Musical Education

Musical EducationOn 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:

  1. Four representative tracks each (no more) are selected from major artists in the history of popular music.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!


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76 thoughts on “Musical Education

  1. Sydney Slug

    Doctor you have missed most Australian music – was that on purpose? No Triffids, Nick Cave (I am not a big fan) Saints Hoodoo Gurus Hunters and Collectors etc. Have a few other picky things like no Peace Frog from the Doors and nothing from Split Enz’s best album True Colours….we need to talk.

  2. Stubborn Mule Post author

    @Slug – I have been thinking about more possible Australian artists for the list. Nick Cave is imminent – I just struggled through the selection of four tracks for Tom Waits and I am now thinking about the four for Nick. For some artists picking the four is extremely difficult. As for the other artists, they’d definitely make an Australian Music Education list – but to they make it into an international list? A controversial question. I have also been thinking about AD/DC and Cold Chisel, but for those I would definitely need assistance in track selection as I have never really listened to much of either. Other possible Australian artists I have considered (and not yet rejected) are The Easybeats, The Go-Betweens, INXS, Daddy Cool, Skyhooks, The Church, Midnight Oil, The Divinyls and Mental As Anything. But which are the essential ones?

    As for True Colours – that was the first Split Enz album I owned and I Got You very nearly made the final four…

  3. Sydney Slug

    @stubbornmule I think that they do form a particular world view of musical education. I would argue that I’m Stranded and Know your Product are seminal recordings that influenced global movements in music in perhaps a more lasting way than Nick Cave (they were huge in Germany and the Netherlands for example). The Hoodoo Gurus were huge on the US College circuit in the late 1990s – songs from Stoneage Romeos and Mars Needs Guitars were played a lot on international college radio. INXS was a superband – leave you to decide their lasting worth. Easybeats are an absolute must as they lead directly to the biggest “Australian” band ever – so influential they are one of the t-shirts on Beavis and Butthead. You would need to include Long Way to the Top, Highway to Hell, Back in Black and Thunderstruck IMHO.

    I would also include Hunters & Collectors and think they had more “Internationalness” than say Split Enz who really went on to international prominence as Crowded House, not in their Enz guise.

  4. Zebra

    My 3 cents on Bob Dylan, The Church and The Triffids with an ear for them being iconic songs and also ones that kids (of obvious precious taste) might also enjoy.

    1. Bob Dylan
    1.1 Maggie’s Farm (it sounds serious but it is quite silly)
    1.2 Like A Rolling Stone (casually pointing out it is sometimes considered to be the first modern rock song)
    1.3 Subterranean Homesick Blues (casually pointing out is sometimes considered to be the first modern rock song “video”)
    1.4 All Along The Watchtower (so they’ll understand Seasons 3 and 4 of Battlestar Galactica)

    These aren’t necessarily my favourites which include a few later tracks from Blood on the Tracks and Desire

    2. The Church – I consider myself something of an expert of The Church having foolishly bought almost all of their 24 albums. The standout 4 songs all come pretty early though:

    2.1 Unguarded Moment
    2.2 Almost With You
    2.3 Tantalised
    2.4 Under the Milky Way

    3. Triffids – best just put on “Born Sandy Devotional” and play that but if you have to pick 4:

    3.1 Wide Open Road
    3.2 Chicken Killer (it never gets played on radio but everyone loves to sing along with: “and the children were singing: here he comes, the killer again, here he comes the chicken killer again”)
    3.3 Beautiful Waste
    3.4 Bury Me Deep in Love

    My favourite Triffids song is “Tender is the Night (The Long Fidelity)” but I think kids might find it a bit boring and its message lost. You have to play it on a Sony Walkman standing in the rain in a Cambridge college quad circa 1990, in the middle of winter, to really get it.

  5. Zebra

    @Paddy – please god no! It would like one of those annual “Top 100 Classical Music as voted by the listeners of BBC Smooth Classical FM” where #1 is always “The F*%^&* Lark Ascending” and #2 is “Elgar’s F%^@# Cello Concerto”.

  6. Sydney Slug

    Ok then I am comitting to these from Hunters:
    Talking to a Stranger
    The Slab
    Say Goodbye
    Holy Grail

    Know Your Product
    I’m Stranded
    Ghost Ships
    Just Like Fire Would

    Wedding Ring
    She’s So Fine
    Friday on My Mind

    Hoodoo Gurus:
    Miss Freelove ’69
    Like Wow Wipeout
    Come Anytime (No1 on the US college charts in 1989)
    so there.

  7. Stubborn Mule Post author

    @Slug – I’ve already done the Easybeats and we were close. I’ve got I’ll Make You Happy rather than Wedding Ring (matching you on the others). Thoughts?

