Backstory: Now that we own a BlueTooth-enabled new car, I determined to curate my digital music collection, hoping to store on my phone just a “few” select songs that I don’t mind listening to anywhere, any time. So I went through every album on my hard drive over the past three days.
I’ve read that the average person owns 89 music albums (150 in the UK) — this was several years ago. I don’t know how true it is, or how we would calculate it in today’s world of digital music libraries and streaming services like Spotify.
I have more than 89. Way more.
I have 6,988 songs on my hard drive. Not only will they not all (40 gigabytes) fit on my phone, but I wouldn’t want them to. Some of them, I probably shouldn’t have digitized in the first place, like “Twitch” by Bif Naked (it was part of a movie soundtrack I bought 17 years ago). Others, I might want to hear occasionally — like “Night Moves” by Bob Seger — but don’t need it popping up randomly every time I drive the car.
So I managed to generate a list of 234 songs from 92 artists.
Some are songs that all of you have heard, like “The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King, and others are relatively recent pop numbers like “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga. A few are old classics like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and others are obscure nuggets like “Temple Of Dreams” by Messiah.
A few are nostalgic holdovers from childhood vinyl-listening sessions, including “I Get Around” (Beach Boys) and “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” (Royal Guardsmen). A few are nostalgic holdovers from my days as an aficionado of contemporary Christian artists — “No More Innocence (Reprise)” by Mad At The World and “Rocks In Your Head” by the 77s, for example — though I did eliminate quite a few former favorites due to overt lyrical content.
In some ways, my overall music catalog is descriptive of my life, but perhaps it isn’t as much so as it could be. Like most people, certain songs conjure distinct memories of emotionally pungent periods in my life… Anything from a certain 77s album takes me immediately back to a particularly lonely time during Bible College. “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” (Garbage) shoves me right back to late 1996 and a woman named Susan.
Unlike most people, the songs of my adolescence don’t remind me quite so much of my teen years, but instead my late 20s. This is due to my particular circumstances of not being allowed to listen to non-Christian music during my teen years. So, while most people my age will hear “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and go right back to 9th or 10th grade (1988) in their minds, for me the memories are in the late 1990s, because that’s when I finally bought the album Appetite For Destruction. The same is true for other 1980s songs, including those from Aerosmith, Cinderella, and Ozzy Osbourne.
So there’s this weird time-shift thing. A very few of those songs do remind me of high school situations, because I first heard them from a friend or on the radio, but most of them remind me of my friend Mark in the late 1990s, because his brain contained a complete catalog of every 1980s song ever made — I would hum a few bars or recite a line, and he would regurgitate song title, artist, album name, and year of release. And some of them remind me of a particular establishment in Little Rock, or another less respectable establishment in Memphis, where those songs were on regular rotation.
Any song that came out in the early 1990s (my Bible college years) was likewise completely lost to me until a few years later. So 1993’s “Runaway Train” (Soul Asylum) oddly puts me back in 1999 with an enigmatic poet named Kristi. And 1990’s “Thunderstruck” (AC/DC) instead puts me in 2001, where I first heard the song played at the opening of high school football games in rural Oklahoma.
I learned that far too many of the songs in my overall digital collection need to be deleted outright. I don’t even remember why I have a Loretta Lynn album. Some of the albums, I bought for one or two songs, and the others linger pointlessly, destined to be skipped or ignored.
A good third of my 6,988 songs are holdovers from my Christian days. A few of them are worth keeping, either because they’re instrumentals — like the guitar solo tracks from Whitecross — or because they’re lyrically secular, like quite a few songs from the 77s or “Addey” (with the exception of one line) by DeGarmo & Key. But the majority of them — every song by Petra, for example — no longer make any sense to me, and never will.
I learned that about half of my favorite songs are depressing, like “Love Is A Losing Game” by Amy Winehouse or “A Sentimental Song” by The Choir. It makes me wonder whether I originally liked them because they mirrored what I already felt, or whether they helped generate the chemicals that we identify as “emotion”. Perhaps both. Or maybe neither — maybe I just liked them because they are musically brilliant.
The most surprising part of this process for me was how many songs that I thought I would add to my curated phone collection, but didn’t, because when I played them during that three-day process, they just didn’t do anything for me. For example, I thought I was going to add three or four songs by The Smiths, but when I brought up track after track, none of them spoke to me as they had done years ago. So ended up with zero from them.
I remembered also that time in 1997 or so, when I was so short on cash that I sold half my music collection in order to pay rent and ate nothing but ramen noodles for several months. Most of those albums, I never re-purchased, including Pink Floyd’s The Wall (which is currently on my Amazon wish list).
I further recollected on the acts I’ve seen live, and how that list only halfway overlaps with my list of owned songs. Off the top of my head, I can list 20 Christian acts I’ve seen live that none of you have ever heard of — some of whom later turned out to be atheist, gay, or otherwise not fitting the stereotype. People are often surprised to learn I’ve seen Sugar Ray and the Goo Goo Dolls in concert, and others are surprised I’ve seen Slipknot and Marilyn Manson.
But my favorite concerts have always been those by bands or solo artists that you’ve still never heard of, usually in tiny venues with acoustics so poor it seems like they were designed to not play music there.
Back to my collection:
So many songs, I realize I only like part of. For example, I like most of the music of “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller Band, but the lyrics and chorus are distracting and uninspiring. Quite a few songs, especially in the hard rock category, have impressive opening riffs, but the songs go downhill from there — like AC/DC’s Hold Me Back; I love the first 20 seconds, but then can skip the rest of the song. Quite a few, I only like the chorus. Or everything but the chorus.
Others, I’ve never owned, for one reason or another, and now I wonder if it’s worth the expense to keep collecting new (old) music. “Master of Puppets” by Metallica. “Hush” by Deep Purple. Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey In the Jar.
One song that definitely made the cut, because it’s possibly the best song of all time, is “Bohemian Rhapsody“. One that I’ll never understand why people like is “Stairway To Heaven”. It’s not among my 234 curated songs.
There’s really no conclusion to this. Just that I’ve been thinking about music again. Listening to it. Enjoying it. Learning that my tastes have changed — a bit. I’ll never be a music snob. And as much as friends and cousins push it, I’ll probably never really like folk music, outside of certain odd moods. You do you.
A stack of CDs, lit from behind.
(Copyright © 2013 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)