I love awards and I love rankings. I’m particularly fond of year-end lists, especially when it comes to music and movies. Which is a little weird, because I’m a firm believer that any artistic endeavor can’t really be categorized as “good” or “bad”, as they speak differently to every person based on their own experiences or even their state of mind when they first encounter said artwork. Trying to hand out awards for something like acting is obviously kind of stupid, because there are so many variables that make up a performance that we as an audience don’t even know about out. So why do I like them so much?
I guess the answer is that I enjoy a good debate over the subjects I’m passionate about, and year-end lists and awards are usually an excellent jumping off point for such discussion. I love Oscar season precisely because it gets people talking about specific movies and performances, and isn’t that the point? We go to see films hoping to be affected by them. Most people I know want to talk about what they just saw in the immediate aftermath of viewing it, which is awesome. The year-end stuff brings some of those discussions back around after months of being forgotten about. In the end, I have my opinions, but I enjoy hearing other people’s, so long as it doesn’t devolve into “you’re stupid if you don’t agree with me and this conversation is over”.
I feel the same way about music as I do about film, but I run into a problem in that a great deal of what I like to listen to my friends do not. Music is a much more personal experience than a movie since it is often used as background to our lives. We usually approach a movie (or TV show) with our full attention, prepared to digest it completely in the moment, the idea being to have a mostly formed opinion of it after viewing. We may percolate on it for a few hours (or days) immediately following, but it’s very much a “now” experience. There are plenty of films that I saw and loved and never saw again. Music is different. It generally takes several listens for a song or album to even *begin* to imprint itself on my mind. Sometimes I’m just distracted with other things and don’t have my full attention on it. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for that particular type of music (although I listen anyway). Whatever the reason, music is much more of a slow boiler experience. It’s also far more dependent on personal taste going in. I may not be a fan of horror movies, but if forced to sit through one I could come out of the experience with an opinion on its quality and/or effectiveness. I’m not so sure I could say the same thing about listening to a jazz record. Even though I may have little historical context for either form, a film is at least presented in such a way as to stand alone. Yes, it might *help* to know more about the style and storytelling tropes of particular film genre, but you don’t need that knowledge to “get” what it is trying to do. Books are similar. Storytelling is a straightforward experience, even when it uses a non-traditional or non-linear approach.
Music on the other hand, is more like poetry. It’s not setting something in front of you and asking you to follow along to its conclusion or even to figure it out. It’s trying to capture an emotion or a feeling or a particular thought and more or less throwing it out there for you to deal with how you please. Plus, music itself touches us in ways that we can’t really quantify most of the time. I could sit down with my dad and a recording of Iron Maiden’s “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” and point out all the interesting things the song does musically, as well as engage in a discussion about how they appropriated Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem and turned it into a song, but I doubt having that discussion is going to make my dad enjoy listening to Iron Maiden. The sound of it most likely won’t appeal to him. It’ll just be noise. Personal taste plays such a huge factor in how we consume and enjoy music.
I don’t consider myself to have particularly wide-ranging tastes when it comes to music. I never listen to jazz, never listen to classical except in the rare instance when I get into a particular film score, have no time for country or hip-hop, and you’d be hard-pressed to find me listening to top 40 radio these days. I like rock music, plain and simple. But if we’re being totally honest, we have to admit that “rock music” is a pretty big and all-encompassing umbrella. There are all sorts of styles that qualify as rock music and not all of them are going to appeal to all listeners. Hell, just saying I love heavy metal doesn’t really ring true as there are plenty of sub-genres within that vast title that I could simply do without. Which is why, I suppose, so many people get their undies in a twist when you try to label music. They’re afraid that if a particular artist gets lumped into a group with other acts that it might somehow diminish their chance for success or artistic integrity, whatever the hell that means.
Yet, as listeners, we’re kind of at the mercy of our own uncontrollable musical whims. I know plenty of people who grew up immersed in R.E.M. and U2 and who would scoff at me and my Ratt and Skid Row records. But throw “Pour Some Sugar On Me” on the speakers and suddenly those same people find themselves moving to the beat and saying things like, “this totally takes me back to high school” as they smile wistfully and bathe in a little unexpected nostalgia. It doesn’t mean that they sold their musical soul or even that they’re raging hypocrites who should be ushered into a hipster space shuttle and sent somewhere far away. It simply means that certain songs, even against our greatest intellectual desires, seep into our brains and never really get out. They attach themselves to memories and linger in the back our of minds until just the right moment.
