I have no reliable sense of time these days (…not like I really did before the pandemic…) so I had no feel for when I’d be wrapping up the B songs, and am weirdly pleased I managed to get here before the interminable shit-show of 2020 slinks into the past where it can’t hurt us any more.
While the A’s were a lot about getting reintroduced to not just songs but albums and artists I’d lost touch with, I dove into the B’s feeling a little more settled in and a little less constantly taken aback by the weight of an entire history one song could summon. I really got to appreciate what decontextualizing a song from its album can do, in terms of allowing great songs that usually have to jockey for prominence among their equally as impressive album-mates to be heard as singular entities shining on the strength of their own merit (“Brokedown Luck” really hammered that one home for me). It’s how I got marvelously stuck on a bunch of songs, like “Blackout” and especially “Bobcaygeon.”
I also felt a little less encumbered by optics, like being bothered by giant gaps between songs or not having Something Important to Say with every post. This is an inherently personal blog and I do hope that whoever stumbles into my sliver of digital real estate feels welcome and seen and understood, but I want to be genuine. I had a couple moments of “Oh shit, I should delete this embarrassing thing before I commit it to the Songs page/my Last.fm library” but, hey, that’s what I get for just launching into this project before deigning to do some cursory clean-up because my mathematically inept ass is easily swayed by numbers that end in lots of aesthetically pleasing zeros.
I feel like I found my groove at some point while sauntering through the B’s, and it actually turned out to be the spark I needed to treat writing for myself as more than a hobby. The 5 a.m. wake-ups I used to dread when I was desperately squeezing in some freestyle sessions at the rink before work got to become a habit just as the velvet darkness of the pre-dawn hours became familiar, welcoming territory, giving me hours upon hours of uninterrupted writing time (or sometimes also Tetris time or household-chorin’ time or bingeing Schitt’s Creek time or…) that I didn’t have to fight for or feel bad about. I’ve backslid into some lesser habits throughout this absolute chaos demon of a year but I feel like figuring out that I need time to write for myself more than I need sleep has been a really welcome, beneficial shift I’m happily making. (But, sweet Cthulhu, is it ever weird to realize that I’m
the enemy morning people now. )
When I changed jobs in the beginning of February, I happily swapped my own office with a door for the infinitely more communal working space of a newsroom, which meant relinquishing the only perk of the former: a private space to escape/ward off one outrageously toxic environment with my own music all day without worrying that I was annoying everyone within earshot. Headphones, for anyone who’s never worked in a writers’ bullpen, are more nuisances than they’re worth, given how their isolation leads to missing things that are happening two desks over or making your managing editor repeat herself three times just to penetrate your cocoon of music; I’ll take a job I love over one that gave me Sunday Scaries by Saturday afternoon, and I was prepared to replace the music I love with work that satisfies me, but I was still a little bummed about losing my closed-door dance parties. Soon, though, leaning into my introvert tendencies like both the pandemic and working from home have allowed me to also meant readjusting all kinds of habits and, in cases like this infant blog, organically developing entirely new ones. I fine-tuned my listening habits for this project so I’d be more attentive and less likely to miss the songs that habitually recede into the white noise of background filler, listening first to my iPod through the glorified speaker of an ancient desktop half a room away from my still-makeshift work area and then on an accurate-as-possible/obsessively managed Spotify playlist approximating Slothrop the iPod’s library on my hand-me-down work laptop, a battle plan that was well-established by the time I dove in the B songs.
Most of all, I am still delightfully surprised that this project had such an overt impact on my Spotify Wrapped this year. It really was some strange confirmation that I’m capable of putting consistent energy and ongoing dedication into something that I’m essentially doing for myself, and I’m still mildly amused at how inescapably alphabetical my Top 100 Songs playlist is.
