29 March 2008

This List Is for Playing

It occurred to me this morning when I was iPod-less at the gym that much as I love to listen to music, it is no longer enough to motivate me for an entire gym session. I used to listen to high-energy dance and rock choons but I would always get bored listening to the same songs over and over and luckily, discovered the joy of podcasts. I have now found the optimum number of podcasts to subscribe to, which will mean I am never caught short without an episode to listen to but which will also mean that I don't feel claustrophobic under the sheer weight of backlogged episodes.

But then - oh noes! - my mind was clearly somewhere else this morning as I forgot my iPod. I didn't even have my earphones so I couldn't listen to BBC News 24 or (if I really had lost my mind) one of those awful music video channels I used to adore when I was 14. Instead, I had to deal with the generi-trance that is the background music at Posh Gym. Stuff to which I used to love to dance when I went clubbing back when I still went clubbing. Actually, I was impressed with my motivation. Usually, I really need to have a podcast to distract me from the fact that running on a treadmill is ultimately pretty boring. Today, though, my mind wandered quite happily and freely without me having to work too hard to distract myself. Some days, I am just more distractable than others, I suppose.

I did wonder, though, why it is that I got so bored so quickly with my gym playlists while my "current" playlist on my iPod (consisting of 40-ish tunes to which I currently enjoy listening) rarely gains or loses more than about five or ten songs per month. This is mainly due to my lack of radio-listening (apart from Radio Paradise), which means I just don't hear new music that often, except in movies and when friends send me songs they think I will like.

To combat this, I recently discovered The Grauniad's Readers Recommend section, a weekly column in which a playlist of about ten songs on a particular theme is generated based on readers' suggestions. So, for example, there is a playlist of sexy songs, one with songs about guilt, and one of songs about the sea.

Coincidentally, on the same day as this discovery, Monsieur Exquisite, professing his new-found love for NPR, pointed me in the direction of their podcast, All Songs Considered, which goes one better because you can listen to all the music rather than having to download it (usually, in my case, having done a lyrics search; although lyrics that don't "speak" to me might mean I don't like a song, lyrics that I do like won't make me love it if the tune doesn't please me too). There is also the Music Lists show, which, like the Grauniad, has themed lists of tunes but with the bonus of having the songs available online.

Some of my recent acquisitions from these various sources include songs as varied as Deep Down (Calexico), Meet on the Ledge (Fairport Convention), Slow Show (The National), Burgundy Shoes (Patty Griffin) and the haunting, beautiful Enter One (Sol Seppy), which is my current favourite song (even if it's just the chorus that really gets me and even if it is slightly reminiscent of This Mortal Coil). Luckily, I recently cleared out almost 1,000 songs from iTunes that were rated one or two stars and so I now have enough room on my hard drive for the newest arrivals.

Great as RP is for discovering new songs I'll probably like, there's something special about downloading a whole bunch of songs that have been carefully chosen because of something they have in common. Maybe that's why I've always liked soundtracks so much. In any case, my musical horizons could definitely do with some expanding. As I have mentioned before, my parents were into pretty cool stuff when my brother and I were growing up which meant that we couldn't go through a Pink Floyd phase until several years after leaving home - until this year, in my case, when RP tempted me with Wish You Were Here. At least these days, I do finally have cooler taste in music than my parents... I now just have to count on them not to spill the beans about some of my bad musical choices of the past.

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