Shuffling Through

Friends, I need you to tell me what music I should listen to next.

Here is some context. Since sometime back in January—it seems like forever now—I have been shuffling through the “Four- & Five-Star” playlist on my iPod. [1] Since then I haven’t listened to much else. (On my iPod, that is. Read further down for a bit more craziness.) This is my typical style in a nutshell. “2,215 songs, eh? That shouldn’t take too long. I’ll just play the whole thing straight through before moving on to the next project.”

So here I am, a couple months later, finally closing in on the end, with fewer than 100 songs left to go. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

“What’s this all about?” you might ask.

It’s all about appreciating and being mindful of what I have. Sometimes old things get lost amid the new, and I am certainly one of those people who is always on the lookout for something new. It seemed like a good time to reacquaint myself with some of my favorite songs.

I didn’t get much opportunity to listen to music for many years when I was young, and what I did hear was grabbed when my father wasn’t around: on the school bus; while watching TV shows like Johnny Cash’s variety hour, “Hee Haw”, and “Solid Gold” with relatives at holiday time; from my grandparents’ car 8-track player where I heard amazing adult-contemporary songs by John Denver, Elton John, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, etc.; and when driving around with my mother. I remember Prince’s “Delirious” and Alabama’s “Elvira” making huge early impressions. Such is the kind of life I’ve led.

As a result, I have very, very eclectic musical tastes. My life has basically been a nonstop journey of hearing a new (to me) kind of music, falling in love with it, finding more of it, getting really deep into a few of that genre’s artists, and then bumping into a new sound or singer.

But I’m not fickle. I still love all of those other songs. I just forget about them without a reminder.

(This is also why I embarked on the “Listen to all of the CDs” project at Christmas-time. To make things interesting, I started at Zydeco and am working my way back to ABBA. I’ve been stuck on U2 for the better part of a month. We have a lot of U2, and Lisa decided to buy some of their early albums . . . you know, just to help me out.)

“What exactly do I like?” you might ask. You know, the usual:

  • Sad female singers
  • Angry male rappers and rockers
  • Contemporary Québecois neo-trad and pop, bhangra, Asian underground, electronica from Newcastle, cumbia, Persian folk songs, indie rock, alt country, dub remixes of Sufi folk classics, New Wave, industrial, punk, old-timey Appalachia, shape-note singing
  • Anything sung by Emmylou Harris or Tracy Chapman, composed by Arvo Pärt or Bach, or touched by Daniel Lanois or Bruce Springsteen
  • Singles of recent vintage, selections from albums that were released during the black-hole of my college years, things I loved in high school, recordings from before I was born, and songs that were written centuries ago
  • Any song that incorporates an organ or hurdy-gurdy
  • Pop, country, rock-and-roll, hip-hop, folk, gospel, liturgical, jazz, blues, Latin, classical, R&B, soul, so-called “alternative” and “world” music

So . . . just about anything except contemporary Christian. [2] And Celine Dion; she definitely gets the gas face.

What music do you think I should bump into next?

1 — Even though most of the songs in my iTunes collection are unrated, over the years I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to “vote up” the songs I really like so that I hear them more often. A “four-star” song is one that I really like listening to, while five stars are reserved only for tracks/concerts/music podcast episodes that I will never, ever skip once they start playing. (It’s dangerous really, especially when there are several five-star songs in there that are 10 minutes long, some that are 30+ minutes, and even a few hour-long club mixes.) [back . . .]

2 — I don’t know what it is about praise/Jesus music that turns me off. After all, when Emmylou sings about waiting to meet her savior, I’m totally down with that. Mahalia Jackson singing about “moving on up a little higher?” No problem. I fall apart when Odetta tells how “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and when Sweet Honey in the Rock are “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” I love Hildegaard von Bingen compositions, Catholic masses, and Alan Lomax’s recordings of Evangelical congregations. Patty Griffin’s recent “Downtown Church?” Fantastic. MC Yogi raps, “Jai Ganesha,” and I say “And also with you.”

So what’s wrong with the stuff that’s played on Contemporary Christian channels? Perhaps it’s because—based on what I’ve heard from recent iTunes free downloads—it has spirit but no soul. My Jesus songs need an edge, I guess. As with any genre, if the music tells me that it’s all alright now or that everything will be taken care of in the end—and really believes it—I don’t want it. When the Cox Family asked, “Will there be any stars in my crown?” in their 5-star-rated song of the same name, they hit the nail on the head. Or perhaps I just like it when artists sing about god but not to it.

After all, everybody has to have at least one genre they dislike, right? Otherwise, they would have no taste whatsoever. [back . . .]

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4 Responses to Shuffling Through

  1. Scully says:

    Firstly, that gas face video? I Loved it!! Nothing like old school rap. I can’t stand Celine Dion and I’m embarrassed that she came out of Canada, UGH!
    I am intrigued by your music knowledge. This is an intense list of things and I couldn’t possibly add to it. You’ve got quite the will power.

  2. Jeff Mather says:

    Aw, man! People were supposed to think, “That Jeff will listen to almost anything. I should suggest this from him to listen to, because he probably will.” :^)

  3. Em Hart says:

    Dude, you can’t say that you like “dub remixes of Sufi folk classics”, and then ask for music recommendations from other people. :) Once you’re into dub remixes of Sufi folk classics, there’s not much else beyond that. :)

    We should be asking you for recommendations, not the other way around.

    I find a lot of good music at Also at NPR’s music website. And also from :)

  4. shannon says:

    this post was a delight to read! i loved trying to sort through all your references. :)

    my fave band is U2 and i see you’ve got that well covered (going back to lanois as well), so allow me to introduce you to another irish rock band you may not be familiar with. they are called ‘the frames’ and they are amazing. (actually tied for 1st place with U2 for fave band status, if i’m being honest)

    as far as sad(-ish? it depends on the song really) female singers, have you ever heard of lisa hannigan (also irish)?

    and while i’m here, how about i mention another irish band fave of mine, called bell x1. they’re like the unholy offspring of talking heads/new order/howard jones. (at least on their most recent record. their older ones are less new-wavey but this one’s off the new one.) (that vid is fanmade, hence the middling quality, but i like it better than the official one so there you go).

    happy belated pat’s day, i reckon! ;)

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