The “What I Listened To On My Way To Work” Exercise
OK folks, it is time for me to tackle another blog post idea, as part of my harebrained Blog Post Idea Challenge. This time around the idea comes from Mr Builder of Coalitions, Zac, who suggested I set my mp3 player to random on my morning commute and write about the songs that come up, as a homage to the currently dormant blog What I Listened To On My Way To Work Today.
First off, this is a great concept. And while this blog post may die a horrible death, I think I may well return to this concept in future. It seems a very easy way to come up with something different, and a good excuse to blog about music that otherwise wouldn’t seem to relevant.
However a caveat, of sorts, to begin. I do generally have my earphones in on the way into work. But over the last six months or so, I’ve relied on my phone for all my mp3 needs, as an attempt to rationalise and generally scale down the technology I have on my person each day. But, my phone doesn’t have the largest memory, so it tends to have a couple of albums, and then a lot of podcasts. I suppose I can kid myself that listening to spoken-word podcasts is more nourishing. And maybe the likes of This American Life, Radiolab, or some random Radio 4 documentaries are. I’m not sure the fantasy baseball podcasts do me much good though.
So, when I returned to my mp3 player I found it had nothing on it except the Best of Sam Cooke. Now, I like Sam Cooke. But I thought this sort of exercise would benefit from a little variety. But I did start to wonder if I would be ‘gaming’ the post by filling my mp3 player up in the knowledge that I could be writing about any of those songs. I was much more likely to put cool stuff on and leave embarrassing stuff out, for example.
So, I tried to put on albums I’d got recently, plus a few old favourites. I then planned to throw on a whole load more but the process was taking an age. So, while I was pretty much guaranteed a mix that featured more than just Sam Cooke, I probably wasn’t going to get that much variety, or that many surprises. This is another reason why I’d like to try this exercise again, when I’ve got a little more sitting on my mp3 player.
I have a commute of about an hour, of a short walk to the station, then a train journey, then another walk through the City of London (the Square Mile financial district, as opposed to the whole of London).
I chose Friday for my random music adventure. This was mainly because I’d sorted the mp3 player Thursday, but it worked quite well as Friday commutes are the best. There are the obvious weekend-y reasons, but it also seems that fewer people work on a Friday, so the trains and the streets are a little emptier. This meant I could get away with scrawling little notes in my book without drawing too much attention to myself or getting in the way of other commuters.
I think I was concentrating too much on the music, though, as I lack any real insights or observations on my commute. Also, I wasted a considerable amount of time remembering how to set the “random” function. This task might take a little practice. However, 500+ words in, any brevity may be welcome.
The Beatles – Every Little Thing
This is from Beatles For Sale – probably the least lauded Beatles album, but perhaps, perversely, my favourite. One day I may write the post I’ve had in my head arguing that it is the overlooked classic. It seems pretty weird referring to anything Beatles-related as ‘overlooked’, but there a few such moments on that album. I think this track is one – most bands would have had this as a lead-off single, The Beatles could afford to treat it as filler. In what is quite a bleak album, this is a chink of light – a fantastic pop song.
Townes Van Zandt – The Velvet Voices
I love me some Townes Van Zandt. Steve Earle famously said, “Townes van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” He may well have been right. But some of the production TVZ’s songs were put through didn’t really do him any favours. This is one example, where there are a few too many hokey “oohs” and “ahhs” – perhaps an attempt at making him sound more mainstream country, but not really working. While I don’t think he should have just stuck to acoustic guitar and voice, the larger arrangements didn’t always work.
Townes Van Zandt – Pancho and Lefty
Ah, and here is becomes clear, already, that my mp3 player hasn’t got enough in the way of variety. And that putting TVZ’s whole back catalogue was probably overkill. Still, what a great, great song. Here the production works (that, or I’m just a sucker for some mariachi-style horns), and probably one of the best storytelling-y –type songs ever. “The dust that Pancho bit down south ended up in Lefty’s mouth” is one of my all-time favourite lyrics.
