On our longer family drives I take an old iPod crammed with even older music. Usually I take requests, and almost inevitably the children choose They Might Be Giants, and preferably the tracks Fingertips and Particle Man. But, our last trip was different. Instead I took the opportunity to the children some exposure to artists formative in the history of popular music. There is nothing like a grand plan to pass the time on the freeway.
Skimming through the albums, I decided that the best of The Jam would be a good place to start. It went down surprisingly well. Even our eldest, who generally prefers electronica, responded well to Eton Rifles. Marking that up as a success, the next choice was the best of Madness. This was more familiar territory, as they already knew (and loved) I Like Driving in My Car. Again it was successful.
Although this was a good start, it was not systematic, depending as it did on swift scanning through the albums on the iPod. So I have now begun to assemble a playlist on Spotify with a name as grandiose as its aim: Musical Education. The rules are simple but tough:
- Four representative tracks each (no more) are selected from major artists in the history of popular music.
- Each track must be from a different studio album. If the artist does not have at least four albums, refer step three. Singles not released on an album are also eligible.
- Single tracks can be included for important artists lacking the catalogue breadth for four essential tracks.
The playlist has nearly reached 150 tracks and includes artists such as The Doors, The Animals, James Brown and Prince. Inevitably, some choices reflect my own interests. My taste in Krautrock ensures the appearance of Kraftwerk, but in their defence I point to their appearance at the Tate and MOMA in recent years. Other choices may not have the endorsement of the artworld, but surely the sheer persistence of Mark E. Smith in continuing his post-punk aesthetic justifies a place for The Fall (Update: also The New Yorker rates The Fall highly too). As for XTC, well my own obsessions may be tilting the scales of significance. But perhaps not.
For some artists, choosing only four tracks is extremely difficult. Four David Bowie tracks…how? But rules are rules. Fortunately the toughest choice is taken away from me. The Beatles are not on Spotify, so they are ruled out on a technicality.
I have been road testing the list and there have been some surprises. The middle child has developed a strong interest in The Beach Boys, particularly God Only Knows (and that’s not just because of the BBC version), while the eldest has expressed a visceral dislike for James Brown. I did expect some bumps in the road of this musical journey: after all the boys refuse to let me play Nick Drake in the car (maybe one day they will learn they are wrong). Still, I am now getting requests for Hit the North, so something must be working.
This musical education is a work in progress, so I need help from all of you. Are there any big names I have missed? Let me know in the comments. Not all of the lists in the list are my own favourites, so I may have missed an essential track. Comments are open below, so please jump in!