БƗƗҚ.9 // Good music, bad DJ

My 33 for 33 birthday playlist

Justice for George Floyd. By @shirien.creates.

Hi everyone,

To begin, I ask that you consider joining me today in making a donation to the Black Visions Collective in Minnesota in memory of George Floyd. For more on this, I will simply refer you to Bernice King.

Today is my 33rd birthday, and to mark the occasion I’d like to share my #33for33 playlist:

Click to listen on Spotify.

Earlier this year, my friend and fellow child-of-1987 Molly came up with the idea to make a 33-song playlist composed of one song that had been released each year that she’d been alive. Her rules for participation were simple: you had to be born in 1987 (check), and you had to be excited about making a playlist than spanned your lifetime (check).

In late January, I started drafting a list of songs that I thought I might want to include, paying no attention to the year that they came out (unless, of course, I was certain that the song came out before 1987). In addition to songs, I also wrote down a few prolific artists who I thought I wanted represented somehow and a handful of albums that were very important to me for no particular song.

From there, I opened up Apple Music (née iTunes) for the first time in about four years and sorted my library by year and play count: this proved to be extremely helpful for filling in songs from 2005-2012. Next, I refreshed my memory by reading through a handful of year-end lists, including the Billboard Top 100 and Pitchfork. After doing all of this, and digging through some old playlists of mine strewn across the internet, I ended up with a total of 212 songs to consider for my 33 for 33. 

Whittling the list down from there was...interesting. I had to weigh the tradeoff between music I love now, music I loved then, and music that I didn’t necessarily ever love but which nevertheless encapsulated a time and a place. It was hard to compare, as I had to for 1998, Britney Spears and Boards of Canada. I also tried extra hard to keep the playlist format in mind: ideally there should be some overall arc, nice transitions between songs, and I would do well to remember that some music just isn’t done justice in the confines of a playlist, e.g. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, William Basinski, Rahim Al-Haj.

Getting from 212 to 33 songs took me down memory lane in ways that I wasn’t quite able to imagine beforehand. Including “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana, 1991) brought back memories of my middle school band performing in an otherwise high school-only battle of the bands in a church multipurpose room in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where we placed fifth of eight. I can still feel my hands struggling to keep up with the 1/16th notes on the hi-hat when we played “Everlong” (Foo Fighters, 1997), and I remember shuffling through the judges written feedback afterwards: “Great drumming!,” I read, smiling. “The drummer should take lessons,” I also read.

Another clear memory that came back was sitting in my mom’s white Volvo at the beach, listening to a Prince cassette, and asking her what “Sexy M.F.” meant. She didn’t answer me, but she also didn’t stop the track. She cultivated my love for Prince, and this is in no small part the reason that he kicks off my playlist with “The Cross”, which came out just two months before I was born. Two other songs that I included harken back to long summer days in the early 90s, sitting in the back seat of that Volvo, listening to what my mom was playing on cassette or the radio: “Gonna Make You Sweat” (C&C Music Factory, 1990) and “Here Comes the Hotstepper” (Ina Kamoze & Salaam Remi, 1994). 

The car motif returned a decade later when I got my driver’s license. I heard “Heartbeats” (The Knife, 2003) for the first time when a summer crush played the CD in her car, and I remember that magical summer before college in 2005, driving around late at night, pulling that first Clap Your Hands Say Yeah CD out of my visor case and pushing the NEXT button on my car stereo nine times until I got to the tenth track, “In This Home on Ice”.

Some songs are there for a specific moment in time, like when Katherine and I walked into a Jesu/Sun Kil Moon show on the night after Trump was elected and first heard “Good Morning My Love”. Other songs, like “Sunshower” (M.I.A., 2004) and “Cryo” (Oneohtrix Point Never, 2013) are included for the mood they evoked in college and graduate school rather than for any specific memory. Some songs I connect to live shows (I’ve seen 11 of the artists live), school dances, band practices, or house parties, while others I associated with primarily with a person: Jamie and OutKast, Noah and The Flaming Lips, Jacob and The Books, Mirza and Low. A number of songs appear on albums that I still listen to multiple times a year (“Hyperballad”, Bjork, 1995, and “Ready or Not”, Fugees, 1996) while others are by artists for whom I could not name another track (“Stereo Love”, Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina, 2009). 