  8. Sydney Slug

    @Mule Both good Easybeats songs no doubt. Sptotify is making you fight with one arm tied around your back! How about Jet? I think they are so recent your kids will know them well…

  9. Zebra

    I looked at your Spotify list. It’s a tough task so I won’t disagree with most choices even if not mine necessarily but I think there are a few that could possibly be questioned:

    1. Fleetwood Mac – Rhiannon instead of Hold Me or The Chain. Tusk is a great choice, also my favourite Fleetwood Mac song
    2. David Bowie – Sound & Vision instead of Ziggy Stardust. I’d prefer Life on Mars from Ziggy period but I guess you have to have Space Oddity.
    3. Madonna – Vogue instead of Beautiful Stranger (no argument). Probably Ray of Light to Hung Up as well.
    4. Nick Cave – Red Right Hand instead of Tupelo (arguable but RRH is his best live track imo)
    5. Prince – it has to have Purple Rain and/or Sign o’the Times so I’d replace Controversy (easy) and Kiss (harder) or Little Red Corvette
    6. Duran Duran – Rio instead of A View To A Kill

    Also if you are looking at 80s post punk bands:
    Echo & The Bunnyman
    1. The Cutter
    2. The Killing Moon
    3. Rescue
    4. Bring on the Dancing Horses or Seven Seas

    What about Joy Division?
    1. Love Will Tear Us Apart
    2. Transmission
    3. Digital
    4. Heart and Soul

    You also mentioned Cold Chisel of which I seem to have accidently acquired their Greatest Hits. You could try:
    1. Khe Sanh (in case they find themselves in the Australian Cricket Team’s changeroom after a victory and need to sing the unofficial team song)
    2. Flame Trees
    3. Cheap Wine (use it to segue into reminiscing about your uni days)
    4. Any of the others like Choirgirl, Standing on the Outside, Ita or Breakfast at Sweethearts

    Speaking if Cold Chisel and 70’s Oz bands what about Skyhooks?
    1. Living in the 70s
    2. Horror Movie
    3. Women in Uniform or Million Dollar Riff
    4. Ego is not a Dirty Word

    I like your 2 other Bob Dylan choices I would have picked them as 2 of my favourites but not sure if everyone appreciates me knowing all the lyrics to Hurricane and singing along in the car.

  10. Zebra

    Even though, as you point out, The Beatles aren’t on Spotify saving you a difficult choice I’d like to try. But you have to be scientific about it so first I need to point out that all Beatles albums come in pairs over four periods:
    1a. Early mop top Beatles: Meet The Beatles and Please, Please Me
    1b.Pop Beatles: Hard Day’s Night and Help!
    2a. Groovy Beatles: Rubber Soul & Revolver
    2b. Trippy Beatles: Sgt Pepper & Magical Mystery Tour as well as Strawberry Field Forever/Penny Lane single
    3a. Beardy Beatles: White Album + Hey Jude/Lady Madonna/All You Need Is Love singles
    4. End of Beatles: Let It Be and Abbey Road
    So you’d have to miss at least 2 of those. You might miss mop top Beatles and combine Rubber Soul ->MMT as Psychedelic Beatles so 1 from each of those:
    1. Help!
    2. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
    3. Hey Jude
    4. Get Back

  11. Sydney Slug

    @zebra – agree wil most but have to have You Just Like Me Cos I’m Good In Bed (first song played on Double Jay in 1975) by the ‘Hooks.

    Have to have Forever Now by Chisel.

    Completely agree RRH is the standout Cave.

    Here is link to the artist list from the Australian series Long Way To The Top – the influential bunch I guess:

    @mule are you thinking of some NWA? Other songs with rude words? I am purposely staying away from non Aus because I could rant for ever….

  12. Zebra

    Led Zeppelin – shame having to leave out “Black Dog”, “Rock and Roll” or “When the Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin IV for “Stairway to Heaven” but I see why – education isn’t always fun. I still would have put in R&R. I would consider substituting “Immigrant Song” (the single) from Led Zep III for “Since I’ve Been Loving You” – it is short (2:22) and upbeat unlike SIBLY which is drawn out (7:24) and bathetic. If you do want something long and bathetic then just ditch LZIII and go for “Kashmir” from 1975’s Physical Graffiti and also featured in a recent Spiderman film (or so I’ve been told).

    By the way this website might help you with “classic rock” songs.
    That is the Led Zep top 50 list but also others.

  13. evo

    Great post Mule. Shame we are all having the banter over the internet rather than over a few shandies, as it used to be. Final decision would then be decided by slugging it out on the pub floor.

    Zebra – spot on re LedZep. I would leave them all out for 4 tracks from IV. Also not fussed about Stairway, but it just wouldn’t seem right to have the kids locked in the car for a 6 hour trip and not have them hear that song.

