"our healthy but preposterous need to make lists"
September 8, 2014 12:41 PM   Subscribe

The Perfect Beat is an article by The New Yorker's music critic Sasha Frere Jones where he lays out the reasoning behind his "Perfect Recordings" project, essentially a list of 200 songs that fit his personal criteria for perfection. The lists are available as Twitter timelines (volumes 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5), Spotify playlists (volumes 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5) or as one 200 song Rdio playlist. Frere-Jones answered some questions about the project and spoke about a few individual songs in The Guardian.
posted by Kattullus (46 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
YouTube user William Burton made YouTube playlists of volumes 1 and 2, but so far no one's made playlists of volumes 3, 4 and 5.
posted by Kattullus at 12:44 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is there anyway to just see the list as a list?
posted by octothorpe at 12:57 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


That would be preposterous, I guess.
posted by thelonius at 12:57 PM on September 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


The Twitter timelines are just the list of songs.
posted by Kattullus at 1:00 PM on September 8, 2014


If he likes 'Fit but you know it' but thinks it sounds like nothing else ever, he might want to check out some Madness. Or Blur. Or Ian Dury. Or George Formby. Or maybe anything at all from the English Music Hall tradition?
posted by colie at 1:10 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


colie: Can you recommend any specific tracks? I really loved Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don't Come for Free, and would like to listen to more.
posted by purpleclover at 1:21 PM on September 8, 2014


I read his explanation of his criteria, but I'm having a hard time believing that those particular tracks are the ones he returns to most out of the catalogs of Nirvana, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Funkadelic (or that "Molly's Lips" "had an acute and lasting effect on the community of musicians").

Still: de gustibus non est disputandum.

(For me, by Funkadelic? "Cosmic Slop" hands down, next contender a couple miles behind it.)
posted by johnofjack at 1:28 PM on September 8, 2014


Like, maybe Cheap Sunglasses is the most 'perfect' song ever but it's not the one I listen to most.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:37 PM on September 8, 2014


"I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" isn't even the most perfect song on Sign o' The Times.
posted by blucevalo at 1:38 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


♛ BOC ♛ ROYGBIV ♛
posted by foot at 1:40 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ever since (actually before, but this is a recent example that comes to mind) he called Beck's latest over-produced, over-Veddered album 'perfect' I've taken SFJ's opinions of what constitutes perfection with a bucket o' salt.
posted by Flashman at 1:41 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Your perfect song sucks, film at 11.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:42 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I like what I've heard of Morning Phase
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:45 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


>Is there anyway to just see the list as a list?

I collated all the volumes into one big spotify playlist, for those who care; that link will just show a full list in your browser without opening spotify, though you can open it there if you want to.
posted by Maecenas at 1:49 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I thought this was more like "perfectly recorded songs", because some of these artists are insanely crisp and precise (Cupid and Psyche '85? Oh yeah!). But I guess not.

Is there a list along those lines?
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:51 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I collated all the volumes into one big spotify playlist, for those who care; that link will just show a full list in your browser without opening spotify, though you can open it there if you want to.

Requires a Spotify account (which requires a Facebook account)
posted by sparklemotion at 1:52 PM on September 8, 2014


The absence of a single song by the Beach Boys leads me to believe that the author is dead inside.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:54 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Actually, apparently spotify _will_ let you sign up with just an email these days. Maybe I'll actually check it out now.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:54 PM on September 8, 2014


Requires a Spotify account (which requires a Facebook account) - not any more.
posted by beisny at 1:56 PM on September 8, 2014


that link will just show a full list in your browser without opening spotify

Not for me. Requires login.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 2:00 PM on September 8, 2014


I'm confused
posted by philip-random at 2:03 PM on September 8, 2014


>Requires a Spotify account (which requires a Facebook account)

Aw, my bad. I didn't realize I was logged in in my browser. Here's a gist.
posted by Maecenas at 2:06 PM on September 8, 2014


Just a metric ton of good songs on this list. And I am so very much looking forward to the ones I've never heard (or, even better, heard of) before.
posted by Mothlight at 2:28 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Although yeah I'm not crazy about latter-day Beck either.
posted by Mothlight at 2:28 PM on September 8, 2014


The absence of a single song by the Beach Boys leads me to believe that the author is dead inside.

He was born in 1967, which leaves out everything up to and including Pet Sounds (and also "Good Vibrations"), if that make you feel any better about the prospects for his immortal soul.
posted by Mothlight at 2:34 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not a single Motown song (Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" is cool, but it ain't Motown!). FAIL.
posted by TDavis at 2:36 PM on September 8, 2014


200 continues to be the number of things in a Best Of list which allows you to make no major critical distinctions whatsoever between artists, genres, or eras.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:49 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Followed closely by 100, 150, 500, 250 and 1.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:50 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Your perfect song sucks, film at 11."

You can be that reductionist if you want to; what I said is exactly what I meant: I do not believe he followed the criteria he says he followed.
posted by johnofjack at 2:54 PM on September 8, 2014


No, it's cool, I think his list sucks, too.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:38 PM on September 8, 2014


I have begun to regard lists like this as contaminants.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 3:49 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I saw this on Kottke yesterday and listened last night for lack of any better playlist at the time. Struck me as just a playlist of this guy's favorite songs. there are a few that might crossover to my own idea of a perfect song, but if I were to make a list I'd keep it to like 5 songs and make sure i explained why for each of them.
posted by OHenryPacey at 4:59 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


My Lord, he reminded me that the Pet Shop Boys cover of "Always On My Mind" really is perfect.
posted by vverse23 at 5:55 PM on September 8, 2014


The artist looked at the producer
The producer sat back
He said, "what we have got here,
Is a perfect track.
But we don't have a vocal,
And we don't have a song.
If we could get these things accomplished,
Nothing else, could go wrong."
Neil Young, Crime in the City
posted by wabbittwax at 5:56 PM on September 8, 2014


Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is in there and I'll agree that it is a sublimely transcendent recording, accurately reflecting Jimi's guitar sound as a wild roaring beast only he could tame. BUT it has always bugged me that the drums and bass are muddy to the point of being inaudible. So I'd call it a perfectly flawed masterpiece I guess, and leave it at that.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:01 PM on September 8, 2014


I don't understand the pretension and stabs at pseudo-objectivity. These are 200 songs that SFJ really, really likes. That's it, and that's great, but all the stuff surrounding it strikes me as a bit self-important.
posted by naju at 6:28 PM on September 8, 2014


I believe self-importance is a job requirement for music critics at the New Yorker.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:40 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


"For me, by Funkadelic? "Cosmic Slop" hands down, next contender a couple miles behind it."

You're wildly wrong, but maybe your hands slipped while you were writing "Maggot Brain."

"Not a single Motown song (Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" is cool, but it ain't Motown!). FAIL."

RTFA.
posted by klangklangston at 7:03 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


wabbitwax: "BUT it has always bugged me that the drums and bass are muddy to the point of being inaudible."

--which reminds me of the stories I read of Hendrix working on the mix on various tracks himself, and going so far as to leave notes that the mix should not be changed, and then sound engineers came in and changed the mix anyway, usually toning down various effects. I don't know if "Voodoo Chile* (Slight Return)" was one of them.

As for the lists, I do agree with SFJ about some of the tracks being perfect (e.g. Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks") even if we don't agree on what "perfect" means** and even if I personally favor others from the same artists.

*Which reminds me of when I was flipping through the channels 20 years ago and one man on QVC (I think? one of those stupid shows where they're explicitly selling things) pronounced it "Voodoo Chili," which must have been what gave them the name for that one compilation.

**In defining "perfect" SFJ mentions how much he returns to certain tracks--which is fine but completely subjective--as well as their effect on other musicians, which makes Grizzly Bear's work entirely too new to judge as perfect. "Perfect" to me implies a song it would be impossible to improve in any way. This definition is just as subjective as SFJ's because ideas of perfection differ, and no one wants me to make a list of "perfect" songs because my musical imagination is poorer than Neil Young's. But that's why I'm not a music critic, or interested in being one.
posted by johnofjack at 7:17 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have to say, even though I had to produce them every so often, I never believed in The List, the list qua list, the linear ranking of subjective taste, especially the list from a solo auteur authority giving at least some arguable notion for why Blackbird is superior to Sloop John B. I was never happy writing them; they seemed to rest on a premise of at best laziness, at worst bullshit where numerals replaced segues or analysis and provoke readers to think, "This guy's a fucking idiot" at far too high a rate (and when they're not thinking it, they often should be).

I could never do the list sincerely, not really. Best or worst, not only should the reader not subscribe to that sort of rockist posturing, but they shouldn't invest in me the authority — who am I to say that West End Girls should mean less to them than Don't You Want Me?

What I channelled that impulse, that ersatz organizational tic, into was mixtapes (now playlists). I don't think there can be 16 Definitive Punk Songs or anything like that, but I do think there can be 16 Punk Songs That Represent The Genre Broadly And Go Together Pretty Well. Especially because I've never really been a musician, I wanted to connect to readers as listeners and the experience of listening to this music at this time.

In looking back at my columns, I can say that I inflicted a fair amount of bullshit in the guise of not taking or inflicting bullshit aesthetics, but what I'm proudest of is when I was actually writing about listening to music, not coming up with Junior Linnaeus clickbait and encouraging people to argue over rankings that don't matter to me and shouldn't matter to them.
posted by klangklangston at 7:21 PM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Now mixtapes, yes. Those I can get behind.

All this reminds me that there isn't any music writing I really enjoy aside from the posts at Said the Gramophone--which half the time address the music only tangentially, if at all.

I should probably take another look at Rolling Stone, Mojo, etc. Surely there's a music writer with deep knowledge of music, opinions but no real snobbery, and the tendency to write about the music directly, all for an audience [like me] who's definitely a fan and not an expert?
posted by johnofjack at 7:37 PM on September 8, 2014


Yeah, his name's jonmc.
posted by klangklangston at 7:41 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


(I like Ned Raggett and Chuck Eddy for that, though they're both coming from very idiosyncratic views.)
posted by klangklangston at 7:42 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


What about this song about perfect beats: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2RJlYzBhLg4
posted by mulligan at 8:00 PM on September 8, 2014


One of the thing that I find interesting about Frere-Jones' exercise was that he chose the word "perfect." As he said in the Guardian piece:
"It's an obviously ridiculous idea," he told the Guardian. "About a year ago, in a meeting, the word 'perfect' came up, and I thought it was so idiotic that it sort of tickled me. But for some reason, perfect bothers me a lot less than 'best'."
After listening to the songs I think I sort of get a little bit what he means. Most of the songs are a perfect expression of a single idea. For instance, I wouldn't say that "Fit But You Know It" is the most representative song by The Streets, neither would I say that it's the best, but it takes one idea and spins it out perfectly for just as long as the idea can sustain it. It's perfect on its own, limited terms. Most of the songs strike me as being the same. I suspect that Frere-Jones would say that all the songs are perfect expressions of the idea behind them, but were I disagree is probably a matter of subjective interpretation. Still, it's a really interesting way of looking at songs. Or art, in general. There are some books and films which I would consider perfect, even though they aren't personal favorites for one reason or another.
posted by Kattullus at 12:20 PM on September 9, 2014


The New Yorker's jazz guy Richard Brody Lists His Perfect Jazz Recordings.
posted by Kattullus at 1:09 AM on September 24, 2014


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