In Celebration of Playlists

How do you listen to music? I don’t mean where you are or whether you listen to CDs, an iPod, or Pandora. What I mean is, how do you choose which music to listen to? Do you scroll through your iPod until you find an artist you want to listen to? Do you wake up with a craving to hear a particular album? Do you use Genius playlists on iTunes? Do you want to hear music by different artists, but all in the same genre?

We all, it seems, listen to music differently. And it’s funny, because while there are certain things I’m relentlessly old-fashioned about—I won’t join Netflix because I like video stores too much and I’m extremely anti-Kindle—I have no problem with the fact that CDs are almost obsolete. I haven’t bought a physical CD in years, and it doesn’t bother me that little kids have no idea what a “music store” is because they only know iTunes.

There are probably a lot of people who feel that way, but another way that the iPod has changed my listening habits is by eliminating albums for me. I know some people who will only listen to albums, and only in order, feeling that music isn’t meant to be listened to any other way. And it is true that some artists make albums intending for it to be listened to all together, but there are many others who just put a bunch of songs together on the same CD. So I don’t feel I’m missing anything by listening to songs out of order.

What I love, though, are playlists.

I remember back when I first got my college laptop, the first computer that was exclusively mine, the thing that excited me the most about it was its CD burner. I’d never had one before, and I was excited to be able to create mix CDs. I used Windows Media Player back then and made a couple of CDs that took one song off each of the CDs I owned. I still listen to those playlists sometimes (now in iTunes).

Gradually, I started getting more creative with my playlists. I made a playlist of pump-up songs for running. I made one composed of songs that reflected my junior-year-of-college mood, many of which comprised my melodramatic away messages. I made an 80s playlist for an 80s Halloween party we had in college. On Valentine’s Day, I made a playlist of love songs (because, apparently, I like depressing myself). Songs with lyrics I like, songs appropriate enough for young kids to play at the pool club where I lifeguarded in the summers, graduation songs…I couldn’t get enough of playlists.

I also started making larger playlists for every year. On New Year’s Eve every year, I go through my music and find music I like but don’t listen to enough and organize it into a playlist. I now have playlists for 2007-2010, and no song can appear on more than one yearly playlist.

Music I acquired from friends led me to create even more themed playlists. For a CD swap at work that a former coworker arranged (hi, Jill!), I did “The American Cities Mix,” where each song was about a different city. Other playlists I’ve been listening to with some frequency:

Over the Rainbow (every song has a different color in the title, i.e. “Orange Sky” by Alexi Murdoch, “Yellow” by Coldplay, etc.)

Months of the year (i.e. “Long December” by the Counting Crows, “June” by Pete Yorn, etc.)

Eight Days a Week (i.e. “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5, “Manic Monday” by the Bangles, etc.)

Rock Around the Clock (i.e. “Breathe (2 AM)” by Anna Nalick, “4 A.M.” by Our Lady Peace, etc.)

Rainy Day Playlist (every song has “Rain” in the title)

Sunny Day Playlist (what do you think?)

WTF? (songs with swears in either the title or unexpectedly in the song, i.e. “First of May” by Jonathan Coulton” or “Don’t Marry Her” by The Beautiful South)

Holidays (every song represents a holiday, i.e. “River” by Joni Mitchell for Christmas and “The Green Fields of France” by the Dropkick Murphys for Veteran’s Day)

Nerd Mix (songs like “Protons, Neutrons, Electrons” by The Cat Empire and “The Nitrogen Cycle Song” by Amy Bronson)

Songs about California (there are about a million of those)

Songs with “dance” in the title that aren’t necessarily dance songs (ditto)

Slowed-down covers (many of which are very cool—think “Hey Ya” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”)

By now, you probably are backing away from your computer slowly, thinking I’m nuts. Or maybe you’re thinking about the playlists you’ve made yourself. If, by some weird chance, you’re someone I know and you’d like to hear one of my mixes, drop me a line and I’ll burn you a CD of the mix you want.

In any case, I need to listen to as much of this as I can in the next few days. From the day after Thanksgiving until December 26, I’ll only be listening to my 250+-song Christmas playlist.

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