I sometimes write about music, but I listen to it more. I usually find myself listening to two or three different things on a daily basis, and because I’m always bouncing around musically, every four months or so, I compile a playlist of songs that I listened to during that time. This was a practice that I started doing in high school, when originally, I would give these mixes to my friends (on CD) as holiday gifts -sometimes they’d include cringe worthy liner notes- and I’d hope they’d enjoy them, or at the very least, import them into their iTunes Library and put it in their iPod.
But, even after high school ended, I found myself continuing to make playlists of a similar nature for myself. It’s a fun hobby, at least for me, I’m always trying to find music that inspires me and find things that I could put on these seasonal playlist. It’s a hell of a nostalgia rush too – I can put on a playlist from 10th grade, my freshman year of college, or during my working years and be transported back to that specific time that I made it.
I made only two rules for myself for these playlists.
- In keeping consistent with the fact that I could only fit around 80 minutes onto a CD-R back in the day, the total length of any individual playlist can’t greatly exceed that same mark (nowadays, with Spotify being my main squeeze for playing music, I try to keep it to about 20-23 tracks, or about 80-84 minutes long).
- No distinct artist can appear more than once on any playlist – for instance, I can’t have two songs by the Strokes in the same seasonal playlist, but I could have one song by The Strokes and one song by their lead singer Julian Casablancas. I try to apply this rule to collaborators as well. This helps diversify what can appear on a playlist – chances are, everything else staying equal, this rule will convince me to include a different artist instead.
I thought that it’d be an interesting idea to write about some of the songs that I chose for this season’s playlist (Spring 2017) and share it with all of you. Perhaps my hobby will inspire you to do something similar!
Let’s Get Out of Here – Les Savy Fav
I switched jobs twice in the past year. The most recent one that I left was a long commute away from where I live. At first, I relished at the opportunity to have some alone time to myself in the car, drive and listen to lots of music. The downside of that is that I was always tired, and would struggle to get in the car to work nearly every day. When I chanced upon a different opportunity not even a year into doing this commute, I jumped on it, and so far, I’m really glad I did. On the last day of my old job, I chanced upon this song on my Spotify Discovery Playlist and rode down the road singing it’s incessant Weezer-esque chorus mantra over and over both ways: “Ooh, Let’s get out of here now/let’s get out of here.” Change can be scary, but I knew my choice would be for the better and this song was the perfect anthem to get through that change. An instant classic? Certainly not. But, will I always remember where I was when I got obsessed with it? Absolutely.
Left & Right in the Dark – Julian Casablancas
I put off listening to Julian Casablancas solo material for a while, but one day I found myself in a Strokes mood and tried out his first album, Phrazes for the Young. While the album itself was hit or miss, the first two tracks, “Out of the Blue,” and this whopper, “Left and Right in the Dark” caught my attention. It’s more in line with recent Strokes output – a little bit “OBLIVIOUS,” mixed with “All The Time” instead of being based off of “Reptilia” or “Last Nite.” I like the sound he brings here – the artificial keyboard, handclaps, the anthemic chorus, and especially the fuzzed out guitar are a deadly combination for me. A must listen if you’re a fan of The Strokes.
Blame it on the Boogie – The Jacksons
During my research for this piece on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” I fell into a bit of a Michael Jackson black hole. During researching for that article, I took the opportunity to explore his earlier career and listen to The Essential Michael Jackson, an album which contains hits from his entire career.
For me, Michael Jackson was split into three distinct phases – when he was 11 and singing about robins, wanting people back, and the alphabet, and later when he grabbed his crotch a lot, changed the way the world thought about music, music videos, and what one pop star could achieve – and then he got really weird in the nineties and we don’t talk about that. That frame of mind changed when I discovered that Michael Jackson was singing with his siblings even after he released Thriller as “The Jacksons.”
The Jacksons had a couple of hits; “Blame it on the Boogie” was only a minor hit at the time of its release, but the Jacksons still had enough success to stick around for a few more years, even after Michael left for his more successful solo career. In any case, they gave us this song in 1978, and it is a pleasure. This is just before Michael released Off the Wall, and the influence of disco and funk are all over this uplifting track.
Oh yeah, and the video is a trip too.
In The Darkness – Foxygen
Part of what attracts me to psychedelic music is its willingness to expand on classic pop ideas with experimental and unique sounds. But psych is tricky in that you can take it a step too far, at least for my taste. After listening to way too much in this genre, I’ve found out that the specific brand which I have most interest in is psychedelic-pop, which really started to take off in the mid sixties with the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Revolver. There’s always been a market for this sort of drugged-out yet simultaneously accessible sound over the past fifty or so years, but it has had its ebbs and flows.
After being pushed out for the most part in favor of Album-Oriented-Rock during the 70s and 80s, (think Arena Rock/Progressive Rock/Hair Metal), things started to change again in the 90s and into the new millennium as a new generation of bands with a desire to emulate the bands of the 60’s started to gain momentum. Bands like The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, and MGMT are the most recent high profile bands to take full advantage of this market, but there are multitudes of others who incorporate the sounds of the 60s into slightly more modern vibes.
One of those bands is Foxygen, who released one of the best psych-pop albums of the last decade with We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic in 2013, and this track, “In The Darkness” kicks off that set and gives you an idea of the sound that they aimed for. I listened to this album pretty consistently over the past few months after picking up a great vinyl copy of it for only a few bucks, and it’s definitely earned a place as one of my favorites of the genre, even though it apes some similar chord progressions from another classic.
If this sort of sound piques your interest and you’re looking for an excuse to listen to more psychedelic music, check out this History of Psych playlist that I’ve been putting together on Spotify.
Subterranean Homesick Alien – Radiohead
If you haven’t listened to Radiohead’s OK Computer yet, do yourself a favor – take about 53 minutes to yourself and listen to it. While Radiohead now have a reputation as being one of the biggest bands in the world, OK Computer was the album that gave them that reputation.
This monumental record turns twenty years old this year, and it speaks to our troubled times even better than it did back in 1997. Some records have specific moments that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end; OK Computer does that consistently throughout its twelve tracks. On an album full of memorable moments, its third track, “Subterranean Homesick Alien” provides a much needed moment of levity, floating bliss and driving emotion.
Yorke muses on loneliness in this spacey, ambient track, with lyrics about disillusion in a messed up world, being abducted by aliens so that they could “show me the world as I’d like to see it,” and general dissatisfaction and astonishment at the world around him. Now, twenty years later, with technology being more crucial to our world than ever and society seemingly teetering on the edge, this track, and OK Computer as a whole, reflect our times with stunning accuracy and devastatingly emotional moments.
Check out my Spring 2017 playlist on Spotify: