There are sometimes during the weeks where I sit and ponder and wonder. What really, really constitutes a great song or artist? Is it the message of the melody, the lyrics, what is being said, that would make the song stand the test of time in the end? Is it the musical composition, and the various layers of guitars, drums, keyboards and the like, that evoke different emotions, considering who is listening to it? Is it the general perception of the artist that determines whether a song or even an album by that artist, is successful, impactful or even decade-defying or not? Does an artist make a song, or can a song make an artist? These are the questions that have been haunting fans of music, and critics of it, for quite some time, and as we sit and think about all this, in 2020; I don’t think we’ve ever come to a clear conclusion sooner, if at all. For artists, songs, and albums are people’s preferences, and what one person can deem in their own lives as influential, the other can avoid with a ten-foot-pole. That’s just life, and there’s millions of genres available for people to listen to, to their hearts content. Music is very, very subjective, and so for me to tackle this year-long (and then some), project, about the top 100 Influential Artists (in my very own subjective opinion)- and then to top it off, 40 artists that are deemed the ‘classics’…you see what I mean right? People can call this ‘music experiment’ mere folly. And yet for me upon reflection- since I started embarking on this vastly daunting (yet equally exciting and rewarding) venture, I’ve been realising that such an exercise as this, as led me to appreciate music in all its facets all the more.
From February 2019 onward, I was delving into artists I knew, and artists I didn’t, to carefully deliver a variety of artists across a myriad of musical genres and time periods, to remind us all (and myself) of the impact some of these artists had, not only in their musical genre, but throughout music, period. Artists like Switchfoot, Delta Goodrem, Sara Bareilles, Skillet, Ed Sheeran, for KING AND COUNTRY, Tina Arena, Backstreet Boys, Delirious?, Guy Sebastian, Lecrae, One Direction, Hillsong, Alicia Keys, Amy Grant, Hanson and Dido; are just some of the many, many artists, I decided to venture down the roads of, and as I think back now (as I start on my 58th post), I realise this very one thing- that I don’t know a lot. That’s it, I’m not well versed in a lot of these genres, and maybe that’s ok. For as I learnt more about musical styles, and discovered a lot of favourite music along the way, what I’ve come to appreciate as the months have gone by, is that artists have the ability to pierce through the hard armour we may have on, through all the superlative stuff, and into our very cores, with songs that tug at us emotionally, and challenge our very perception of ourselves, others, and maybe even God Himself. Not everyone is going to agree with me as I write these blog posts, and for every person I discuss, there’ll be others that I won’t, and sadly, with curating 100 artists from my own subjective judgement, people are in fact going to miss out. And unfortunately, that is the way such a series has gone thus far. But as I start to unpack and lay out these songs by John Mayer, this is what I will say- that I reckon in anyone’s best-of artists list; he’d be there. Somehow, someway. Because as much as John’s inclusion here in my top 100 influential list, seems more of an uncertainty, to a lot of people (because honestly, what other radio hits has he had since songs like ‘Waiting for the World to Change’, ‘Clarity’, ‘Daughters’ and ‘No Such Thing’?); John Mayer’s presence in today’s culture and society has impacted people over the years, and reminded them that honesty and transparency matters in life, and in John’s case, music.
I first discovered John Mayer on the radio- Hope 103.2, during the 2000s, and though I didn’t know at the time that it was John, nevertheless, I was impressed at his vocal ability and his guitar playing too. Songs that frequented the radio were the songs that I just aforementioned, so going into this blog, I was somewhat prepared. And so as I continued to listen to John’s music over the last week or so, I was instantly impressed with not only his guitar or even his voice, but the subject matter of these very songs have been very honest, raw, real, relevant, and in some ways challenging. John’s poignancy in a lot of his songs are such a gift, and though he’s not as popular currently now (considering his last album released in 2017), his influence within the last 20 or so years (his first EP was unveiled in 1999, while his first full-length album was given to us in 2001), cannot be denied. John’s songs have been confronting to some, healing to others, and anywhere else in between- and for me it’s been a bit of both. While the actual genre of music by John- folk/acoustic/singer-songwriter/blues, wasn’t necessarily a genre that I would pick off the bat; it was still a genre that I knew was interesting, and had some good things to say, and was a genre that I wanted to check out…but somewhere in the future. Never did I even think that I would be undertaking this blog about John Mayer now, but now, as I took a plunge and ventured into what I reckon is one of the most underrated musical genres ever; I realised that I enjoy folk music much more than even I myself realise.
John’s music is soothing, but then you hear the odd song that wakes you up and challenges you- there has been a few songs that did that for me, where I had to go back home and read some of the lyrics to said songs, and really sit in the understanding of these lyrics and even allowing God to use John Mayer (who would’ve thought!), to shed some light on things that I know God wants me to change, or to address. A lot of these songs came from Continuum, John’s 3rd album in 2006 (of which I will discuss heavily later on in this blog post), but sometimes some albums by a certain artist hit you harder than others, as it has done in the past- King of Fools (Delirious?), Light for the Lost Boy (Andrew Peterson), The Altar and the Door (Casting Crowns), The Struggle (Tenth Avenue North), Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong (for KING AND COUNTRY), Martina (Martina McBride), Don’t Ask (Tina Arena), Ocean (Lady A) and If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something (Rebecca St. James) have all been albums in the past that have impacted my life in one way or another- challenged my own thinking about myself, others, and about God in this whole process called life. Continuum by John Mayer is another such album like these aforementioned ones.
