I have a resolution for the year. Well, hopefully less than the year, but you know how bad I am with punctuality.
Some of you may be aware that I have the pop culture awareness of a… some amusingly unaware thing I can’t be bothered to think of right now because it’s a cliched type of punchline anyway. One of those things. I generally ignore everything going on in the world of ‘what’s going on’, except for the occasional film or TV show. [“Wreck-it Ralph” – surprisingly, really good!]
In particular, I have no knowledge of pop music. And I’m using ‘pop music’ in its widest misuse there. All that stuff that people have been listening to since the 1950s – that stuff, I know nothing about it. Sure, friends and family have induced me to listen to this album or that over the years, and some things have come through by pure osmosis, but for the most part I am utterly ignorant.
I’ve decided to do something about this. And because I’m… well, who I am… I’m doing it in an overly organised, logical, ambitious, and failure-prone way. I have made: A List.
This list has several sources. It includes every end-of-year Billboard #1 hit, plus a bunch of their all-time hits where they didn’t make #1 for a year (surprisingly often). It includes every Grammy Award-winning song. It includes the best-selling songs ever, and songs from the best-selling albums ever. And pop chart toppers and all-time sales toppers from the UK, because I’m from the UK and I’d rather learn about our culture than purely about US stuff. And critically-acclaimed songs drawn from lists by Rolling Stone and NME magazines, and Brit Award winners. In fact, in total, The List is drawn from 15 different lists.
What’s the point of that? Well I can’t just go out and pick the songs myself, because I don’t know about them. And I don’t want to ask one person, because then I’d be hostage to that person’s taste and time and place. So I’ve tried to get more of a level of objectivity. Songs are on my list because they were very popular – with the public, or with critics, or with whoever it is gives out awards.
In total, that makes for approximately 574 songs for me to listen to (I say approximately because there might be duplicates I haven’t spotted), from “1999” (Prince, 1982) through to “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (Johnny Mercer, 1946). Or, seen another way, from “Saint James Infirmary” (Louis Armstrong, 1928), through to… well, depends how you count, but probably “We Are Young” (Fun featuring Janelle Monáe, 2011 but won the 2013 Grammy).
Don’t worry, I’m not going to update you with each one, though I may give a more general progress report now and then. So far, I’ve listened to 86 songs. I’m not ranking them exactly, but I am jotting down some numerical scores that will allow me to review the best and worst later, and so far my favourite has probably been one of “American Pie”, “All Along the Watchtower”, “Bittersweet Symphony” or “Come As You Are”. However, I knew all those before, which is a bit unfair – the best new discovery for me has probably been “Common People”, with “Blue Monday”, “Bat out of Hell”, and “A Day In the Life” also up there.
On the other hand, the competition for the song I’ve hated the most has been very hot indeed. “Born to Run”, “Bad Day”, “Apologize”, and “Careless Whisper” are all lining up behind Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” and Take That’s “Back for Good”… but something tells me that in the end the title might just go to Willie Nelson’s rendition of “Always on My Mind”, which has to work really hard to overcome the handicap of actually having a pretty good tune, yet somehow, between Nelson’s toneless soulless tempoless and rasping singing and the godawfully cliche backing vocals and over-production, manages to turn that good tune into the vehicle for one of the most repellant musical performances I’ve ever encountered. Rarely have I so earnestly hoped for a song to end… but it doesn’t. And doesn’t. And doesn’t.
And nor does this project! 86 down, 400-and-however-many to go!