Insanely long and overly detailed breakdown of my favorite (I think) songs of 2007

Posted by Rob Walker on January 1, 2008
Posted Under: Music

Looking at everyone else’s lists of favorite songs or albums of the year makes me reflect on what my own choices might be. I suppose this is natural and lots of people do the same. I wonder how far others get, because in general I don’t get far at all. I can’t remember what came out when, I tend to overrate the stuff I’ve acquired most recently, and so on. I don’t know that I’ve ever progressed from idly wondering to even jotting down a few tentative choices — let alone really nailing down a Top Ten. How do these list-makers keep track? Do they take notes all year long?

Besides, I’ve always been vaguely annoyed at the underlying conceit of the top songs/albums “of the year,” since much of the music I acquire in any given year wasn’t actually released that year. I dislike the idea of organizing my taste reactions to the calendar of the music business, because that’s not how I listen. And it’s not how I think most people listen.

But reading over the lists this year, it occurred to me that I now do so much listening on iTunes that I could take a different approach, and simply review the data. This won’t help in coming up with a list of albums, because I don’t buy that many new albums anymore, I tend to buy songs, or batches of songs. Even if I buy a new release on CD – or, more typically, an old release – it’s rare that I keeping every single track from it in iTunes.

Still, I’m fairly fastidious about keeping up the parts of my iTunes data that I’m responsible for (making sure the proper release year, to the best of my knowledge, is entered). And I actually use the one-to-five-star rating field.

Plus there’s lots of data I’m not responsible for: How many times a track has been played, what date it was added to iTunes, when it was played last, and so on.

So, this morning, before listening to anything, I went into iTunes and gathered up what data I could. I looked at what I’d rated highest, and what I’d listened to most often. Perhaps predictably, there were some disparities. Namely, the most-listened-to songs were not the same ones I’d pick as my favorites. I’ll get to that in a minute, but to arrive at a Top Ten I had to overlook some data and just apply, you know, subjectivity. (It’s my list, after all.) Still, what I arrived at was definitely affected by having looked at the data first. If you’re curious, full details after the jump. Here are my ten:

  1. “You Know I’m No Good,” Amy Winehouse
  2. “Psychedelic Woman (Bonobo Remix),” Honny & The Bees Band
  3. “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” Bruce Springsteen
  4. “All Out King (featuring Romanowskiy),” Up, Bustle & Out
  5. “La La La,” Mexican Institute of Sound
  6. “Salt Truck,” Eleni Mandell
  7. “Trouble,” Over the Rhine
  8. “Paper Planes,” M.I.A.
  9. “Oh My God,” Mark Ronson featuring Lily Allen
  10. “My Computer Is Funk,” DJ Bitman

So here — in disturbing detail — is some of the process I used to get to this list: I started by taking a look to see what were the songs that were released in 2007 that I played the most often. I can’t quite name a Top Ten by this measure, due to ties. Basically there was one winner, a five-way tie for second, and then a seven-way tie for third (or for seventh place, or however y ou want to look at it. But here’s the data:

17 plays: “All Out King,” Up, Bustle & Out

15 plays: “You Know I’m No Good,” Amy Winehouse. “De Dia y de Noche,” Los Straitjackets. “Oh My God,” Mark Ronson featuring Lily Allen. “Les and Eddie,” Mocean Worker featuring Cochemea Gastelum. “Changes,” Mocean Worker featuring Herb Alpert

14 plays: “14th St. Break,” Beastie Boys. “Off the Grid,” Beastie Boys. “Salt Truck,” Eleni Mandell. “From The Air (Dan the Automator Remix),” Laurie Anderson. “Son of Sanford,” Mocean Worker featuring Cochemea Gastelum. “Everyway But Loose,” Plunky & The Oneness of Juju. “Tinto Tintero,” Up, Bustle & Out

The biggest surprise is those cuts from the Beastie Boys’ instrumental album. I liked that collection of songs (I bought the whole thing, but through iTunes, not on CD), yet I don’t think it would have occurred to me to put any of them in my Top Ten. I sort of feel the same way about those Mocean Worker tracks. The explanation might be that I frequently listen to instrumental music while writing.

In any case, while I obviously like all the songs on this list, a lot of is four-star material. It’s not my favorite of 2007. In fact, out of these thirteen most-played songs of 2007, I only awarded five of them a five-star rating: “All Out King,” “You Know I’m No Good,” “De Dia y de Noche,” “Salt Truck,” and “Oh My God.”

