Charlie Day: The 10 songs that changed my life

It’s Always Sunny…’s Charlie Day guides us through his favourite music from the show, throughout his life, and that inspired his new movie Fool’s Paradise.

Charlie Day: The 10 songs that changed my life
Mike Rampton

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is a show that faces the same criticism as a lot of the music in Kerrang!’s world: there’s a lot of scruffy people shouting. However, there is vastly more going on than that, and over 170 episodes and 18 years, Sunny has produced some of the most consistently hilarious, over-the-top television ever made.

While the five narcissistic, self-centred, amoral characters at the centre of it are all extraordinary, illiterate janitor Charlie Kelly might just be the greatest character in TV history, thanks in part to his savant-like musical abilities courtesy of actor (and show co-creator) Charlie Day.

With Charlie's feature directorial debut, Fools’s Paradise – a Hollywood satire in which he swaps his near-constant yelling in Sunny for an almost totally silent lead performance – out now, we thought it right to chat about the soundtrack to his life...

The first song I learned to play...Neil Young – Old Man

"I grew up in a household of music and instruments. My father and mother were both musicologists, so there was a lot around. They tried to give me violin lessons at three, but that didn’t stick. I got on the piano from maybe 4 to 10, then put that down and picked up the trombone until high school, then picked up the guitar and harmonica and went back to the piano on my own. I started teaching myself chords and writing songs to get girls to pay attention to me. It was kind of primal.

"I was never very good at playing someone else’s songs. I would learn the chords and then use those to search and experiment and make up little songs, both sincere and completely insincere. So I got Neil Young’s chord book for his album Decade – it seemed easier to learn than, like, Led Zeppelin. There was a lot of D, C, A-minor, F, and I started to get a sense of the chords. I think the first guitar I was using was missing the high E string, so I was playing a lot of E minor and part of G. By the time I left for college I was determined, 'I’m gonna get that other string.'"

The first single I bought...Pixies – Where Is My Mind?

"I didn’t actually buy it, I won it. It was at a seventh grade school dance, where you buy a ticket to get into the school gym. They put everyone’s ticket into a raffle, and the guy from the local surf shop – Retnie’s surf shop in Rhode Island – pulled out the ticket, and I was the winner. I got a neon slap bracelet and a Pixies CD. In fact, I’m not even sure it was the Pixies CD. It might have been the CD of a movie that had Where Is My Mind? as the first track. It might have been something like the Gleaming The Cube soundtrack. I remember listening to it and falling in love with that song and buying the Pixies’ album. Then I slept on Pixies through high school, then when I met my wife in my 20s, she was a huge fan and got me back into them big-time.

[Note: After a huge, huge amount of research, we have figured out Charlie actually – probably – won the soundtrack to the 1991 film A Matter Of Degrees, starring future Sunny guest star the late Tom Sizemore. Where Is My Mind? is track six.]

The first dance at my wedding...Al Green – Let’s Stay Together

"We’re going back in time there. I think it was Let’s Stay Together – is that Marvin Gaye? Al Green? That was a mutual choice. I’m not a big dancer. My wife’s the dancer of the family. But I’ll boogie at a wedding or something. If I’m in the right mood I just need a good beat, and the song itself doesn’t really matter."

My go-to karaoke song...Gladys Knight And The Pips – Midnight Train To Georgia

"I did Led Zeppelin for a while, but the long guitar parts can sometimes make for an awful karaoke experience as everyone stands around and waits for the vocals to come in. My favourite karaoke track for the longest time was to do Midnight Train To Georgia by Gladys Knight And The Pips, or Joe Cocker’s You Are So Beautiful. I’m drawn to anything where you can be both gravelly and high-pitched."

The song I write to...Les Baxter – Calcutta

"I went through two different versions of this movie. Initially it was called El Tonto and was a slightly different film, and I was listening to a lot of a Mexican mariachi band called Los Tres Ases. Then, once it switched over and became a movie much more about Ken Jeong, I was listening to a lot of 1960s movie scores by Les Baxter. I’d highly recommend his whole body of work."

The song that features in a key moment in my movie...The Surfaris – Wipeout

"That drum beat has got to be one of the best drum beats in the history of any rock song. Anyone who hears that tries to do it on the dashboard or the table, that dur-dur-dur-dur dur dut-dur dut-dur. It’s impossible not to. I knew that song was going to be in there from the very initial cut. Most of the movie is this incredible score by Jon Brion, but I kept a few needle-drops, because I thought if I didn’t have two or three recognisable tracks in the movie it made it feel a little too small."

My favourite song to listen to in the car...Johnny Paycheck – She’s All I Got

"I’m all over the map. I just got out of a kick of listening to old country and western, like George Jones and Johnny Paycheck, because I’m thinking about another project that I may or may not make set in the kind of world those guys inhabit. So I’ve been driving around grooving to old Johnny Paycheck."

The movie score I can’t get enough of...Jon Brion – I Heart Huckabees

"I probably maybe care more about film scores than someone who isn’t as into music. But it’s everything. It can do so much. The wrong score can ruin a film, the right score can really help a film, and a great score combined with a great film – that’s when you get The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Jaws. I’m a huge fan of Jon Brion. I think a lot of people know the Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind score, and the Punch Drunk Love score is one of the best scores ever written, and he did Lady Bird and Magnolia, but I’m really fond of his score for I Heart Huckabees. He’s about as good as it gets. I reached out to him for Fool’s Paradise as a bit of a Hail Mary, and we ended up recording a score with an 80-piece orchestra."

The song fans sing at me the most...Electric Dream Machine – Dayman

"Of everything we’ve done musically on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, there’s no doubt that Dayman was the biggest hit. That one caught us by surprise. We had two great staff writers, Scott Marder and Rob Rosell. We broke the episode, and they went off and wrote it. The whole joke was, 'Okay, Charlie writes this song and Dennis sings along' and they came back with these lyrics about Dayman and Nightman and being the master of karate and friendship, and we just thought it was the funniest thing we’d seen in forever – I thought it was just hilarious! There was a little Casio keyboard in the office, the kind that plays a chord when you hit one note, and I was singing it, Glenn [Howerton] was coming in with the Flash Gordon 'Ah-aaaah', and we didn’t think anything more of it but it caught fire."

The song I love performing live...Charlie Kelly – Go Fuck Yourself

"In college there was a part of me that was wondering what to pursue: music or acting. I felt as though, with music, I would encounter another musician and they would just technically, physically be able to do more than I could do with their instruments – like I’d be just, 'Okay, wow, I just can’t do that thing'. Acting felt more subjective, while hitting the correct notes isn’t subjective at all. That scared me off pursuing a career in music, but I’m happy not to have pursued it – I love having music as a hobby. People ask if I’m ever going to release an album, and one day I might, but having music as a hobby feels very comfortable. The song I love to sing at the live Sunny shows is one we did called Go Fuck Yourself. I love that one. It’s very Bowie-esque and fun to sing."

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