M2: The Thousand Songs

ThousandMusic has always hit me in a place deeper than my critical faculties. The goosebump effect is the kind of private pleasure that is thoroughly good and affirming. The enjoyment of music has been a constant through my life, even as I’ve developed into a thinking adult who can see the problems in everything. Lyrics are important; all art is made by specific people who have things to say, and understanding this makes the whole experience more worthwhile. But music can still get through my filters, for good or ill. I love what I love, no matter the contradictions.

I first organized a list of 100 favorite songs back in 2003. Each year for the rest of the decade, I tinkered with my selections, accruing a bench of a few hundred other songs I loved almost as much. Leading up to 2010, I decided to take on the biggest listmaking challenge of my life, expanding the list to 1000 songs. I called the project “M” because Roman numerals are cool, but “Paul’s Folly” would have been more accurate. Spending months combing through the songs I liked, working myself cross-eyed, I finally put it together — and shared it with no one. It seemed solipsistic to expect anyone else to care that much (and it probably is). But now I have a blog, the perfect platform for sharing personal stuff like this, and I decided that now, five years later, it was time to update the list.

SoundtracksThis is where it becomes necessary to admit some embarrassing facts. Movies, obviously, are something I try to think critically about. I’ve spent years watching, studying, and reading about them, developing more informed and more contextualized opinions. If I still thought about movies the way I think about my favorite music, I would treasure certain films just because they were important to me during my childhood. Anything from Spaced Invaders to Space Jam might still be on my favorites list. Now, I’m not a music critic and don’t want to become one. It’s true that exposure to the internet has caused me to examine my tastes to some extent. Reading music criticism from time to time has been very beneficial. But there’s also a culture of posturing that I’ve never liked, a tendency to attach an identity to listening habits. I don’t care if liking a particular artist makes me a hipster or a poptimist. I’m proud to say I like a little of everything. But the fear of being ridiculed has always made me turn inward when it comes to my taste in music. This fear takes two paradoxical forms: What if it’s weird? What if it’s boring?

I’ve come to the conclusion these anxieties are nothing more or less than the Charybdis and Scylla of the human condition. We’re all a little of both, like it or not. There are choices on my list that reach far out of my demographic, and there are others so firmly ensconced on popular radio that you either keep loving them or you learn to despise them. There’s genuine alternative music placed next to songs that have adorned television commercials. There’s noise, and there’s treacle. Undoubtedly, anyone who knows a lot about music can look at the list and agree that some of the songs are great. But the guilty pleasures are everywhere. I’m 27 years old, and my list of 1000 favorite songs includes three songs by Smash Mouth. Three. 3. III. That’s one more than Dylan, in case you thought I had any discernment at all.

The list isn’t a consistent statement about anything except myself. It’s an autobiographical exercise, carefully planned so that each period of my musical evolution is represented. The task began with my top 100 list of songs from 2010-2014. Since then, I’ve arranged eighteen other lists either for individual years or groups of them, going back to 1939. I took those lists and shuffled them together in a way that makes as much sense as humanly possible. The bell curve peaks during my formative years, with 2002 having more songs in the top 1000 than any other year, followed by 1998 and 2001 in a tie for second. My attachment to the music of these years is probably unbreakable. I need to acknowledge my parents and siblings here. One of the ways they helped shape who I am today is through introducing me to particular types of music. The influence of each of them is apparent in the final product.

GenresI’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks finessing the rankings, but with anything this elephantine, it’s impossible to be entirely satisfied. August 2015, ten years after I first downloaded iTunes, was my deadline, and I’m sticking to it. Rather than a flawless Fibonacci sequence spiral staircase from one song to the next, the whole list is best seen as a way of remembering the music that has become part of me through the years — from the Beach Boys and Amy Grant on vinyl, to hip-hop and R&B on the radio, to teen pop on cassettes, to grunge on the radio, to the grand synthesis of iTunes.

I won’t share the whole list on this blog, but here’s a link to a Google doc for the truly daring. Just for a taste of it, though, here are all the songs that managed to stay in the same spot between the 2010 version and this one, while everything around them shifted. Below that, as I do with my annual movie list posts, are the songs that have entered and exited with this update.

#1: “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Nicki French, 1995) #2: “Breathing” (Lifehouse, 2001) #3: “I Want It That Way” (Backstreet Boys, 1999) #4: “Born to Make You Happy” (Britney Spears, 1999) #5: “Don’t Let Go (Love)” (En Vogue, 1997) #6: “All You Wanted” (Michelle Branch, 2002) #7: “This Is Your Night” (Amber, 1996) #14: “Stan” (Eminem & Dido, 2000) #15: “Angel of Mine” (Monica, 1998) #16: “Candy” (Mandy Moore, 1999) #18: “Lately” (Divine, 1998) #19: “Testify to Love” (Avalon, 1997) #27: “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” (Green Day, 1997) #28: “Kiss From a Rose” (Seal, 1995) #76: “Closing Time” (Semisonic, 1998) #91: “Once Upon a December” (Liz Callaway, 1997) #97: “Special” (Garbage, 1998) #100: “There She Goes” (Sixpence None the Richer, 1999) #109: “Every Time” (Janet Jackson, 1998) #162: “Flashdance (What a Feeling)” (Irene Cara, 1983) #264: “That Where I Am, There You…” (Rich Mullins, Michael W. Smith & Amy Grant, 1998) #365: “Meet Virginia” (Train, 1999) #433: “Party In the U.S.A.” (Miley Cyrus, 2009) #596: “High School Musical” (High School Musical 3 Cast, 2008) #702: “Friend Like Me” (Robin Williams, 1992) #709: “Get Busy” (Sean Paul, 2003) #763: “Don’t Stop Believin'” (Journey, 1981) #802: “Bust a Move” (Young MC, 1989) #824: “Hard to Handle” (The Black Crowes, 1990) #839: “You Found Me” (FFH, 2003)

