Happy Friday! I’m Jared Miller, a Twin Cities based Collaborative Pianist. You probably most recently saw me stealing cookies in “Only One,” or running around the cities playing for various organizations, groups, and people. I came from a family with widely differing musical tastes, so I grew up listening to so many different types of music. I thought it would be fun to put together a playlist of songs that I love, that were influenced by my family’s musical tastes.
My mom listens to pretty much everything, but the music that I most strongly associate with her, because I remember jamming out to it all the time together, is R&B, Funk, Disco, Soul, Motown; anything in that area.
Few things get me pumped up and energized like disco and funk music, and who better to listen to than the Queen of Funk herself, Chaka Khan. “I’m Every Woman” is a classic, it’s upbeat, it’s empowering, it’s funky, and near impossible to resist dancing to.
The Temptations are a group that both of my parents listen to and love. “Just My Imagination” is a beautiful song, and possibly an influence on my hopeless romantic side, who can tell.
“Off the Wall” by Michael Jackson is an amazing song, and album. As someone who chronically over works and overbooks myself, this song is a good reminder to just have fun sometimes. As the lyrics state, it is important to occasionally “leave that nine to five up on the shelf and just enjoy yourself.”
Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is a powerful and still very socially relevant song. If you don’t know the inspiration for it’s creation, definitely look it up. Though it is often adopted as a protest song, Renaldo Benson, who’s experiences/observations inspired the making of the song, said, “no man, it's a love song, about love and understanding. I'm not protesting, I want to know what's going on.”
Stevie Wonder has always been one of my mom’s go to musicians as well. I don’t remember how old I was, but around the time that I was getting good enough at the piano to play his music, my mom and I went to the local music store and bought a Stevie Wonder Greatest Hits for the Piano book. I played all the classics, but one that I specifically remember her asking me to play a lot was “Ribbon in the Sky”, because it's a beautiful ballad that is already piano heavy, so I was able to recreate the musical experience a little more closely without a full band.
My dad is a head banger. Listening to rock music helps him focus and be creative, and though I don’t listen to rock music as much, there are still many bands and songs that instantly make me think of my dad.
Oingo Boingo is one of my all time favorite groups. “Dead Man’s Party,” the album and song were introduced to me by my dad at a young age. Danny Elfman is fantastic, and I don’t know that I’ve heard another group that sounds quite like Oingo Boingo does. They use so many different instruments, grooves, and vocal inflections, that it creates such a cool sonic experience.
Iron Maiden is one of my dad’s favorite bands, and we would always hear him working on his art, and blasting this music in his earbuds. If he was ever doing any work outside, we would also get a concert from him as well: hearing him singing songs like “Hallowed Be Thy Name” through the screen windows.
Metallica was a band that I actually always enjoyed listening to with pops. “Enter Sandman” is one that I think of all the time. I feel like he would sing that to us before bedtime, but I know for sure we used to say the prayer that is in the song, as our bedtime prayer, so it’s hard to separate the two.
For some reason I strongly associate Styx with middle school. I think “Mr. Roboto” and “Come Sail Away” were really popular again when I was in school, and they would be played at lunch all the time. My dad loves Styx, and “Renegade” is one of his favorite songs of theirs. Their music always feels so epic and adventurous, it’s tough to not want to set out on a quest after listening to them.
Though I didn’t acquire an appreciation for Ronnie James Dio’s music until I was a little older, I do have fond memories of trying my damndest to sing as high and operatic as he does. One could even say that listening to “Holy Diver” with my dad was one of my first introductions to operatic singing.
Though we all listen to a wide array of music, we always considered my brother Drake’s tastes to be the most far out there. When we were teens, I thought the music he listened to was so strange, and I never understood where he found it all. I have since come to greatly appreciate his musical tastes, and I love that we still frequently recommend music to each other.
