I'm not sure how Frannie Kelley and I came up with the concept of cataloging every piece of music that plays during a single day, but I'm pretty sure that once one of us said it out loud, I clung to the idea like it would feed the hungry.
We're not just talking about the tunes on your iPod or the YouTube videos you watch on your lunch break. The point here is to notice the musical programming choices made by people around you, so a listening diary needs to cover every song you hear, from the Sarah McLachlan that plays on a satellite radio station while you're standing in line for coffee to the dude halfway down the subway platform thunking out some echo-ey beat on a overturned plastic garbage bin.
Turns out it's hard to figure out when you're going to make time during the day to write down every piece of music you hear, though. So I did the only sensible thing, and took the project on my vacation.
My girlfriend and I recently spent a week driving along the coast of Maine, and I used the opportunity (and the free labor provided by an extra set of hands when I was driving) to see what towns like Waldoboro and Camden have to offer besides the sound of the Atlantic lapping gently at the rocks on the coast and the screams of lobsters being boiled alive. High on that list of natural resources: Country and classic rock.
Here's an annotated list of every song I heard on Wednesday, September 1, 2010.
IN THE TENT:
We woke up Wednesday morning in a campsite at Acadia National Park, so the first piece of music I heard after I woke up was the guitar line from Journey's "Faithfully," coming from my own mouth.
One of the things I love about camping is the way, when you're cut off from the customary barrage of stimuli, your brain forces bits of cultural detritus to the surface. We actually heard this song on the radio in the car a couple of days earlier, but silence means there's nothing to dislodge the sounds in your head, so you can really obsess over songs you would normally ignore.
Anyway, close quarters + no competition from outside sources = both of us singing in sleepy off-key harmony, except for the parts where she replaces the actual lyrics with my name: "I'm foreeever Ganz, Ganzfully..." and so on.
I have no idea where "River of Dreams" came from, but it wasn't received as kindly by my companion. It's probably been 15 years since I heard the song, though I do have a friend from college who proudly wore a t-shirt from the Billy Joel tour for the record of the same name. It didn't strike me until I was singing it into the mirror in the public restroom while brushing my teeth just how hard -- and how ineffectually -- Joel was riding the Graceland bandwagon with this song. By the time we got the tent packed up, I was getting murderous stares from my fellow camper.
IN THE CAR:
- Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Bad Moon Rising" (The opening chords of this song came on just as we were pulling out of the campsite. It's a great "Time to hit the open road" song, and even better for being an anti-"River of Dreams" tonic.)
- John Mayer - "Daughters" (Though mostly our own comic imitations of Mayer's bizarrely strained singing style and a discussion -- the latest in an ongoing series -- about how a guy with his reputation gets away with singing songs like this.)
- Police - "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
- Lady Antebellum - "Need You Now"
Vacation for us means the radio, which, in most places, leads to us becoming best friends with our radio's "scan" button. (No, the Police and Lady Antebellum songs did not play on the same station.)
This also means I'm going to cheat a little bit, here in this first ever listening diary, and not include every song we heard just a bit of. If we let the radio scan past a song, or if either one of us successfully lunged for the dial when a song came on, it's not included here. Let's be clear: that doesn't mean we only listened to good songs. Part of being on vacation (especially when you leave New York) is a relaxation of ideals (see also: theme-restaurants, taking pictures of things that you cannot identify upon later review, generally acting like a tourist), but also the minor sense of desperation that creeps into days filled with the limited options of smaller towns, even if you'd kill for those days when you're at home working blog hours. For example, we listened to the song that opens this next set in its entirety.
- Peter Frampton - "Baby I Love Your Way"
- A-Ha - "Take On Me"
- Miley Cyrus - "The Climb"
- John Lennon - "Just Like Starting Over"
- Billy Currington - "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer" (a quick stop on the local country station for a perfect windows-down summer song. Totally stupid but pretty charming nonetheless, "Pretty Good" was on its way up to number one on the Country chart, and -- along with Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" -- pretty much inescapable on this trip.)
- Hall & Oates - "Rich Girl"
- The Killers - "Mr. Brightside"
- Katy Perry - "California Gurls" (By this point in the trip, and in the summer, we're both pretty sick of "California Gurls," but we stuck it out just for posterity's sake. So here's an example of this exercise itself influencing our listening decisions.)
- Katy Perry - "Teenage Dream" (A different station, but yes, we listened to two Katy Perry songs in a row. In our defense, this one's much better than "California Gurls," and in it Perry demonstrates her ability to sing directly on the beat: "You. Make. Me....")
- Billy Joel - "Piano Man"
- War - "Low Rider"
- Liz Phair - "Why Can't I" (Total surprise here. Phair's Matrix-assisted pseudo-hit actually played on the same radio station as the War cut that preceded it and the '80s vintage Elton John and Rod Stewart jams that followed.)
- Elton John - "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues"
- Rod Stewart - "Rhythm of My Heart"
To an outsider driving along the central coast of Maine listening only to the radio, it can seem like the state's primary industries are lobster rolls, classic rock radio stations, and motels or gift-shops that pun on the name of the state. Most areas seemed to have a single country station, and sometimes we landed on a string of "the best of today's hits." The two stations that our little Kia picked up for the entire coast were 95.7 WWMJ ("I-95 Classic Hits") and 92.9 WEZQ ("Continuous Lite Rock Favorites"), both of which are owned by Cumulus media, "America's second largest operator of radio stations."
