How did we get here? I lay most of the blame at the feet of the classic rock artists who pumped out album after album of, not shockingly, “Album Oriented Rock” or AOR. These musicians are as ubiquitous as their songs. Their sonic legacy was the soundtrack of my generation’s older siblings—the one’s who just barely missed the cutoff for being a member of my generation.
I’m 49 trips around Helios’ big bright star as of this essay, so you do the math.
The culprits go by handles like “Fleetwood Mac”, “Queen”, and “Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers”. But in my humble estimation, none is more to blame than the band that flew higher than most: the Eagles. If there is a more ubiquitous record than The Eagle’s Greatest Hits (1971-1975), I can’t say what it is. Well, it’s Thriller, but for the purposes of this rant, let’s throw out the top and bottom and focus on the rest. At current certified sales of 41.2 million copies, it’s as common an album as there is to be had in this great wide world. As a testament to it’s popularity, it’s the record that my turntable repair guy ALWAYS uses to demo a TT he’s just serviced.
Full disclosure, “our” song—the one we danced to just after getting slightly drunk just after getting slightly married on a beach is this little ditty…
We actually own a gigantic canvas with the hand-painted lyrics covering it. It hangs in a place of prominence in our home. When my brother-in-law first saw it, he rested his forehead in his large right palm, shook his head slightly, looked up slowly and said, “You two are so white.” I took this as a compliment. So, it’s not that I’m not a fan of the Eagles. I am. Obviously.
The much ballyhooed and aforementioned Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is the best way to illustrate the lack of imagination that is generally employed when someone is asked to “put on some music”. And there are so many occasions where one needs to “put on some music”, that I feel this is an important lecture.
Disclaimer: If you’ve done the math required to determine that I’m a GenXer—congrats! As such, this entire symposium is only applicable (and likely understandable) to my ilk (and older). That wacky proto-pop jazz-a-ma-tazz y’all kidz listen to now-a-days is…well…not my bag. Let’s just say the target market for this entire cache of playlists is music lover’s ages 40-75. I do feel like I got range, but it’s not infinite.
Bruce Springsteen once sang, “57 channels and nothin’ on.” In this age of smartphones, and Spotify, and YouTube, there are literally millions of songs at our collective fingertips. And yet in a strange juxtaposition, it’s the same problem: Bruce had plenty of channels to choose from, but nothing to watch. We have millions of songs to choose from, but we tend to holler in the general direction of a disembodied voice, “Alexa, play the Eagles.”
Herein lies the crux of this entire rant/lecture/symposium/endeavor: how does one effectively listen to a millions of songs?
The short answer is: one doesn’t.
My experience (when I’m not the DJ) is that out of sheer exhaustion (or terror), most folks simply revert to one of the following familiar approaches:
- Pass off the responsibility to someone else—STAT!
- Give up and turn on the radio.
- Shuffle! Shuffle! Shuffle!
- Cue up Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975)…
Let’s take a closer look at these two approaches to musical consumption, shall we?
Pass off the responsibility to someone else—STAT!
This is all well and good. But just imagine a world where everyone at your little soiree did took this tack. It’d be one hell of an expanse of silence. Bummer.
Give up and turn on the radio.
Too many infuriating commercials. I hate commercials. Like I have to lunge for the tuning knob when they sneak up on me. I’m kinds with Bill Hicks on this one.
Shuffle! Shuffle! Shuffle!
Listening to a million songs on shuffle mode causes the listener to experience violent shifts in genre, which can be rather unpleasant after about two songs. I experienced this phenomenon first-hand at a graduation party many moons ago.
Someone brought the proverbial mobile music set-up and set it up at the far end of the picnic shelter. The music started off with a couple of classic rock standards–perfect! Then, the music selection took a hard right-hand turn into the best of the Three Tenors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Three Tenors fanboy—I have seen them at Red Rocks for god’s sake! Unfortunately, Three Tenors standards do not play well at a picnic with an audience ranging in age from 3 mos. to 73.
That was not the true crime, however…
As if 5 minutes of “O Sole Mio” was not challenging enough, up next on the musical tilt-a-whirl was Sublime’s all-tme classic: “Wrong Way”. Let’s just say that “Wrong Way” is the very definition of the “Wrong Song” to play as a mood setter for an afternoon of festive family fun and celebration. Sure, a gritty tale of incest and forced teen-aged prostitution can be somewhat thought-provoking, but not at a graduation party/family picnic.
Luckily, After “Wrong Way” wrapped, we were all treated to “What I Got”. I guess in contrast, I’ll take a few F-bombs and drug references over rape and incest any day. Eventually, the genius that was DJ’ing this gig realized that Sublime, although extremely talented, just did not produce the type of music that would be considered acceptable in this setting. He quickly started flipping around for something else. And just as though he knew I’d be writing this someday, he fell right into the next trap…
Cue up Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975)…
Because shuffle mode can produce such an unsatisfying listen, many folks revert back to the old standards. I can appreciate “Hotel California” as a lyrical and musical masterpiece. I have, however, probably heard it 1,842 times in my life. Listening to it for the 1,843rd time will more-than-likely not yield any new revelations. It is for this reason, I try to avoid the standards. They are great during a drunken evening of reminiscing–don’t get me wrong–but that is about the extent of their usefulness.
