Bravery in music & blogging

In life, there are many things about which I am insecure. One area in which I’m trying to be a lot more confident is my taste in music…
I love musicals. Fact.
I’m not averse to quite a lot of classical music. (Except opera – I feel that this is as unlikely to change as my attitude to seafood is.)
Christian soft rock gets played at church, I like singing it, thus I own quite a lot of it.
90’s Indie music will always have a special place in my heart and so will the music of my parents (well, my Dad mostly) – especially Simon & Garfunkel, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell and the Beatles.
Sometimes, all you want from life is a Celine Dion singalong.

Despite my attempts at confidence, it makes me a little nervous when I let people into my world of music. Attempts to keep my Spotify account ‘respectable’ failed quickly – though I do keep a lot of my playlists hidden from general view, publicly listing only those into which considerable effort has gone. With my CD cases now in boxes, it’s difficult for people to see my ‘real’ music collection as it mostly only exists in my iTunes library – something that generally, isn’t accessible to anyone but me.

So, it was with a sense of trepidation that I recently handed over my iPod, containing my entire iTunes library, to a friend who had been iPod-less for quite some time. It was just a short term loan, prior to them acquiring an iPhone, but I was very conscious that my music taste was about to become very exposed. Thanks to my own iPhone and Spotify account, little by way of music has been added to it in the last year, but I’d kept it purely for the fact that, unlike my phone, it holds my whole collection. I needn’t have worried though – the next time I saw this friend it emerged that they’d been quite impressed with my taste. To quote: “Well, you did have four Blur albums.” (No similar comment was made about the four S Club 7 albums, for example.) [Btw, I used ‘quite’ as a qualifier in the sense that they weren’t that impressed, but somewhat surprised at the number of pleasant discoveries they made.]

Phew. However, there were other issues that I hadn’t fully considered…

Firstly, exposing your library of albums is one thing, but playlists are another. I know for a fact that I am not the only person in the world to create playlists for specific situations – I’m not talking car journeys or parties, I’m talking emotional turmoil moments. [How do I know I’m not alone? Because I was once given a copy of a mix-tape a friend had made as a tribute to some random guy she was mad about – I can but assume that other people do likewise.] It was only after handing over my iPod that I ran through the list of playlists in my head and, sure enough, there was one such item. If I share that it included Breaking Free (of High School Musical fame), Will Young’s Leave Right Now and the Destiny’s Child classic Survivor, you’ll appreciate just how high calibre it was. [Incidentally, I’m not sure what it is about me, Beyoncé and emotional moments – my current motivational song is Best Thing I Never Had.] *Cringe*

Within minutes of relinquishing the iPod, I had a terrifying realisation. (Yes, more terrifying than possible judgement on musical tastes.) There was a strong possibility that the pod contained tracks with me singing on it. In fact, I already knew that it definitely did – the three albums I’ve recorded were on there. [Just dropping that in there – did you know I’d recorded three albums? Obviously they’re not just me, and you can’t actually hear me on any of it – bar one track on the third album – but I’m on them all the same.] There was also the live concert recording that includes one of my most embarrassing moments. But none of these things were what had terrified me, it was the fear that some of my iPhone ‘voice memos’ were on there.

I’m not sure what most iPhone users use this function for, but in my world it comes in particularly useful at gospel choir rehearsals when you need to record parts for between rehearsals practising. Occasionally, one might want to use it to record an exciting moment at a gig, or an amusing bit of conversation. But the other primary use in my little world is for recording karaoke.

Shameful confession: Sometimes, when I’m all alone in the flat, I play karaoke tracks/YouTube videos and sing along – ok, that in itself is not shameful. What is shameful is that I record myself (on my phone) in order to monitor my progress and analyse my performance. How sad is that?! So, you can imagine my concern that an entire playlist of that dross might have ended up in the wrong hands! Fortunately, those particular tracks hadn’t made it onto the iPod – when I checked there was a recording from the Matthew Morrison gig and assorted bits from summer gospel choir rehearsals – all fairly uncringeworthy.

So that’s got an awful lot out into the open:
I’m not so ashamed of my taste in music, and I’ve divulged two potentially shameful habits that I won’t be ending any time soon. Who needs therapy when you have a blog?

Blasphemous tunes

The beauty of headphones is that no one can hear what you’re listening to. (At least that’s how it’s supposed to work, for some reason this is often not the case on the tube.) It also means that you can listen to music in an open-plan office environment without disturbing your colleagues. (Actually, again, that’s the theory – a couple of my nearest colleagues often have to be asked to keep the volume down. There’s only so many times one can cope with the tinny strains of Britney Spears’ Toxic drifting over the desk divider…)

There’s also a quiet thrill of listening to music that others might be surprised by – a dull suit on the tube listening to Dolly Parton, for example. Especially if the context is not particularly appropriate – like realising you’re humming The Internet is for Porn (from Avenue Q) while setting up for the under-6’s session at church. When one works for the church, it can feel somewhat wrong to listen to ‘inappropriate’ tunes while dealing with deep spiritual, theological matters. Wrong, and yet immensely fun.

