Saturday, September 03, 2005

iTunes Celebrity Playlists and Me

Have you ever looked at the Celebrity Playlists on iTunes? It shouldn't surprise anyone that I have. I suck up any kind of celebrity-related info, even though I detest the whole celebrity-worship culture and I can't stand shit like InStyle magazine where you're supposed to be all clamoring to know what moisturizer the mom on "7th Heaven" uses and other ridiculous things like that. For the same reason, you would think that I would avoid things like iTunes Celebrity Playlists, but instead I spent an hour one night looking at them, the same way I thumb through InStyle magazine at hair salons and my parents' house on occasion. Pretty much everything I saw got on my nerves, but I kept on with it.

I'm not going to complain about the fact that they even have iTunes Celebrity Playlists because I did have the option to not look at them. I was a little surprised that they had them available to purchase in their entireity, but not really. After all, the whole point of iTunes is to sell you music, and if people will buy a CD of songs just because the case says that Sheryl Crow likes them, why wouldn't people want to download a list of songs that was lovingly assembled by the likes of Howie Mandel, Nicole Kidman, Al Franken or RuPaul?

I guess you could say that I find the idea of these famous, busy people sitting down and trying to compile these lists far more interesting than anything actually on the lists. I have to wonder how many of the celebrities are actually putting these things together themselves. Celebrities are notorious for not doing much of anything for themselves, after all. Nicole Kidman says that she asked her pre-teenage daughter to help her, resulting in songs by Gwen Stefani, the Black-Eyed Peas and Outkast being included on her list. Beyonce and Mariah Carey put a lot of their own songs on their lists, which seemed kind of tacky to me.

One thing I'm sure about is that if I were a celebrity and I were asked to come up with a list of my favorite songs for iTunes, it would probably turn me into a nervous wreck. For one thing, the idea of making a list of songs and having them represent what I like on iTunes for all eternity would make me nuts. What I love and adore at this moment is not necessarily what I will love and adore a year, or even a month, from now. The iTunes people would probably get sick of me begging to be allowed to revise my list every few months and come to regret ever having asked me to submit a list for them in the first place.

Also, obviously they don't let you include any songs that they don't have available for sale on the site, which means no Beatles, which -- please. And further to that note -- in putting together a list of your favorite songs, there is always the question of representing your favorites. Besides the Beatles, there are also Billy Joel, Sarah McLachlan, Barry Manilow (I love Barry and I don't care who knows it!), Dixie Chicks and others to contend with. These are artists for whom I can come up with entire CDs of favorites -- how am I supposed narrow it down to one or even two of their songs? Not to mention categories like 80s (I can easily come up with a whole CD of favorite songs from each of the decades I've lived in -- so far I've made a series of 4 CDs of my favorite songs from the 80s) or disco or Motown. It's exhausting just thinking about trying to narrow all those things down to a couple of representative selections.

Nevertheless, I set those issues aside and did come up with a list of my favorite songs, my essential songs, that, at this moment in time, either have personal meaning for me or I just love to listen to. (Why did I do this? Who knows -- it's just the kind of thing I do.) I tried to narrow it down to what would fit on a CD ("1.2 hours" is the magic number when I'm making the CD using iTunes) but it was not to be. The list took on its own organic size. Here it is:

"Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest - Just one of those songs that makes me feel happy every time I hear it. I'm pretty sure it's about smoking pot, but I don't care.

"Sunrise (2003)" by Simply Red - My friend Becky told me to download this song a couple of years ago and I fell instantly in love. I've always found it ironic that a music group that made what I think is one of the all-time worst songs in history ("Holding Back the Years") would go on to make a song I loved so much. It's like they decided to apologize to me. My favorite line is "At this moment in time, love's indescribable..." Gives me goosebumps.

"Fire & Rain" by James Taylor - This is a song I remember occasionally hearing from my early childhood on. In 1989, it was used in the movie "Running On Empty," in which River Phoenix played a teenager who eventually has to cut ties with his parents, activists who have gone underground to escape prosecution for a bombing they participated in back in the 60s, so he can attend Julliard. The song is played, to poignant effect, as he stands by the side of the road and watches them drive away at the end of the movie. River Phoenix was one of my very favorite actors, and since he died in 1993, this song has always made me think of him.

"This Love" by Maroon 5 - Evidently this song was one of those way-overplayed songs that people really got sick of, but I don't listen to the radio that much anymore, and I just loved from the first time I heard it. I even bought the CD, and I almost never buy CDs since the whole music downloading revolution happened.

"Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" by George Harrison - This is a current favorite. George is my favorite Beatle and I'm just starting to get into his solo work. I just love the emotion in his voice and the way it builds. I remember hearing bits and pieces of this over the years but I didn't realize who sang it or ever listen to the whole thing till I downloaded it a few months ago.

"Overjoyed" by Stevie Wonder - This is another song I know I've heard over and over from the time I was a kid, and I'm embarrassed to admit what made me smack myself on the forehead and go "what a great song!" was when Nike used a bit of it in a commercial featuring Michael Jordan (double bleah!). But anyway, not only do I love the way it sounds, I also love the theme of the lyrics: you've never realized I love you (see also "Sunrise (2003)"). Songs about that always get me.

"I Know" by Dionne Farris - Just an awesome, catchy song. When the single was out and the video was in heavy rotation, Reasonable Man bought me the cassette to apologize for something he'd done that annoyed the crap out of me. I don't remember what he did to piss me off, but I'll always remember the sweet gesture he made to apologize for it. Flowers are great, but you can't go wrong with giving me the means to listen to a favorite song over and over again.