After fumbling through his collection of music for about six minutes, the accidental DJ at the grad party eventually settled on a string of classics from the Grateful Dead. OK, I can handle the Grateful Dead. At least they tackled more family-friendly topics in their music like: drugs, death, and free love. And, as an added bonus, there references were much more subtle and cerebral than those of their modern counterparts: Sublime. I call this desperation felt by the accidental DJ to quickly locate some acceptable music in an ocean of digital music files, the “Hotel California Syndrome”. Trust me, everyone has experienced this first-hand.
Picture (if you will…)
A bunch of folks gather at someone’s house for drinks, conversation and mingling…wait, isn’t mingling just the combi-nation of drinks and conversation? Anyway, the host (with the most) points to the accidental DJ and says: “hey (let’s call him) Melvin, connect to the Sonos speaker and play some good shit!”
Melvin looks surprised, then giddy, then stricken. He experiences the whole range of amateur DJ emotions in the span of 10 seconds. But he soldiers on.
Getting past the initial shock, he realizes that he has been granted immense power—he controls the flow of sonic entertainment. But with immense power comes immenser responsibility. And the responsibility of controlling the flow of sonic entertainment is immense.
Melvin pairs his phone with the Bluetooth receiver. Then it hits him like a bolt of sheer uncertainty—Melvin thinks “what in the hell am I supposed to play?” As Melvin’s thumb quickly works the small screen in his palm, the bolt of sheer uncertainty morphs into a bolt of sheer terror. As much as Melvin wants to play something hip, cool, and essential that will make him look like a DJ-extraordinaire, he cannot figure out what grouping of songs matches that criteria. In an act of sheer desperation, Melvin cues up The Best of the Doors, chiefly because that is what the “cool kids” always seemed to play, after Dark Side… at any college party he ever attended.
Why, Melvin!? Why???
Let’s assess this decision: the Doors are mainstream enough that everyone will recognize their songs. And like Pink Floyd, or Led Zeppelin, the Doors are legends in the annals of classic rock. Very few people (not born afer1985) will take a stance that Jim Morrison was a talentless hack and the Doors were overrated. So, it was not a terrible choice.
That said, I can’t think of any party shy of a San Franciscan acid test where the Best of the Doors would properly fit the mood. Like many who have come before him, Melvin fell victim to Hotel California Syndrome. Even though the folks mingling at the party will give Melvin the hand-in-the-shape-of-a-gun-thumb-click-and-wink for his selection, as the first nine notes of “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” play, those same people will be thinking: “Oh boy! “Break on Through…” for the 853th time.
They will ignore the remainder of the evening’s soundtrack. No one will come up to Melvin and congratulate him on his DJ’ing prowess. Nary will a “I love this song” be heard over the din of Jim Morrison exhaling into the microphone. And if anything, the guests will be lulled into a false sense of mushroom trip rather than a frothy frenzy. The night, at least as far as the music was concerned, will be average, marginal, yawnworthy.
So what in the H-E-double-hockey-stix is the on-the-spot DJ supposed to do??? The best approach is as obvious as Friday night drinking: build a healthy stable of playlists. Unfortunately, most folks barely understand the concept of a playlist. Most think playlists drop from the Spotify heavens with that neat-o slick overmodulated thumbnail cover art. It’s ss though the playlist fairy flutters by every once and a while and drops a few more “Yacht Rock” comps on Sonos “Radio”. In reality, they are just the same 78 songs in a different order—foole me once, shame on me, fool me twice, don’t get fooled again.
That is how we (mercifully) got here. This site is dedicated to the practice of playlistology. And I salute all of you non-algorithmic sentient beings who take the time to piece together a curated song-by-song listening experience. It’s truly one of this lifetime’s most noble (and ambitious) pursuits.
Check out my various playlists, sneak one into your next party—your fellow revelers will not be disappointed. All my playlists come with a 100% money-back guarantee.
That said, if you’re in pinch (like Melvin), just pick any ’80s/90s soundtrack and play that. You will invariably impress someone. You WILL hear “I LOVE this song!” at least once (or twice). Here are a few crowd pleasers (in no particular order):
- Vision Quest
- Top Gun
- Pretty in Pink
- Purple Rain
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High
- Say Anything
- Breakfast Club
- Stand By Me
- The Big Chill
- St. Elmo’s Fire
- Pretty Woman
- Some Kind of Wonderful
- Miami Vice
- Risky Business
- Beverly Hills Cop (I & II)
- Tequila Sunrise
- And so on…
Because if music be the food of love, then playlist on…
Copyright © 2021 – ∞ Blake Charles Donley