Having a general knowledge of music is only going to do you good. A few up-and-comers, reliable mainstays, and personal favorites round out a personality and help people get to know each other. Plus, if you have people over or you’re carpooling somewhere, having a few reliable go-to playlists will give you an edge when it comes to passenger seat DJing responsibilities. Because, as we all know, it’s the passenger’s job to provide the soundtrack and the driver’s job to keep both hands on the wheel, get you there safely, and not bitch about the passenger seat’s song choices. If Spotify is your service of choice, here are a few playlists that require your attention.
Undiscovered & Brilliant
For reasons we’d need scientists to explain to us with very big words (then much simpler ones), musical taste is one of the harder things to expand. Musical ruts are not only natural but perfectly comfortable. We could spend months listening to the same handful of artists and albums. We can sing along to what we already have, and why bother when, at least half the time, it’s not worth the effort.
It’s one of the reasons we like this playlist. Any time we’d expend is transferred to people who actually want to do the musical discovery legwork. We just sit back and wait for the list to be refreshed each month. If we like someone, we can look into them further. If we don’t, we skip the song and move on. We didn’t sink weeks into looking for these bands, so skipping doesn’t mean we wasted our time. It means we’re discerning consumers.
The playlist has an indie focus and, to qualify for inclusion, artists have to have less than 10,000 streams on Spotify. This really is a playlist of undiscovered artists, so that’s one half the promise delivered. For the other half, even if we don’t like the song, we recognize that there’s significant talent driving it. But we like most of the songs, so that’s not really an issue. Listen
Pitchfork’s 200 Best Songs of the 1960s
To some readers this is probably going to be our most controversial pick. It was difficult for us too. Every decade has great music and we’re sure that if we took some time with Pitchfork’s 80s or 70s playlists or if we clicked on one of those first, they’d be what’s on this list. But for us, there’s a lot more social power in music from the 60s. These are the songs that defined one of the largest social movements in American history and provided the soundtrack for the most controversial armed conflict of pre-9/11 America.
In general terms, you could draw a direct line from Vietnam era politics to our modern unrest. To us, that makes the music of this playlist some of the most relevant music. Just look at Led Zeppelin. Their first two albums turn fifty at the end of this decade and their music could easily have been made today. The huge energetic release of their music captures the 1960s and 2010s perfectly. Granted, we could just be saying that, since they were releasing studio albums all the way up to the early 80s and their music is more modern sounding than their peers. But also consider how easy it would be to imagine them playing “Ramble On” at the Women’s March.
You know what, expand that to all the high energy songs on this playlist. “For What It’s Worth,” “Fortunate Son,” anything by Hendrix, “Sympathy for the Devil,” these are all songs that still speak to issues we’re having today. We can feel ourselves getting political here, so we’ll ramp it down a bit. Just keep it in mind while you’re listening to these songs.
Final note. We know the list claims 200 songs. In reality, it’s 184. But if you’d like, you can add the last 16 yourself. Listen
The Greatest Video Game Music
Not too long ago, we told you about the benefits of listening to video game soundtracks at work. We gave you a few listening options, which you’ve hopefully been using well, but we wanted to add one more. Back in 2011, the London Philharmonic Orchestra released their album The Greatest Video Game Music. It’s not a particularly imaginative title, we admit, but they’re musicians, not writers, and you can’t really fault someone for taking the straightforward path in a world of convoluted clickbait.
Looking through their picks and listening to their renditions, we’re beginning to think there are some serious gamers involved with the London Philharmonic. Series you’d expect make an appearance, like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, and Final Fantasy, but there are some deep cuts on there, especially considering these guys spend most of their professional careers playing some of the oldest music out there and looking like the stuffiest people this side of Downton Abbey. Call of Duty, Uncharted, Bioshock, and Splinter Cell: Conviction are all on the list, and those are not titles we associate with people who play the cello.
