The Essential Playlist: Mike Doughty

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Mike Doughty formed the alt-rock band Soul Coughing in the early 90s, and released three studio albums and five live recordings.

He broke up the band in 2000 and pursued a solo career. Since then, he’s released 17 studio albums, live albums and EPs. In 2012, he published his first book, The Book Of Drugs: A Memoir. His latest release, Stellar Motel is out now.

Here, he picks his 11 essential tracks.

SOUL COUGHING – $300 (El Oso, 1998)
Mike: “My very favourite Soul Coughing recording. The vibe, the texture of the recording, the jam at the end. It’s a very succinct jam. A rare quality in jams. The writing of it came from three factors: one, drum and bass, which I was really into (I briefly lived in London and used to go to Goldie’s Metalheadz night on Hoxton Square on Sundays; my favourites were Grooverider and Doc Scott—those dubplates!); that buzzing open guitar tuning, which I started using on everything; and the sample of Chris Rock saying, “…how much? She said, for $300, I’ll do any…” That’s from a track that played backwards on Roll With the New. I put it in my ASR-10 sampler, loaded it up, and reversed it—I was just curious what he was saying.”

MIKE DOUGHTY – Put It Down (Golden Delicious, 2008)
“Another rhythm/chord progression I’ve kept returning to over the years. So Far I Have Not Found the Science, I Keep on Rising Up, Pleasure on Credit, and I think another one that I’m forgetting. I’ve called a 10-year moratorium on writing to this feel, but in 2025 it’ll be back. Like clockwork.”

SOUL COUGHING – Janine (Ruby Vroom, 1994)
“I wrote this song while driving a white van, delivering gourmet ice cream. The name comes from a girl my friend Marty in high school had a crush on. I always thought it sounded song-title-like. The answering-machine vocal is my then-girlfriend, Rachel Benbow Murdy. She went down to a payphone in Sheridan Square and called up to record it. I wanted her to start with that fake version of The Lemon Tree, which she used to sing a lot, and then just whatever—that amazing, surreal poetry, and the meandering melody was 100% improvised. The thing at the top, where she says, “…makes me so nervous…” and I say, “Start.” happened because I was trying to get her to just go with it, without overthinking. And she did! Beautifully! She went on to collaborate on shows with the acclaimed theatre director Diane Paulus.”

**MIKE DOUGHTY – White Lexus **(Haughty Melodic, 2005)
“I think this is the best song I’ve ever written. The first line I came up with was, “Like a soap star in anguish—shrill but bland.” I think that came from watching whoever the soap opera star was that was guest hosting on Live With Regis Philbin – I was going through a thing where I was waking up really early every day.”

SOUL COUGHING – Circles (El Oso, 1998)
“Yeah, I really like Circles. It came out really, really quickly, except for the third verse, the “You have gone, and gone to dogs,” part, which had been sitting around without a chord progression for it to sit in for some time. I actually wrote this because I was being pressured by Warner Bros. to write a single. It worked! Many people are unlucky in that their hit is a song they dislike — I really like this one. It got to 38 on the Billboard American top 40, so I’m officially a one-hit wonder.”

MIKE DOUGHTY – Sleepless/How Many Cans? (Circles, Super Bon Bon, and The Very Best Of Soul Coughing, 2013)
“Naming two here because it’s really a one-two punch. First two tracks on my reimagined’ Soul Coughing songs album. The boom-BAP!-ba-boom-boom-BAP! beat on Sleepless, and the drum and bass thing on Cans? are things I just couldn’t get my drummer to do in 1996. About half of Soul Coughing fans hated me for doing this record, but I ask them to listen to just these two: they really encapsulate what I was going for, and I think they’re the best on the record. If they don’t like those, fair deal, but I think those two are really special.”

SOUL COUGHING – Fully Retractable (El Oso, 1998)
“That kind of descending guitar riff is a motif I keep going back to. There are certain vibes that I feel like I keep trying to retool, and perfect, and repurpose.”

MIKE DOUGHTY – Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating in the Future (Stellar Motel, 2014)
“I’ve been working with a Brooklyn kid called Good Goose for a couple of years. I go over to his place, he sets up a beat, I play guitar parts or bass parts, improvising, he selects and loops them, then I start improvising vocals. He had a banjo laying around for some unknown reason, and I was just messing with it when I came up with that riff. The lyrics are largely improvised, cut and pasted into song shape. The title comes from a newspaper headline about fibre-optic implants.”

SOUL COUGHING – Lazybones (Irresistible Bliss, 1996)
“One of my favourite lyrics of mine. This song is great in that you can reinvent it a different way every year, for every tour. There’s just something adaptable about it.”

MIKE DOUGHTY – Wednesday (Golden Delicious, 2008)
“I just want to say that the Spanish is purposefully mispronounced. It’s sort of this arrogantly incorrect, anguished character in the song. A very New York kind of guy. I love the vibe of this one. I would’ve played it much straighter, with a more complicated guitar part, if Dan Wilson, the producer, hadn’t coaxed it towards this langorous, spooky feel.”

Mike Doughty is on tour. See his website for full details.