I am a cherry picker, too. I can dust an album and cull all the best tracks in as little as two listens. However, this is a new decade and requires a new attitude toward the plethora of music that is waiting out there for each and every one of us. So many artists, albums and ephemera to dig through seem daunting, but given the amount of music (and media, for that matter) each of us is consuming now … is it high time we abandon the ever-present, monolithic, always-growing playlist?
Hear me out. First, using a large portion of your time to ease through your old favorites should not be the primary path of consciousness. Instead, that list should be the reward. They say familiarity breeds contempt and, for once, this mysterious entity was right. Hearing the same tracks over and over again is slowly lulling us away from being adventurous about music. Moreover, the streamers know this fact and use it to control you. Ask yourself the all-important query: "Do you really want to be controlled by this mysterious entity?"
Music consumption should be like a meal. You need the hors d'oeuvres, a few courses and the all-important dessert to finish it. Think as the culinary side of you does.
Second, when you lean on your own playlist for comfort and that spike of energy through the day, you lose the sense of mystery and adventure out there. With the advent of streaming, an entire world of music is now at your fingertips. The question remains: "Why is there more music than ever before, but fewer people are listening to a majority of it?"
There are 25 songs that have been streamed over a billion times on Spotify. It took two-and-a-half years for these tracks to pass that limit. So, on average, each of these individual songs was played at least one million times every day around the world. Furthermore, with the world's population clocking in at around 7.7 billion, you can see the world at large continues to listen to the same music ad infinitum.
But, this is not you. You probably don't have the four Ed Sheeran songs or five Justin Bieber tracks that passed this milestone. (If you do, that is OK, too.)
However, you have to admit there are cuts you listened to last year that are really starting to sound "last year." So, let's start with those. If, in fact, these are the speed bumps in your workday, it’s time to give them their own playlist. As I proposed here before as an avid playlister, I keep mine short and use them as an "on-ramp" to listen to other music. When a playlist hits a cut I am really feeling, I use that opportunity to dip into the album.
The album may be the key to what is missing from your playlist. In the days of downloading files, we could only obtain bite-size pieces, so "that song" was sought after for purchase. With universal access, you can always dive back into the album once again.
Artists like Frank Sinatra envisioned albums as full statements of their mood and state of mind. 1955's "In The Wee Small Hours" is designed to hear in sequence. Sinatra and his producers worked meticulously on this idea. Today, some of the songs are lumped together on a Greatest Hits. While it provides an excellent overview of his career, the feelings of loneliness and to use his words "love gone bad" are lost. Think of these songs like clips from great movies you love. Sure, it is great fun to see Dorothy recognize that all of those gathered around her were in her dream, but the best segments of film should make you want to relive the whole experience again.
Beginning in the ‘60s, the single and the album were separate entities. Once they came together, a good single functioned as a trailer for an album. By the ‘80s, albums could have five or six singles and receive airplay for over two years. After years of being a critical darling, Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" gave him seven Top 10 hits from 1984-1985. However, the five tracks that did not chart remain just as dazzling. Prince's "Purple Rain" certainly sounds amazing as a standalone song. However, if you go all the way through the "Purple Rain" album, you instantly obtain a sense of finality and comfort the instant that chord hits following the frenetic live pair, "I Would Die 4 U/Baby I'm A Star." So, when that Fleetwood Mac track surfaces on your list, take a side trip through "Rumours."
Finally, a word about the list itself: Listening is always a matter of trial and error. With an endless array of songs waiting for you, most have one play or even just 30 seconds to prove themselves. To me, this is a lot to ask of someone's work. However, you are looking for a connection to some facet of the song. The current rationale among artists is to write shorter songs, put the hooks right upfront and release tracks or remix tracks constantly.
Sadly, my instincts simply will not let me agree with this functionality. Good songs live in the moment. If you find just the right one, it can be a time capsule. So, as you listen, take into account how serious the song is. For example, I love ABBA and could listen to it just about anytime. However, it is a lot like eating whipped cream on its own. What really matters is what you pair it with.
In the end, the playlist is an expression of you and who you are. Like the emotions you feel, the varying tastes you have change from day to day. So, break your listening down and make time to dive into the great unknown. Your series of playlists should always be in play and should always being changed. Continuing to gather these experiences constantly will result in the greatest reward of all: when you hit play and surprise yourself.
Mik Davis, a longtime resident of Hattiesburg, is the record store manager at TBONES Records and Cafe.