Playlisting 180 hours of music from 1981
October 25, 2021 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Music writer Brad Shoup explains why he makes exhaustive year-specific music mixes on Spotify: "With each new mix, my research methods improved - as did the source databases - and now, any playlist from 1969 on routinely features 1500 tracks, minimum."

A break down of research methods and a tribute to the playlists that inspired the project, from Michael Daddino's 170-track survey of 1950 to Jonathan Bogart's 24-hour meditation on the year of his birth, 1977.

Previously: 1950: The Bomb in the Heart of the Century
posted by filmvisuality (21 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there an actual objective or is this in the "everybody needs a hobby" category? Not snarking, just perplexed.
posted by sammyo at 6:58 PM on October 25 [3 favorites]


Don't forget Centuries of Sound, which is up to 1939 by now! The mixes from the mid- and late- 1800s are fascinating.
posted by sagc at 6:59 PM on October 25 [10 favorites]


Serious archival music research would not be limited to streaming availability
posted by anazgnos at 7:53 PM on October 25 [7 favorites]


Serious archival music research would not be limited to streaming availability

I don't think this is necessarily frivolous, though. The kind of 'serious' research you mention wouldn't really be as of a piece with the internet as this project is, and accordingly wouldn't have anywhere near the same level of accessibility.
posted by filmvisuality at 8:46 PM on October 25 [8 favorites]


Serious archival music research would not be limited to streaming availability

Kind of an odd take since its a curated list of songs, not an attempt to dig up every song from a given year and the curator isn't really making any claims for the project aside from that. And while it is certainly true enough that archive research shouldn't be limited to streaming availability, that doesn't mean there can't be beneficial or meaningful research results from streamed media, as I've seen a number of cases where some new information is discovered through what is available by connecting the dots between that media and other information that had not been fully explored. Finding an earlier example of some use of technique than previously noted, or in drawing a line between one use and a likely source of inspiration for example.

Besides, previously serious archival research was always limited by where physical sources were located and the resources of the archivist. Streaming material, when combined with other sources, helps reduce some of that difficulty. A researcher doesn't have to find where, say, there's a repository of Turkish music from 1950 and then find a way to get there, now they can find at least some of that music online, and since there are many amateur enthusiasts around the world, the shared result is that of a broad and growing collection of media that would have been otherwise exceedingly difficult for any one researcher to uncover, much less for the rest of us to hear or see. Basically the internet should be the place where archives are found as much as possible and enthusiasts do their best to make it so, even in the face of copyright restrictions.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:09 PM on October 25 [7 favorites]


These playlists are phenomenal. I also poked around his power pop playlists and found he included a song by an artist I adore who has 21 monthly listeners on Spotify. The man is diving deep to find pearls.
posted by scottjlowe at 12:35 AM on October 26 [5 favorites]


I have mostly ignored Spotify but now I may have to rethink.
posted by JanetLand at 5:26 AM on October 26


His 1982 Playlist has 584 entries and only one Prince song. That is morally and ethically bankrupt.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 5:33 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]


Is there an actual objective or is this in the "everybody needs a hobby" category? Not snarking, just perplexed.

I'm perplexed that you're perplexed. Isn't there something that you're passionate about for its own sake?

Some people regard music as just entertainment – and that's perfectly valid.

But, for some people, it's a lot more than that. Studying the way that musical genres and movements have evolved, and cross-pollinated, and leapfrogged the globe over the decades illuminates history, culture, identity, politics, the role of art, and the human condition.

Besides, it's just interesting to unearth sounds which were once vitally meaningful to people in a specific time and place, but which have since been forgotten.

Top 40 charts and greatest-hits compilations present an incomplete picture of musical history. By definition, they only have room for the most commercially successful, high-profile, and enduring recordings. The stuff that everyone already knows.

Equally interesting – and equally important, if your goal is to fully understand the musical zeitgeist of a particular moment in history – are the backwaters. Pop trifles that were popular at the time, but which have since been forgotten as fluff. Scenes (like reggae) that thrived in a particular community, in a particular place, at a particular time – but which (unlike reggae) never attracted much global notice. Sounds which briefly burned bright, but have since been forgotten.

Granted, this guy seems to be singularly obsessive. But people do this with all sorts of things: video games, food, visual art, fashion, and so on. I love seeing the things they've found and curated, and how they engage with their topic of study – even when I'm not particularly interested in the particular thing they're into.

(There's a Polish YouTuber – whose name escapes me at the moment – who specializes in women's fashions of the early 20th century. She has a particular emphasis on the everyday dress of women in eastern Europe. I have basically zero interest in fashion or sewing, but her channel is fascinating. The little details reveal how people in general, and women in particular, lived and fit into their society in that time and place – and how those things were changing along with the politics, technology, and economics of the day.)

Truly, no offense intended – and, of course, if this isn't your bag, then it just isn't your bag – but I'm honestly baffled that someone curious enough to read MetaFilter would have trouble understanding why someone might be into this kind of thing.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:47 AM on October 26 [15 favorites]


> His 1982 Playlist has 584 entries and only one Prince song. That is morally and ethically bankrupt.

It's because of one of the constraints that he specifically points out in the article: That for any given year "each lead configuration can only appear once."
posted by jeremias at 6:09 AM on October 26 [3 favorites]


Is there an actual objective or is this in the "everybody needs a hobby" category? Not snarking, just perplexed.

