Parsing My Spotify “Your Top Songs of 2018” Playlist

In addition to my own annual music lists, Spotify makes one for me (posted below). I love this about Spotify. It pays for the subscription all by itself. There’s another service called that I have used for years that does something similar, collecting data on music you’ve streamed across a variety of platforms and showing it to you across seven day, 180 day, and 365 day stretches. But because, until September, it was mixing together both mine and Kiddo’s listening histories, there’s way too much Hamilton and Camila Cabello to sift through to find my music.

Also, not only does the service compile a playlist for you of the 100 songs you’ve listened to the most during the year, it accompanies that list with a web-based presentation about your music listening habits since January.

I listened to 25,104 minutes of music this year.

I listen to “non-mainstream” artists 71% more than the average Spotify listener.

The oldest song I streamed all year was the 1954 track, “Keep Your Hand on The Plow” by Mahalia Jackson.

I am so much of a sucker for this.

Listening through this automatic “Your Top Songs” playlist is actually a reflective exercise. Sure, a bunch of what’s in there is stuff I picked and played repeatedly on purpose, and most of it was released in 2018 and so overlaps with this playlist. But there’s a lot of surprises in there that break down to a couple of things that were true about 2018 for me.

I spent a lot of time building a shared playlist with a friend from seminary, trying to get him to expand my musical palette and teach me some of the American music history that my suburban Top 40 radio upbringing deprived me of. That list accounts for a lot of what I spent time with, stuff I would not otherwise have been listening to (Billy Bragg, Buffalo Tom, Grandpa Boy, The James Hunter 6).

I also, because of my job, spend hours driving vans full of teenagers. I make playlists for these drives, and I’ve started inviting the students to contribute. Those trips have a discernible footprint on this playlist. They account for  the Walk The Moon, Portugal. The Man, a-ha, Earth, Wind, & Fire (!), Miley Cyrus, Journey, and Barenaked Ladies (one group of students demanded “Don’t Shuffle Me Back” practically every time we got in the van.)

Finally, there are songs in here that I hope will be in my top 100 every year for the rest of my life. These are the songs that makeup the soundtrack of my life. I seek them out repeatedly when I need them. See “Beautiful World”, “Ordinary Angels,” “Tyson vs. Douglas,” and “Joey.”

Seriously, Spotify is an instrumental to my end-of-year reflection as anything else.

It’s December. Time To Share Music.

I listen to a lot of music. In the morning making Kiddo’s school lunch, on the train to work, in the office, on the train home, in the kitchen making dinner, in the car. I have music on almost all the time.

I choose the music intentionally. Spotify has a mind boggling array of radio stations that will play music for you: at this very moment the home page is recommending a station it’s created called “Have A Great Day,” one full of “Today’s Top Hits,” and then a seasonal recommendations–“Christmas Coffeehouse.”

I have no use for any of these.

For me, the true power of streaming music lies in the ability it gives me to curate my own library, with up-to-the-minute new releases, and to make my own lists. Spotify specifically lets me make lists with friends, which is amazing. One list a buddy and I have made has 921 songs on it, and we only started it at the end of last December.

I keep a running list of both songs and albums released in a given year. In December I share them. It’s December.

This is the list of songs released in 2018, either on albums or as singles, that were my favorite. It’s simple: if I liked it when I heard it, it went on the list. Over time, some songs came off the list. There’s a more exclusive list I’ll share later of my top, top, top songs of the year. That’s not this.

Put this on shuffle and see what tickles you.


The 2017 Songs Shortlist

Here it is, the final Music of The Year installment for 2017. After a big ol’ playlist of songs and three lists of albums, all that’s left is this this “shortlist” of the 26 tracks released in 2017 that I loved the most. May it usher you into a musically enriching 2018.



Most of these songs belong to albums I’ve already shared. A few thoughts on ones I haven’t, then.

“The Old Churchyard” from the Decemberists/Olivia Chaney collaboration called “Offa Rex” is haunting and just lovely. I gave the vinyl of this album as a gift to someone who maybe reads this blog and so can’t name. Merry Christmas.

“Confidence” by Said The Whale is just the right combination of electronic production, rhythm, and profanity for a rock record.

“Telefono” by Phoenix will break your heart if you can catch the snippets of English buried in the Italian one-sided dialogue lyrics. “But wait. Do you plan to visit?”

“In My Dreams” by Jenn Grant is a sad sultry song about praying to Jesus. Enough said.

“Tyson Vs. Douglas” by The Killers almost feels like a nostalgic cheap shot, and I can’t get through it without tearing up, which is a weird thing to experience from a song about a boxing match. “Rut” is just as personal and emotional. Especially if you hear the Song Exploder they recorded about it. 

