A few years ago I amused myself by creating some ‘themed’ playlists on Spotify (other streaming services are available). I created, for example, ‘A Week In Songs’ and ‘A Year In Songs’. My favourite was/is ‘A Rainbow of Songs’, using song titles with the colours from Infra-Red through to Ultra-Violet. It was a passing fancy, and one I’d forgotten about until a recent trip to Ireland with some buddies, during which we were trying to find music to play and I found, and played, the aforementioned ‘Rainbow’.
When I got home I decided to revisit these playlists and realised that in making them, I’d stumbled across some undiscovered gems. This was because I didn’t have, in my head, a list of songs that matched the criteria: though simple (the songs needed to have the day/month/colour in the title, with no other day/month/colour mentioned in that title) I simply didn’t know a song which had ultra-violet in the title.
And so, while playing them again, I realised what a voyage of discovery they had been; lists framed by the familiar – like A Week In Songs – but peppered with the unearthed. Hearing again Friday In Paris by The Strange Boys was thoroughly enjoyable. I’d forgotten it altogether, so in effect I rediscovered it all over again, the thrill of discovery rediscovered. It sounds like the love child of Ronnie Lane and Bob Dylan, 2 minutes and 17 seconds of thinking ‘Why did I not know this?’ and ‘How could I have forgotten I knew this?’
So… Inspired, and in the words of those who envy my early retired status, having ‘too much time on my hands’, I decided to embark on another list. This was going to be a real challenge though, not 7 days (7 songs), or 9 colours (9 songs) or 12 months (you’re ahead of me here aren’t you?). No, this was going to be songs by number, from 1-100. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
The criteria were simple again, but as I was to find, demandingly restrictive at times. The title, of course, needed to mention the number. It had to be a cardinal, not ordinal number, and no other number could be in the title. If that sounds easy, you should try it, and see how many songs you have to put a dust cover over, to use perhaps in some other list. No 20th Century Boy’ by T-Rex, because that’s an ordinal number, and no Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 by Bob Dylan, because that’s got two numbers in the title. Sigh.
Once again, there was something of a framework, some songs I wanted in there without having to give too much thought to it. I won’t list them all, but here’s a small selection:
36” High by Nick Lowe, was pretty much the first song I chose. I love Nick Lowe, a simply marvellous song writer. This song, from the 1977 dually titled Jesus of Cool (or Pure Pop For Now People if you’re sensitive) just had to be in there. There’s a whole other article to be written about that album, coming as it did, smack bang in the middle of the punk era, full of lush musicianship and erudite lyrics and yet highly acclaimed. Another time perhaps.
I put in 48 Hours by The Clash, simply because I had 100 songs to play with, and The Greatest Rock Band In The World Ever had to be in there somewhere. (Not 48 Crash by Suzi Quatro as Kev guessed, good guess though it was.)
There’s One by Mary J Blige. I’m not a fan of hers, having pitched my tent on the site marked ‘Indifferent’, nor (anymore) a fan of U2. I do, however, think this is a terrific song about the destructive nature of a relationship in its death throes. It just needs a better singer than God’s Boss to sing it.*
Yes, I know, U2 make an appearance at 40. Let me explain. Once upon a moon, a friend of mine tried to endear me to U2 (and in those early days, he was successful). He also introduced me to a lad who became one of my dearest friends. The new friend played in a band, and I used to go see them every Saturday night. Although a talented pianist, he actually drummed for the band. They wrote their own songs and were quite good, in an ’80s sort of way. However, for arcane reasons they always ended their shows with U2’s 40. The venue was a cellar under a pub, and it would be filled with the sound of the audience singing the refrain, long after the band had left the stage.
Sadly, the first of these two friends died last year, and the second, in his early 50s, has dementia. I visited him in New Zealand in July, and although he’s still the same old (very funny) guy, it’s sad to think that his immense talents are going from him. I can still picture him, looking at me over his tom-toms, with a sheepish grin and rolling eyes because he knew they were way better than a U2 covers/tribute band. 40 reminds me of them both. So there.
But… Making these lists is really about finding music you’ve not heard. It’s trawling through songs that meet the criteria, and finding, well, mostly dross to be honest. I would like to say it was a labour of love, but at times it was just labour. Labouriously laboursome. (Spellchecker doesn’t like those two words. It can fuck off. In a fuckly way. It doesn’t like ‘fuckly’ either.)
The thing is though, making a list of this length means you get so far that you can’t stop, but boy, is it difficult to find a meritorious (oh, you like that, spellchecker?) song? There are, inevitably then, some ‘fillers’ because I couldn’t find a good song (number 84 for example). Yet there are those discoveries that ultimately made the challenge worthwhile. Four Women by Nina Simone, I’m embarrassed to say I’d never heard of. That alone made the venture a satisfying one. Then there’s a very interesting version of 7 Nation Army by someone called Zella Day (no, me neither).
So. There’s the DMA’s (at 37), The Pine Box Boys (56), Hans Olson (65), The National (90) and many others, all artists I’d never heard of. Not to mention the many other artists and songs I listened to and rejected. Once finished, I spent a couple of days playing it through, and I’m still enjoying it, particularly hearing the unfamiliar; this is what loving music is about, the thrill of the new, planting songs in your memory, making them, well, familiar.
Have a listen. Take your time though. No one is suggesting you have to listen to it all in go, but let me share my voyage of discovery with you and maybe you’ll make some discoveries too.
Or make a list. Go on…
*Yes, I’m well aware that Johnny Cash did an excellent version of One, but he already makes two appearances in the list.