John’s career started in 1999 with the unveiling of his debut EP Inside Wants Out, in which several of them were re-recorded and placed on his debut album Room For Squares in 2001. And yet even though I haven’t listened to many of his songs from his debut era of time (both his first EP or his first album), what I have heard is nothing short of powerful, emotive, and heartfelt. ‘No Such Thing’ was the first radio single by John in 2001 (but was originally on his first EP), and as I heard this song being played on shuffle on Spotify, I realised…I heard this song before. On the radio, way back in the day, not sure which radio station or which year I heard it, but I did hear it back then. And now revisiting it when I’m thirty, and analysing the lyrics, I’ve come to appreciate such a song as this- and understand that by far, ‘No Such Thing’ is a great embodiment of how life could’ve been like for anyone who didn’t fit into the ‘school norm’ of what a typical student was ‘supposed’ to be. Written from a perspective of a soon-to-be ‘graduate’ of a high school, being bombarded with certain expectations from others, and things assumed to be known about life after high school, ‘No Such Thing’ paints a picture of a student being told to stick to a certain way of how to live their life, or to pick certain subjects to get a certain university degree (which in turn will lead to a certain career), when in fact, often the students don’t necessarily know what they want do accomplish and undertake at such a young age. To often be expected to know what we want to do with our lives, when we’re 18, can seem a little pressurising and presumptuous. And so this song is just a reflection on what John himself was thinking at that time, and to be reminded about the days when I know I was a high schooler, and understanding that yes, I didn’t always have it all figured out. Sometimes now I still don’t, but what I’ve understood is such a song as ‘No Such Thing’ is a reminder that there’s no way from high school to uni to life, that is better than the next. Each person has their own path and journey, and for people to understand this through John’s song, and to realise that you don’t always have to do things the popular way, is refreshing. John’s song, the first track from Room for Squares, sets in motion the album, and John’s music career in general- as a lot of these songs, following on from ‘No Such Thing’, speak of deep issues, things that do need to be talked about, but would otherwise may have not, if John didn’t discuss it in song, himself.
‘Why Georgia’ is the next song down from ‘No Such Thing’; and was also a song that came up heavily on my Spotify playlist of John Mayer songs that I was listening to in preparation for this blog post. ‘Why Georgia’, a song about asking questions of life, and wondering whether we’re making the right decisions, is a song that doesn’t get sung too much by people. A song literally asking the question ‘why’- in John’s track he’s directing the question to a ‘city’, whereas in other modes of song, artists write tracks directing their questions to God; but in effect, these songs from across the board, ask pretty much the same thing- are we living life right, and why are we living the way we are? How are we supposed to live in such an uncertain world, and what can we do to better society and leave it better than we found it as we journey through this world, impacting others and ourselves in the process? These are heavy questions, and I don’t think that ‘Why Georgia’ has a straight answer, and maybe that’s ok. This song by John indicates to us that it is ok to ask the question, and to wrestle with it, and to be content in the wondering. John either understands this perfectly when recording ‘Why Georgia’, or he’s still on that journey of discovery, but whatever the case, ‘Why Georgia’ is nevertheless a good song about being ok with not being ok. ‘My Stupid Mouth’, another standout song from the first album, speaks of this realisation by John himself, that in various situations and circumstances, he speaks first rather than to listen, contemplate and reflect. While the song itself takes on a melancholy feel, and has an extreme view in never speaking up again upon this realisation, because of the fear that comes from speaking something out of turn; the song is nevertheless a reminder to always be slow to speak, to allow ourselves to be in a posture of listening to the other, without any quick word to fix things, instead to just be present in that moment with your friend. Both ‘Love Song for No One’ and ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’ are about love- the romantic kind, and both speak about different stages in the relationship. ‘Love Song to No One’ is for the person who doesn’t have a girlfriend/boyfriend yet, who is wishing that they do, and are on the lookout for…not sure, but guaranteed someone they can connect with on a soul-to-soul level…and this song is the result of such feelings. ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’ is a song about the newness of a relationship and all the unique feelings involved with being in the euphoric stage of love, maybe even first-love, and what it can feel like, placed in a song like this one. It is in these two songs that John has really reminded us of this notion of love, and that it is out there for us to grab and hold dear. When it’ll come and how it’ll come, we don’t know, but such songs as these give us hope and comfort in knowing that our lives won’t be as alone as we can sometimes think. Other songs that hit hard from John from his first album are tracks like ‘Not Myself’, a song speaking about a persona wondering whether someone will accept them if they show their true selves- an ode to someone maybe suffering from mental illnesses, in particular bipolar disorder; while ‘Back To You’ brings forth the issue of still missing someone post-breakup, and expressing these thoughts in a way that says ‘hey, I’m trying to get over you, but my thoughts still comes back to you in some way, shape or form’. John also brings the theme of being ‘in love’ with someone when you’re really in love with all the things they bring you and the life and comfortableness it provides, in the song ‘City Love’, while ‘Great Indoors’ speaks about the downsides and danger that relying too much on the indoor life at home, can do for your psyche and life in general. There is a world outside the four walls, and yet, people often find themselves content because of comfortableness and familiarity, which is a sad thing. John presents these themes in the songs (and every other theme and song in his career) to allow us permission to think about the hard things, and in an overall sense, John’s first album does it quite good. Nothing can beat Continuum, but his first album certainly comes really close!