I have a handful of friends who I enjoy talking music with, usually through the forum of sharing videos on Facebook. When I come across a new song that really hits with me, I generally like to throw a link up online and see who else bites. Over the years I’ve come to learn who is into what, and if I know a certain song isn’t likely to appeal to a broad base of people, I’ll often direct it to one person in particular. My friend Steve is my go-to for the heavier and more hard rocking stuff, even though we both listen to other junk as well (his Peter Cetera fascination still eludes me). I’m also lucky enough to have a girlfriend who not only shares similar music tastes, but is extremely open-minded when it comes to hearing new stuff. We recently did a cross-country trek that had us in the car together for over 60 hours across 6 days where we plugged in my iPod, put in on “shuffle all” and let ‘er rip. She never complained once and even found a few new artists that she had never heard before. Sharing new music with each other has become a major part of our relationship.
Then there is my friend Mark, for whom I share a very limited cross-section of musical appreciation, and yet who is the person I find myself most often talking shop with. His favorite band is Radiohead, an act I can only get into on rare occasions and for whom I simply can’t develop a prolonged appreciation. He’s also a huge fans of The Smiths, a group I find downright unlistenable. Meanwhile you won’t see him banging down my door to discuss the merits of the latest Winger record (which was quite solid, I thought). Yet that small window of shared enjoyment is probably what makes sharing music with Mark so much fun. Whenever either one of us finds something we think might fall into that window, we take it to the other to see if our suspicions are correct. Better yet, we will occasionally find something that probably falls outside the usual boundaries but which we think might appeal to the other guy anyway. We’re not always right, but it’s an interesting experiment nonetheless.
Which brings me to The Woof 200*. Mark usually posts a Top 10 songs list right after the turn of the new year, which of course sparks an interesting discussion among us and our other music-loving friends (most of whom fall into his camp rather than mine). Last year I decided to do the same thing, but due to the fact that I listen to a ridiculously large amount of new music (especially in the last few years when online streaming has made that 100X easier), I found my Top 10 quickly blossomed to a Top 25, then a Top 60, before essentially settling on a Top 100. The truly scary thing was that the 100 came with very little thought. I just sort of ripped through the albums I was familiar with and cherry-picked my favorite songs, spot-listened to a handful of other albums for some other suggestions, then did a quick check of some other “Best Of” lists online to gather any pop hits that might have resonated with me along the way. This year I began with the Top 100 in mind from day one and have done a much more complete job of tracking what songs I *really* enjoyed as the year has gone on. The result is a monstrosity of a list which I am forcing myself to cut off at 200 even though I have a good 260+ already elbowing for space with at least a dozen other significant albums to pour through in hopes of catching some hidden gems.
Now, is any of this supposed to be of particular significance to you, fair reader? No, probably not. I expect that most of you who have taken the time to click on over here and see what I am blathering about will scan through my list in the coming weeks, give a listen to the handful of songs that sound like they may be up your particular musical alley, and perhaps even take a curiosity listen to a couple that don’t, if only to remind yourself why your taste is *your* taste and my taste is, well… questionable. All of which is fine with me. While I’m hoping to introduce people to something they might never have heard of before, I’m not posting this to validate my own preferences. They are what they are. Otherwise, the usual vault rules apply. The forthcoming list is not meant to be a reflection of quality but appeal. More specifically, appeal to me. While there are 200+ songs to come, and while I have done my best to rank them, my whims change as often as the tides and what stands today will not stand tomorrow. Plus, there are likely to be another hundred or so songs out there from 2014 that I actually enjoy more than some that made this list, but for whatever reason, they get pushed aside. I tried not to overload the list with too many songs from one artist/album (I maxed out at 4 a couple of times, I think), and sometimes I put something on here just because it fits a particular niche that I may not listen to often, but which I felt like needed highlighting.
Feel free to use the comments section (either here or on Facebook where I’ll be linking from) to tell me what you like or don’t like, agree with or don’t agree with. Just remember that I’m not an idiot for liking what I like, or for not liking what you do. In other words: don’t be a dick. This is meant to be fun.
COMING SOON: Part Two: Honorable Mentions.
(*) Why “The Woof 200”? The simple explanation is “Woof” is a nickname that I picked up about a decade ago and which is barely used by anyone outside of a small circle of friends these days. I keep it alive in projects like this because “The Woof 200” sounds more fun than “Gordon’s Top 200 Songs”.