    I might have had some influence on the SIBLY choice. But surely it must be a consideration just so we can say there is a bathetic song in the list!

  14. evo

    By the way. You have missed out Elton John:

    Tiny Dancer
    Song For Guy
    Candle In The Wind
    Candle In The Wind (Di version)

  15. Stubborn Mule Post author

    @Zebra as you would now have gathered, all my Led Zep choices were supplied by Evo – I freely admit to ignorance there. I will update the rules in the post, but as I’ve progressed, I’ve added the rule that there cannot be more than one track from a single album. That may be too draconian, but self-discipline is to be admired. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

    I’ve added quite a few of the suggestions in earlier comments, including Skyhooks and Cold Chisel.

    I endorse your reasoning on The Beatles and would agree with 3 out of the 4 results. I think that a track from the White album has to displace Hey Jude. Back in the USSR is probably the obvious choice, but I would go with Helter Skelter.

  16. Sydney Slug

    OK you have me dragged in now. Atlantic Records in general need some action. Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Booker T and the MGs Aretha Franklin with much mich more to come……ABBA = good, MJ = popular, Atlantic Records = Essential.

  17. Zebra

    @evo – if I had known it was you I would never had disagreed. Except if you want long winded and bathetic then it has to be Kashmir!

    Not a huge MJ fan but would think Man in the Mirror before Smooth Criminal.

    Re rule about only 1 track per album there is another possible post I think about sometimes: “Artists who you only need to buy one album” which would include Alison Morrisette, Nora Jones, Boz Scaggs, Meatloaf, Adele and Lady Gaga imo. Albums which are sort of like greatest hits in themselves with lots of famous songs and success was never repeated.

    Anyway, can’t forget Kiss! One of the biggest live acts of all time.
    1. Rock and Roll All Nite
    2. I was made for loving you.
    3. Beth
    4. Sure Know Something

    Which reminds me. Surely a bit of Rocky Horror Picture Show needs to be in there?

  18. Zebra

    @Mule – re Beatles. It would be very odd not to include Hey Jude as often listed as one of the most popular Beatles songs of all time. Also it was recorded about the same time as the White Album. It’s B-side is “Revolution” a different version which appears as “Revolution 1” on The White Album.

    I don’t think “Helter Skelter” is a real song. I once tried to convince someone it was the world’s first heavy metal song but they weren’t having it.

  19. Sydney Slug

    @zebra 2 comments re Helter Skelter – 1) Sunshine of your Love released before the White Album and 2) You Really Got Me by the Kinks predates both by 4 years.

  20. Zebra

    I think the rule about only 1 song from each album needs to be modified. In some cases one album contains 90% of the hits (eg Jagged Little Pill, Silk Degrees, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, Lexicon of Love) s this rule should only apply where the band has hits over several albums, imo.

    The Eagles
    1. Desperado
    2. Hotel California
    3. Lying Eyes
    4. Tequila Sunrise or something else

    Elton John (ignore @evo)
    1. Your Song
    2. Madman Across The Water
    3. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
    4. Rocket Man or anything else

    Frankie Goes to Hollywood
    1. Relax
    2. Two Tribes
    3. War
    4. Welcome to the Pleasure Dome

    Go Betweens
    1. Spring Rain
    2. Right Here
    3. Love Goes On!
    4. Bachelor Kisses

    Guns’n Roses
    1. Sweet Child of Mine
    2. November Rain
    3. Bad Medicine

    1. Kiss On My Lips
    2. Maneater
    3. Method of Modern Love

    Human League
    1. Don’t You Want Me
    2. Love Action
    3. Electric Dreams

    1. Poison Arrow
    2. Look of Love

    1. Smooth Operator
    2. Your Love is King

    Spandau Ballet
    1. Gold
    2. True
    3. To Cut a Long Story Short
    4. Communication

    Adam & The Ants (they kinda started New Romantic from Post Punk)
    1. Ant Music
    2. Kings of the Wild Frontier
    3. Stand and Deliver
    4. Prince Charming

    Haircut 100
    1. I Ran

    Bronski Beat
    1. Smalltown Boy

    Do Re Mi
    1. Man Overboard

    U2 (Somebody has to – just the early albums. I pretend they all died in a plane crash in 1984. Who knew what they would have achieved if they had survived?)
    1. I Will Follow (from Boy)
    2. Gloria (from October)
    3. Sunday Bloody Sunday (from War)
    4. New Years Day (from Under A Blood Red Sky)

    Van Morrison
    1. Gloria
    2. Astral Weeks
    3. Brown Eyed Girl

    Tracey Chapman
    1. Fast Car

    Simple Minds
    1. Glittering Prize
    2. Promised You A Miracle
    3. Up On The Catwalk

    Simon&Garfunkel (very hard to pick 4!)
    1. Sounds of Silence
    2. The Boxer
    3. Bridge Over Troubled Water
    4. Mrs Robinson

    1. Take On Me

    Culture Club
    1. Don’t You Want Me?
    2. Church of the Poison Mind
    3. Victims
    4. Karma Chameleon

    Jefferson Airplane
    1. White Rabbit

  21. Stubborn Mule Post author

    @Zebra – the rules are supposed to be tough. If a band is important enough to be included but does not have four albums, only one track is allow. For Simple Minds, though, I’d add Love Song and we’re pretty much done.