The first song that I can remember hearing from John when I was a teenager, on a regular basis (and know it was him) was the song ‘Daughters’- this time on his 2003 album- his second, Heavier Things. While during that time I heard the song and enjoyed it without necessarily a care about what the song was actually saying and meaning, upon reflection now I understand that ‘Daughters’ is actually a powerful track, one of his earlier songs that actually has lyrics that are profound and relatable- the song on the surface are about young daughters of families, and John himself speaking to said families, asking them to be good to ‘daughters’ because when they grow up, how they relate to other people is going to be a reflection on how they were loved and cared for as children; while on a deeper level, ‘Daughters’ is a reminder for anyone- not just parents of young women, to treat the younger generation with care, respect and love, things that often people are starving of, and need in some shape or form later on in life. We don’t know how people act the way they do, and often, it can be seen that the mishaps and chaotic moments in someone’s life, can be attributed to how they were loved and accepted (or lack thereof) when they were younger.
‘Only Heart’, an underrated (and unassuming) song on Heavier Things, paints a picture where the persona has to leave and be apart from his loved one for a certain period of time, and is thereby reassuring her that he will be forever hers, and that he has her heart; while ‘Split Screen Sadness’, a song that delves deep into the emotions that come after breakups, gives us a timely reminder that in every relationship that has broken up for whatever reason, the people involved have both been sad in their own way- and this ‘split-screen sadness’ that John discusses in the track is one where these people who are sad are separated by distance, and that they both process the sadness in two different ways- hence the split-screen. ‘Split-Screen Sadness’ doesn’t have any type of resolution, rather just a song that presents this predicament to us, and maybe that’s ok, to not have all the answers. ‘Home Life’, again a lesser-known track on Heavier Things, reminds us all that musicians are just people too, and often after long gruelling times on the road, they still long for the home life, and the quiet moments of them being home in the calm, rather than the hustle and bustle of touring, while ‘Clarity’ (again another song, like ‘Daughters’, that I heard on rotation on my local radio station back in the day) pays homage to the moments in your life where you feel a sense of peace and calm, and all the worries about yesterday’s regrets and tomorrow’s not-yets seem to dissipate and fall by the wayside. To have a sense of clarity and focus, to shift your mind from what is right in front of you, and move into another frame where there is peace, hope and bliss, can seem like a bit of an art, yet it is when we focus on Christ and bask in His overwhelming love for us, that we can do such a thing as gain this ‘clarity’ that John himself sings about. ‘Bigger Than My Body’ is a quasi-spiritual moment where John longs to rise above all the negativity surrounding him, hoping for a day where he can rise above all the limits placed upon himself by people around him, and oddly, placed by himself as well, as we understand that to rise above and through all the obstacles in our lives, has much more to do with a mental state and the spiritual realm, rather than just a physical thing. ‘Bigger Than My Body’ is a hopeful motivation for a similar longing to move beyond what is holding us back, to anyone who hears this track. ‘Something’s Missing’, again another standout track on Heavier Things that has to do with spiritual things, has John himself declaring from the outset- ‘…something’s missing and I don’t know how to fix it, something’s missing and I don’t know what it is…’ as we ourselves understand that such a void in someone’s life can only be filled with the love of Christ- something that this song can hopefully spur people on towards, when they hear it.
