First-time writer/director Maggie Carey says she loosely based the protagonist of her new bawdy comedy The To Do List on herself. In the 1993-set movie, main character prim high school valedictorian Brandy Klark (played by Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza), makes a very sexually explicit “To Do List,” which she proceeds to check off items on the summer after high school graduation to gain sexual experience and lose her V-card before college begins. And while the character and Carey do share several commonalities, the film is fiction. “I was a teenager who graduated high school in 1993 in Boise, Idaho. I was also a lifeguard at a pool. I was incredibly Type A, I took every AP class possible, I was also on student council, played a ton of sports — I was a total jock, so I was a very high achieving high school student,” Carey intimates. “And also completely boy crazy. So, I feel like the point of view of the protagonist is absolutely close to who I was in high school. I remained a virgin all through high school, however.”
In the film, music plays a big part, from its comedic and setting usage to ephemera. Brandy Klark’s bedroom is littered with CDs and the walls are lined with rock posters. “All the posters in Brandy’s room are from my college and high school years. I saved them all,” says Carey. Mixtapes also ruled Carey’s high school years, so naturally some of the movie’s funniest moments are buoyed by music that appeared on her own high school mixtapes, from the ubiquitous (MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”) to mainstream radio staples (Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.”) and college radio faves (Big Head Todd & The Monsters’ “Bittersweet,” James’ “Laid,” Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”).
Hive caught up with Carey to get her Most Essential ‘90s Album List. Here are her must-haves, in no particular order.
1. Built To Spill, There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (1994)
“Sadly, we couldn’t get their song in the movie. We had a really, really low budget for our film, but Built To Spill is a Boise band and I’m a huge fan of theirs and that album, There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, we listened to a ton. And the songs “Car” and “Distopian Dream Girl,” I temped the movie with a lot of those songs, and then we couldn’t get them. I was very sad,” says Carey.
2. Pearl Jam, 10 (1991)
“Pearl Jam, they gave me a polite ‘No,’ for trying to get one of their songs [cleared for the movie],” Carey laughs. “But we were able to clear the poster, and that’s actually a poster I had in my college dorm room.”
3. Nirvana, Nevermind (1991)
While none of Nirvana’s songs were featured in the film, the CD cover was. “We didn’t even try [to get any of their songs], I knew what the answer would be,” laughs Carey. “No, and honestly though, they wouldn’t have fit the movie. You know what I mean? There’s too much weight to those songs for a comedy. I really do feel that, there’s too much weight to those songs. They wouldn’t have been right. And they would hate — they would’ve hated a girl with a popped collar. Like I mean, you know — what is that? It would not have been a match.”
4. Spin Doctors, Pocket Full of Kryptonite (1991)
Their song “Two Princes” is in the movie, though not on the soundtrack. “That’s another one of those songs, ‘Two Princes,’ like my friends and I would play on repeat constantly,” Carey says.
5. Salt-N-Pepa, Blacks’ Magic (1990)
“I love ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ ‘cause my basketball team in high school, we would warm up to that song,” she says. “And I can’t believe our coach let us play that song! Which I also love, though, that it’s all a message about having safe sex — which was, you know, a big deal in the ‘90s for sure. We were like incredibly fearful and uh yeah.”
6. The Samples, No Room (1992)
“This isn’t in the movie, but they were a huge college touring band, and if the internet had existed back then, they would be huge because everyone I know, you know friends who had seen the film, who grew up all over the country — everyone knows the Samples and everyone went to their shows,” she says. “They must’ve toured everywhere. But they never broke, they never got big enough to fill a stadium. You would just see them at a bar, and anytime they came to town you’d make sure you went. And everyone I knew, like everyone I knew had a Samples song on their mixtapes.”
7. The Cranberries, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (1993)
“My first CD was Pearl Jam 10 — but [for] a lot of people, Cranberries was their first CD that they bought – not a tape, but like a CD. And ‘Dreams’ is like a pretty important song for the movie,” she says.
8. Naughty By Nature, Naughty by Nature (1991)
“The first time that I heard ‘O.P.P.’ was actually by a lip synch group my high school girlfriends and I met,” she explains. “We met a lip synch group of boys, they were touring malls in Idaho, going to lip synch contests.”
9. 2 Live Crew, As Nasty As They Wanna Be (1989)
“Another one that was huge for us and it kind of cracks me up ‘cause I didn’t realize how dirty it was, and this one’s from 1989, but in Boise, Idaho [when] we were in 1993 [it was] really like 1988 compared to the rest of the country ‘cause we were slow to get trends,” she says. “But 2 Live crew, ‘Me So Horny’ — that was a song that had so much controversy around it at the time that that came out. And I had a guy friend who had a tape of it and he played it for us, in his mom’s station wagon and we were all like, ‘Oh My God!’ And of course would memorize the lyrics and would just yell it out, not even realizing what we were saying. So I thought It would be the perfect song to open the movie with, ‘cause it’s like a really, really dirty song, juxtaposed to images from the ‘90s and this like really nice high school girl’s bedroom. I figured right away if you heard those lyrics you were either like on board with the comedic tone of the movie, or not.”
10. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
“That was like a big album for me, oh my God. I love the sentiment of her songs and I didn’t realize what a feminist — like, clearly I’m clearly a feminist, and was a feminist and have been a feminist — but I really didn’t realize how great she was,” she explains. “That was an album I revisited a lot, but we didn’t end up putting her in the movie.”
The To Do List hits theaters on Friday, July 26. The soundtrack is out now.