in favour of the more accessible numbers on the album when I was much younger. Now it’s one of the few I listen to from it – how times change! Again, Mayer’s jazz/blues knowledge shines through here, using unusual chords and shapes to enhance the emotion of the song (try playing his fingerings of CMaj7 and GMaj7, ha!).
6. ‘Love Soon’, (Inside Wants Out EP) – I’ve listened to this EP more times than I care to remember. On the surface, its a great little insight into an up-and-coming singer/songwriter, but underneath is so much more. The chord progressions, the colour, the unusual fingering shapes, Mayer’s unique take on Travis picking etc. This song is an upbeat acoustic track, as Mayer pleads with a lover to take things more seriously.
5. ‘Back To You’, (Room For Squares) – This is probably one of Mayer’s more straight down the line songs, and no doubt one of his more popular early singles. Very accessible, but with enough happening to move away from the cliche mould. Oddly, one of the reasons I enjoy this song is actually the rhythmic section (drum and bass), and nothing to do with the guitar. Even now as I listen to it, I’m enjoying it immensely, but I can’t explain why.
4. ‘Edge of Desire‘, (Battle Studies) – The best song off an album that fell short of most people’s expectations after a few years off. The restraint in this song is what makes it so great, and how Mayer can use the back end of the song to really cut loose and drive home that emotion he’s been singing about. The conversationalist tone of the lyrics really help to nail that ‘desire’ and end the song before any listener would want it to.
3. ‘Clarity’, (Heavier Things) – Every non-Mayer fans favourite Mayer track. A fun, groovy and upbeat track with a clever mix of layered acoustic/electric guitars, electronic piano and brass. Also, quite refreshing to hear a positive outlook to waking up on the wrong side of the bed. This could have easily taken number 1, it’s just such a great song. Everything about it is likeable.
2. ‘Wheel’, (Heavier Things) – Yes, I love the obscure album tracks. This one qualifies in every sense of the word. A guitar player’s dream, this song captures the maturity of Mayer’s ‘slowhand’, and showcases a softer, moodier side, and foreshadows an entrance into the blues circles which would follow. Also – THAT SOLO.
1. ‘3×5’, (Room For Squares) – Was it ever going to be anything else? The perfect Mayer track. Strange to think that this song was not originally on the first release of Room For Squares, and that is was added when re-released by Columbia the following year. It’s as though Mayer/Columbia knew that this record was not complete without it. I’m almost happy that Mayer has left this track to be told from the album, rarely getting a live appearance, it is just perfect as is.
Of course there are countless others. ‘No Such Thing’, ‘Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey’, ‘Neon’, ‘Gravity’, ‘Wildfire’, ‘Comfortable’, ‘Who Did You Think I Was’, ‘Why Georgia’, ‘Perfectly Lonely’, ‘Born and Raised’ and so on. With a catalogue as extensive as his it was never going to be easy. It’s also fairly obvious that I much prefer his earlier work. I never really connected with ‘Born and Raised’ or ‘Paradise Valley’, apart from a few tracks. With the release of ‘The Search For Everything’ however, I think I’m going to have to find more room for some new favourites.