What are we doing here?

You are about to enter The 143.

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Some history. In the first half of 2013, I decided to build a playlist for my proprietory MP3 player consisting of only the very best songs ever committed to vinyl, disc, tape or the ether. I made some rules first, because without rules, you have anarchy, and because I am a man. No artist would be allowed more than one song, unless they recorded under another name, or with another artist (thus, the Supremes are allowed and so is the solo Diana Ross; Blur, Carter USM and the solo Jim Bob; and so on). This way, I would be forced to subjectively, personally select only the very pinnacle of any chosen artist’s repertoire to enter the hallowed halls of The 143.

I intended to create a playlist of 50. Bearing in mind I only had the 11,988 songs already uploaded to and stored in my proprietory digital library to choose from at that moment, I was still amazed how quickly I flew past the 50 mark, and then the 100 mark. I stopped when I had gathered every vital song in my library, and I had 143. These were The 143. But it didn’t end there. I have been playing this playlist in my ears ever since, shuffling it randomly, and constantly updating it, so that if a song fails to match my memory or it, it is removed, and replaced. The 143 is fluid. Or at least, it is until I hit “publish” on an individual blog entry. Then it’s gospel.

This blog is my quest to cement that playlist, and it remains a going concern. [As I type, I am up to 125, so there are still 18 places to play for.] Each entry will be logged here, and to varying degrees, described. I am a writer. I’ve been writing about music since the electric typewriter, sometimes for money, so it should not be beyond my descriptive powers. (That said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, so we’re all on a hiding to nothing before we start.)

In a perfect world, each entry will inspire rapture or enmity, and a dialogue will begin below the line, or on Twitter. These choices are by their nature personal. They are mine. I’m hoping our tastes will cross over more than once. There is no carving into tablets of stone here. If The 143 generates a few happy memories, and a couple of trips to Spotify, then none of the time and effort and love will have been wasted.

Dive in.

You will find an ever-growing, random list of entries, with clickable links, right here.

The more logical soul will also find The 143 divided up into alphabetical and chronological order.

Here is a Half Time Report I wrote on the occasion of passing the halfway mark in The 143. I hope it offers some further insight into the selection process.

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As a song yet to make The 143 goes: Woah-oh! We’re halfway there.

Though the final score is fixed – that is, a cosmic draw between 143 premier league songs – the songs themselves aren’t, as yet. At the time of writing, I have entered 72 into the statute books. With only 71 left to enshrine on this blog, that’s as good as the halfway mark.

And as good a time as any to reflect on the process so far. To reiterate: in the first half of 2013, I decided to make a playlist to soundtrack my stints between A and B, consisting only of the very best songs ever committed to vinyl, disc, tape or the ether, according to me. These would by nature be personal, but in each entry I’ve attempted to contextualise the songs both historically and in first-person. Having effectively written 72 essays of around 500 words each, sometimes more, hardly ever less, I have to say I’m still thoroughly enjoying it. That needs stating for the record.

The random order in which the songs are formalised keeps me interested. I started with ABC because so does the alphabet, but I never know which song will be next. I shuffle The 143 playlist into my ears on a near-daily basis and often make a mental note (never a physical one) to enter that song next. At time of typing, I’ve been promising to write about Rockit by Herbie Hancock for a couple of weeks, but it’s been queue-jumped by Blondie and the Waterboys. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I saw Blondie doing Sunday Girl on an old 1979 Top Of The Pops on BBC Four and their preeminence caught my imagination. I chanced upon The Best Of The Waterboys while actually rummaging in a box for Fuzzy Logic (which I couldn’t find). I uploaded it, and in doing so realised I’d made a howling omission from my playlist and into the mix went The Whole Of The Moon.

A new entry is always an interesting and challenging moment. If it strikes me that I’ve missed a song out and duly put it into the playlist – such as, in recent weeks, Up The Junction or Pinball Wizard – a song that’s already in there but not yet committed to the blog has to go. It can be ruthless. Since starting this in July 2013, I’ve let many, many songs originally long-listed go. It feels cruel to list them here but I’ve been that close to formalising Alien Sex Fiend, A Flock Of Seagulls and The Beach Boys, before seeing them edge off the plank when the ark took on a new passenger. [The Beach Boys subsequently edged back onboard.] Still, with 71 still to go, it ain’t over ’till it’s over, as a man once sang.

Before I enter my choice from an artist with a large repertoire – such as, recently, Echo & The Bunnymen or the Velvet Underground – I go into roadtest mode and take a joyous spin through their greatest hits. I spent two days listening to the Bunnymen, and The Killing Moon, my visceral first choice, proved unassailable, despite strong opposition from The Puppet and All My Colours. I did not, and do not, take these decisions lightly. This project sort of doesn’t matter but at the same really does.

