It’s Spotify Wrapped time again!
Every year around this time Spotify users reap one of the few the benefits of the technodystopian digital panopticon we find ourselves living in when Spotify tells us what genres, artists, and songs we listened to most over the past year. While, yes, it’s an unsettling reminder that the Spotify servers know more about us than we know about ourselves, it’s also fun!
I’m not being sarcastic. I love the annual Top Songs list.
Plus, usually I can get a column out of it. But this year on account of the… 2020 of it all apparently I’ve wrapped myself in a warm blanket of familiar nostalgia, because my list is too on brand. I’ve put my top songs on so many Rewind lists that our illustrious editor Roman Gokhman, who’s read and edited every single column over nearly three years, could probably get most of them right just based on which songs and artists he’s sick of reading about. [Gokhman note: He knows me. I’m bracing myself for what’s to come. If you’re new to this column, just know that Willis hasn’t listened to anything made since after about 2004. Chances are, he listened to three artists who broke up in 1997 10,000 times. I, on there other hand, listened to 679 different songs, but I didn’t listen to any of them more than six times].
For example, my top three most played songs are Andrew WK’s “Party Hard,” George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” all of which have appeared in at least one of my two self-indulgent birthday columns. “Careless Whisper” appears in both!
And for artists? Metallica, who I like so much that they’re mentioned in my bio at the bottom of this article; The Offspring, who were one of my favorite bands in high school; Andrew WK, whose music forces you into a good mood against your will, which has been useful this year; and Run the Jewels, which was solely from me listening to RTJ4 over and over (stay tuned for the last part of our seven–part list of the year’s top albums).
So I can’t list those.
What I am going to do is go through my procedurally generated Top Songs of 2020 playlist and list the first five that I haven’t used in a column yet! It’s the top 100 songs so hopefully I find five in there…
The Offspring — “Self-Esteem”
I had to check twice about this one because I could’ve sworn I used it once, but I guess not! First non-repeat is No. 6 on my list.
Actually, back up. Please note that there are two additional rules: One song per artist, and I’m skipping Andrew WK’s seminal 2001 album, I Get Wet, because basically the whole thing appears in the top 30 or so.
OK, back to the list. One of the things I love most about The Offspring is that they’re one of the rare bands who unashamedly sings about being a loser. There’s no bragging and posturing, they’ll straight-up write a whole song about staying in a miserable relationship with someone they hate themselves (and for the sex). It’s almost admirable.
Bush — “The Chemicals Between Us”
Coming in eighth in my 2020 Top 100, this song was an honorable mention in my 1999 list, but that doesn’t count.
This list is gonna be heavy on the ’90s. [Gokhman note: See!] I’m the first to admit that the late ’60s and early ’70s is the best era for music in American and, arguably, world history, but it’s an immutable law of human nature that you never stop listening to what you listened to in high school. It could be objectively awful but you’ll continue to love it for life. And I was in high school in the ’90s.
That’s not to say Bush is terrible. They’re a very good band that’s become somewhat underrated over time. If Nirvana and Pearl Jam are the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Bush would be along the lines of the Kinks or Herman’s Hermits. In any other era they’d be one of the classics, but they had the misfortune of running into some of the best bands of all time.
Run the Jewels — “Pulling the Pin”
I thought I was gonna get a Rage Against the Machine song in here with “Wake Up” but alas, I used it in my column about the greatest soundtrack of all time: The Matrix.
Anyway, I really, really love RTJ4. It’s getting to be a problem. And probably my favorite song is this one, featuring the legendary Mavis Staples singing the chorus. It’s an amazing album in every aspect and I cannot recommend strong enough that you listen to it, even if you don’t think you like hip-hop.
Also, we’re already down to 22 on the playlist to get three I haven’t used. Am I really this predictable and repetitive? (Don’t answer that, Gokhman.) [Gokhman note: Never mind. Actually… am I getting that predictable that Willis can predict where my comments will be?]
Lo Fidelity Allstars — “Battleflag”
In a reversal from the last entry, I honestly thought I’d used this song twice. But according to the records, I’ve used it none times, so it’s included now!
The British electronic group has actually released five albums and is technically still around, though most of the members have been focused on side projects for the past decade or so. But the only album that really got any traction was their 1998 debut, and this is probably the only song off that album that got widespread airplay.
Why do I like it so much? Why do I remember it at all? Nobody knows, least of which me. But it’s a good song.
Nine Inch Nails — “Head Like a Hole”
It only took 26 songs to find five I haven’t included before! Take that, Gokhman! I have diverse musical tastes!
OK… this list admittedly isn’t the best example of my diverse musical tastes. This is the oldest song (1989; though the single was released in 1990), there were two from 1994, one from 1999 and one from 2020. I specifically said at the start that it was musical comfort food and had a whole rant about how the ’90s are what I default to! Get off my back!
But, it’s been a long year and the Bay Area is going back into full lockdown. Spotify also said I listened to 825 different artists this year, 200 of them for the first time, but there’s no shame in always going back to what’s comfortable. It’s been a long year so get comfort where you can get it.
Just don’t remind me of that paragraph around this time in 2021 when it’s still all songs from the ’90s.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.