Their 2012 sequel only confirms our suspicion that the Orchestra is full of nerds, because their song choices only get more esoteric. Final Fantasy, Halo, and Zelda are all back, but Diablo III, Fez, Arkham City, Chrono Trigger, and Luigi’s Mansion join them, and their cover of Still Alive turns a fun, solid song into a beautiful piece of music. We want the gamertag of whoever’s making these picks, because they have their gaming shit together. Plus, it’d be stupidly cool if our Battlefield squad was the percussion section of the London Philharmonic. Part 1 | Part 2
Rick and Morty’s DeLorean Sunset
It’s been a little while since we’ve published a “Best Show You Aren’t Watching” feature, so let’s consider this entry a smaller version of that. Rick and Morty is our favorite high concept sci-fi comedy. If that’s too specific to seem like a valid recommendation, we’ll rephrase. There is no better animated show on TV. There’s absolutely an adjustment period for the show, so we understand if you’ve tried it and weren’t on board. But try watching it as twisted, episodic version of Back to the Future, since that’s basically what it was conceived as (NSFW video animation in that link, by the way). If you want a good introduction to the show but want to stay on familiar pop culture ground, Rick and Morty literally crashed The Simpsons for a couch gag.
Now that we’ve convinced you to watch Rick and Morty, let’s talk about this playlist. We were looking for something with electronic influences, but didn’t want to go straight to European house music. Partly because we’re still hazy on what European house music actually is beyond Daft Punk doing an impression of what Daft Punk sounds like to someone who wants to murder Daft Punk. If someone feels like they can explain it to us, by all means, do. Until then, we thought “Rick and Morty’s DeLorean Sunset” was a pretty good introduction to the electronic genre. It’s not bass heavy, simplistic, or monotonous, going more for varied song composition than a single gimmick or trick. True to the title, this probably isn’t far off what Rick and Morty listen to on their interstellar road trips. Listen
100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks
One of the perks of watching a lot of movies is being simultaneously exposed to great music. Think about one of your favorite movie moments and list all the reasons you like it. Most of the time, music’s going to be involved in a significant way. We’re talking Jules and Vincent’s opening of Pulp Fiction, every Vietnam movie and “Fortunate Son,” and Iron Man’s AC/DC obsession. These are moments that stick in our mind as great collaborations between two excellent art forms. Plus, you might walk away from the movie having learned something about your musical tastes. We’d love to see the numbers on people whose interest in Creedence Clearwater Revival was piqued by Forrest Gump.
Clicking through Topsify’s “100 Greatest Movie Soundtracks” playlist is a good resource for people who like getting music recommendations from movies. It’s probably the most eclectic playlist of this feature, including artists like David Bowie, DMX, Lil Wayne, Sam Smith, the Bee Gees, The Dropkick Murphys, and Bill Haley & His Comets. The music’s all over the place, which means, in the course of one playlist, you can try out almost every genre there is. Listen
When Jazz Meets Hip Hop
Genre mixing is something that’s always interested us. Classical covers of rock songs, acoustic reworkings of hip hop, hip hop sampling riffs from everywhere else, those sorts of things. But those have always banked a bit on a sort of jarring juxtaposition that introduces you to great music, rather than a natural melding of genres. Jazz and hip hop are another story. They have similar cultural roots and both lend themselves beautifully to improvisation. They’re one of the more natural meeting points in music.
Every song we’ve heard from this playlist combines the best of both. The music flows freely with the interplay only jazz can accomplish and lyrically, this is rap at the top of its game. The rhyme schemes are creative and complex and nail the “voice for the voiceless” aspect the genre became famous for.
If you’re doubting that this playlist is something you’d be interested in, make the first song you listen to “The Doo-Bop Song” by Miles Davis. There’s no better example of what we’re talking about than that one. Miles Davis is arguably the figurehead of jazz and for his last album he partnered with Easy Mo Bee, a hip hop producer. The achievements of the melding of their respective talents is exemplified in “The Doo-Bop Song,” and we’re willing to bet it’s the song that’ll bring you on board for the rest of the playlist. It worked for us. Listen
Indie Folk: Western Vistas
Listening to it makes us think Western Indie’s time outside of the spotlight saved the genre from making huge poppy mistakes, like repetitive lyrics, derivative musical arrangements, and commercialization. Being away from those detrimental aspects of the music industry meant musicians working in the genre could experiment freely and refine their style, making music that reflected their interests and talents.