Mogwai – Letters to the Metro
One from the new Mogwai album, and probably the most appropriate for my commute, as I’m pretty sure that it refers to the letters section of the free newspaper available in many UK cities. I tend to pick up the Metro for the previous night’s football scores, but little else, as I realised that I was spending far too much time reading vacuous free newspapers, when I could be using that time to be reading books. This may or may not make me a snob.
I generally find letters sections depressing or infuriating. I did find out years ago that, when surveyed, readers will more often that not say the letters section is their favourite. This must be pretty demoralising for the “real” writers.
Spoon – Written in Reverse
Spoon are such a fine band, but that last album was a bit disappointing, at least by their (incredibly high) standards. However, this was a great song. I like how it just about hangs together and that Britt Daniel sounds like he is making it up as he goes along. Plus false endings are always good in my book.
Sam Cooke – Having a Party
This was the song for the first dance at our wedding. A huge smile breaks out on my face every time I hear it. I’m sure my fellow commuters wondered why I looked so happy at 8.20am in the morning.
I saw a Townes Van Zandt tribute on Austin City Limits about a decade ago, and even his producer admitted that he destroyed half of TVZ’s albums with overproduction. I don’t like too much of his studio stuff, but his live albums (especially Live at the Old Quarter and the one with the cover songs whose name I forget right now) can’t be beat.
This was a fun post, by the way. If I ever come out of my blogging hiatus, I might give something similar a try. I’m not too big on shuffle mode; I prefer entire albums so it’s jarring to hear, say, the Smith Westerns sandwiched between Das Racist and Black Flag.
A while back I read a TVZ biography that, if I remember rightly, suggested if there hadn’t been so much overproduction he might have been more successful. I’m not entirely convinced by the argument. ‘Artistically’ maybe, but not commercially. Live at the Old Quarter is wonderful, but I don’t think that style was ever going to sell by the bucketload.
I hope you come out of your hiatus soon – even for some short posts. I think I may well return to this format when I’m stuck for something to write about – it’s a great way of loosening the old writing muscles a little.
I like this idea, Steve (well, Zac anyway). In fact, I may even borrow it for myself if that’s okay.
I have all my music – something like 500 albums plus various miscellany – loaded onto my iPod, but all too rarely force myself to listen to anything other than my most recent purchases. So any excuse to delve into my back catalogue is good for me! (Although it would appear my tastes are a lot more mainstream than yours …)
It’s a great idea, isn’t it? I’d love to read your take on it. I tend to avoid the random function as I prefer to hear albums in the order they were intended, but it certainly is a good way to listen to more neglected tracks and perhaps find a few new favourites.
I do tend to be an album person too, but my commute to and from work (typically 30-45 minutes) means that I often wouldn’t end up listening to an album from start to finish. I seem to spend most of my life listening to podcasts these days anyway! I’ve certainly grown to like putting my iPod on shuffle every now and then, if only to throw up random stuff I would otherwise never select. In reality, I probably spend 50% of my time listening to podcasts, 45% listening to specific albums or playlists and at most 5% on random.
I’ll add this to my list. At my current rate of getting new ideas up and running, I’ll get round to it some time in 2015 …
I am a huge Beatles fan but usually overlook Beatles for Sale. Thanks for reminding me it has some great tracks, especially Every Little Thing. Is I’m a Loser on the album too? One of my favourite Lennon songs. I also love the sleeve notes which imagine that by the early 21st century we’d all be living on the moon. If only.
Yep, I’m a Loser is on there too, and Baby’s In Black. And No Reply. Just shows the degree of quality control that even their least-lauded album is full of great songs. It may also be my favourite cover artwork, nice and mean and moody!
I always connect the cover image with Simon and Garfunkel’s first album. Probably only because one of them wears a college scarf 😀