My first experience with Tom Waits was seeing him as the junkman/inventor from Mystery Men, and I had no idea he had a thriving music career making jazz, blues, and experimental music. “Eggs and Sausage” is the first song that comes to mind; a smokey depiction of the late night crowd at a diner.
We now move to one of Drake’s favorite bands, Ween. Their style changes quite a bit from album to album, but my introduction to them was with their album, The Mollusk. The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack was one of our favorite tv shows as kids, and this album always feels like it would be the soundtrack to that show, if flapjack grew up, and it somehow got darker. “Ocean Man” is an appropriate front man for the album, and anyone steeped in meme culture may have heard it in a spongebob meme at some point.
I include “Child is Father of the Man” by Brian Wilson, from the 2004 rerelease/finishing of the album, Smile, that he began with the Beach Boys, because this was an album that he and I listened to a lot together. It’s very complex, and it always felt like we discovered something new every listen.
A while ago, I had a hankering for some concept albums and went to Drake for recommendations. His first one was the album Of Natural History, by Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Their music is a good example of my brother’s eclectic tastes: they dabbled in avant-garde, experimental and progressive rock, funk, heavy metal, and folk music styles, to name a few. The songs sequence into one another, and have a continuous mood/theme of the “apocalyptic implications caused by human presence on earth.” I include the least unsettling of the songs, the opener “A Hymn to the Morning Star.”
I don’t remember how he discovered them, but a band that my brother and I still listen to frequently is Huun-Huur-Tu. I can’t fully explain it, but there is something about throat singing that really resonates with me. It helps calm me down before bed, or it can help me focus while working on a project, or help me sift through my thoughts and feelings during a particularly stressful period of life. Their music is haunting, and bumpin’ at the same time. “Orphan’s Lament”
I have always loved the Final Fantasy video games, and they happen to have absolutely amazing soundtracks. Nobuo Uematsu is an amazing composer. The villain/final boss song from FFVI, “Dancing Mad,” is my go to frustration, or pump up song. Something about the singing, and organ solo that leads into an electric guitar breakdown, just always does it for me. It perfectly captures the mood of a villainous clown wizard that is so fed up with imperfections that he becomes a god.
Last summer, when I had a lot of free time because of cancelled work, I went on a lot of walks, and listened to a lot of new music. Rachel Sermanni is a Scottish folk musician that really took me by surprise. I came across her song “Marshmallow Unicorn” expecting some bubblegum pop, dance-y sound, but was left sobbing in the park by the end of it. Her lyrics are always so beautiful and just really everything about her sound is amazing. Her music also kind of became the soundtrack to the early days of dating my boyfriend, when all we could really do together was go on walks and talk. And I would always listen to her on my way to and from our summer strolls.
My greatest contribution to my collective family taste in music is in any and all things Latinx. I took a deep dive into music by Spanish speaking artists in college, and discovered so many amazing groups and people. La Santa Cecilia is a Mexican-American band based in LA, who represents the US bicultural identity, by immersing themselves in modern music, as well as Latin American musical styles. “La Negra” is one of my favorite songs of theirs. I sing it at full voice every time, and try my hardest to growl as well as she does.
Anyone who has ever talked to me knows that Alicia de Larrocha is my all-time favorite pianist. Her recordings of the Granados “Goyescas” quite literally changed my life, and have had a huge impact on my musicianship and drive to study the classical music of Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula.
And finally, “Gracias A La Vida” as performed by Mercedes Sosa. This song was one of the first ones that I discovered when I started my deep dive into this music, and felt like an appropriate end to this playlist. The lyrics always serve as a reminder to me to be grateful for the good and bad in life. I know I’m not alone in having felt the ground fall out from under me when all things music were cancelled for most of the last year. I went from making music every day, to maybe once every two months. And those few and far between moments of music making really made the difference, and I’m even more grateful now to be able to do what I do.
Thank you for coming on this musical journey with me, and I hope you find something you like!
You can find Jared's full playlist on YouTube