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Last FM

September 9, 2010

A couple of months ago, I noticed I was lagging behind in the listening stakes. All my pals seemed to have topped the 50,000 mark, and I was way down in the low 40,000s. Well, frankly I was humiliated. I needed to do something about it.
Obviously a campaign of serious, practical and determined music listening was in order – after all, you can’t call yourself a Music Geek, as I’ve been known to call myself of late, and not have racked up the stats to prove it. I devised a plan.

First up, a bit of cramming was in order. In iTunes, I listed all my songs by duration, shortest first. The list came up something like this:

iTunes Shortest Songs

iTunes - Shortest Songs

Admittedly, as a listening experience it’s not exactly the White Album, but it does throw up some interesting items. The Skywalker stuff came with some video editing software, I seem to recall, though why I chose to keep hold of it I’m not sure. There’s lots of Beatles skits taken from Live at the BBC, which was the first CD I owned. Plenty of Simpsons songs, which I ripped off a CD one of my pals lent me – I never listen to them – I’m a po-faced musical snob, and though I like a good laugh in normal life, somehow I find no place for humour in music. This is a flaw of mine, I know it, but I’m stuck with it – in my heart, music should be taken seriously.

Anyway, these added a few to my Last.Fm tally.

Next up, sticking with durations, I randomly picked a song length and played every song of that length. That was good fun, dipping into songs that one way or another have snuck into my music collection that I’d forgotten about, hadn’t given enough credit to and imported and then ignored. I went through everything between 7 and 8 minutes, which fetched up some consistently good songs:

iTunes 7mins+

iTunes 7mins+

7 mins+ definitely kicked up more good songs more consistently than say 4m 32′. Trouble is, you don’t get through many of those long songs in an a hour. Best for both song quality and turnover was the late 2 minutes, 2 minutes 58 seconds or somewhere in that region:

iTunes - 2m58

iTunes - 2m58

I mean, there’s some All-Time Greats in there – Tramp by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, Catch the Wind by Donovan, Changing Partners by Barbara Jones, You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me by the Miracles, Penelope Tree by Felt, Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye by Leonard Cohen, Virginia Plain by Roxy Music, I Who Have Nothing by Tom Jones, Fake Tales of San Francisco by The Arctic Monkeys – absolute quality, each and every one of them. Even the less well known songs are invariably interesting, and have that added bonus of not hanging around too long – if they’re not up to snuff, they won’t be around for too long to bother you. That visceral 3 minute shot of pop is an absolute treat.

About this time, I also added Audioscrobbler to Spotify, (or rather, at long last I typed my name properly, and finally linked the two up) so I could venture forth into the wider world of online music while still upping my Last.Fm stats. I fell in love with John Grant’s ouvre, having seen him at Latitude, and went BIG on him – I must have listened to Queen of Denmark about 20 times since mid-July, and from there I sampled Midlake, which I now rate., having not previously been fussed about them.

So it went on, up through the 40,000s until the week before last I saw I was closing in on 49,900 and realised I was nearly there.

I wanted these last few to count, so I put together a playlist of 200 of my favourite songs, shuffled them so I wouldn’t know what was coming up, and let it play, (all the while being careful not to accidently Scrobble anything via Spotify or my work Mac). This was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Every song was a classic, (in my eyes, at least) and it became hard to do anything but listen because I didn’t want to tear myself away from the playlist. I generally treat my favourite songs very carefully, and play them only rarely, because the connection to them disappears if they’re overplayed, so really indulging myself and playing all of them all at once was a rare treat, and all the better for it.

So, closing in on the last 10, I sat back and listened. And it didn’t let me down:



That seems like a pretty fantastic 10 songs to me. And to have Just Like Honey by the Jesus and Mary Chain in the 50,000 slot – well, the Girl Copolla knew what she doing when she used it at the end of Lost in Translation. It’s a great song – steeped as it is in the history of pop music, at once sulky, in awe, tuneful and fucked-up. And endlessly romantic, in a sneery punky way.

So what have I learned from this. Cack all, really:

  • I’m a tune man, a song man
  • I’m often wrong about the quality of a song – invariably I underestimate how good something is
  • My tastes are pretty broad, though not as broad as some
  • Indulging in nothing but songs you love is good for your soul
  • You need to stretch your tastes sometimes
  • Abiding by arbitrary rules can be a great way to experiment
  • Last.Fm, iTunes and Spotify are wonderful tools to have around
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