I fall into this conceited mindset that the music I like is objectively good, and therefore everyone else should like it, and therefore everyone else should be interested in my Spotify playlists. In my defense, based on reddit posts I see of people showing off their playlists and their most played artists and albums, I think this is a widespread tendency. I want to get over this mindset because it makes me dislike myself a little. And yet, as I've now curated about 1,605 hours of music on my chronological playlists with no end in sight, it's been weighing on me that I simply won't have time to listen to all these songs as many times as I would like before I die, and so in order for my efforts to really be worthwhile, other people need to derive joy from them too. So I hope they do. When I made a post about my playlists from the 1920s to the 2010s, someone did go through and follow all of them, so I hope that person is reading this post too because here are the others that have been born since then.
As mentioned, I started with the eighties, was satisfied with that for a while, and then kept pushing my boundaries. I hesitated to go too far back because replicating the effort I put into making my eighties playlist as large and diverse as possible would get harder with each preceding decade. I wasn't going to go past the fifties, but then I needed to have "Civilization (Bongo Bongo Bongo)," and then I needed to have "Lady Play Your Mandolin," and then I needed to have an EP by the Florida Normal and Industrial Institute Quartette, so hello forties, hello thirties, hello twenties, and I'm sure nobody else finds this as fascinating as I do so I'll just go ahead and say that since my last post I've gone back to the tens and then the zeroes and then, just a week ago, the nineties. Not the tens and the zeroes and the nineties that I already had, but different ones.
The 10s: Music's Tenth Best Decade
Song that broke my resolve: "Steamboat Bill"
The 00s: Music's Great-Grandparents
Song that broke my resolve: a 1909 version of "Shine on Harvest Moon"
The 90s: Music's Primordial Ooze
I think this is really, definitively the farthest back I can go. Song that broke my resolve: an 1898 version of "Jingle Bells"
Oh yeah, and I also made a playlist for the other twenties that is, of necessity, a work in progress, and for all I know may remain very incomplete if I don't happen to survive until 2030. Right now it has a disproportionate percentage of religious music because that's practically all I listened to in 2021 as I struggled to draw closer to God with the help of my playlist Closer to God, so I hope to rectify that eventually.
The 20s: Yet Another Decade of Music
Song that broke my resolve: "Bang!"
First and foremost, these are meant to be lists of music that I actually want to listen to, but I've also grown to think of them as time capsules, museum exhibits, tributes to the human race. I have weird thoughts about how cool it would be if the Earth vanished and these were somehow the only artifacts alien xenopologists had at their disposal to learn about us. And they could somehow understand all the human languages through alien magic. They aren't serious thoughts. Making them diverse has indeed been a challenge, but a thrilling one that makes me giddy when I have any success. I would like to get on my knees and praise God for Smithsonian Folkways, which has provided hundreds of albums of obscure and/or anthropologist-recorded music from countries that weren't doing much commercially until recent decades. Thanks to these recordings, my fifties playlist just might be the most diverse one.
In a sense it feels like I'm cherry-picking the best of history - the seventies may have sucked, but it left behind a lot of great music that will last long after the sucky things have faded. And yet I'm not trying to pretend the sucky things didn't happen. I have songs that acknowledge atrocities and various forms of bigotry. The farther back I go, though, the more I have to decide how much problematic content in the songs themselves I'm willing to tolerate for the sake of historical accuracy. (I hate using the word "problematic," but I'm too lazy to think of a less overused one right now.) The eighties already had its share of political incorrectness, of which "Illegal Alien" and "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" are tied for first place in my book. Then of course the farther back you go the more you find stereotypical portrayals of non-American cultures. I'm speaking from a position of privilege and may be totally wrong, but I feel like in most cases these songs aren't overtly bigoted, and while they rightfully wouldn't be acceptable to write today, we don't need to resent their existence. I also feel like having any acknowledgment of non-American cultures in music from early decades is better than nothing.
But then I've had to consider actual racism on a case-by-case basis. In the 1890s there's a song called "The Whistling Coon." I included it because the artist, George W. Johnson, is believed to be the first African-American to ever record music. It's a shame that he had to indulge in stereotypes against his own race to pander to white audiences, but he deserves to be recognized regardless. There's a song by a white duo in the 1910s called "You'll Find Old Dixieland in France," which likewise uses the word "coon" and indulges in racist stereotypes. I included it because it's a tribute to the African-American contribution to World War I. Its lyrics aren't okay, but they are at least meant affectionately. There's in the song in the 1900s called "The Ghost of the Banjo Coon" that I rejected because it just plays on the perception of African-Americans as something exotic, frightening, and barely human. Maybe someday I'll rationalize including it for the same reason that Warner Brothers has released racist cartoons on DVD, but for now I'd feel too guilty about it.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.