Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Making of a Best-Songs-of-the-Decade List: An Interview (Part 3 of 4)

The interview continues:

Q) Which decade was the easiest for you to compile? Which was the most difficult? Why?

A) The 2000s was definitely the easiest. There was the pragmatic issue of the date tags, which I addressed earlier. The 2000s were also easiest because I knew from the start it was incomplete and didn’t beat myself up about the fact that I was probably leaving out a lot of great stuff. As I moved into the years when I was on the radio, particularly the 80s when I was deeply involved in radio, I felt a major obligation not to miss anything that maybe kinda oughta be considered for the list.

The 2000s were also easier because I don’t feel like my music listening has shifted due to any major life changes in the 2000s. Both of my boys were born in the 2000s, but I was pretty determined not to have that change my music listening habits and it mostly hasn’t.  I never get to watch any TV I want to see any more, but I’m still in charge of the music.

The big shift for me in the 90s was being in a band. Learning to play an instrument, or at least trying to play it, totally changed how I listened to music. It was hard for me to reconcile my pre-band listening from my post-band listening. I also moved to California in the late 90s.  There are some songs I really love from ’97 and ’98 and that could have more to do with loving life in San Francisco than the actual quality of the songs.

The 1980s were probably the most challenging in terms of reconciling my emotional attachment to the music with how good I actually think the songs are today. I was in junior high in 1980 and I was in grad school in 1989. A whole heck of a lot of emotionally intense stuff happened during those years, probably not any more than anyone else, but definitely a lot more than what I’ve experienced in the last two decades.  I was goofy (new wave). I was angry (industrial). I was moody (goth). I was cocky (punk). I was deep and artistic (avant garde). I had energy (ska revival). I was disdainful of everything on major labels by about 1985 (had to rediscover a bunch of music a decade later when the contempt began to fade).

The 1970s could have been even more challenging if I’d discovered pop music earlier, but I really didn’t start listening to the radio until about 1977, so I only have about three years of real-time experience with 70s music mixed in with a heavy influence of FM rock radio (which I don’t think they’d started calling classic rock yet, but that’s what it was). Nonetheless, the 70s was the decade where lots of big pop hits competed on the list against more obscure personal favorites as well as rock and roll hall of fame entrants. I think one of my first thoughts about the 70s was that I was going to have to figure out how Abba, Zeppelin, and Pere Ubu stacked up against one another.

Q) Are there particular songs that stick out in your head as really surprising you? Either songs that weren't nearly as good as you remembered, or totally great songs that you didn't really pick up on at the time of their release?

A) Yes.  A lot of those surprises have really come over the last five years as I’ve loaded nostalgic downloads onto my iPod, but they were reinforced by making the lists. I still can’t quite get over how truly bad Asia was, and I wish I could recapture how much I once loved Kansas because I still have fondness for a lot of their songs even while recognizing their mediocrity. On the other side of the coin, I never cared for Guns and Roses when they came out, but I have to admit they made some great songs with major lasting power. Big Black, on the other hand, sounds remarkably flat to me today. I expected them to be top 10 contenders, but they weren’t.

In terms of new wave, I’ve been really pleased at how well ABC’s Lexicon of Love album has held up and how well The The’s Soul Mining has held up. Those are both records that could have had multiple songs in my top 100 if I hadn’t had a rule against that. I was also surprised when digitizing all of my old Fun Boy 3 12-inch records at how good they still sounded to me today. It was a lot of the underground (I don’t think we called it “indie” until later) music on Homestead and SST that I used to really like that didn’t stand the test of time very well, and also a lot of the industrial music from Some Bizarre, Factory, and Wax Trax just sounds silly to me today. Those labels all produced some great songs by great artists, but their catalogue wasn’t anywhere near as deep as I considered it to be in the 80s.

For my 2000s list, I was surprised Neko Case’s Mood to Burn Bridges didn’t end up higher. That was my favorite Neko song for quite a while, but I think maybe it lost points somehow by being too out of character with her later work. Then again, maybe I just listened to it one too many times in the early 2000s. It’s not just the pop songs on the radio that suffered that fate.

Look for the conclusion (part 4) of the interview in a future post

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