“I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” by Sonny Sweeney is a cover of a 1988 Chris Wall song I’d never heard before that will turn your stomach if you’re allergic to country music. I’m not, though, and every time I played this record I found myself singing it to myself for hours after. Landon hates it though.

“Hungry” by Travis Meadows is a plate full of dirt and grit that you just can’t stop chewing on.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year.

How To Look Stupid in Public (or Landon’s Music Picks for 2013)

Before you begin, click play on the above playlist. 

Twice this week I’ve attracted a worried, sympathetic gaze from a stranger, once while getting my mail and once while sitting at a traffic light. The cause was the same both times: Landon. Dude, I look like a dummy these days, and it’s all your fault. I can’t get “Brave” out of my head, and I can’t stop myself from dancing like the people in that video.

Landon and I are featuring one another’s favorite music of the year. We’ve swapped curated playlists of our favorite songs and the names of our top albums, and we’re taking turns this week presenting those in this space with comment. Hence my repeated listening to “Brave” (and “Settle Down” and “6AM”) and the inevitable public dancing, which, as you may have guessed, is the cause of my public humiliation.

Here’s Landon spinning out a worldview based on my music picks.

I’m less capable as a cultural critic, so I won’t suggest a worldview. I will, though, suggest a World Experience–that is, what listening to Landon’s 2013 music picks will do to your life. Once you get comfortable in your own skin, you’re gonna like it. I’ve been doing it for a week now. It’s nice.

The Playlist

In the past seven days tells me that I’ve listened to “Brave” 22 times, “Royals” 27 times, and “Get Lucky” 19 times (not counted are the views of the videos for these songs, which have been multiple). It’s a good life. The key is major. It’s rhythmic. There’s harmony. It won’t make you want to dance outright (excepting “Get Lucky,” of course), but you will be moving: head bobbing, feet gliding, shoulders twitching.

There was a time when I would heap scorn on that kind of indulgence. But I’m older now. November was a rough month. The songs on this playlist are a tonic from the gods.

This list isn’t without heft, though. “Two Sides of Lonely” is a throaty lament, and “Epic” has this haunting rhythm guitar part that’ll make you want do don a black turtleneck and horn-rimmed glasses.  And, yeah, “Royals” is nobody’s Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo. Landon’s songs will hook your head and your gut at the same time.

The best word for the whole list is “anthemic.” These are big songs for big places (“City Electric”). They’re reaching in their lyrics and arrangements to be the voice of a public (notably “Most People” and “Brave”), which kind of makes the whole list feel like a life statement: we the people of this music are coming after the world with confidence, ready to think and move at the same time. Stare at us if you want.

I synced this playlist to my phone last week so I could listen to it wherever I went and just swim in it. Now we’ll see how long it takes me to get out and dry off.

The Albums

Landon claims disappointment in 2013’s crop of albums, so he’s only highlighting three. We have kind of established a three-skip rule for albums in the past, which simply states that an album can’t be all that great if there are more than three songs on it that you regularly skip. I have to believe that the three skip rule kept lots of albums on the bench here.

Here are Landon’s top three:

“Random Access Memories,” by Daft Punk


This one kind of threw me, because I never took Landon for a Daft Punk fan. I’ll only say this: if you listen to this album from beginning to end you’re getting a smorgasbord of disco guitar arrangements and electronic vocalizations (including a long stretch of spoken word) that will challenge your attention span. If you can stick with it and not just hit the fun stuff (“Lucky,” “Lose Yourself To Dance”), you have a more disciplined ear than I.

“Stories Don’t End” by Dawes


Landon could sing the songs on this album, and I’m certain that’s why he loves it. This album is super simple flannel-clad rock that veers country at times. But the soul of the album is a bearded dude with a guitar writing nuanced lyrics (“Just My Luck”) crooning to a minimal backing band. No doubt Landon listens to “Stories Don’t End” and fantasizes about playing gritty bars with the boys from Jesusfish.

“Fellow Travelers,” by Shearwater


This comes out of nowhere, and I don’t quite know what to do with it. Jonathan Meiberg’s is Shearwater’s lead singer, and he has a voice like tar. It’s heavy and engrossing, but I can only take it in short doses. Those doses hit hard, though. Like, cinder block on your windshield hard. “Fellow Travelers” is snarlin’ music. That Landon loves this suggest to me that, after 2013, he could name you five people he’d kick in the chest given the chance. Go get ’em, cowboy.

So there you have it. Landon’s favorite songs and albums of the year. What does this collection suggest to you?

And does anybody know where I can get a good deal on a space helmet? I haven’t got Landon’s Christmas present yet.