As a result of the slightly immature enjoyment I’ve derived from this activity, I decided to create a playlist entitled:  Inappropriate songs to listen to while writing about the church – original and catchy name, no? Fearing that it would contain songs almost entirely derived from musicals (the aforementioned Avenue Q, plus Rent and Spring Awakening) I looked to my friends on Twitter and Facebook for further contributions.

The basic aim was to collect a group of songs that you probably wouldn’t play in church (I write this less than 24 hours after Baby Got Back was played at a church social and three weeks after the same song brought out some quality moves at a party held in a theological college…) – in terms of language or subject matter.

There were some brilliant suggestions, some of which sadly couldn’t be included due to certain artists not being available on Spotify. The particularly apt for my workplace Cigarettes and Alcohol is sadly missing, as is The Ballad of John & Yoko (there are Beatles covers on Spotify but by and large I can’t bear to use them) – though the latter inspired the inclusion of Imagine.

One of my favourite suggestions was the long-forgotten Naked by Louise [Redknapp, formerly of my favourite 90s girl-group, Eternal], which is wrong on a great many levels. Another winner is I Touch Myself (by the Divinyls) which contains phenomenally dodgy lyrics, but is rather a good listen – though it comes with a warning: it’s extremely catchy and suddenly singing “you make me want to touch myself” is likely to lead to some awkward situations. [Actually, the friend who suggested that song couldn’t initially find it and could only remember the line “I don’t want anybody else because when I think of you I touch myself” – I dared them to type that into Google, but sadly they found it on Spotify shortly afterwards.]

I got quite a few suggestions along the theme of the devil – Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil and Beck’s Devil’s Haircut amongst others – which are great tracks and good in limited numbers, but I was aiming more for “generally inappropriate” as opposed to “playlist for a Satanists’ roadtrip”. Oh, and the other condition needed to be that I’d actually want to listen to them, which sadly (!) excluded my brother-in-law’s Snoop Dogg suggestions.

There’s definitely room for additions, so suggestions are more than welcome. I’d make it a collaborative playlist, but sadly you can’t do that with a public Spotify playlist – no idea why. Oh, and in case you’re a little disturbed by this taste in music, I have also created a couple of Christian playlists to even things out.

Updated 14/3/11
It seems there are some situations in which this playlist is totally inappropriate. This morning I was listening to it on my way into work, reaching Princes’ Sexy M.F. as I reached the office. Just as I entered the lift a member of senior management joined me and I had to remove an earphone to make polite conversation – all the while wondering just how much of the music was audible in an otherwise quiet space. The simple thing would’ve been to have turned it off, but as my iPhone was in my bra this would have been even more awkward a scenario than hearing snatches of lyrics…

Musical Therapy (& a solution)

As of this morning, I have an exceedingly cheesy line up of musical excitement in the diary for late June/early July next year. On June 25th I will be at the O2 for Glee Live and two weeks later I’ll be at Wembley for Take That. This is super exciting for a whole host of reasons…

Firstly, it’s Glee – live. This not only means lots of cheesy songs, but also the prospect of being in the same room and breathing the same air as Mr Schu. Awesome. Secondly, Take That – need I really say more? I’ve never been to Wembley (except to protest at an England vs Israel match), never seen Take That live, never seen Robbie live (it disturbs me slightly that I still have such a soft spot for Mr Williams after so many years, but whatever…) and I’m going with a fabulous group of people. See, it’s all super exciting.

However, I need some help.
[I know a few of you will already be making lists of therapists I could go to right at this moment.]

My taste, or rather my collection of music is boring me. There’s still months to go until Glee season 2 airs here, and thus longer until I can justify acquiring the next load of soundtracks – last season’s is wearing a little thin. It also seems that there really is a limit on how many musical theatre tunes you can listen to in a week.

Plus, I now have (until the end of January) unlimited Spotify and I want to make the most of it. At the moment, the best thing about this is the fact that I can access my playlists offline via my iPhone – meaning that it’s excellent accompaniment to tube journeys. However, two weeks in and what I’d already diligently stored over the last year of listening at work is becoming tedious – but the wealth of Spotify gives me brain freeze, I can’t cope with the choices!

Yesterday I even resorted to typing ‘spotify’ into gmail to uncover all emails and chats in which friends had recommended links in order to re-discover stuff. Then I found a friend had listed albums they’d liked in their wishlist, so I went through those too. All good, but I made few really awesome discoveries.

Thing is, I lack patience. A couple of songs by the same artist? Fine. An entire album? Potentially tedious. For example, I enjoy folk, but an entire album of a wailing woman and an acoustic guitar just depresses me. For this reason, I’m particularly after anyone who’s created (or knows of) some genius Spotify playlists.

In return, I can at least offer you the following:

Otherwise, some good atmospheric film soundtracks wouldn’t go amiss, nor would some slightly obscure classical stuff. Clearly I’m just lazy, which is why I’ll happily write a post about this, rather than actually spend time hunting it out myself.

