Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The 885: Essential Music, part 1

Each year WXPN puts together an 885 countdown of sorts and solicits voting from listeners. This year's countdown, which begins today, is a little different than most, and I'm pretty sure will really make you think. The 885 Essential XPN Songs is an attempt to find the songs that you think define WXPN. Might not be your favorite songs, or the "best" songs...but the songs that make XPN the unique station that it is. I have no clue what the results are, so I'll be listening alongside you over the next week or so as the station counts 'em down.

Before listeners were asked to vote, our programming department solicited responses from the staff. What a painful experience. When I sat down to pick my 10 Essential XPN Songs I quickly realized how difficult a task it was. I started writing down songs and ended up with about 30 songs which I had to pare down. And the debate raged in my head. Which songs would make the cut and which would end up on the cutting room floor.

For those who aren't familiar with WXPN, we're a public radio station with a format generally known as Triple-A (Adult Album Alternative). Not constricted by formulaic computer generated playlists, we probably have one of the largest music libraries in the business. So while you will hear new music from artists you have never heard of...you'll also hear familiar music from the Beatles, Stones, and Springsteen. You'll hear singer/songwriters, Reggae, Blues, and Folk, alongside all sorts of indie-pop/rock and "alternative" rock. No one style of music can define the station.

As the staff began submitting their top-ten lists, they were circulated via all-staff emails and I began to second-guess my own list. And I'm convinced that I could put together a completely different list ever day. But anyway...here is my initial list of my Ten Essential XPN Songs...and why I chose them. I think I'll roll these out over the next several days....

10. Andy Pratt - Avenging Annie. I discovered Andy Pratt while I was working in college radio in 1979. I heard his album "Motives" and immediately fell in love with his music. As is customary for me, when I discover a new artist I run out and soak up their back catalog. Pratt is a master of the great pop song. The closest thing he ever had to a hit was this song, sung from the perspective of a woman, from 1973's self-titled album on Columbia. According to Wikipedia, this particular song took about 500 hours to record due to its complex and wide ranging vocals. XPN could very likely be the only station in the country that ever plays this song.

side note: I've never spoken to our midday host Helen Leicht about this, but in the early 80s, while home from college, I was listening to her show on WIOQ (what a great station at the time!) when I heard her play this song. I flipped out. It was the first time I'd ever heard Pratt played on commercial radio.

second side note: Roger Daltrey of the Who covered this song, but it just doesn't do it justice. I'll stick with the original, thank you.

9. Nick Drake - Pink Moon. British singer/songwriter Nick Drake is one of those artists who never really achieved the fame he deserved while he was alive, though he was a darling of the critics. He died in 1974 at the age of 26, and never really got into the public consciousness until 2000 when this particular song was used in a Volkswagen commercial. Harp all you want about the commercialization of cool music, but we can thank that commercial for bringing Drake's music to a much wider audience. And XPN is one of the few stations that plays Drake's music.

8. U2- I Will Follow. Not much to say here. Big U2 fan, so there had to be one of their songs on this list. Didn't want to go with one of their big, recent hits. So I went with one of their first big songs that I played on college radio when it was new. First song on their first album (Boy). First time I heard this band, I was hooked. I could rave on and on about them, but think about it. This band has been around for nearly 30 years with the same line-up, and they are still putting out good, relevant music. People still look forward to their new music (and a new album is coming out soon!), unlike some bands who are forced to recycle their tried and true hits.

I'll continue the list tomorrow. But in the meantime, tune into XPN to hear the countdown. I know I'll probably hear some old favorites, and discover some new ones! And feel free to comment and let me know your essential XPN songs, or call me an idiot for my personal choices.

Oh, and in the meantime, check out our own little video.

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