So how many songs released in 2007 did I award five stars? The answer is 13. In addition to the five named above: “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” Bruce Springsteen; “Dirty Basement,” Elektrons; “Friday Night,” Lily Allen; “So Low, So High,” Maps, “La la La,” Mexican Institute of Sound; “Trouble,” Over the Rhine; “City of Immigrants (feat. Forro In the Dark),” Steve Earle; “Didj Dub,” Tjupurru.

So basically, it was through cross-referencing those two lists (five stars vs. most played), and thinking about which of these various songs I’d like to hear again right now, and which ones I (can only) guess I’ll want to keep listening to in the year(s) ahead, that I ended up picking, and subjectively arranging, my Top Ten.

Other notes: That “From The Air” remix, though, is one that I probably should give five stars to, and that very nearly made my actual Top Ten above. “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” the Springsteen song, had 13 plays just missing the most-played list — but I bought it late in the year. And of course these play counts aren’t really perfect in the sense that they don’t count the times I heard “You Know I’m No Good” on the radio, and turned it up; nor do they capture CD plays – like the Eleni Mandell CD, which I do own.

Just as I’m considering giving “From The Air” a rating promotion, looking at my five-star list I have a feeling I’ll downgrade both that Steve Earle song and the Maps song to four-star status. And maybe “Friday Night” by Lily Allen, too. This is another aspect of Top Ten listing that bugs me: Sometimes a tune grows on me; more often I love something at first and then get kind of tired of it. So it’s only a snapshot of a moment during the year, not really an evaluation of the year’s “best.”

Anyway … So as long as I’m doing this … What about songs that I acquired in 2007, but were released sometime before that?

Well, I can tell you that I added around 1,400 songs to my iTunes in 2007. Out of these, 325 (about a third) were actual 2007 releases. [Just for the record, while I do download sanctioned MP3 freebies from artist or label sites sometimes, and on very rare occasion receive promo CDs, I do not use file-sharing services; so this is almost all music that I bought. Also, that 1,400 figure is all stuff that was new to me, it’s not CDs that have been lying around the house for years, I took care of that whole conversion project a long time ago.]

I’ve already noted that I gave five-star ratings to 13 songs that were released in 2007. I also gave five-star ratings to 37 songs that I acquired in 2007, but were released earlier.

Here, then, are the songs that I played most often in 2007, and that I acquired in 2007 — along with their official release year (to the best of my knowledge):

20 plays: “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” Amy Allison (2006)

19 plays: “Summer Love (Beyond There Remix),” Billy Wright (2005). “Obeah Woman (DJ Logic Remix),” Nina Simone (2006): 19 plays

18 plays: “Shakey Jake,” Joe McPhee (1971). “Pass the Hatchet Pts 1&2,” Roger & the Gypsies (1965)

17 plays: “Blindness,” Los Abandoned (2006). “Dog Trot,” Moondog (not sure original release/recording date). “All Out King,” Up, Bustle & Out (2007)

16 plays: “What’s the Altitude,” Cut Chemist featuring Hymnal (2006). “Ritmos Latinos,” Tino (2001)

I gave all ten of these five-star ratings. Interesting that of the songs I acquired in 2007, only one out of the ten I played the most frequently was actually released in 2007. (That was “All Out King.”)

Playcounts are, again, not perfect, for reasons mentioned as well as others that I’ll spare you. But I do think this says something about how I — and maybe you? — actually listen to music, and why Ten Best of The Year lists don’t really capture it.

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

Reader Comments

I did something similar recently when someone asked me to make a list. It made the process much faster. However, do you ever look at the “skip count”? iTunes now tracks which songs you hit skip forward on so you can see which songs you think you like but, in practice, really don’t.

Written By Steve on January 2nd, 2008 @ 12:54 am

I didn’t know about “skip count,” but that is extremely interesting! Great tip, thanks!

Written By murketing on January 2nd, 2008 @ 10:14 am

Paper Planes definitely up there for 07

Written By keatso on January 2nd, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

a few weeks ago i ran into Claudia Gonson from The Magnetic Fields. i don’t remember how the subject came up, but she said, “Have you heard Springsteen’s Girls In Their Summer Clothes? The first half of that song is totally Magnetic Fields.”

Written By discoczech on January 2nd, 2008 @ 8:15 pm

I agree, it reminded me of Magnetic Fields too. In a good way, not a derivative way. Not sure which way she meant it. It’s a great song.

Written By murketing on January 3rd, 2008 @ 11:05 am