‘…it’s a tough thing in that you have to do something and I’d gotten to a very safe place with Continuum where it was very well liked after a certain point. People understood it and it was a big part of the success of my career and I remember thinking, God, I wish I didn’t have to update this because you then take that off the perch of the last thing you’ve done. There’s a bit of safety in saying, Yeah wow, the last thing I’ve done is Continuum, except that, too much time was passing before another record had come out. And so there’s just a little bit of facing the music – no pun intended – of like, You’ve gotta try something else – Continuum will not be the latest record; you need to take it off the perch and put something new in place of it. So I think that was the success in it’s own right, of learning how to say, Look, there’ll be plenty more of these things, we’ve got to put Continuum into the, er, sleeping chamber and do something else. Y’know, I don’t make Continuum for a living. From there I think it got a lot easier when I realised that no matter what I do, it’s not going to be Continuum, good or bad. And then that became really liberating…there’s something that happens when you put a record together that you can’t foresee and that you have no control over and it’s just the way those songs congeal. And so Battle Studies is just a different album – the attempt is the same whether it’s trying to do blues, R&B, a soul thing like Continuum, or a seventies rock thing, the attempt is the same to put the best group of songs together, and the hope is that when you put them together it sort of takes on its own life. And this is actually starting to in a cool way; it’s really starting to make sense to me now as time goes on. We’re done with looking at how’s it doing in week one and week two; people are getting a real chance to sit with it and live their life with it. So now we’re launching into tunes and it’s exciting and the band’s learning how – I’m learning how – to play them. Because as a guitarist, also as a singer, just because you composed it, doesn’t mean you can play it really well. And even just because you recorded it, doesn’t mean you can play it really well. So for the first three/four months, it’s really like getting under your fingers…’
Continuum is actually an album by John that, as a whole, is my own favourite album of his (of which I will discuss a little later in this blog), but for now, as we roll on to see into the album after Continuum (Battle Studies), we understand that the follow-up to such a chart-topping album (and one of critics’ most successfully rated), can be very difficult if all you’re doing is just trying to make something that can top the album previous. Nevertheless, Battle Studies was created, and though John himself didn’t try to make another Continuum, a lot of his fans nevertheless compared his 2009 album to his 2006 one, and then here on out, the comparisons continued to come- Born and Raised, Paradise Valley and The Search for Everything have all been compared to Continuum in one way or another, which isn’t necessarily the most constructive or even healthy. Yes, by definition, Continuum was a good album, maybe even John’s best, and maybe comparison of any other album of John’s, back to Continuum can only seem natural. However, what should be the case is to listen to each of the other albums and enjoy them regardless of where we rank and rate Continuum– the other songs and albums can be just as emotive and poignant if given a proper chance. Regardless, the four albums after Continuum showed John himself experimenting with the music- more acoustical and electric guitar slow-ish tracks, and more blues, soul, country, folk and indie sounds coming from John’s tracks, rather than the pop-rock he unveiled to us in his earlier albums. And so as we have a glance through John’s latest four albums, we see that his legacy will always be Continuum– but that doesn’t mean that the other albums don’t have value also!
‘Heartbreak Warfare’, musically very, very similar to U2’s ‘Bad’, is by far one of the most poppy-est songs John Mayer has recorded, and being the first song on Battle Studies, we get a glimpse into not only the song but John’s heart behind the 2009 album. Battle Studies the album is a concept album, and a lot of the songs on it speak of heartbreak- the album is a ‘handbook’ for anyone going through difficult heartbreak battles, hence the title of the album. The first song in particular is about the aftermaths of a breakup, and how the two people involved in it still want to be in each other’s lives, but in a ‘friends’ capacity. The heartbreak warfare stuff happens when these two people realise that to move from such an intimate phase in a relationship to just friends, sometimes creates collateral on both sides- we feel unintended pain and consequences, of the other trying real hard to maintain a platonic relationship, but all the while hurting the other unintentionally with their attempts to start a relationship with someone new. While the song as a whole needs a few listens for anyone to understand it, ‘Heartbreak Warfare’ is nevertheless a reminder that relationships are hard, and at times, there’s going to be damage, and heartbreak and the messy things like relationships ending (even friendships) because it’s too hard. And in these moments, John himself gives us this 2009 album Battle Studies, that can hopefully be of comfort, as we look in these songs and see such a vulnerable person express hurt, worry and uncertainty, but all the while, a sense of cautiousness, wisdom and hope moving forward. ‘Half of My Heart’, a collaboration with country-superstar Taylor Swift, is a compelling reminder, that we can’t be hung up on people and past relationships if we want to move forward and find new ones- especially when someone new and exciting comes along, and all we can give them is half our hearts (because the other half isn’t over the other person who we’ve been with prior)- it is a moment of realisation that you can only love someone with our whole hearts- half won’t work. Both Taylor and John’s vocals complement each other quite nicely, and this song can bring resolve and motivation to fully heal before we start something new with someone else.
‘Who You Love’, a radio single from the 2013 album Paradise Valley, is a duet with pop superstar Katy Perry (of which John himself was in a relationships with, during that time), and the song itself speaks of the love and appreciation of each other, these two people have. The song says that we love who we love, and often in life, there really is no explanation as to why. The folksy blues presented in the songs especially on Paradise Valley is a great departure from anything that he has done in the past, but a welcomed one. ‘Who Says’, another powerful and emotive song from Battle Studies, was written about taboo subjects that would otherwise be off-limits, and sing about the things that society may deem ‘unacceptable’ and asks the question- who says I can’t…___? On face value the song is about marijuana, but as we look a little deeper, the song is much more than that- it is about really looking within yourself and wondering why society says we can’t do certain things, for whatever reason, and for us to ask the question, why not? ‘The Age of Worry’, from quite possibly John’s most overlooked album Born and Raised, has a bit of an ‘Andrew Peterson’-vibe as John presents a lyrical genius moment that can be spoken verbatim at a high school graduation. The song is a reminder for us not to worry in this life, and for us to fight the good fight, to not be scared to walk alone (because everyone else is walking the other way), and to be ok with being true to who we are in our identity as individual people, to never let conformity and fakeness overcome our individuality and sense of self. The song is very much a joyous, rousing, declaratory hopeful track, and one that I have continued to listen repeatedly over the last few days.
