Wednesday, February 08, 2006


List Overload Pt. 1

A big part of the reason I started JVSI was because I was having a hard time find my way through all the new music, and my confusion was precipitated by all the end of year lists. For a schmoe like me, and probably for many others, if you don't KNOW what's good you figure the listmakers have done their work and all you need is a list of the top picks. But to top it off, often the descriptions that went along with the lists were of no help. On of the writers of Good Weather for Airstrikes -- a music blog which obviously has a lot of work put into it -- and i appreciate that; has this blurb to go along with the pick, which unfortunately isn't that helpful if you're trying to decide if you should commit the time to the music :

3. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning - Bright Eyes
Key Track: "Poison Oak"

Narrowly edged out of the top two spots, Conor Oberst's folk-american record of 2005, I'm Wide Awake, is not to be overlooked, as in any other year it could easily contend for the top spot. The fact that an album of this caliber slips all the way to number 3 is a testament to the incredibly quality of 2005's releases. Though the entire album displays Oberst's finest work to date, "Poison Oak" stands out as the best track of his illustrious career and one of the most moving songs I've ever heard. I consistently get chills every time he reaches the swelling chorus for the first time, and for a while I was actually convinced this was the single best song I had ever heard.

Somehow lists are an archetype of pop music, as much as drums or bass.

I dunno how it came about -- but i assume sometime in the salad days of rocknroll some DJ or radio marketing guy realized that making a list and counting it down made for some compelling listening and it added a competitive element to music. And since all the sheep needed to be told what to like, it introduced some "measure" of quality; to something that is intrinsically sujective.

Interestingly, though there is a lot of info around about how music charts are calculated there is very little to be found about the history of music charts. All I could find (via Wikipedia) was that the first Billboard Music Popularity Chart was calculated in July, 1940, but that's it.

You can imagine some evolutionary psychology reason why humans have a need to rank and classify information as much as possible, and it's seen in the fact that people put more importance on information if it's presented as a list.

But "list thinking" has ruined a lot of things with this rush to replace real content with lists. Magazines for instance: Maxim ruined magazines when it killed off editorial content with lists and factoids, now every magazine is is collection of lists. TV channels like VH1 a almost dedicated to llists and specilize in countdown shows of the top celebrity freakouts or whatever. Even CNN now counts down their top popular news stories in the nightly news. Obviously this is a ploy to keep you watching.

I know the Jew, being the Jew, puts a lot of thought into his year end lists, and the Jew being the Jew doesn't really care if others agree with him or not, but you can be sure he has a rationale for why each entry is the list and a case for it's respective ranking.

So, I pose the question:

*why are music people obsessed with lists ?*

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