Annual semi-data-driven favorite songs list

Posted by Rob Walker on January 1, 2010
Posted Under: Music

Well it’s January 1 and thus time once more to look back at my personal listening data to see if it can help me name my 10 favorite songs of 2009. (I have previously conducted this empirical-subjective exercise for 2007 and 2008.)

Here’s the Top Ten, followed by the number crunching.
[table id=1 /]

As in the past, I start out by seeing which songs I played most often, per iTunes data. And I cross-match that with my one-out-of-five-stars rating, and tweak accordingly. “Out At Sea” by Heartless Bastards was my most-played song of 2009 that was also released in 2009, according to my iTunes. This lines up with the subjective view: It probably is my favorite song of the year, it’s awesome, and perhaps if it ends up in a car commercial or whatever it’ll get the respect it deserves.

“Bumpo” was probably my favorite thing from Nomo’s record, but I pared away some others that I listened to almost as much. The next few tunes I’d say the playcount lines up with subjective liking. “Le Petit Sauvage” at number 6 is a bit of a cheat: I seem to like it more than I’ve played it.

The next several tunes all need some kind of comment. I’m late to the game on “How You Like Me Now,” by The Heavy, which I gather became well-known early in the year by way of a TV show or something; I only heard it pretty recently, and I think the low play count reflects the fact that I haven’t had it that long. A similar issue (recent-ish release) made me cheat “Bad Romance” past other stuff I’ve played more often. The Bran Flakes put out an interesting record, but I had to exercise subjectivity to pick “Stumble Out of Bed” as the best track; I actually listened to “Van Pop” more frequently (and that’s also really good). (In retrospect, however, I wish I’d just gotten a few Bran Flakes songs, not the whole album.)

Props to Disquiet and its regular postings of free, legal downloads, for being the source of two of my faves: Shoebomber’s “Le Petit Sauvage,” and the Grassy Knoll re-invention of Junior Kimbrough, “Done Got Old.”

Missing the top ten by a narrow enough margin that subjectivity easily could have put them over the top if I’d been in a slightly different mood. “Good Eye,” by Bruce Springsteen, because although the record isn’t great, this song is; “Crystalized” by The xx (I first heard it via Popcop); “It’s a Rainbow (Blame Me),” by Lisa Germano, which is from The Believer‘s music issue; “Space City,” by Booker T, because as much as I listened to his pleasing 2009 album, I think the whole beats the parts; “Las Hadas” by Juan Son (I heard it via DJ/Rupture’s site); and “The More I Do,” by The Field.

I also took a look at some data collected by LastFM, and another site I learned of this year (via Music Machinery), called Normalisr, which dips into your LastFM data and tracks your listening by time, instead of by number of plays. More, including my favorite non-2009 songs of 2009, after the jump.

The thing that bugs me (as I’ve said before) about critics’ top-ten lists is that the music any individual listener comes to for the first time in a given year isn’t necessarily music released that year — “discovering” music often means discovering old music. So I took a look at what LastFM had to say about my most-listened to tracks of 2009, weeded out the ones actually released in ’09, and employed very limited subjectivity. So here’s what I listened to most in 2009 that wasn’t released in 2009:

[table id=3 /]

As you can see, some of these non-2009 songs got more listens than many of my favorite actual 2009 releases. (Quick notes: “Just Do Your Thing” is on a compilation that doesn’t list dates; “In The Same Old Way” via Home Of The Groove; Grant Green track via Funky16Corners; “Let’s Wrestle” via Popcop and very recommended; “Cool Man!” via super-awesome Give The Drummer Some, I bought the CD but it’s undated.)

So: What if I combined the two tables, ranked them by playcount, and discarded all four-star songs?

[table id=4 /]

Hey, now that’s a list I feel pretty good about! Since it’s strictly numbers-driven, I have to resort to ranking ties as equal, and thus am forced to list 11 songs.

Okay, one more crunch. Because I thought Normalisr was pretty cool, I’m adding a new rundown this year, focused not on songs but on artists. First I took the list of 15 artists whose songs I have given the most “plays” in 2009, per last FM. Normalisr reads LastFM’s data and reworks it to reflect time spent, as opposed to play count. So I took the top 15 from its ranking. While there was a lot of overlap, that overlap was not complete: In all, 19 artists appeared on one or the other listing, or both. Here they are. (Note: There was some glitch prevening Normalisr from getting total-time data on the Spam Allstars.)

[table id=2 /]

The Beatles thing is unusual, but reflects, of course, the fact that I bought some of the reissues earlier this year. And there are a couple of entries here driven by 2009 releases. Beyond that, a lot of these artists are basically go-tos every year — Cousin Lymon will be amused to see that I’m still gorging on Elvis Costello, after all this time! What can I say? That’s part of what the reality of listening is all about, if you ask me.

Anyway my methodology could still be improved, and I keep thinking up more stuff to add. But, I’ve already spent upwards of two hours on this … and you didn’t even read it!

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Elvis Costello is fine and everything, but it would have been heartening to see the Kinks on there. Perhaps you don’t like misty water.

I liked:

Moritz von Oswald Trio “Vertical Ascent”
Cold Cave “Love Comes Close”
Hieroglyphic Being “So Much Noise 2 Be Heard”

and Frank Zappa and a bunch of old Chicago Acid House.

Written By cousin lymon on January 2nd, 2010 @ 12:55 am

Kinks still get a lot of plays. A factor with the Kinks is how much of that stuff I still have only on vinyl. Marginalized by digital listening habits (or at least marginalized in digital listening data).

Will check out those tips, thanks…

Written By Rob Walker on January 2nd, 2010 @ 9:02 am

Despite it being 2009, I still listen to albums, and so most of the top-played are long lists of songs from the same album. So these are the top tracks from the top albums of 2009:

Won’t Want For Love (Margaret in The Taiga) The Decemberists 45
Skeletons Yeah Yeah Yeahs 37
Happy Up Here Röyksopp 30
Oh No Andrew Bird 19
build voice Dan Deacon 19
Eet Regina Spektor 19
Gliss Asobi Seksu 15
Bonkers Dizzee Rascal 15
Undisclosed Desires Muse 15
First Train Home Imogen Heap 10
Fez – Being Born U2 10

The Decemberists and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, by virtue of early-released and highly excellent albums, by far swamped everyone. If I’d gotten on board with Neko Case’s “Middle Cyclone” earlier it’d be here, but didn’t so isn’t; likewise with Norah Jones’ (yeah, yeah…) recently-released “The Fall”. Röyksopp and Dizzee Rascal are the only tracks that are, essentially, singles.

Not making the list despite liking the albums (but apparently not as much as others) were Green Day’s “21st Century Breakdown” and Wilco’s “Wilco (the Album)” (also a fairly recent acquisition.

Written By jkd on January 2nd, 2010 @ 11:39 am

JKD! It’s so nice to hear from you! Some stuff I missed & will have to check out. Thanks for the tips, and the data…

Written By Rob Walker on January 4th, 2010 @ 4:51 pm
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