"Change the World" by Eric Clapton - This is another song that other people probably got sick of. I never will. "Tears in Heaven" never did for me what it did for the rest of the world, but this one does. There's just something really nice and heartfelt about it, wrapped up in a really good pop song...

"A Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton - ... as is this one. I love the piano and her little girl voice. I can just listen to it over and over and never get tired of it. I also love her songs "Ordinary Day" and "White Houses" and I just generally think she's really cool.

"You Gotta Be" by Des'ree - I never develop a love for a song based on the message, but I liked the way this one sounded the first time I heard it, and the lyrics are about learning to believe in oneself but they're really well-done and not clunky and sentimental. It's hard to get that right. I also remember the video was nice, with the singer dressed in white against a black background, and black against a white background, and doing cool things with her hands.

"Crush" by Dave Matthews Band - I wasn't a Dave Matthews fan and this song played a lot on the radio the summer of 1999 before I one day had the sudden epiphany that it was absolutely awesome and I couldn't listen to it enough. It totally captures that feeling of being with someone you're totally into immediately following... well, you know. Very sensual and romantic.

"Heart & Soul" by T'Pau - This is an 80s song I only heard maybe a few times in the 80s. I don't remember it getting any airplay on the radio where I grew up, but I went to visit my cousin in the Central Valley during my senior year of high school, and she and her friends were way into it. I always remembered it from the night I went out cruising with them, and it was always a treat to hear it until I was able to download it a few years ago. It definitely ranks among my top several 80s songs now.

"Rock DJ" by Robbie Williams - This is a really fun song. Robbie Williams is nut -- he's never taken off in the U.S. but they love him in England, and I thinks he's great. This song just kind of perfectly captures his silly, outrageous persona and it's great to run to and I just find it irresistable overall.

"Wonder" by Natalie Merchant - 1997 was a hard year for me, as it was the year we realized that Mermaid had developmental problems, and I spent a lot of time not just trying to figure out what was going on with her but experiencing the frustrations associated with trying to figure out how to get her the help she needed. Mermaid always liked music and the two of us were home alone together with the radio on a lot. "Wonder" had been playing quite a lot for several months before I suddenly listened to the lyrics one day and realized the song was about an amazing girl with special abilities, and from that day on, in my mind this song was about Mermaid. I even printed out part of the lyrics and put them in her baby book. She likes to sing , and if she performed this song someday, I could die happy.

"Better Man" by Pearl Jam - I was never into grunge rock but I do kind of like Pearl Jam, and there's something about the simplicity of this song and its lyrics that I love. It tells a story you've heard a million times before but it's just done really really well and I love to listen to it.

"Alive & Kicking" by Simple Minds - Another 80s favorite. The lead singer's voice together with the gospel-choir-sounding background vocalists and the way it builds to the climax -- "don't say good-bye, don't say good-bye, in the final seconds, who's gonna save you?" -- I just love it. I think this is a much better song than their bigger hit, "Don't You (Forget About Me)" from "The Breakfast Club."

"You Get What You Give" by New Radicals - I thought this was just a really great, rocking song from the first time I heard it. The silly lyrics about Hanson, Courtney Love, etc. near the end are fun too.

"Tunnel of Love" by Bruce Springsteen - I know the guy's an icon, but he doesn't really do anything for me, except for this song. I love the way all the different pieces of music fit together, and the idea of this couple riding this carnival ride works really well as a metaphor for the problems in their relationship.

"Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover" by Sophie B. Hawkins - This song is a good example of
a whole being more than the sum of its parts. This woman is raspy and weak as a vocalist, and the lyrics range from silly ("Shucks! For me there is no other") to bizarre ("I sat on the mountainside with peace of mind, and I lay by the ocean making love to her with visions clear") to kind of overly suggestive ("I'll give you something sweet each time you come inside my jungle book"), and the arrangement doesn't seem like anything special, but put them all together and they amount to a song I find intoxicating. When I hear it, I always want to sing along and move to the music.

"Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve - It grabs you from the opening hook, which I had as the ring tone on my old cell phone. The song takes its time building, layer upon layer, until it gets going, but it makes the wait worthwhile. Not good for running to, but otherwise I love it. One time several years ago, both the kids were complaining, and whining became crying, and Reasonable Man started singing "'cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this li-ife..." and we both cracked up.

"Sowing the Seeds of Love" by Tears for Fears - In my mind this is kind of an 80s song and kind of not -- I remember the first time I heard it, close to the end of the summer between my first and second years of college. It was 1989 but I have a hard time classifying songs that came out when I was in college as true 80s songs. Anyway, the first time I heard it was when I saw the video, and right away I heard the Beatles kind of sound and just loved it. Tears for Fears is one of the few 80s groups that kept on making interesting music into the 90s. I bought the cassette this song came from, "Sowing the Seeds" and it was a really cool mix of pop and jazz. This is an excellent song even though some of the lyrics are kind of silly.

So there you go. I've now spent several hours on this post and now I'm wondering if any of the celebrities who have a playlist on iTunes ever put as much effort into their playlists that actually have a shot at being seen by more than the handful of people who actually read my blog. (Not that I don't love you guys! You know I do!) If you actually read everything I wrote, I thank you, and if not -- yeah, I don't blame you :-) But anyway, that's the list.

And I reserve the right to revise it whenever the mood strikes.

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