…. It’s like hearing the sound of your recorded voice. No one likes it. Some self-critique thing switches on and you start thinking: “I sound like that? What a dork.”
Same with music. You plug the iPod into the stereo, find that playlist you think will match the occasion, and half-way through you find yourself sprinting to hit the skip button because you were too lazy to delete that terrible track that somehow found its way …..
So get someone else’s music and learn something.
Shuffle never improves things. The reality is no one likes their own music. We want a DJ to surprise us. To reach deep into their collection and pull something out that is new and familiar, appropriate and jarring.
In High Fidelity, the hero-protagonist record store owner, Rob, who is played by John Cusack, muses on the philosophy of the perfect mix tape:
“The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”
Indeed, one of the better soundtracks of all time has to be the one from High Fidelity, but that’s cheating a little. Where do you go when you need an injection of some new randomness on your playlist?
I once read that former Wall Street Journal editor and current head of editorial at Time-Life, Norman Pearlstine, used to be obsessed with the existential question: if you had a single 90 minute cassette (Maxell most likely, this question was posed in the 80s before MP3s, and people gave each other little plastic rectangles with wheels and spools of magnetic tape that jammed in the car stereo and led to the phenomenon known as “eating”) and you were going to fill it with the best rock and roll of all time, what would be on there? What would come first? Bill Haley and His Comets and Rock Around the Clock? Or some killer top-song-of-all-time like the Stones’ Satisfaction? How many songs would the Beatles get? One and only one? I’ve killed many a dinner conversation by throwing Norman’s question onto the table. People get very passionate about their song choices, especially when restricted to 20 of them.
Anyway, I am ruminating on playlists because of two things, the first is my growing love for Amazon’s Cloud Player and the great ability it affords me to access my music library on any device with a browser. My ‘Droid, my ThinkPad, my desktop, your desktop …. just log in and there it is. No Apple iTunes befuckticated DRM sync crap. Just me and my music.
The second is a full page of playlists published in this month’s Meditterraneo edition of Monocle, the oh-so-Euro rag that is so aggressively hip that it makes my teeth ache. The playlists are amazing, and as I recreate them in Amazon I am one, grateful and two, amazed at how far the music world has gone from the days of limited channels and Top 40s and everyone was listening to the same thing at the same time. Now it’s all about the niches, the alleys, the esoteric and the unknown. Unfortunately I can link to the issue — it isn’t online. But if you see one, grab it, turn to page 35 and have fun. I especially recommend the list by Peanut Butter Wolf.