At the Coborn’s grocery store in New Prague, Minnesota, the all-store music controls lie somewhere upstairs, untouchable by grubby little first-job hands eager to play the screamo cover of “Crank That (Soulja Boy).”
Sometimes the store blasts Top 40, sometimes pop country. Some songs are recognizable from the Love Actually soundtrack, some are by Imagine Dragons. The soundtrack makes sense... for grocery store music, if that means anything.
But one song challenges the rest for predominance. Every day at 4 p.m., the chorus—and just the chorus—of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” blasts throughout the store. It’s time for the manager’s “fresh at four” meeting, leaving high-school-aged employees to eat as many Dum Dums as possible before their supervisors return.
During my two-year stint as a cashier at Coborn’s, I heard this song daily, and the sound of BTO will always make me crave mystery flavor.
Almost everyone has a story like this. A bad soundtrack at work, a song playing at an inopportune time, the pain of your first period cramps set to the sounds of Shrek: The Musical.
Since not even musicians get to curate their own perfect life soundtracks, we asked some local artists to share their most painful or otherwise notable musical memories.
After turning down his first ever job offer (from a temp agency), high school senior Aaron Mader (now better known as Lazerbeak) decided he’d have to take the next thing he got so he wouldn’t seem ungrateful.
And that’s how the future Doomtree producer found himself at TruGreen ChemLawn, selling lawn-care chemicals in the dead of winter.
Arranged in row after row of desks, no cubicles, Lazerbeak and his co-workers would cold-call lonely grandmas and grieving families from 5 to 10 every day. Lazerbeak didn’t have his driver’s license, he’d just broken up with his girlfriend, and “Mambo No. 5” was a huge hit.
“I just remember it would play every hour, on the hour. Kinda loud. Distractingly loud,” Lazerbeak said.
During his three-month stint at TruChem, the song’s power never died. “It’s such a happy song, about having so many women in your life. I was single, heartbroken, working a shit job, and trying to get my indie-rock band off the ground. It seemed like he was showing off a bit.”
After hitting the road with the Plastic Constellations, Lazerbeak was able to leave the chemical business behind. Still, the song brings him back.
“I’m pretty happy about my life right now, but it’s good to remember where you came from. I don’t think I hold any ill will towards the song or Lou Bega,” Lazerbeak said. “It’s not his fault, just unfortunate circumstances.”
Kathy Callahan, Gully Boys
Surrounded by customers in the Shopko apparel section, a co-worker confided in Kathy Callahan that she was pregnant. Unfortunately, Anita Baker was playing in the store at the time.
“There were customers that needed help and I had to fight myself from singing along while she told me her life-changing event,” the Gully Boys singer says.
Callahan credits her Shopko job with expanding her taste: She’d go home and research music she’d heard at wook. One such discovery was Baker’s “Rapture.”
“She looks so cute on the cover, hugging herself in the warm light. I’d do the impossible task of folding all the underwear while singing Anita Baker,” said Callahan.
The store played the same songs daily, Callahan says: “lots of weird covers” with some Bruno Mars thrown in. Shuffled.
“It’s weirdly nostalgic, in a way where I’m like, ‘I’m in a way better place now,’” Callahan says. “I’m thankful that Shopko at least gave me Anita Baker.”
Jared Hemming, the Florists
“I think the issue when it comes to workplaces having music in the background is the playlists are designed for a one-time experience,” said Hemming.
He recalls spending eight-hour days at the Northern Food King, listening to a radio station that we will not credit. Credit is not due.
“For every shift that summer—that’s 12 weeks—I listened to ‘I’m Yours.’ Hours and hours of ‘I’m Yours,’ by Jason Mraz,” he says. “I don’t feel enriched by that experience.”
The song now reminds Hemming of the smell of a dairy cooler. “I think if I saw Jason Mraz perform ‘I’m Yours,’ I’d vomit.”
Each young member of Early Eyes has a story to share.
Bassist Des Lawrence’s old boss had a playlist called “Work Work Work” that relied heavily on Weezer hits. As a freshman in high school, guitarist John O’Brien played under-the-table for a local restaurant-booked jazz ensemble. The bassist would warm up by playing Tool.
Guitarist Joe Villano works at a Jimmy John’s. “There are only so many times you can hear ‘Rock’n Me’ by the Steve Miller Band before your brain starts to eat itself,” Villano says.
For vocalist and guitarist Jake Berglove, work at a doggy daycare allows for one of two Pandora soundtrack options: “Classical Goes Pop” and Early Eyes radio.
“I love classical music and I love Katy Perry, but I feel like they should stay far away from each other,” Berglove said. “Early Eyes radio is even worse. It’s very flattering, but my soul burns a little.”
Local R&B singer/songwriter Lady Midnight once decided to set the mood for a breakup with a song.
“I hit the first thing that was on YouTube,” she says. “It was Rihanna’s ‘Needed Me.’ Like, ‘Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?’”
The dumpee wasn’t upset, just confused. “I think I even mentioned something about it and there was no reaction,” Lady Midnight says.
During another breakup, the singer chose a more fitting soundtrack. The pair decided to talk things through with Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator) as background music.
“It took me four years before I could listen to that album again,” she says. “It wasn’t comforting, it just echoed the situation we were in,” she said.
On a lighter note, the singer was recently pulled over for speeding while singing along to James Blake’s “Retrograde”—and she didn’t get a ticket.
Har Mar Superstar
Many of us have been forced to endure
bad music. Har Mar Superstar has chosen to inflict it.
“On tour for like a year straight I’d start the day driving by blasting ‘In the Arms of Cocaine’ by Hank Williams Jr., which is an insanely depressing song,” the artist said. “I’m not a huge Hank Williams Jr. fan, but this song is amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s super-depressing.”
During DJ sets in the middle of July, Har Mar spins “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and gauges confusion. He likes to imagine someone putting on “We Like to Party!” at a funeral and opening a cash bar.
“At the end of the day, it’s a song,” he says. “I ironically listen to music more than I listen to music I actually love.”
But how do you decide to play something you ironically want to listen to? Doesn’t that mean you just... want to listen to it?
“There’s something about the opening chords of Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ coming on,” Har Mar says. “The whole room will groan collectively for a split second and then immediately fucking be really really into it.”
Maybe. But if they were stuck at work? That might be a different story.