The playlist description promises Indie Folk’s interpretation of the cinematic West and it absolutely delivers. Listening to it puts us in the mood for a Western revival in cinema, with two possible paths for film to take. The first is a Western in the style of A Knight’s Tale. A period piece with modern sensibilities that doesn’t get hung up on accurate language or soundtrack and is all the better for it. Take a few of these songs and put them in a Western and you’ve made a movie with layers. The second path is modernizing Western movies, similar to Hell or High Water. They’d be movies set in the present day about a region struggling to reconcile its history with modern sensibilities, with these songs providing the score. These suggestions are free and aren’t mutually exclusive, since more of each makes for a better world.
For a better example of what we’re trying to say, a proof-of-concept, if you will, play Red Dead Redemption. John Marston’s first ride in Mexico pulls off everything we’d want in our reimagining of the Western genre. Listen
Blues for Beginners
Blues, by design, is one of the most cathartic musical genres, as you’d expect from a style almost exclusively generated by people riffing on their problems, failings, or missed opportunities. It, like Jazz and Hip Hop, is a distinctly American genre and we have African-American singer-songwriters to thank for it. Actually, as is well documented, we have African-Americans to thank for most American musical tradition. But where jazz developed in more urban areas, the blues come from the Deep South, a presumably more emotionally raw area for black communities and probably the source of the cathartic nature of the genre.
The genre can also be difficult to break into, as very few of the names are as widely known as more popular rock bands and starting with The Rolling Stones feels a little wrong. It’s why we like “Blues for Beginners.” There’s a wide range of artists with emphasis on bringing attention to the actual originators of the blues. Guys like B.B. King, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, and T-Bone Walker, among others. The Rolling Stones do make an appearance, but they only feel wrong as a starting point, not as actual members of the community. They are good, after all.
Early blues guitarists also had some of the coolest names, so it’s worth checking out the playlist even if you just want to see what we’re talking about. Besides the ones we already mentioned, Skip James, Slim Harpo, and Lightnin’ Hopkins populate the list, and we’re starting to resent our parents for not spending a little more creative energy on our birth certificate. That, or we’re going to have to pick up some stage names. Listen
Music to Go to Sleep to
Some nights we need a little help getting to sleep. We’re not talking nightcaps or warm milk either, since nightcaps actually hurt your sleep cycle and warm milk sounds really gross. On those nights, we turn to the more relaxing songs in our music library. Lullabies worked for a reason and we’re not such cynical adults that we’d pass on a little more childlike wonder. Just pretend we said that more masculinely.
This is one of the more specialized picks on this list. The other playlists could conceivably be played in a number of places. Driving, working out, partying with friends, or just getting some work done. But there aren’t many things that this could provide the soundtrack to. They indicated that with the title, and listening to it now, we’d say they’re right, whoever this Daniel Clark is. This playlist would spell disaster for your commute, workout, or party, so keep this one for when it’s way past your bedtime. Listen
New Orleans Brass
We’ll end with a complete reversal of the previous entry. “New Orleans Brass” is one here due, in great part, to the pure unbridled fun of the style. You don’t even have to like horn music. You just have to like having fun. New Orleans brass music even beats out Mexican music in terms of infectious beats. Whether or not you’re a fan of either style is completely irrelevant. If you’re in a place where either is playing, some part of your body is going to start moving with the rhythm.
Any party you play this for is going to be a success, at least for the three or so hours the playlists lasts. We say “party” because this probably isn’t music you want to listen to by yourself. If you do, before long, you’ll be pounding Sazeracs and dance-flailing in the middle of your apartment, which you just realized isn’t nearly as humid as you’d prefer. You’ll want people around you when you instigate this kind of good-natured destruction, because your apartment’s getting leveled either way and it feels much better when it’s a group effort.
On a related note, does anyone have office space for rent? We stumbled on this playlist with external speakers on full blast and when we came out of our euphoric blackout, this was the only computer that survived the incident. So we’re looking. Listen