To be fair, I would characterize this article as how he puts together these lists, rather than why. Having said that, he mentions a large part of his motivation at the very end.
Creating these mixes has made me a better listener: I truly believe that. There are those who recoil at the idea of new age, or atmospheric black metal, or adult alternative, so when they engage with it, there’s no illumination, only the sound of a shorting fuse. I don’t love every one of these 30,000 songs. But they were made by people: schemers, tinkerers, idealists, cynics, sellouts. They were made by us. I’d like to remember them until I run out of years.
I totally get this, I did something similar 5 or 6 years ago with the year 1977 (a particularly fertile year for music, as evidenced by the 24 hour 1977 playlist mentioned above).

I spent a few leisurely months putting together a mix, curating songs, creating transitions between tunes, and I was even ambitious enough to do the math and split up the mix into three "albums", each of which could be burned onto a CD and/or could be split up into three double vinyl LPs. It was a...tad obsessive, I will admit.

The why for me started out as musical curiosity: I was struck by this idea that on a particular day in 1977 the Grateful Dead could be playing what some consider the best performance of their careers, and a few hours away maybe the Dead Boys were playing a gig at CBGBs, and on that same day you could have picked up the new album by Parliament/Funkadelic.

What I didn't realize as I started, was it ended up being a bit of a personal journey as well, I was seven in 1977, a very interesting year developmentally. Some of this music was among the first that I can remember listening to on the radio (and I'm pretty sure the Star Wars soundtrack was one of, if not the first, records I ever owned).

Personal history aside, this amazing confluence of punk, reggae, rock, heavy metal, disco, the early beginnings of hip hop and synth/electronica were all happening at once, and like a forensic detective I enjoyed the hunt of trying to pin down how and when this all happened.

It was fun, but I stopped at one year, this fellow is trying to do something like this for what appears to be all recorded music.
posted by jeremias at 6:39 AM on October 26 [7 favorites]


There's a Polish YouTuber – whose name escapes me at the moment – who specializes in women's fashions of the early 20th century.

Karolina Żebrowska?
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:53 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]


I love seeing the things they've found and curated, and how they engage with their topic of study – even when I'm not particularly interested in the particular thing they're into

Yes. To me this is what's so great about Mefi and larger web voyering in general.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:14 AM on October 26 [3 favorites]


web voyeur

so that's what I am
posted by elkevelvet at 7:47 AM on October 26 [3 favorites]


I think it's useful to discover everything that was out there in a particular year. I only know a little bit about certain genres of music and nothing at all about many others; this would help me to broaden my music knowledge.

But I see one problem: these playlists are so long that it's not practical to download them for offline listening. So this is basically for listening while at work or at home.

And 180 hours of 1981 (to take one of his examples) is over 22 eight-hour days - you could listen to music from 1981 for a whole month at work. Wow.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:42 AM on October 26


In this vein, I might also suggest andychislehurst's Spotify account. He's done year-by-year playlists (his 1981 is somewhat less ambitious), along with themed playlists (e.g., NME singles of the year, The Face top singles) and more.
posted by the sobsister at 9:01 AM on October 26 [2 favorites]


Karolina Żebrowska?

Yep! That's her.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:05 AM on October 26


power pop playlists

Props to him for using "Now She Knows She's Wrong" to represent Jellyfish on the 89-92 one. Making love under the podium at the PTA!
posted by thelonius at 9:33 AM on October 26


From TFA:
With each mix, I have two primary goals. The first is to find as many songs as I possibly can, from as many musicians and styles and countries as I can encounter. The second is to stitch these finds together in a way that’s a lot of fun—legible, hopefully, but mostly fun. I know of a couple people who listen to these straight through–I mean, I know they’re skipping some tracks and bailing on others, I’m not kidding myself, sometimes I’ve dropped 60-minute noise tracks like landmines—and a couple more who have used a mix as temporal background noise for historical research. I know of many more who haven’t gone near these things (or don’t fuck with streaming), but are nonetheless happy they exist. That’s cool.

In a just world, I wouldn’t be using a streaming service at all, unless it—and I—were paying our fair share to those who labor fuels it. I agree with most of the other criticisms of streaming as well—you don’t own anything; the databases are littered with incomplete, misspelled or incorrect entries; you can’t read liner notes or properly view cover art; the UI forces each recording into the same bland, minimal presentation; there are hundreds of albums on these services that were recorded by a child holding a tape recorder to a thrift-store LP.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:53 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]


As someone who goes really deep on particular musicians, bands and scenes, rather than taking such a panoramic yet precisely delimited approach to listening, I'm both awed and baffled by this kind of collecting and sorting. A thing that comes to mind after reading the "schemers, tinkerers, idealists..." quote, though, is that certain kinds of nostalgia feel to me to be almost independent of whether I liked the sounds at the time. Like, even if I scoffed at cheesy early 1990s New Age planetarium music, when I hear it now, it can still transport me back to moment I was scoffing when it was playing at the science museum gift shop after I got out of the omnimax movie. I wonder if music does that to him too, whether or not it is or was his favorites. Just the dream of being able to truly apprehend what a year sounded like, seems like a worthy endeavor, even if ultimately impossible.
posted by umbú at 8:44 PM on October 26 [5 favorites]


One of those AM Oldies stations used to grind through the entire Billboard Top 200 for every year (1950-1970) bit by bit for over the course of many weeks for 2 hours in the mid-afternoon... that was a fun ride! A lot of forgettable material, but mixed with some moments of truly inspired weirdness. I just can't forget that primitive recording of a drum majorette chant with twangy guitar from the mid-50s...
posted by ovvl at 5:22 PM on October 27 [1 favorite]


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