‘If I Ever Get Around to Living’, also from Born and Raised, speaks of the notion of growing up, and how the persona, a young kid (or teenager), speaks of how he will accomplish things in his life, if he ever gets around to living- which obviously means code for ‘sometime in the future’. A song that challenges our own very notion of what living really means and when we all must pursue it in our lives, John himself expresses his hopes and longings, that maybe, people can start now to life fully, rather than just waiting for something off in the distance, and for some ‘growing up’ to take place. ‘Love Is a Verb’, a song with the exact name as the popular DC Talk hit also titled ‘Luv is a Verb’, speaks about this very fact, and reminds us all that love is better to be shown to the other person, than to just be spoken. People respond better to declarations by things being done to ‘prove’ it, because often in today’s society, to say words can mean nothing, if love isn’t the root and motivation. Love is indeed an action, and John’s two minute track is a great encouragement of this. ‘Lost at Sea (I Will Be Found)’ is another one of those ‘comfort’ songs as John himself, through light electric guitar undertones and a Beatles-esque atmosphere, speaks about being lost in a figurative sea, after wandering a bit farther from your home, because you don’t necessarily have someone to share home and life with. It is when you wander off too far, that you can often think you’re too far gone to come back and travel back to your home and roots, yet this song still has a hopeful element in the poignant words of ‘…I’m a little lost at sea, I’m a little birdie in a big old tree, ain’t nobody looking for me here out on the highway but I will be found…’ ‘On the Way Home’, the last song on Paradise Valley, has John Mayer channelling a lot of ‘needtobreathe’ as this track has a sense of optimism and homeliness as we understand that there is in fact no place like home- that once we travel for a substantial period of time (or whatever else we undertake that is not in the presence of our home), we start to miss home in all its facets. This song is a hopeful challenge for us to always look forward to being home, but to never take for granted what we know and learn when we’re not at home- experiences with others shape and enrich us and others- ‘On the Way Home’ is an encouragement of this, and a reminder to always look forward to the fact that when we’re home, we’re never alone.
The Search for Everything was unveiled to us all in 2017, and as a whole, the album brings to the fore a lot of emotions that people may not have felt, and packed all into a 12 track album of therapy, and that is what the 2017 album is about for John. ‘Helpless’, a song that was repeated a lot throughout my Spotify music listening when I was listen to John in preparation for this blog, is musically straight from 1980s rock, as John himself admits that he needs help in a myriad of different areas, and as he declares to his friend or lover, they are reminded of John’s cry for assistance. For when someone asks someone if they are helpless or not, it is usually a cry for help, and people can respond in one of two ways- either help them in their difficulties, or just tell them that they really are helpless, and that they would indeed understand that they are too fargone to be helped in the first place. Hopefully, the person that John is asking the questions to, helps him out, both in a physical and metaphorical way. ‘You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me’ features John’s whistles and his vocals channelling that of Chris Martin of Coldplay, as this heartfelt ballad tells the tale of holding the idea of something or someone with you forever, because you know that whatever experience you have or who you’re with, isn’t always going to last forever. The song details our very own fragility and mortality, as we understand that by holding the memories of people and experiences in our hearts, that they will live on far longer than their physical selves, in the memories of us and who has been left behind. ‘Never On the Day You Leave’ is another emotional ballad about lost love and regret that comes from understanding that maybe, breaking up long ago wasn’t the right move. Thinking about it now and not then doesn’t really help- they’ve moved on, and you’re left wondering what could’ve been, and understanding that it’s never in the heat of the moment where you think you’ve made the wrong decision. ‘Never on the Day You Leave’ is indeed a reminder of regrets- that we all have them, and hopefully, we can address all of them on our list before they become unfixable. ‘Changing’, a folksy-country song about always being in flux and changing- physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, is a track John delves into about always being in a place of realising that change is inevitable and that we have to embrace it whenever it comes; while a song like ‘In the Blood’ speaks on this issue of family influence, and how much is your life a product of your parents and how much can you make of it your own. For when we realise that sometimes our family and their traits, their experiences and their own habits, influence our own, that’s when we can truly look inside and see which ones are helpful to us, and which are harmful, and then move along from there.
