14 February 2012

Top 100 Songs: Introduction (Part 2)

What Lin said.

Well, not exactly. Like Lin, I'm looking forward to a writing project that lets me reflect on a set of songs that I already feel like I know from the inside out. Rather than focusing passing judgement, I'm looking forward to being able to think again about why these songs are still so important to me, in most cases years after I first heard them. As an assistant professor still trying to find his feet (and get his tenure), I rarely have the time to sit and enjoy listening to music without some sort of ulterior motive--background noise when I read or write, to entertain, or to take the edge off a long walk to work. Despite the fact that I'll almost certainly have to turn in my music snob card for admitting it, I'd rather spend that time contemplating the grace, power, and perfection of these 100 songs than off on a search for the next new sound.

I've made lists like this before. Somewhere, it's possible that my friend Liz Mathews still has a CD of my "twenty favorite songs" circa 2003--a list heavy on The Lemonheads, and light on songs longer than 3 and a half minutes. I can't say that my process was as rigorous or systematic as Lin's. I don't really have data on what I listen to most often, or a rating system that's anything more than an ad hoc testament to how I feel sometimes at 1 AM and still flipping though old songs. Like with my own research, I made my list inductively, by pulling together a short list of my 15 or 20 absolute favorites and listening to them in epic late night sessions, seeing what they make me want to hear next.

The list is mostly guitar music, and I regret that I've not been able to get more, genre-wise, out of my dedicated Pitchfork reading from 2003-7. But it also reflects my efforts to get deeper into musics the indie set had left behind in the early 2000s--old blues, country, and soul songs, and the wonderful, half-forgotten bits and pieces I found there. My songs are, at first glance, older and more temporally disbursed than Lin's, reflecting that I was always better at digging music up after the fact than I was at following it when it was coming out.

When I finally got 100 songs in to some sort of rough order, I was surprised by what I saw. Old favorites from college were gone, replaced in some instances by deeper cuts on the same albums. When I read the list to Kim over the phone, she was at turns surprised by my revisionism (the songs that ended up making the cut by some of our favorite artists surpised me as much as they did her) and by my fidelity (my top ten has changed a lot less over the last decade then I expected). Ultimately, I found that what makes a good song for me hasn't changed all that much--I just know a lot more songs.


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