One of the things that I always forget about classic rock radio is that the playlists are nearly as predictable as they are on modern pop radio, even though the DJs theoretically have THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF ROCK MUSIC from which to select the songs. "Baby I Love Your Way," along with anything by Billy Joel, but especially "Piano Man," was a Maine-stay of playlists on the radio stations we picked up. Sorry. I don't make up the puns, I just report them.
IN LINE AT RED'S EATS IN WISCASSET, ME, WAITING FOR A LOBSTER ROLL:
12:30pm - 1:15pm
- Billy Joel: "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me"
- Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Bad Moon Rising"
The line at Red's Eats, a shack at the foot of a bridge just off Highway 1 in Wiscasset, famously stretches around the corner, and for good reason (that's Red's lobster roll in the photo at the top of the post). More classic rock ("Bad Moon" rises again), quickly drowned out by traffic on the highway and excited chatter of other tourists in the line.
BACK IN THE CAR:
- That "Breathe, just breathe" song that apparently played on Grey's Anatomy. Turns out it's called "Breathe (2 AM)" and it's by Anna Nalick and people have watched the video on YouTube more than 7 million times.
- Del Amitri - "Roll To Me"
- Fine Young Cannibals - "Good Thing"
- The Bangles - "In Your Room" (Awesome.)
- John Mellencamp - "Small Town"
- Doobie Brothers - "Listen to the Music" (I learned, not too long before this vacation, that I'd been hearing this song wrong my entire life, and that the chorus didn't go "Whoaaaa, it's gonna be the same." Yes, I realize the chorus I misheard was the name of the song. If you don't mind, I'm going to blame the song itself for being so bland and awful that I never wanted to pay close attention to it, rather than any kind of personal deficiency.)
- Fleetwood Mac - "Rhiannon"
- The Cars - "Good Times Roll"
- The Beatles - "Hey Jude"
- Billy Joel - "My Life"
- Bill Withers - "Lean on Me"
- The Cure - "Love Song"
- John Mellencamp - "Jack & Diane"
Back on the road after lunch. If you're picking a place to drive around for an afternoon looking for a place to stay, you could do much worse than Maine's coast. It's an exercise that would make me crazy in most other places, but today the sun is shining and the coastline peeks out between the trees and buildings on Highway 1, and after a shaky start (both the Nalick and the Del Amitri songs are terrible but live-with-able) the radio settles into a pretty great set of songs, with a big Doobie of an exception.
- Jason Mraz - "I'm Yours"
- Usher ft. Will.i.am - "OMG"
- Death Cab for Cutie - "Soul Meets Body" (I'm pretty sure this song gets played on the radio solely because of its "Ba-da-ba-da-ba-bah" chorus, and not for it's totally confusing lyrics and rather limp acoustic guitar hook.)
- The Clash - "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
- Bee Gees - "How Deep Is Your Love"
You may have noticed, as I had by the time we pulled into the parking lot at the hotel we eventually settled on, that in a land where country and classic rock dominate radio stations, playlists can start to seem overwhelmingly monochromatic. It wasn't until after 3:00pm that we heard "OMG," our first modern pop song by a singer who wasn't white. Soon after, we caught the end of Rihanna's "Rude Boy" -- twice in the span of 30 minutes. We would have killed for a college radio station with a reggae show.
The iPod was calling out to get some play by this point in the afternoon, but live by the dial, die by the dial. Plus, sticking with radio gives you the opportunity to wonder what kind of a sick joke a DJ who follows the Clash with a sappy Bee Gees ballad is trying to play. We're living in a world of fools, people. Breaking us down.
IN THE HOTEL LOBBY:
If I told you that the music playing in the lobby of the hotel -- the sort of place with a golf course and a "four diamond" restaurant on the premises, but also clean sheets and hot showers and food not made on a camping stove, thank you very much -- was some kind of never-ending Spanish guitar loop designed to be mildly exotic and perpetually bland, would you be surprised? No, you would not. But you might want to take a nap.
Instead, how about an afternoon hike? On the drive back up the coast to Camden Hills State Park, we listened to All Things Considered on WMEP 90.5. We tuned in too late to hear Don Voegeli's theme music, but did catch all the breaks between the Greg Allen piece on the Florida primary and the interview with the guy who's making the new rug for the Oval Office.
The view of Camden Harbor from the top of Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park
After a quick hike along the coast and a drive to a look-out over Camden's harbor, we were back on the road in time for "The Numbers" on Marketplace, which was immediately preceded by an instrumental snippet from the start of "Venus as a Boy" by Bjork. The last thing we heard before stopping in Camden for dinner was a promo for the next day's Fresh Air, featuring music by Willie Nelson.
IN PORT CLYDE SEAFOOD CO. IN CAMDEN, MAINE:
- Fleet Foxes - "Ragged Wood"
- Pinback - "Tripoli"
- Vampire Weekend - "Giving Up the Gun"
- "Some piano and drums song with guitar," according to my notes.
- Peter Bjorn & John - "Young Folks"
The indie-est set of the day played over oysters, smoked salmon and locally brewed beers at Port Clyde Seafood Co., a small restaurant staffed almost entirely by college-aged women. Our waitress said the music was from a Pandora station -- after the Peter Bjorn & John, the restaurant filled up, and drowned out the tunes.
BACK IN THE CAR:
- Hall & Oates - "You Make My Dreams Come True"
- Starship - "Jane"
- Heart - "Magic Man"
More classic rock radio for the short drive back to the hotel, all pretty agreeable. If any music soundtracked the commercials or movies that played on the hotel's flat-screen TV, I missed it. Does snoring count as avant-garde music?