Entry Exit
998. “Don’t Mess with My Man (Scorpio Remix)” – Nivea, Brian Casey & Brandon Casey (2002) 1000. “I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston (1992)
995. “Skid Row (Downtown)” – Michelle Weeks, Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Ellen Greene & Rick Moranis (1986) 998. “Goodies” – Ciara featuring Petey Pablo (2004)
989. “Seven Days of Lonely” – I Nine (2007) 997. “Photograph” – Nickelback (2005)
987. “Young Blood” – The Naked and Famous (2010) 993. “Quiet You With My Love” – Rebecca St. James (2002)
986. “Some Nights” – Fun. (2012) 991. “What Would You Do?” – City High (2001)
980. “How You Love Me Now” – Hey Monday (2009) 988. “Rehab” – Amy Winehouse (2007)
979. “Flathead” – The Fratellis (2007) 987. “Stand Out” – Tevin Campbell (1995)
978. “6 Underground (Nellee Hooper Edit)” – Sneaker Pimps (1996) 983. “That’s What I Think” – Cyndi Lauper (1993)
977. “The Edge of Glory” – Lady GaGa (2011) 982. “Light in Your Eyes” – Sheryl Crow (2004)
973. “Whataya Want from Me” – Adam Lambert (2009) 981. “Don’t Wanna Lose You Now” – Backstreet Boys (1999)
972. “Teenagers” – My Chemical Romance (2007) 980. “Check On It” – Beyoncé & Slim Thug (2005)
966. “Sweetness” – Jimmy Eat World (2002) 977. “Why Don’t You & I” – Santana featuring Alex Band (2003)
963. “Womanizer” – Britney Spears (2008) 975. “Nasty Girl” – Nitty (2004)
952. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” – Kanye West (2007) 972. “Pain” – Jimmy Eat World (2004)
943. “Faded” – SoulDecision (2000) 964. “Dirty Little Secret” – The All-American Rejects (2005)
942. “Theme from Spider-Man” – Aerosmith (2002) 963. “Give a Little Bit” – The Goo Goo Dolls (2004)
938. “Can’t Find the Words” – Karina (2008) 957. “Unwritten” – Natasha Bedingfield (2005)
925. “Treats” – Sleigh Bells (2010) 955. “Consider This” – Anna Nalick (2005)
924. “ABC” – The Jackson 5 (1970) 952. “Push” – Matchbox Twenty (1997)
921. “Come Undone” – Duran Duran (1993) 949. “In My Arms” – Plumb (2007)
920. “A&E” – Goldfrapp (2008) 948. “Suicide Is Painless” – Johnny Mandel (1970)
919. “Hot Knife” – Fiona Apple (2012) 945. “Don’t Cha” – The Pussycat Dolls featuring Busta Rhymes (2005)
918. “Every Season” – Nichole Nordeman (2000) 943. “Pretty Vegas” – INXS (2005)
913. “The Girls of Rock N’ Roll” – The Chipmunks & The Chipettes (1987) 942. “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” – Baz Luhrmann (1999)
911. “From the Inside Out” – Kristian Stanfill (2007) 938. “Summertime” – New Kids on the Block (2008)
897. “Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)” – Marvin Berry & The Starlighters (1985) 936. “Hey There Delilah” – Plain White T’s (2007)
873. “Power” – Kanye West (2010) 934. “The Great Divide” – Scott Stapp (2005)
871. “The Red” – Chevelle (2002) 924. “Don’t Mess With My Man” – Nivea, Brian Casey & Brandon Casey (2002)
865. “Right Here (Departed)” – Brandy (2008) 918. “Girl” – Beck (2005)
718. “Worthless” – Junkyard Cars (1987) 914. “Let It Rock” – Kevin Rudolf & Lil Wayne (2008)
627. “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” – Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford (2013) 912. “Good Life” – Kanye West featuring T-Pain (2007)
616. “Over You” – Daughtry (2007) 910. “Welcome Home” – Coheed and Cambria (2005)
565. “Crown on the Ground” – Sleigh Bells (2010) 909. “Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)” – The Penguins (1954)
553. “Empire” – Shakira (2014) 902. “Do It to It” – Cherish (2006)
511. “D.A.N.C.E.” – Justice (2007) 898. “American Boy” – Estelle featuring Kanye West (2008)
507. “Walking on Sunshine” – Katrina & The Waves (1985) 892. “You Know My Name” – Chris Cornell (2006)
447. “Jar of Hearts” – Christina Perri (2010) 867. “Stay With You” – The Goo Goo Dolls (2006)
439. “A Dustland Fairytale” – The Killers (2009) 858. “November Rain” – Guns N’ Roses (1992)
419. “Strict Machine” – Goldfrapp (2003) 857. “Someone Like Me” – Cyndi Lauper (1993)
254. “Saturate Me” – Mandy Moore (2001) 741. “What I’ve Done” – Linkin Park (2007)
223. “Defying Gravity” – Idina Menzel & Kristin Chenoweth (2003) 728. “Tattoo” – Jordin Sparks (2007)


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