EW's Special Coverage

The Pop of King

The Pop of King

Stephen King's Ultimate Playlist

Rodney Crowell, Bruce Springsteen, and Langhorne slim made our columnist's megamix

Sorry, but I'm not going to do a year-end Best Music column this year; I've decided to replace it with Best TV instead. Not because there hasn't been any big audio dynamite in 2009, but because I haven't heard enough to fill up a column. That's the bad news. The good news is that in the meantime, I've made you my very own Uncle Stevie Mix, guaranteed to please the soul and soothe the savage beast. Just remember to download all tunes from an accredited source, because those of us who live by copyright know that bootleg mixes are the devil's work.

''WORRIES'' Langhorne Slim
I first came across this sweetly reassuring tune (''I won't hurt you/Won't desert you'') in a Travelers Insurance ad full of floating umbrellas. I won't say it'll make your day, but it might make a little piece of it.

''FAST GIRL,'' The Tractors
It's got a heavy, rollicking backbeat, and how can you not love a song about a chick who has "a high-toned way of gettin' real low-down"?

''BEAUTIFUL WRECK,'' Shawn Mullins (live version)
The girl's a hopeless alcoholic, far too drunk to drive herself home from the local bar, but the guy singing the song is still head over heels for her.

''WILD WEEKEND,'' The Rockin' Rebels
Still the best instrumental of the rock era, featuring a thudding rhythm guitar and a tear-the-roof-off-the-sucka sax solo.

''MRS. MCKENZIE,'' Janis Ian
Recorded when Ian was just 15, this creepy song about the world's most cold-blooded mommy gives me the chills.

''STEP IT UP & GO,'' Alvin ''Youngblood'' Hart & Teenie Hodges
I stumbled across this revival-style rocker while watching The Great Debaters and downloaded it immediately.

''SHAKE,'' Sam Cooke
Uptempo, sexy soul music of the finest kind; if this doesn't run your motor, you need a tune-up.

''STARS ON THE WATER,'' Rodney Crowell
Songs about drinking the night away are rarely beautiful and romantic; this one is, and the steady-rolling rhythm line is hypnotic.

''CARLENE,'' Phil Vassar
A young man finally gets a chance at the girl he longed for back in high school: ''Oooh-la-la, lookin' good, Carlene.''

''I SHOT YOUR DOG,'' Fred Eaglesmith
Country music at its best.

''SEEDS,'' Bruce Springsteen
I originally meant to put the new Springsteen song "Wrecking Ball" on my mix, but then I listened to this again. It's one of the best live rock & roll tracks ever laid down.

''GALVESTON FLOOD,'' Tom Rush
The big Texas flood happened 105 years before Katrina hit New Orleans, but you know what they say: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Six minutes of unrelenting knife-style guitar. This is a killer ballad caught somewhere between folk and rock.

''1952 VINCENT BLACK LIGHTNING,'' Richard Thompson
The ultimate ladies-love-outlaws song. ''Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme'' — were truer words ever spoken?

''FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE HOTLINE,'' Robbie Fulks
Possibly the funniest (and most loving) send-up of pop music ever recorded.

''CAN YOUR PUSSY DO THE DOG,'' The Cramps
Just a totally great punk tune, so get your mind out of the gutter! (Or not.)

''BAYOU TORTOUS,'' James McMurtry
Alt-country's poet laureate at his drily sarcastic best: ''Just another night with the missus and me/Sittin' on the couch, watchin' Court TV.''

''BABY COME BACK TO ME,'' The Manhattan Transfer
A dynamite cover of an old doo-wop street-dance classic called ''Morse Code of Love.'' Who sang that? Doesn't matter; this is the rare cover that redefines the original.

''DIAMOND SHOES,'' Tift Merritt
Merritt's sweetly wistful voice is perfect for this song, urging that little mousy girl in the corner to get involved with life, to put on her diamond shoes.

''MANIFESTO NO. 1,'' Shooter Jennings
A steamy anthem about the joys of slightly kinky physical love, especially after a hard day at the office: ''Let your hair down/Get out of that skirt/But leave those high heels on.''

''STIFF UPPER LIP,'' AC/DC
No mix would be complete without the Young brothers and gravel-voiced vocalist Brian Johnson. This is my favorite AC/DC track — powerhouse rock combined with gleeful double entendres.

Your mission — should you choose to accept it — is to download the tunes to your player of choice, and turn that sucker up to 11. Think you can manage that? Yeah, I knew you could.

Now rock on, brothers and sisters. Rock on.

Originally posted Nov 17, 2009 Published in issue #1076 Nov 20, 2009 Order article reprints