The late 2010s are an interesting time for music. Streaming services have effectively commoditized music, all of the world’s music is available to everyone at any time, for next to nothing. Meanwhile, The Internet is effectively killing pop culture — at least in the sense of a common experience shared across an entire generation. There is no longer a central source of truth for “cool,” instead there are many niche communities defining themselves, propping up their own niche celebrities and musical styles. Don’t get me wrong, this is awesome! Mainstream music sucked, CDs were expensive.
Unfortunately, I feel like this current state of music is causing my kids to miss out. It seems like they are not really gloming on to music in the same way that I did growing up. It’s like the lack of a pop culture is removing the influence of music on their daily lives. As a parent I suppose I’m partially to blame, we purposely kept our kids away from terrible kids music (instead of Raffi we played Ramones) and as they’ve grown this has morphed into playing podcasts instead of pop radio.
At 9 and 11, maybe my boys are still a little young to really get into music. Regardless, in an attempt to spur some level of interest I’ve started to compile a playlist of two songs from each of my favourite albums of all time. My 11 yr old has downloaded the playlist to his phone and mentioned having Kraftwerk stuck in his head, so I think it’s working already.
Compiling this list has become quite a fun exercise but I quickly realized that it was going to be an insane task if I didn’t give myself to some criteria.
My definition of “favourite albums of all time” for the purposes of this list is essentially (a) any album that I have played on repeat at any point in the past (b) that still holds up when I listen to it today, (c) where I still enjoy the majority of the tracks on the album. I’m leaving this broad to expose my kids to as much music as possible; and narrow enough to exclude one-hit-wonders and “bad” albums.
When choosing songs, I’ve tried to pick my favourite songs on the album. When I’ve found it too difficult to choose, I’ve picked two songs that are most typical of the artist’s style. I’ve also made a conscious effort to exclude songs with rampant profanity, overt sexuality or that overtly depressing/negative.
Part one of the playlist contains 50 songs from 25 albums. I’m positive there will be a part two, maybe even a part three. For posterity, I’m going to write about my choices below. Feel free to listen to the playlist and read on.
For the sake of organization, I’ll list the albums in chronological order of release date. I am not insane enough to try to rank these in any sort of order.
Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968)
I grew up mainly listening to 70s-era country music. Waylon Jennings, The Statler Brothers, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, etc, etc. My tweenage years even included a family trip to Nashville.
Even though country music was a big part of my childhood, but as a city boy the music didn’t really stick with me. Except for Johnny Cash.
Singing about prison at a concert in prison in Folsom Prison Blues is just about one of the most hardcore things I can think of. 25 Minutes to Go is a little grim but it’s a great example of Cash’s story telling (and I’m a fan of grim anyways). I think I’ll include more Johnny Cash in the future
Wendy Carlos – A Clockwork Orange Soundtrack (1972)
I actually had a hard time finding this one on Spotify (and I’m not certain these are the right one). The soundtrack in incredible. Even moreso when you consider the analog hardware Carlos was working with at the time. I’ve included this one mainly as historical context for the current state of electronic music.
Ramones – Ramones (1976)
Ramones invented pop punk, fight me.
Mainly, I’ve included this one because I want my kids to remember the music they rocked out to as toddlers.
Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)
To be honest, this is one of the weaker inclusion on the list in terms of “favouriteness” and it probably breaks my rule about being “too depressing.” I just feel this is an album everyone should listen to at least once. It is hugely influential to many of the other albums that come later on this list.
Kraftwerk – Computer World (1981)
Another album that I’ve included mainly for historical context. With electronic music being the root of so much music in <current year> it’s important understand its roots.
Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
This is one of those albums that I wish I’d discovered much earlier in life. In my mind, I can draw a straight line between my love for Johnny Cash’s story telling style to D. Boon. I choose Viet Nam because well, most 9 yr olds don’t know anything about that war. History Lesson Part 2 is cool little song about history of punk to that point in time.
Nirvana – Bleach (1989)
Bleach is my favourite Nirvana album. I think I bought it with a Columbia House subscription on a whim and I have distinct memories of listening it on my discman in the back of my parents car circa 1994 and being totally blown away. Blew is probably about drugs but “You could do anything” is also sort of unusually positive. Love Buzz is classic Nirvana before they were classic.
Iron Maiden – Fear of the Dark (1992)
I when through a brief period when I listened to a fair bit of Maiden on repeat while programming. But in honesty, this is almost a token metal inclusion.
Nirvana – Insecticide (1992)
I don’t think I ever owned this album. Silver is a song that seems super relatable to an 11 yr old. Aneurysm is just plain amazing! Thought the live version on From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah is arguably better, but so be it.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)
I picked up the guitar around around 1994, this is one album that I learned to play front to back. I think I even jammed out with a friend a few times. I couldn’t pick a favourite track. #hipsterunite
Nirvana – Nevermind (1994)
By this point you should have seen this coming. I just can’t let my kids grow up without listening to Nevermind, it would be irresponsible parenting.
