Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Create a "Best of" Music List

Impress your friends! Show off your musical knowledge!

While most year-end lists covering rock and pop read more like litanies of the least worst, people cannot help themselves. Whether it is the need to oversimplify, the 21st Century tendency to "share" or old-fashioned self-importance (you know, the belief that one actually has some insight and meaning to offer the world), amateur and professional "Best of" lists are more popular than ever. You may not know much about anything else, but musical taste is subjective, so you must know what you're talking about when it comes to music!

Some argue that in an age where music has become "content" and content is everywhere in abundant volume, we need trusted curators to help lead the way. This is the kind of thinking that has spawned the phenomenon of "social music". Next time you are on Facebook, have a look at the little feed in the upper right corner. That scrolling list announcing to you what your "friends" are listening to on one music service or another, that eminently valuable information is "social music". It's kind of shocking to see exactly what people are listening to until you realize it's not shocking at all.

In the interest of constructive criticism and a deep desire to contribute something positive to the world (see the aforementioned "self-importance"), I offer this handy guide to creating your very own "Best of" music list. When you're done, maybe you can create a playlist of your results on Spotify and share it on Facebook. I can hardly wait to hear it! Now go get 'em, Lester!

How to Create a "Best of" Music List

Follow these easy steps and you will crank out a "Best Of" list to rival the pros - or even that annoying guy in the cubicle across the way!

  1. Start with the "break up" record from the reclusive or otherwise-eccentric male artist. Even better if he played all of the parts himself and uses things like found sounds or period instruments.
  2. Add the under-recognized roots musician whose new album was produced by a critic's darling.
  3. Every year there are several R&B and hip hop albums that only white people over 30 listen to. Those are safe bets.
  4. The U2 Conundrum: If you are under 40 you really can't include any records after Achtung Baby. If you are over 40, the cut-off was War. Sorry.
  5. Otherwise, don't forget one or two arena rock acts that you have been following since their first self-released albums, before they sold out.
  6. Electronic is the new grunge. Including one or more electronic act will send the message that you're paying attention and aren't going to Coachella just to see Paul McCartney.
  7. If Wilco, Radiohead, or the Beastie Boys have new albums, include them. No one will really argue as long as you keep them out of the top five.
  8. Any album made by a band named after an animal, an animal's body part or incorporating an animal is definitely in. At this point its about stretching that meme out for as many years as possible.
  9. If an artist your parents liked when they were dating or when you were in grade school has a new album, include it. If you really disliked that artist when you were a kid or if they have somehow come to be retroactively "cool", that's a sign you're onto something.
  10. You need a woman. Who she is will depend on the year. Angry chicks are pretty reliable but throwbacks are good, too. Try to find one that isn't really hot but that if you are honest with yourself you would bang.
There you have it. At this point you should have a pretty reliable Year End Best Of music list. Depending on the year, the country's mood and whether or not you do a lot of recreational drugs, feel free to play around with the order of ranking, number of entries per category and always be on the lookout for new records from REM, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan or Tom Petty. Proceed with caution as they carry special challenges. You might try going with the "return to form" angle. That will work once every 7 - 10 years for each of those acts.

If you are not feeling confident with your results, check it against the lists from Paste, Pitchfork, and Rolling Stone. You will be amazed how easy it is. Remember, when it comes to music criticism, no one is ever wrong!