There are a few songs on the list that I always associate with their music videos. It’s how I first encountered “Cannonball” (The Breeders, 1993): I was in 4th grade visiting my great aunt in Maine and I was just over the moon that they had cable TV. A few years later, I remember all too clearly sitting quietly in front of MTV at a hotel in Western Massachusetts completely dumbfounded at what I had just seen, and then going back to middle school on Monday to ask my friends if they had heard of Britney Spires and Will Doyle replying “yeah, and it’s ‘Spears’ you dumb ass”. “Losing You” (Solange, 2012) is all the more memorable for me because I encountered it for the first time on Youtube when I lived in Kyrgyzstan; I recall being annoyed that I couldn’t loop a song on Youtube. And while there are Future Islands songs that I like more than “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (2014), that Letterman performance of theirs is something that I will always cherish, as it helped me along some major transitions in my life.

For all the memories I have of places and people, there are a number of songs that I recall primarily through time spent alone, just me and my Discman (“Forgot About Dre”, Dr. Dre & Eminem, 1999), iPod (“Jesus, Etc.”, Wilco, 2001), phone (“The Wilhem Scream”, James Blake, 2011), and the Spotify desktop app (“Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest”, Bill Callahan, 2019). Though 33 for 33 is technically supposed to end in 2019, I’ve listened to Four Tet’s new album Sixteen Oceans a lot recently, and the final track of that album,“Mama Teaches Sanskrit”, provides a type of closure that I’ve been longing for during this pandemic, so I’ve included it here as a final track 34.

A few days ago, when I was trying to wrap up the final few songs of this playlist, I had the window open in my front room and heard some men talking outside. I didn’t catch much of the conversation, but it ended by one person saying to the group in a conclusive tone “good music, bad DJ”, and everybody laughing. I looked up at this playlist that I had spent so much time working on over the past few months and couldn’t help but laugh. Good music, bad DJ. Fair enough.

Clearly, I’m happy with the result. But I bother to write all of this down because I would truly love to listen to your playlists (even if you aren’t turning 33 this year). So if you feel compelled to try it out, please let me know!

Thanks for listening,

-- Grif

Grif’s 33 for 33

(Spotify / Twitter)

1987: "The Cross" by Prince (Sign ☮ The Times)
1988: "Teen Age Riot" by Sonic Youth (Daydream Nation)
1989: "Debaser" by Pixies (Doolittle)
1990: "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" by C&C Music Factory (Super Hits)
1991: "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana (Nevermind)
1992: "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" by Tom Waits (Bone Machine)
1993: "Cannonball" by The Breeders (Last Splash)
1994: "Here Comes The Hotstepper" by Ini Kamoze & Salaam Remi (Here Comes The Hotstepper)
1995: "Hyperballad" by Björk (Post)
1996: "Ready or Not" by Fugees (The Score)
1997: "Everlong" by Foo Fighters (The Colour and the Shape)
1998: "...Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears (...Baby One More Time)
1999: "Forgot About Dre" by Dr. Dre & Eminem (2001)
2000: "B.O.B. - Bombs over Baghdad" by OutKast (Stankonia)
2001: "Jesus, Etc." by Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
2002: "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" by The Flaming Lips (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots)
2003: "Heartbeats" by The Knife (Deep Cuts)
2004: "Sunshower" by M.I.A. (Arular)
2005: "In This Home on Ice" by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)
2006: "Say It Right" by Nelly Furtado (Loose)
2007: "A Paw In My Face" by The Field (From Here We Go Sublime)
2008: "Collapsing Outside Your Doorstep" by Air France (No Way Down)
2009: "Stereo Love" by Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina (Stereo Love)
2010: "I Am Who I Am" by The Books (The Way Out)
2011: "The Wilhelm Scream" by James Blake (James Blake)
2012: "Losing You" by Solange (True)
2013: "Cryo" by Oneohtrix Point Never (R Plus Seven)
2014: "Seasons (Waiting On You)" by Future Islands (Singles)
2015: "Warm Blood" by Carly Rae Jepsen (Emotion)
2016: "Good Morning My Love" by Jesu/Sun Kil Moon (Jesu/Sun Kil Moon)
2017: "Shine a Light" by Shabazz Palaces & Thaddillac (Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star)
2018: "Disarray" by Low (Double Negative)
2019: "What Comes After Certainty" by Bill Callahan (Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest)
2020 (Bonus): "Mama Teaches Sanskrit" by Four Tet (Sixteen Oceans)