‘Love on the Weekend’ and ‘Still Feel Like Your Man’ are the other two standouts on The Search for Everything, and both of them are singles of some kind- ‘Love on the Weekend’ is a metaphor for a short-term romance, that unfortunately wasn’t anything more, but nevertheless, was something that shaped the persona greatly in their own lives, while ‘Still Feel Like Your Man’ can be touted as acoustic R&B, and speaks of how even if after a relationship has ended, people can still feel like they are in love with their ex- even if that love is really still infatuation or even regret. For it has been on The Search For Everything, as well as Room For Squares, Heavier Things and Continuum (of which I’m about to discuss, real, real soon) that John’s powerful songwriting and heartfelt lyrics shine through, and remind us of songs that pierce through the outer coatings of us and into the heart and speak about issues that maybe we may have overlooked in our lives for quite some time. And with stand-alone singles post-The Search For Everything– ‘I Guess I Just Feel Like’ and ‘New Light’ (the former being a moody, broody look about life and the disarray that has happened in the world, and the latter a song about a persona convincing their crush that they are different from what they have been perceived to be), John is hopefully about to release another album, but considering COVID-19, anything can happen. Regardless, this career by John has been one of hope and encouragement, of challenging us to be better versions of ourselves, and to delve deep within to find parts of ourselves that we know need fixing, but need to address things that require healing, first.
And then there’s Continuum. Yes, the album that, in my opinion (and I reckon in a lot of other people’s opinion as well), stands taller than the rest and has become arguably the most cohesive and relatable album I’ve heard of John’s well, ever! And while back the day I only heard songs like ‘Waiting On the World to Change’ and ‘Say’ when I was a teenager, it was only this year that I had the privilege to hear this album from front to back, from track 1 ‘Waiting On the World to Change’ to track 12 ‘I’m Gonna Find Another You’…and here’s the real kicker. When I heard these 12 songs, it wasn’t by John Mayer. You see John Mayer’s Continuum has been so loved and appreciated that it was actually covered in its entirety by Canadian country artist (and guitar extraordinaire) Lindsay Ell, in an album titled The Continuum Project. That album unveiled to us in 2018 (but I think was recorded in 2016), where Lindsay recorded a like-for-like redo of Continuum, initially as a ‘homework’ task to discover her own tastes and what she liked and disliked- before her recording her own debut album The Project in 2017.
‘…we were about ready to go into the studio to record my album, The Project, when my producer, Kristian Bush, asked me what my favorite record of all time was. I told him it was Continuum. It’s the record I listened to front and back more than anything else. That’s when he said, “Ok, perfect. Before we do anything else, I want you to go record the whole thing.” He then gave me three rules: I had to play all the instruments; record it by myself in the studio; and only had two weeks to do it. So, I spent the next two weeks working on it. It’s only twelve songs, but when you really start to pick apart the little intricacies of the album, it’s a whole other world. There is something about the vulnerability and songwriting [on Continuum] that feels so real. John [Mayer] got to a place few artists get to. The writing really connected with me. Then there’s John’s guitar parts. He’s so good at blending the world of blues and contemporary pop. Just how he’s able to play melodic guitar parts with so much space and feel. [And so] my thought process was to simply record each track, but to not give myself any rules. I just wanted to dig down and really learn what was going on. When I’d normally go into the studio, I’d always put down lots of guitars, organs, bass and drum parts. But what I realized with Continuum was that you don’t need a lot of instruments. There’s a simplicity and delicacy about having five instead of twenty. You can really hear the lyrics and how powerful the guitar parts are. I remember when I’d finished the album, Kristian said, “Ok, let’s mute the drums.” When he did, it suddenly went to a completely different place. The vulnerability in the lyrics and vocals really came out…’
It is when I listened to The Continuum Project, knowing that the whole album was originally by John Mayer, that I came to respect John all the more, and be in awe of Lindsay and her own musicianship skills. John’s album really has impacted a lot of people, and it can certainly be seen on The Continuum Project. Songs like ‘Waiting For the World to Change’, ‘Belief’, ‘Gravity’, ‘The Heart of Life’, ‘Stop this Train’, ‘Dreaming With a Broken Heart’ and ‘In Repair’ (to name a few!) are some of the standouts on The Continuum Project, and upon hearing these exact songs on Continuum, I ironically find the cover album to be as passionate, or maybe even more so, than John’s original take in 2006. Nothing to take away or discount 2006’s Continuum, but that’s how powerful and emotive John’s original album was, that The Continuum Project takes the meaning of the songs to another level. It is a reminder that songs certainly transcend the artist everytime- and if I didn’t really know that these songs were all written and recorded by John a long time ago, I’d automatically think, by hearing Lindsay’s enthusiasm and passion, that these songs on The Continuum Project were hers. That’s how hard-hitting these songs have become.