I’m now mathematically aware of my own biases. Although I enter the songs in whatever order they occur to me, we’re already seeing a massive focus on the 1980s. Though there’s only one entry at this halfway mark from the 50s, Take Five – predictably, as it’s not my era – there are currently 26 from the 80s. This reflects both the richness and variety of dazzling music being made in the post-punk era and the fact that I began that decade aged 13 and ended it aged 22, formative years in excelsis. I have no way of guaranteeing that the 71 songs still to come will redress that epochal balance – there are a lot more from the 21st century in a holding pattern, I know that much, and I feel the 70s may yet expand – but it’s going to be fun seeing it unfold.

It would seem crude to divide The 143 into genres. Also, genres bleed into one another and are not scientific. I suppose somebody could turn it into a pie chart with segments for nationality, or skin colour, or gender, but I’m not sure such segregation will enlighten. I don’t look at the list and think, hmmm, needs a touch more soul. In any case, soul comes in many different colours.

Observations: I find I’m struggling with newer songs going in. Has a song released in 2003 like Hey Ya! been around the block enough times to qualify for an “all-time” list? And if it has, what about Happy, which I heard for the first time in 2014 and instantly fell in love with? These are the issues that vex me, but we’ll work it out in the end. It’s amazing how many times I’ve considered jettisoning The Look by Metronomy in favour of something a little more established and then listened to it again and changed my mind.

There’s not much else to add at this arbitrary junction, other than: thanks for reading thus far. And to those who’ve plugged the blog – Pocket-Lint, Metafilter, Tom Robinson – it’s fully appreciated, as daily traffic is modest, and maybe that’s as should be. I love the Spotify playlists people are compiling, too, as it goes along.

As for the 73rd entry? Herbie Hancock is banging on the door. So are Pigbag, Bob Marley and Free. Not that any of these fine artists know it.

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22 thoughts on “What are we doing here?

  1. Hi. Looking forward to seeing the 143 uncovered – the best track by around 143 artists in your mp3 collection. An excellent opportunity to reminisce (see my own Things In My Room).

    Other than the obvious hyperbole of the title, as a bloke I question the one track per artist policy (while agreeing it makes the whole process possible). It is too leveling – the whole Bowie output becomes equivalent to a (perhaps) one or two album wonder who puts together a great track – as a for instance Pavlov’s Dog or Fischer Z (a couple that come to mind).

    Anyway – I will follow with interest especially to see what the decade + difference in age draws out

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  2. Actually, a better example would be Propaganda – definitely would include something from them, yet they really only have one album (plus remix and anniversary edition) then it was really downhill and later albums weren’t by them. But is there album equal to Bowie’s whole output?

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  3. Looking forward to the list, Andrew – as only you know how.
    So far I only own 2 of your selection. Can’t wait to see which Rush track you include (!)
    Loving the slab-serif font style of these pages too.

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    • I have started one 🙂 Here is the link.

      I am really loving this blog & looking forward to seeing what else there is .It has made me go back & listen to some songs again through new eyes (notably the EBTG track!) & I have also discovered the delights of Jim Bob! A Humpty Dumpty Thing is one hell of an album that I don’t think I would have heard otherwise!

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    • Much appreciated. I’ve had almost 3,000 visits to the blog today, which is most unusual. Thanks for the post.

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    • Although I’m not registered so I can’t comment on MetaFilter, I’ve found most of those commenting thus far to have totally understood the spirit of the project – chiefly, that’s it’s subjective, personal, never intended to prescribe or influence or score points. But you have to love this one, from Kirth Gerson:

      “There’s no way Wild Horses or Marrakesh Express or Tell Me That it Isn’t True were unheard or not paid attention to, let alone being ‘very best songs ever.’ None of them are even the best song by those artists in that period, or even close to it. I honestly think this list’s failure goes beyond being different from my tastes and lurches way over into no discernible taste at all.”

      Eek, my list is a “failure”. I thought it was a bit of fun. It’s incredible to me that anyone could be so certain of their own taste as to accuse someone else of having “no discernible taste”, or to state with such conviction, “none of them are the best song by those artists in that period”. I had no idea the appreciation of music had a right and wrong.

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  4. Hey Andrew,

    I also discovered your blog via the recent Metafilter thread. I’ve only scratched the surface but I’ve enjoyed reading it immensely! You’ve inspired me to rediscover some of my “forgotten” music this weekend, so thanks for that.

    By the way, I was somewhat surprised to see you choose “One Hundred Years” from Pornography. Didn’t you mean to choose “Siamese Twins”? Or indeed any other track? Haha.

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    • Thanks for visiting, Alan. The Metafilter effect was astounding. I had almost 4,000 hits yesterday as a result, although you’re the first to comment. I like the irony of your Pornography remark! (It didn’t take long on the Metafilter comment for someone to moan that it can’t be the best 143 songs “of all time” because it only takes in 65 years of English-speaking music! Way to miss the point. There’s some Kraftwerk coming, by the way.)

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    • Thanks. What I love about it is that it wasn’t even really “a plug”, as I get no money for doing the blog, or if 1,000 new people read it today as a result. But every visitor pleases me.

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    • I like your rules, and the way one song leads to the next is organic. (I am often inspired to write about a song after writing about another one, although of course it has to already be on the list!)

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