  22. Sydney Slug

    @Zebra Bad Medicine is Bon Jovi! You will be throwing in Van Halen next! Also Jefferson Airplane needs Set Me Free. While we are thereabouts is there any Janis Joplin here?

    How about some Motorhead Ace of Spades – some proper Brit rock not just that insipid 80’s fluff you have all over the place? The Kinks? Animals? The Who? Cream?

    Just to prove I don’t think one country at a time I think @Mule needs Iggy and the Stooges, Blondie and The Ramones at least?

  23. Zebra

    @Sydney Slug – I realised that about Bad Medicine and Bon Jovi but decided to see how long it would take for some to pick it up. Good on you.

    @mule – I accept your harsh ruling so I put the best tracks in order in each case. But I remember dancing to “I Promised You a Miracle” circa 1980. Don’t deny me that. Please, I don’t even remember “Love Song”.

  24. Zebra

    @Sydney Slug – if you go to @mule Spotify list you’ll see Blondie, The Ramones and Iggy are already there. I wouldn’t agree on all of them but the choices aren’t bad.

  25. evo

    @zebra – 2 songs from one album? Far out. What will you be asking for next? Legalise chucking? Or give the thumbs up to a winged keel?

  26. Stubborn Mule Post author

    @Zebra – can I just point out that “And I Ran” was actually by Flock of Seagulls?

    I’ve got a few Simple Minds tracks, but I’m not sure it’s the final four. The four I really think need work are The Cure.

    @Slug – I do have Green Onions by Booker T, but you are right about more Atlantic.

    I’ve also added The Cars and (risky territory because I don’t know my way around) Metallica.

    It never ends…

  27. Stubborn Mule Post author

    I have been hoist by my own petards. Nick Drake only had three albums, so I will have to relegate him to the single track category. Seems wrong, but rules are rules.

  28. Stubborn Mule Post author

    Now I have to decide whether solo artists can be grouped with bands. Can the Jackson 5 be part of the 4 for Michael Jackson? Can Iggy & The Stooges and Iggy Pop be combined? Even if the answer to those is yes, I will keep the Velvet Underground separate from Lou Reed.

  29. Zebra

    You mentioned The Cure. I would have picked
    1. Boys Don’t Cry or Killing An Arab (which isn’t available except in a live version at L’Orange.)
    2. The Caterpillar or Lovecats
    3. In Between Days or Close To Me
    4. Love Song or Friday I’m In Love

  30. Zebra

    Re your comment on FB – in most cases if you only wanted 1 or 2 song you could take the top 1 or 2 of my suggestions. Even for Joy Division I would only put in Transmission and Love Will Tear Us Apart – their career was (in retrospect) stellar but very brief. Similarly for Echo&The BunnyMen – The Killing Moon and The Cutter are suffice. Ditto the others.

  31. Stubborn Mule Post author

    @Zebra – I was hoping for retention arguments! I was feeling shaky on The Fall, thinking it was just my preference, but then heard about the New Yorker article (added in an edit of the main post). Having recently read Bill Drummond’s 45 book I consider the fact that he managed Echo for a while and then, in an unrelated incident, burned 1 million pounds may go some way to bolstering their claim. I continue to staunchly defend Joy Division – while unremittingly grim, Wikipedia tells me that “despite their short career and cult status, Joy Division have exerted a wide-reaching influence”. Maybe there’s a test there: if a band’s Wikipedia page has a legacy section, that’s ground for retention. That, however, would count against Echo, KISS and probably quite a few others already in the list. Maybe I’ll just set a limit at 400 tracks and then institute a one in, one out rule. In the short term, I think I’ll cut KISS back to one and leave JD and E&TB as they are.

  32. Sydney Slug

    Howling Wolf –
    Smokestack Lightning
    The Red Rooster

    Muddy Waters –
    Rollin’ Stone
    Hoochie Coochie Man
    Mannish Boy
    Got My Mojo Working

    John Lee Hooker –
    Boom Boom
    Boogie Chillen
    One Bourbon One Scotch and One Beer
    This is Hip

    How about Tom Jones?
    It’s not Unusual
    Sex Bomb – 2 from 60’s, 1 from 80’s and 1 from 2000!

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