‘Waiting on the World to Change’, the first track on Continuum, was also the first radio single from John, from the album, and speaks about John’s very own view of what he sees is wrong with the world, and how at every turn, trying to change the world and system can often seem futile if the government dampens the change in any way. The title of the song ‘Waiting on the World to Change’ is resemblant of something of a passive-aggressive mentality, but often, waiting is something that is done when everything else fails. A song that can hopefully inspire change and active undertaking of it, especially in view of governments around the world; ‘Waiting On the World to Change’ is a track that not only was a standout on Continuum, but a standout on The Continuum Project as well. ‘Gravity’, a song that is one giant big metaphor, reminds us of just like how gravity brings us physically to the ground and plants us with two feet on the ground, so too does reality and life itself as it wakes us up from dream-like states of being as we move from our idealised utopias and understand that our realities at the moment aren’t as glamourous as we want them to be. ‘Gravity’ is a reminder that life often is more difficult than we care to admit, and that there is a time to be grounded in reality, and there’s a time to dream about better things, and to find such a time where both can happen, is a great art. ‘Vultures’, a song that wasn’t a single at all from Continuum, stuck out for me as I was hearing The Continuum Project, and basically the song is this- that just as vultures feast on animal remains that other animals kill, so too do people take and steal from us things we hold dear when we’re in vulnerable situations and our values and ethics are already eroding away. With the song being a reminder that stardom and being famous always comes at a price, we’re left wondering what has to happen when we’re living in the spotlight (if we are!), so that our soul and our faith in God and humanity stays intact, if we’re in a world where these things we hold dear, aren’t necessarily valued fully. ‘Stop This Train’ brings to the fore this understanding that just like a train travelling by at high speeds, so too does time and the passage of it. The years roll by and roll on, and John himself begs for the train to be stopped, a futile request for time to not roll on as quickly as he has envisaged; while ‘Dreaming With A Broken Heart’ is a song that paints a bleak, but often raw and honest, view of reality- what happens after such a tragic fate of someone you love. In the song it never says the word ‘death’, but often, a broken heart can be caused by such a horrific moment in someone’s life- death. To dream with a broken heart means to hopefully go on with life, hoping for a better day and longing for something new, and so such a song as this, as heavy and hard as it is, is nevertheless filled with hope, that even with a broken heart, we can still dream and long for a better day than today. ‘In Repair’, standing at beyond 6 minutes (the longest song by John, ever), speaks about always being in a state of learning and being ‘in repair’- understanding that we will never be fully ‘repaired’. There’ll always be something we can learn or unlearn, to seek to grow and understand more about ourselves and God, as we go through a process of breaking things down and repairing them back up again; while songs ‘The Heart of Life’ and ‘Belief’ are two of the songs that have impacted myself from Continuum the most, and are some of my favourite John Mayer songs ever!
Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign?
Is there anyone who really recalls ever breaking record off
For something someone yelled real loud one time?
Oh, everyone believes in how they think it ought to be
Oh, everyone believes and they’re not going easily
Belief is a beautiful armour but makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching underwater, you never can hit who you’re trying for
Some need the exhibition and some have to know they tried
It’s the chemical weapon for the war that’s raging on inside
Oh, everyone believes from emptiness to everything
Oh, everyone believes and no one’s going quietly
We’re never gonna win the world, we’re never gonna stop the war
We’re never gonna beat this if belief is what we’re fighting for
Lyrics from ‘Belief’, from John Mayer’s Continuum
I hate to see you cry laying there in that position
There’s things you need to hear so turn off your tears and listen
Pain throws your heart to the ground, love turns the whole thing around
No, it won’t all go the way, it should but I know the heart of life is good
You know it’s nothing new, bad news never had good timing
But then the circle of your friends will defend the silver lining
Pain throws your heart to the ground, love turns the whole thing around
No, it won’t all go the way, it should but I know the heart of life is good
Lyrics from ‘The Heart of Life’, from John Mayer’s Continuum
Both ‘Belief’ and ‘The Heart of Life’ impact on a soul level, and while explanations on the song’s meaning, can be seen here and here respectively (and these two websites to a better job than even I can), what I will say is this- belief, or in another light, religion, can be seen to do a lot of good, and a lot of bad. It can give people purpose and identity, see that they are not alone in the world and can give them meaning, but in the same breath, can also be the motivation for people making crazy decisions, all in the name of belief and religion. John decided to deliver such a poignant, heartfelt and emotive theme in ‘Belief’, and that song won’t necessarily sit well with people, but nevertheless, this song is indeed necessary. Same with ‘The Heart of Life’- that song is a much more ‘bright’ and ‘sunny’ outlook, and gives a hope that life in a general sense is good- that we have things to be thankful for, and that whatever gets us down, be it personal circumstances, or what’s going on in the world, we can still look at the situation and be appreciative of our own personal lives where we’re at, and remind ourselves that even though there is pain in this life, there’s also love and unconditional acceptance through our family and close friends. It is in this moment of love and identity that we can quash the pain…but then sometimes the pain of life is needed for us to grow and mature in what we believe and why we believe it. It reminds us that no one is immune to life’s struggles, and maybe, just maybe, pain is hereby a way for us to see the things that maybe God wants us to, but we’re still blinded unless God shakes us up, maybe even using pain the process.