I’ve found a solution to my problem – a whole website devoted to the sharing of Spotify playlists. Currently I’m plugged into an X Factor 2010 collection. Judge me not – I’ve barely had any opportunity to watch the show – and as this playlist includes the original Viva Las Vegas, rather than Wagner’s slaughtering of it, it’s an altogether happier experience.

On election morning

The message is still just one word: VOTE.
Fortunately, it looks like people are doing just that and turnout should be above the pathetic 61.5% of the last General Election.

Despite all the excitement over the Lib Dems resurgence and the transformation of the campaign into a proper three horse race, the result is still likely to be what was predicted months ago. It’s my right – according to the Ballot Act of 1872 – to keep my vote secret (thanks Mim for that nugget of information) but I will disclose that I’m not in favour of the result the polls have predicted. 
The last time that particular party won an election was in 1992 and I was nearly 11. It was the election which we thought would change everything (we were proved wrong), but I definitely wasn’t aware of it at the time. My main memory from election day itself was that we had the day off school (polling station), went swimming and had a picnic. However, the morning after marked a momentous occasion – it was the day I began a diary. Admittedly, it lasted all of one day and wasn’t embarked upon again for another two years, but still, an important moment. 
Though the mists of time have lost the entry itself, my insane memory can remember the opening sentence: “The Conservatives won the election. I’m pleased, because it means nothing will change.” 
Ahhh, my poor befuddled young mind – always one to be paranoid of change. Still, if one good thing came out of that election it was the fact that 1997 was all the sweeter. 
I’d be tempted to have some kind of election party this year, if it weren’t for the fact that it’ll probably be depressing; involves staying up all night; and will have a negative impact upon the work I need to do tomorrow. Instead, I will continue to amuse myself with the fabulous election playlist a friend of mine has created and fall asleep with the TV so that my subconscious absorbs the result before I wake up and face the reality. 

Mix Tapes

Ahhh, the age of the mix tape… 

Songs shared. Loves declared – enigmatically. Aeons of time spent fitting the perfect tracks into two sets of 30 or 45 minutes. Decorating inlay cards. Coming up with imaginative titles… 

Cheap, yet immensely thoughtful, they were perfect gifts (provided the mix was a good one). Over the years I amassed several treasured ones, each with their own story – from the Indie mix that eased the traumatic transition from life in the Big Smoke to the Shire aged 14, to the Tori Amos heavy compilation that cemented one of my favourite friendships. Tears were shed when some met their inevitable death.

Even mix CDs never seemed quite as romantic as the humble cassette (not so much time or skill required to master them I suppose), though the first I received (a commemorative 6th form compilation containing my very own theme song) set a very high standard for those that followed.

My sister may win the prize for ‘most thought, effort and ingenuity’ to go into a mix CD, creating a double-disc for my 24th birthday with a track for every hour of the day (often tenuous links, but generally the track related in some way to the relevant time of day) complete with inserts echoing the cover of the 24 box-set. It beat my own gift of a 20 track mix for her 20th birthday (one from each year of her life) hands down.

For a while, it looked as though the advent of mp3’s had killed the mix tape/CD. While it was possible to create playlists, it wasn’t easy to share them without having to burn CDs and manually enter track information – tedious. In fits of nostalgia, I recreated some classic mix tapes courtesy of the tape inlay (thank goodness for my sentimentality) and iTunes.


But, thanks to Spotify, I believe the mix tape concept is back and improved for the 21st century…
[Apologies to non-British readers and those without Spotify accounts.]
Thanks to its genius, it’s now simple to create a playlist and share it with others. True, it involves much less effort and artistic talent than the methods of old, but at least the music’s there and the principal of sharing tunes remains the same.

Planning a party? Start a playlist and send the link to your guests so that they can contribute too.
Believe yourself to have highbrow musical taste that you feel should be imposed upon all and sundry? Share a link on Facebook.
Want to express your feelings for a special somebody via the medium of song titles? Carefully craft a thoughtful collection of tunes.

This long-winded rambling mess of a post is basically a device for me to share a playlist I’ve been working on for a bit (and will continue to tinker with). Inspirationally entitled Feelgood Music for Dull Office Afternoons, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Spotify preserves my sanity at work – there’s nothing better than plugging in the earphones when I’ve got a complicated/long task to get on with.

The playlist is a solution to my major issue with Spotify – that I open it up and become so transfixed by the wealth of music within it that I can’t think of a single artist, album or song that I want to listen to! As it’s to accompany genuine work, there’s nothing particularly hardcore within it – it’s more about comfort and familiarity. But, it is incredibly eclectic – it probably reflects my musical taste better than this blog ever has! (There’s very little Musical Theatre in it for one thing.) It currently lasts over 4 hours, which should be enough to keep me amused for as long as most tasks take me.

Think of it as a present from me to you. I know, I’m so generous…