There’s a great VH1 Behind the Music (I think) with Butch Vig about how he convinced Cobin to use vocal doubling on this album – by telling him John Lennon did it IIRC. I’ve never been able to unhear the vocal doubling on every single chorus on this album.
In Bloom is essentially a modern Beatles song – as brilliantly illustrated in the music video. Drain You feels like bookend to Love Buzz, sorta.
Veruca Salt – American Thighs (1994)
Veruca Salt was the opening act for the first concert I ever attended. If I recall correctly they came on stage in nude onsies (complete with tassels, it was a different time) and we we sitting just far enough away in the nose bleeds of the old Winnipeg Arena that for a few moments we weren’t sure if they were actually dressed. Seether feels like the most “90s” song on this playlist so far. Forythia taught me plant names.
Bush(x) – Sixteen Stone (1995)
Until this very moment, I did not realize that “sixteen stone” is a weight (224lbs, 102kg), I am a dummy. Due to strange copyright/trademark issues Bush will forever be “Bushx” in my mind. If memory serves, they were the headlining act that Veruca Salt opened for. Little Things and Machinehead are solid “pop grunge.”
Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters (1995)
Another album that I taught myself every song on. Dave Grohl really made career out of this band, but I could never get into any of the other albums after the first one. Too much of the same no-objectionable slightly-upbeat rock-ish. Hard to pick a favourite on this one too.
Hum – You’d Prefer An Astronaut (1995)
Earlier this week, I heard a new slightly shoegazing track that reminded me of the few weeks in 2002 or so when I was really in to Hum. I was surprised how well the album holds up.
Propagandhi – Less Talk, More Rock (1996)
I attended a fair number of local shows in the late 90s, early 00s but I don’t think I saw Propagandhi live until much later. For a long time my main exposure to them was the Fat Wreckords compilations. Propagandhi is probably the most important musical act from Winnipeg since The Guess Who? BTO?
Including Resisting Tyrannical Government in an attempt to corrupt my children with anarchist propaganda, also “Jesus Saves, Gretzky Scores.” Gifts is so Winnipeg.
Descendents – Everything Sucks (1996)
Descendets are just great, upbeat and fun.
The Promise Ring – Nothing Feels Good (1997)
The Promise Ring is one of the few bands on this list that Odessa & I both love equally. For that reason, they feel important. Pink Chimneys is proof that The Promise Ring should have incorporated more synth. B is For Bethlehem has one of the catchiest choruses in emo.
Saves The Day – Can’t Slow Down (1998)
Saves The Day was the first emo band to really hook me in my early 20s. Like, drive down to Minneapolis and drive back after the show, hook me. In making this playlist I skimmed through their discography and I was disappointed to find that most of their music doesn’t really appeal to me much anymore. Can’t Slow Down is a solid album.
Ed Rush & Optical – Wormhole (1998)
When I first heard Ed Rush & Optical in 1998 my impression of electronic music was forever changed. By way of a couple of friends and IRC, I managed to catch the local rave scene at the very end of its underground era. What a time to be alive.
The entire Wormhole album is chalked full of bangers that haven’t aged a day in two decades.
The Weakerthans – Fallow (1999)
“I have a headache, I have a sore back…” lyrics more poignant now that ever. Unlike Propagandhi, The Weakerthans are a band that I have seen live many many times, I think I may have even been at their first show ever? They hold a special place in my heart. If Propagandhi is the most Winnipeg band ever then The Weakerthans are the most Southern Manitoba band ever.
NOFX – War on Errorism (2003)
NOFX is one of those bands that I feel like my (much cooler) friends in highschool always listened to, but I didn’t really get in to at the time. Music streaming has just made it some much easier to track down music and go on a deep dive for a week.
The Separation of Church and Stake is a bookend to the Minutemen’s History Lesson Part 2. Franco Un-American has synths and themes of anarchy, an important combination for any growing boy.
VNV Nation – Matter Form (2005) & Of Faith, Power and Glory (2009)
VNV Nation is quite unlike any of the other music on this playlist and easily one of my top 5 artists of all time. I think that deserves some explanation. VNV coined the term Futurepop to describe themselves. The genre combines many individual elements from early trance and techno influence, with gruff, unfiltered vocals — in this sort of ultra-modern way that would fit perfectly as the back drop to some utopian steampunk thriller. Futurepop is an offshoot Industrial/EBM a genre that literally sounds negative and often discusses dark and disturbing themes. Unlike many of the artists in that scene VNV is exceedingly positive and uplifting.
Chrome is a perfect song in every way, I have listened to on repeat many times. Perpetual will be the song I play on my alarm clock in 2077. Sentinal sounds like a hymn sung in a church I’d drive my cybertruck to. Defiant is just so positive.
To Be Continued…
Ryan is the type of guy who starts a blog post bad mouthing pop music, then spends 1500 words discussing relatively popular music.
This playlist only scratches the surface of my music tastes. It’s missing entire genres of music. So if you liked this post, you’ll love part two.