In Order to Succeed
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Is It Possible to Create a ‘Perfect’ Playlist?!
EVERY music obsessive has that same dream…
IN THIS PHOTO: St. Vincent/PHOTO CREDIT: Renata Raksha
the chance to create their own playlist for radio! One might counter with an obvious suggestion: become a D.J. A lot D.J.s, in fact, do not get as much say in the running order and musical inclusions as the producer of the show. Unless you are playing as a club/pub D.J.; chances are, someone else will be directing what is played on your show. I know one can have a podcast and run a radio broadcast themselves. My point – getting away from semantics and digressions – is this: could one ever create a ‘perfect’ playlist?! Among my musical dreams would be the chance to appear on Desert Island Discs. I realise that is never going to happen – as I have not achieved anything that would warrant an appearance on the show – but each ‘castaway’ has to choose eight records. The fact I would struggle to select eight songs from The Beatles shows what an unenviable task it would be! I would also love to do a bespoke, one-off show for a station: compile a selection of music and introduce each song. Even then, one would suspect there would be around about two hours of music. If I got that call; my mind would instantly explode with joy and energy. After that, considering the task ahead; that sense of discipline and dread would come in...
Even if I was given free rein to choose, maybe, fifteen songs; I would still wonder whether it was possible to distil my vast tastes down that far – coming up with a playlist that covered genres, decades and tastes. Would I, by the end of the broadcast, be able to satisfy everyone out there and throw down an unbelievable gauntlet? I know there is no real competition when it comes to assembling music and having your own show. What I mean is, when you have the chance to showcase your musical favourites and impressive library; you do not want any weak spots and obvious inclusions. You’d want to get the running order right so you’d start with an immediate track that gets people up and invested; maybe keep the pressure high on the second song – end with something that has similar energy and desire! My opener, as above, would be Beyoncé’s Ring the Alarm. That might sound like an unusual choice and left-turn for someone like me. To me; there is no finer way to open a broadcast. There are two reasons why. Not only is it a fantastic and popular song; it is from a black female artist. That might sound like a controversial thing to say. Many people assume a male D.J./journalist would choose a male artist to open a show – any decent playlist would ensure ethnicity and gender was part of the mix.
My balance would see an equal weight of male/female; go as early as the 1960s – I am tempted to include some older Jazz from Miles Davis, mind – and go right up to the current time. I would not feature too much music from the first five years: including brand-new unsigned artists is a smart suggestion. It would be impossible to cover ALL genres in a single show. I would not have any Country, Dubstep or mainstream Pop; I would be reluctant to include much Heavy Metal into the show. That being said – and, with vast and varied preferences – I would go from Kate Bush/Eva Cassidy calm to the rush and rawness of Metallica and Queens of the Stone Age. If Beyoncé opens the show; the choice of closer would be a two-horse race – between The White Stripes and Tears for Fears. The latter would be there because Everybody Wants to Rule the World is my first memory of life/music – and, therefore, holds a very important place. I am a massive fan of The White Stripes and love rarer songs such as Hand Springs (a B-side not many people have heard). In fact, no; I have changed my mind: Nirvana’s Negative Creep would be my swansong. You can see how hard it is to whittle a playlist down to a rather focused and cohesive group – imagine what a nightmare it would be if I had a regular, daily radio show!
I have outlined all the negatives and horrors of assembling a one-off playlist/show: there are infinitely more pleasures and joys. This feature is not a chance to indulge my desires and aimlessly prattle about my musical tastes. Every time I listen to a show on BBC Radio 6 Music (or another station); I listen to the array of music played. There are older songs I have not heard of before; cuts from brand-new acts that get into my head – more obvious songs that sound perfect and right for the moment. There is a lot to be said for one’s musical tastes and song choices. They say the eyes are the window into the soul: I would argue a proper-cultivated and balanced playlist is even more revealing and alluring. I have, so far, mentioned more American artists than British. Among other artists I would include – in a two/three-hour show – would be Björk, Eels; King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Kate Bush; Nick Drake, The Beatles, St. Vincent; Deee-Lite, The Smiths; Paul Simon, Madonna; Radiohead, Jeff Buckley; Carole King, Billie Holiday – I guess it is still straying into the U.S. side of the spectrum. The sheer pleasure of scowling through vinyl and digging through digital crates would obsess my mind. I’d have to throw in The Avalanches and Beastie Boys; lob in Steely Dan and Basement Jaxx. I guess, even if I thought I had a brilliant playlist ready for broadcast, I’d ask myself the same thing: is it as good as it could be?!
Trying to achieve that ‘perfection’ seems like an impossible thing. I guess, in a way, we are trying to show how good our musical tastes are. If one were to have the chance to showcase their music collection to the public; they’d want to please themselves and the people out there. Many argue there is no such thing as a ‘guilty pleasure’. Would you scroll through your song choices and make sure there wasn’t anything too cheesy or tragic? I would love to put some classic ABBA in there: would other people see it as a bit naff and derailing? I think it has a place but, against artists like Nirvana and The White Stripes; is it possible to put an ABBA song among the pack?! We are getting into areas of psychology and perception. Each radio show I listen to – a three-hour broadcast from a range of D.J.s – I am amazed by the way the songs hang together and there is that flawless and natural flow. I envy producers and the skills they have when it comes to programming show. Not only do they have to consider all the music they include in a show; there are jingles and announcements; making sure everything runs smooth and, if you are dealing with the public; they are looked after and organised. It seems, then, something as comparatively simple as thinking about songs is a breeze!
All of this, in essence, is a long-winded audition for a future invite! Every true music lover has two big assets/drawbacks. We all think we have the best musical tastes in the world; all of us, too, think we have a passion for music like nobody else. There are many like me, who do not get a chance to show their musical plumage, who are having this same thought process. What would happen if we got onto the radio and were asked to narrow down our favourite music to a (relatively) short list – you can see why I’d be a nightmare on Desert Island Discs! There would be something simultaneously sorrowful and wonderful about a one-off, golden ticket. I have thought of other acts whilst typing this – Eminem and The Bangles among them – and look at the genre spread. Once you have thought of the list of artists you want to include; there is the matter of arranging the sounds so it is a nice mix without too many sound-alike songs in a row – starting and ending with a big impact. Programming a show is like ordering an album: ensuring the tracks are in the right order and create the best possible listening experience. Returning to my original question: is it possible to create something perfect and universally popular?
I feel music is subjective enough so someone, somewhere will pick up on a ‘bad’ or misplaced track. You cannot quibble with The Beatles and Kate Bush, say: many might not like a bit of Beyoncé or Eminem filing their ears! Music is a way of expressing ourselves and representing our personality and complexities through sound. There is that desire for people to like the music and, as such, bond with the person putting it together. I feel I could curate a playlist that had a good mix of genres and artists; throwing in some curveballs and ensuring all ages were catered for. My mind would always hover to the list and wonder, somewhere, whether there is a substitution I should make. It is a good conundrum to have before you: come and do your own radio station and choose whatever music you like! It, actually, a bit of a dream – the fact there is the nightmare of chasing perfection does not dampen the honour. That opportunity would, ironically, lead to new discoveries and revelations. I will end this now – with my chosen closing song – but compel others to think about their musical tastes and what they would do were they provided with the chance to do their own show. Every little move, machination and mannerism return me to the pressing question and the need for a definitive answer. No matter how good our tastes are; no matter how educated and passionate we are; I wonder whether it is technically possible to produce and compile…
A ‘perfect’ playlist?