One thing that bugged me about the B’s, though, is that they seemed to include a lot of songs that I simply love on the basis of what they are, no accompanying story or milestone or inexplicably-burned-in-my-brain memory to give them any kind of deeper meaning or interesting narrative. And while there is absolutely plenty of merit of gushing about dearly loved songs and of course people should enjoy harmless things without feeling obligated to either defend or elaborate on them, it just doesn’t make for something terribly interesting to anyone else. Fleeting fancies (“Be Gentle With Me“; “Black and White Town“), forgotten favorites (“Beautiful“; “Behind Blue Eyes“; “Bells“; “Building a Home“), also-rans that lingered too long in the shadows of album-mates I loved first and obviously at the exclusion of some mighty good shit (“Belt“; “Blackout“; “Books Written for Girls“), and ardent, long-standing loves (“Broken Beak” [or, honestly, practically anything by Horse Feathers]; “Bron-Yr-Aur“; “Bruised“) all popped in for a spell, but there’s only so many ways to pass off OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS SONG SO FREAKING MUCH on the merit of effusive enthusiasm standing in for meaningful analysis or thoughtful storytelling. I indulged a few (in addition to “Bruised,” also “Baby Britain,” “Basement Parties,” “Belly of June” and “Boomerang“) but largely found it enough to keep either feeding a second-chance playlist that has allowed me to get better acquainted with the songs I’m finally having the pleasure of falling in love with or just hitting repeat ’til I’m sated.
And because I have not given Led Zeppelin their due in these past six months, and also because it’s December, a month rife with milestones celebrating my beloved dog-son (his Gotcha Day is Dec. 14; his birthday is Dec. 26, and you’re damn right that auspicious timing means his birthday is a three-day holiday of spoiling him positively rotten): I kind of love that “Black Dog” is my most-played B song and that this time of year means singing snippets of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” incessantly at my bewildered pooch, who really is the finest dog I know (so fine!). Honoring my favorite Ausshole with one of my favorite bands feels like it’s a worthy tribute to the goodest boy, ’cause there ain’t no companion like a nub-butt heeler.
Two songs toward the end delighted the absolute hell out of me, and they do merit a little extra attention. I started getting more and more into That 1 Guy during the pandemic, playing his stuff a lot less passively and a lot more often because it was exactly what I found myself craving; “Buttmachine” crystalized a lot of what I’d been trying to say when talking about why I enjoy some of the most experimental music in my library. And then, out of nowhere, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band — a band I was introduced to via the abject lunacy of “The Intro and The Outro” and was convinced to try upon finding out they’re where Death Cab for Cutie’s name comes from — shed the novelty act long enough to cover this unexpectedly charming plea for a beloved individual to stay safe despite the litany of dangers a besotted soul worries about. “Button Up Your Overcoat,” perhaps a sign of a chronically anxious mind, wound up warming my heart with an earnestness that I could both relate to and found sweetly irresistible.
As I was wrapping up the B stories and taking a bit of a break before starting in on the C songs, I rediscovered Rate Your Music and the long-neglected beginning of attempting to catalog my music library. I’m going through that alphabetically by artist right now, which has been its own reintroduction to the unexplored depths of my time capsule of an iPod. For all the things that have sucked about this year, realizing just how much music is mine to rediscover has been at least one of its constant delights.
Total: 862 songs
First song: “B and A” by The Beta Band
Last song: “Byebyelove” by Jimmy Eat World
Shortest song: “Bad Baby Intro” by The Brian Jonestown Massacre (24 seconds)
Longest song: “Bartender” by Dave Matthews Band (14:03 minutes) [technically, the longest track is “Burger Queen” by Placebo at 22:39 minutes but that has, like, 19 minutes of silence because the CD version doesn’t helpfully isolate the hidden track like Spotify did]
Most recurring song: “Black Dog” by Lana Rebel and Led Zeppelin (five versions)
Most time spent on one song: “Black Dog” by Lana Rebel and Led Zeppelin (24:1 minutes)
Number of songs not on Spotify: 45
Total playing time: 2.2 days