The Essential Playlist: Mike Doughty

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.

Simon Young

Born in 1976 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Simon Young has been a music journalist for over twenty years. His fanzine, Hit A Guy With Glasses, enjoyed a one-issue run before he secured a job at Kerrang! in 1999. His writing has also appeared in Classic RockMetal HammerProg, and Planet Rock. His first book, So Much For The 30 Year Plan: Therapy? — The Authorised Biography is available via Jawbone Press.