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. Stubborn Mule Post author


    The Number Song – DJ Shadow
    Wrong Number – The Cure
    Numbers – Kraftwerk
    The Magic Number – De La Soul
    1999 – Prince

    The whole of 4, 5 and 6 – Jackie McLean

    and, a bit of a stretch (so to speak), 36D – The Beautiful South.

  2. Stubborn Mule Post author

    @Slug – I am doing a bit of a clean-up because I have discovered I have violated my own rules a few times by including multiple tracks from the same album. You may be pleased to know that, because I had two tracks from Waiata/Corroboree, I have swapped in a track from True Colours.

  3. Sydney Slug

    Nice remediation on Split Enz

    OK Chuck Berry:
    Roll Over Beethoven – After School Session
    Rock And Roll Music – One Dozen Berrys
    Johhny B Goode – Chuck Berry Is on Top
    No Particular Place to Go – St Louis to Liverpool

  4. Sydney Slug

    Little Richard –
    Tutti Frutti
    Long Tall Sally
    Good Golly Miss Molly
    Slippin’ and Slidin’

    Jerry Lee Lewis –
    Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On
    Great Balls of Fire
    High School Confidential

    Ray Charles –
    I Got A Woman – Ray Charles
    What’d I Say – What’d I Say
    Busted – Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul
    Take these Chains From My Heart – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volume Two

    Johnny Cash –
    I walk the Line
    A Boy Named Sue
    Ring Of Fire

  5. Sydney Slug

    @Mule in the early days there were a lot of reissues and double ups. Roll Over Beethoven was first released on After School Session then added to Chuck Berry Is On Top 2 years later to pad sales of the new album as it got better known after the first album was off the charts. If that doesn’t work for you Maybelline was on After School Session too…

  6. Jacqui

    We might have to get you in for a guest lecturer job at the Con in our new contemporary music BMus next year – this is a great list!

  7. Zebra

    Neil Young
    1. After the Gold Rush
    2. The Needle and the Damage Done
    3. Old Man
    4. Hey Hey, My My (into the Black) (because: Rust Never Sleeps, Crazy Horse, The King, Johnny Rotten, Kurt Cobain’s suicide note)

  8. Zebra

    Forget the “feat.” issue let’s go old skool and recall when it was “vs.” as in Run DMC vs. Jason Nevins in “It’s Like That”. Which should totally be on your list. Also: “Walk This Way” by Run DMC, which features Aerosmith (who did the original) but doesn’t say so. Possibly the best Rap/Hair Metal crossover of all time.

  9. Stubborn Mule Post author

    @Zebra there is a difference. “vs” indicates that the track is a remix, while “feat.” refers to a guest artist on an original track. The Art of Noise version of “Kiss” was the only version, afaik.

  10. Stubborn Mule Post author

    Here are the cases where I’ve grouped tracks under a single artist that could be argued are not:

    “I Shot The Sheriff” by The Wailers counted as one of four along with Bob Marley & The Wailers

    Elvis Costello and Elvis Costello & The Attractions treated as the same artist.

    James Brown and James Brown & The Famous Flames.

    Neil Young and Neil Young & Crazy Horse

    and the bigger stretches:

    Janis Joplin and Big Brother & The Holding Company
    Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5
    Tom Jones and Art Of Noise (feat. Tom Jones)

  11. evo

    So does Musical Education work?

    Gave it a go for 3 hours yesterday on a car trip with my son and his mate…not to mention my wife. While their level of passengers’ interest was mild, can report that the driver was very happy!

  12. evo

    Good idea.

    Oh – a request. Could you please replace Johnny Cash’s “Boy Names Sue” with the version on “Columbia Country Ckassics”. Much more atmosphere in the live audience, and lyrics are significantly clearer. Such a hillarious song, want to get the most out of it!

  13. Joe Blow

    Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails:

    Broken, included in Broken (1992–1993)
    Closer, in The Downward Spiral (1994–1997)
    The Hand that Feeds and Every Day Is Exactly the Same (sorry, pick one if you must, I myself can’t) in With Teeth (2005-2006)
    Survivalism in Year Zero (2007)

  14. Stubborn Mule Post author

    NIN is clearly essential and Closer should be there, but with 5, 9 and 11 year olds the Musical Education targets in our household (can’t speak for others) the lyrics for Closer have been the stumbling block.

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