At the end of March, my young nephew who had recently returned from the United States after 10 years with my sister and the rest of the family, asked me if I would make him a playlist of music that he could explore. He had already begun to play the guitar and so was entering what I would describe as the ‘more than just listening to music for enjoyment phase’, once that curiosity begins, it never ends! Obviously during the 7 years of doing the music blog playlists were a regular feature, but they were often very specific and narrow in scope, i.e. zoned in on Irish singles released over the past fortnight. It had been a long time since I had cobbled together a playlist with such a broad and open-ended criteria, there was none!
Playlists are an incredibly fun and enjoyable under-taking when they are personal. They have evolved in how they are delivered over the decades, from my cassette compilations in the 90s, to ripping CDs to burn on to a blank CD for parties, to Windows Media Playlists on the laptop, also for parties, to the dawn of streamed playlists on the likes of Spotify, it has never been easier in terms of access to the enormous library at our fingertips, but…this also means greater care can be required, it’s easy to get side-tracked.
After giving it a small bit of thought, I decided why not just go back to the beginning of contemporary music and start there, the 1950s seemed like a good place to start, a rock n’ roll playlist with 13 tracks was the outcome, not necessarily comprehensive, but a decent intro for my nephew I thought. A week or so after I sent on the first playlist a request came by email for more, logically I moved on to the 1960s, and started cutting decades in two, and expanding beyond merely rock music. Part I had 14 tracks, Part II 61 tracks, and that was kind of that. On an almost weekly (sometimes longer but pushed on through gentle reminder emails from my nephew!) from the end of March to the end of July I sent on 14 playlists in total covering 1950 to 2020, 950 tracks and almost 69 hours of music.
I enjoyed the undertaking so much, it kept me occupied in the opening tumultuous months of the pandemic, and it broadened my palate of music so much at the same time as I was finding old gems from the 1970s & 1980s in particular I had never listened to, plugging egregious gaps in my knowledge. It was also very enjoyable getting feedback from my nephew regarding which particular tracks he was enjoying the most from each playlist.
Making a mammoth playlist of this type, which I have ingeniously titled Ultimate Jukebox, was something I’d always wanted to do, attempt to have a fluid and chronological pathway in one place which would try to capture the evolution of modern music. I always think about how I myself came to like the music I do, and how my own tastes have changed since I was a child in the 1980s, and I’ve kind of settled on a theory that I’m sure applies to most people who are passionate about music. Every single song you hear, whether you like it or not, adds an extremely thin subconscious layer over the previous, it is a really glacial advancement.
Alongside those layers, there are dropped pins, like on a map, eventually amounting to 10’s of thousands over time, some pins don’t connect with others on the map until 10 or 20 years later, but somehow they all eventually become inter-connected in your brain, creating your very own overall taste and unique type of enjoyment when it comes to listening to music. That’s why I don’t like the idea that someone has ‘a great taste in music’, they don’t, they have their own individual taste that is not the same as everyone else’s, there will be similarities between people of course, but the DNA mapping is like a finger-print, it’s specific to the individual only.
Without labouring on the point, I’ll use my own example of say, Doolittle by The Pixies. I was given a lend of the album in 1998 by a college friend, at a time when I had just emerged from the Britpop period and was entering the loosely termed ‘indie era’ of mostly guitar-based music. My brain, or my map, wasn’t ready at that point to process the immensity of Doolittle and I returned it a few weeks later without it registering much with me. A sufficient amount of layers hadn’t been added yet for me. Move forward 3 years and I couldn’t stop listening to it, I would count it as being one of my Top 10 albums of all time now, the accumulation of whatever music I was listening to in those intervening 3 years led to a click in my music brain that allowed Doolittle to make sense to me. The converse would be when I heard Nevermind for the first time, this was a relatively new genre of Seattle grunge, a genre I had never heard, but I loved the album straight-away, why? Somewhere along the way enough pins and layers and merged to make it happen, it’s a complex journey to say the least and one I’m still trying to make sense of!
A whistle-stop tour of some of my layers taken in bulk might look like this;
1980s – Pop
1990s – Rave, 60s, Pop, Brit-pop, Indie-rock, rap
2000s – Electronic, Indie-Rock, classical, 70s, 80s (blues, soul, rock)
2010s – Just about everything!
Entering the 2020s and turning 40 this summer I’m not entirely sure my taste will expand much more at this stage, I feel like I’ve dipped my toe (ears) in most genres at this stage and have a fairly comfortable grasp of most, but hopefully I’m wrong!
One thing I should point out at this stage to wrap up is I view this Ultimate Jukebox playlist as a living document, a musical constitutional if you will. It will continue to grow as I remember songs I have omitted, find new songs from the past that I haven’t encountered yet, and perhaps most importantly, that it does not end in 2020, I’ll keep it growing for as long as Skynet does not turn off the internet. I hope you find new discoveries within, new pins to drop on your own musical map that might shape your layers to a degree, but essentially it is to be enjoyed. As a non-musician (rhythm guitar only!) who is deeply in love with music, I finish with a quote from Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa – ‘My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddle-strings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.’
Resources used to compile this playlist;
100s of CDs, tapes and vinyl LPs!
The Little Black Book of Music, Seán Egan, 2007, Cassell Illustrated
Buried Treasure, Dan Hegarty, 2015, Liberties Press
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Robert Dimery, 2006, Cassell Illustrated
Ultimate Jukebox, ‘The 100 Singles You Must Own’, Mojo Magazine insert, issue 113, April 2003