What the hell are you doing?

What are your doing?

I'm glad you asked. In the early days of 2015, during an 10 hour marking marathon, I had a thought. What if I were to listen to all the songs with years in the title, from the 1812 Overture to 2015?

I'm interested in seeing what patterns are revealed by this sideways selection process, and finding out what hidden gems are buried somewhere down the back of Spotify.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

1. The 1812 Overture, Op. 49 (Conclusion) - Tchaikovsky (Performed by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra)

Note: You can listen to the piece of music here. Thanks to Jason Holloway for test reading this first entry. 

Beneath the war-cry there is an undercurrent – menacing, and almost imperceptible. We lose it in the busy preparations between the bugle calls. The pace quickens. In less than thirty seconds, we have reached a crescendo. The strings have become a battle charge; a variation of La Marseilles plays defiantly over the clamour. There are blasts of percussion ,  rising and falling action, burning debris hurtling through a dark sky. Slowing. Transforming into embers, caught in an updraft of bass. The first glorious foray is over, and a victor is emerging, magisterial against the wreckage of war.

But the chaos, the burning has not truly been vanquished. There is a struggle between the giddy rush of the violins and the measured triumph of the horns. In the background, there is an instrument I don’t recognise. The ringing echoes of artillery fire, or the prophetic phantom of an A-bomb, whistling towards its inevitable conclusion. It vanishes amidst the last weary throes of victory.

Then somebody throws a cream-pie, and hits General Kutuzov square in the face. Sullied by the trailers of a thousand tacky slapstick movies, the celebration of the returning heroes becomes a hymn to an altogether different form of chaos. People trip on errant roller-skates and bounce down staircases; a man hits his friend in the head with a large-plank of wood; atop the stairs, a pair of mismatched workmen smash a grand piano through the railing. It teeters on the brink and they fight to pull it back but it slips off the balcony. It is nanoseconds from smashing on the ground below when Tchaikovsky arrives to rip up the score and destroy this bedlam he has unwillingly created. With a safe hand back on the conductor’s baton, the piece builds to a more dignified conclusion, but the phantasmal atom bomb has returned. The orchestra plays louder, faster.

We don’t hear the bomb go off.

Friday, 2 January 2015

An Introduction

There are literally hundreds of songs with dates in the title. I've checked. I am about to set out on a quest to listen to 247 songs (that's over 15 hours of music) Covering almost every year since 1812 and it's famous canon-fire overture, up to the present, this will not be a history of the 19th and 20th centuries in music, but rather an exploration of how we imagine those years.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I am not a musical journalist, and have never really written about music before (although I do consider Lester Bangs to be one of my writing heroes). I am an English Teacher and a writer of fiction and poetry. My technical musical knowledge doesn't stretch past what is need to play a little bit of bass (in other words, I can count to four), but I love music, and I love words, and this seems like an interesting way to combine the two.

I first attempted this over a year ago, but didn't get very far before life got in the way. Now I'm relaunching it as part of my effort to write every day. Lets see how it goes.

If you are interested in methodologies, mine is below:

  • I started with 1812, because it was the earliest 'song named after a year' I could think of, and because it give a nice 'almost two hundred years' to bring us to the present.
  • I finished with 2015, because I had to stop somewhere.
  • All songs were found on the Spotify playlist. I have only included songs with the name of the year in the title - I have excluded songs where the title includes a note that they were written or recorded in a particular year; I'm interested in songs which are actually about a particular time.
  • It soon became apparent that there are many, many songs for some years. In the interests of having some limitations, I have only used songs which show up in the top 3 when running a Spotify search for a particular year.
  • I have not included remixes or re-releases of songs recorded by the same artist, but have sometimes included cover versions as a point of comparison.
  • I will aim to post every Sunday - when I first envisioned this project, I was planning on posting five reviews every week, but as I only got as far as one post, that's obviously unsustainable.
  • My aim is not to make judgments about the quality of these songs, but to explore what they say about how a particular year is imagined. Sometimes this might take the form of a straightforward review, others, it might be more like a short piece of writing inspired by the music. I will however include a 'would I listen to the rest of the album' section when giving the basic information on each song.