I spend most of my day with one headphone in my ear, which is obviously preferable to spending the day with no headphones in my ear. Sometimes I go hog wild and put two in. Throughout the day I am free to listen to music whilst I do all the work type things that I do. Being a bit of a bore (as I am) this has meant that I plan my listening habits for the week in advance, and fall into little habits. For a while I would load up a load of stuff I wanted to listen to and then listen to the whole lot in song alphabetical order. My phone holds about 7gb of music, so this lasted quite a while, but this became slightly jarring after a while, no good for maintaining a consistent mood, and certainly no good when a lot of the music you listen to is from albums designed to be listened to as just that. Oh I’m sorry, have you lapsed into a coma there? I do apologise.
My next habit was to choose a load of albums I wanted to listen to and then make my way through them alphabetically, deleting each album once it had been listened to. This works a lot better, and when you are empty you go and fill it up again, which is all well and good until you realise you’ve gone to work with only two albums left on your phone. Nightmare. Sorry, do you need to sit down? Is the excitement of all this getting too much? Now though, I have a new fun way to get through the day, and thought you’d like to know. Well, actually, I just didn’t want to do a 30 day song challenge pst and I’m not quite ready for another thrilling instalment of Gym Films just yet.
Back when I was first getting into music, the band that really did it for me were Queen, although since I was getting into them at the tail end of their career (I believe it was around the time of The Miracle, trust me to jump on board at the exact same time as their absolute creative nadir) I quickly realised that I had a hell of a lot of back catalogue to get through. For the next four years or so nearly every trip to Our Price or other music outlet would see me heading straight to Q in the Rock/Pop section and rummaging through the cassette tapes for those elusive albums that had so far escaped my attention. Eventually I made it, I think, but during that period I imagine I ended up forking out a small fortune, and had probably missed out on a hell of a lot of other albums I could have bought. Mind you, they probably would have only been A-ha albums so perhaps I was better off.
These days however, get interested in a band or an artist and you can find their entire musical output available within maybe five minutes of looking, and I’m not just talking about putting a band name and ‘discography’ into a torrent search engine. Spotify, Last.fm, iTunes, it’s no effort at all to say, ‘hey, REM have split up, makes me nostalgic, so let’s download absolutely everything the band have ever recorded.’
Some would say that this takes something away, that music should be something that you have to work for, and they have a point. I certainly miss the effort and love that used to go into making myself little mixtapes (that’s right, I had no friends to make them for.) But at the same time, I think of all the wonderful music that my kids will experience that I had to wait until my late twenties or early thirties to even be exposed to. Gone are the days of cassette mixes, but here are the days where a musical education can be one band leading to a thousand others through links and recommendations.
The problem with getting access to all these vast back catalogues is actually getting around to listening to them. Invariably I’ll stare at the folder full of albums I don’t know and end up stumping for the one I know I like. After a few times of doing this I seem to convert that into thinking that I don’t actually like those other albums, when actually I’ve never heard them.
So, new game. For the next few weeks I’ll be taking the complete works (albums and proper ep’s only, I’m not doing any live albums or best of’s) of selected bands and I’ll be listening to them in chronological order, start to finish. The idea being that I’ll get to find out if these albums I neglect are actually any good, hopefully discover some little gems along the way. It’ll also be a good chance to chart the progress (or decline) of an artist as they go along. I have actually already started, having completed two discography’s last week:
Ryan Adams: It was this that started me off, when I realised I only really listen to three of his albums, even though I absolutely adore the three I do listen to. Verdict: By and large I think the albums I listen to are probably the best, although I’d never given Gold much of a chance and probably should have done, and I realised that Love Is Hell is staggeringly good. I prefer the stuff where he’s being all maudlin and melancholy rather than when he’s being all upbeat and straight country, but on every album there are at least a couple of outright stunning songs. Best album: Heartbreaker, which was my favourite before and after.
Bright Eyes: Having enjoyed doing the Ryan Adams discography, which at the very least made for an interesting day, the Bright Eyes one made sense for the same reason, loads of albums I just hadn’t gotten round to listening to. The biggest shock here was the first album Letting Off The Happiness, which is unfeasibly good, a howl of rage and unabashed emotion that I’d never even listened to before. In the main I realised there’s no such thing as a bad Bright Eyes album, and that listening to eight of them in a row is like taking a warm bath in lovely words. Quite how anyone can keep producing lyrics of that beauty and honesty over such a prolonged period is beyond me. Perhaps the last few albums are a little lacking in the rawness but still, pretty astounding. Verdict: I like Bright Eyes a lot more. Best Album: I’m Awake, It’s Morning.
And that was going to be that. But then I watched a Pink Floyd documentary on Friday night and realised I only really know about half of their albums, if that, and so they went on the phone. As it stands I’m seven albums in and I feel a bit like I’ve had a bath in Valium. Then Led Zeppelin and Pearl Jam followed. I actually know every Pearl Jam album off by heart but I thought since I am doing this thing, I might as well listen to my favourite band. So that should be this week sorted. But if I’m going to do this, perhaps I should open up the floor to other suggestions. What do you, dear reader, suggest I should be listening to? What classic band are ripe for this kind of treatment? I’m thinking REM might be a good idea, although I don’t know if that much Stipe would lead to some kind of shutdown of my internal organs. I had a notion of doing the Beatles albums as well, and I’ve never given the Stones a proper good go. But there are obviously thousands of great acts I have never gotten around to, so have at it, let me know your suggestions.