‘…I realized most people don’t care about you. Your friends care about you, your family cares about you, but most people aren’t looking at you all day. And that was the major miscalculation. Now I’m like … I’m glad that I didn’t just jump right back in and make stupid records because I didn’t have my head together. I was like, “Got it. Let me just go take a breather, I’ll see you again, I’m gonna go disappear for a minute, get my head together” and repaired it and came back and it’s like — I’ve never had more fun in my life playing music. I’ve never had more fun in my life. And I’m glad I had the experience of growing my hair long and walking around drunk in New York City and no one bothering me. I got to have some years that I didn’t get before. Like Bill Murray says, “Everybody’s an ass for two years when they first become a celebrity,” but I didn’t do my two years until later on…there’s this lovely moment that I had in the record [The Search For Everything] where you look at … the person, or the thought of the person, and you look at them and you go, “Oh, you can go. This is about me.” And a lot of this record is, “You can go,” and me going, “Oh, this is about me.” And you drop a vase and water and ceramic goes everywhere and you’re just like, “You can go — I’ll take care of this if you just step out. I’ll take care of this.” … And the theme might sort of be the most triumphant version of that, which is like, “Oh, I’m free to go now.” It’s not free to go from any one relationship, it’s not free to go from any one person — it’s free to go from yourself and your old interpretations of yourself that are not true, these old, burned-in habits of thinking, these old, burned-in desires that aren’t even your desires — they’re not even what you want. They’re not even what you need. Here I am with the show that I want, with the band that I want, with the music that I want, and I’ve never been more excited to see what comes. I wake up in the morning, I put my feet on the floor and I say to myself, “Not hung over.” It’s the first thing I say, I say it to myself every morning. … And then I go, “We get another day where we have discovered how to live, where we enjoy it and our health is here. The end.” That’s it. Your true life exists in between the period of time where you stop being an ass and something kills you. That’s your life, and I just started my life…’
It is in this quote above by John, a few years ago upon his own reflection on creating The Search for Everything, that I’ve come to appreciate his music and his own process and journey as a human being, all the more. And though John’s work has mostly been within the confines of music, he has travelled outside of music to create meaningful connections with people and has impacted the world in areas aside from releasing albums. John’s talent as a guitar player has led him to be considered as a modern day guitar-god, and is compared a lot to other guitar greats of the past, like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. John has also been involved in many philanthropy efforts, from creating the Back to You Fund in 2002 (a non-profit organisation that auction’s John’s apparel for the sake of fundraising for healthcare, education, the arts and talent development), to establishing the Heart and Armour foundation in support of war veterans coming back home from deployment, in 2019. But the biggest thing he has ever undertaken, aside from music, has to do with his personal life- while it may or may not be known to people of his excessiveness to drink, from 2016 onward, he decided from a personal standpoint, to stop drinking, and as of 2020, he’s still not drinking. As John shares himself in this article below, we catch a glimpse into his vulnerability around his decision, and why he believes that not drinking doesn’t mean that you have to be a bore:
‘…Tuesday will mark the second year of my ‘not having a drink.’ I say ‘not having a drink’ because I am not sure if I want to use the word ‘sobriety.’ I think that the language around drinking is very tricky and people don’t like locking themselves in a certain language. So, I will say that come Tuesday it will have been two years since I had anything to drink. Those two years have been really, really great. Drinking and not drinking is a very personal thing for each person. It is wired into your particular psychology and your history. I can only tell you in the first person who I was, what I did, how it has made my life better. I don’t think you have to wait until everything is lost to stop. If you are doing a little bit more than you wanted to, it is always a good decision to do none of it. I just want to be an example of somebody who said, ‘That’s enough.’ I don’t know that there are enough examples of people who are saying, ‘I just had enough.’ The next time the ladder appears in front of you to climb out of the hamster wheel of drinking if you’re getting tired of it, take it. I climbed out. I had a great time. I haven’t turned into a bore. But I want to be an example of someone who went, ‘That’s enough.’ We’re out there…’
John’s character and his openness and transparency has been a joy to see over the years, and a lot of his songs express a sense of rawness and honesty that seems to be a little lacking in the music industry at the moment. John’s music has been a good thing- and a curveball from left-field, over the last week or so- artists like Hanson, Colbie Caillat, Lecrae, needtobreathe, for KING AND COUNTRY, OneRepublic and Train have all challenged my very own understanding of what good music can be (in their respective genres), and John Mayer is also one such artist. For his inclusion in this very, very subjective list is now a no-brainer, and for anyone who hasn’t heard of John’s music up until now, well, let me tell you, you’re in for a real treat. Maybe start with every other album and then move on to Continuum…or the other way around. Whatever way be prepared to think- and think hard about what is being said in the songs. This is not an artist you listen to, that you place on in the background when you’re doing things. You sit down and contemplate, reflect and understand what is being said. Not everyone can do that. And so for John’s music, I’ve been enjoying what I’ve heard, and sure there’s much, much more to go, but what I will say is that John’s music has inspired my own life of late- namely songs like ‘Belief’, ‘No Such Thing’, ‘Daughters’, ‘Clarity’ and ‘The Heart of Life’.
Does John Mayer and his music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Waiting on the World to Change’, ‘Belief’, ‘Daughters’ and ‘In the Blood’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!