It's winter. Days are short and the serotonin levels suffer. It's time to crawl into the cave and make some "best-of" lists. So, over the next ten days, if all goes to plan, I'll be be presenting my top ten best and favourite songs, with a brief discussion of each.
Why do people do things like this? I suspect Nick Hornby might have an anwer somewhere, but I've never managed to read one of his books all the way through, and they're all out whenever I go to the library.
I'm guessing it's something to do with the compulsion to give order and permanence to flickering, subjective experience. This is of course one of the fundmental features of being human--it's why we write things down and draw pictures in the first place. The Appollonian response to Dionysian sensation, or something like that.
The personal response to art or music, in particular, can be so intense and so private, that it sparks a yearning to crystallize, preserve and share it. The origins of art criticism may lie in this reaction. The historical designation of "canons" of good, mediocre and great art has surely been not only about conferring privilege and status on certain practitioners but also on a genuine need to bring intense subjective experience into the social, objective sphere (in fact, you could make a case that the assignation of relative value to works of art has accompanied the shift away from the highly social ways art was experienced in folk & mediaeval contexts).
This tendency seems to be accentuated in the geeky, the lonely, and the introverted. In part, perhaps, due to an overdeveloped ordering faculty and less facility for other forms of social communication (which in its extreme form heads towards autism?? --as with making best-of lists, a predominantly male affliction...)
On the other hand, best-of lists are an antidote in times when the Dionysian stuff is in short supply - when that raw fabric of experience gets duller, more restricted or simply colder. Like a squirrel dragging out nuts from its storehouse, you remind yourself that skies might be grey, but you had a good time once.
But enough half-baked philosophizing. On with my list. There are some key rules and caveats to note:
1) All the songs are popular songs from the last 50 years. In other words, there's no classical or jazz pieces or anything else here. Leaving aside my relative illiteracy in these areas, the key point is that a good list must remain focussed.
2) No more than one song per artist. This is an important rule; it forces you to think a little harder. Mine and I suspect most people's lists would be much less interesting were this rule not in place.
3) I've given the list some thought, but it remains something of a snapshot of my preferences, with a mixture of criteria for inclusion. I think the top 3 or 4 songs are pretty fixed, but if you caught me six months earlier or later, the others could well be different. (I may even totally kick myself in mid-list and realise I've left something major out). I'll try and explain the jusitification for each one as I go.
4) Comments are welcome. Feel free to comment on any of my songs, post your own top 10 list, or send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tomorrow, No. 10.
Categories: Top Ten Songs, Nick Hornby, Philosophy of Art