Monday, August 2, 2010

Intro to Objective-Subjective Analysis

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of music. Why have I been doing this, you—the hypothetical and nonexistent reader of this blog—may ask? Certainly not for enjoyment! No, mythical reader, I have been doing it for a project I have wanted to undertake for some time now: ranking my personal favorite top 100 albums. You see these rankings everywhere. Rolling Stone does a new one every three months or so. My album rankings will be much more subjective (obviously) and much more limited than those of Rolling Stone. Here are a couple spoilers: you won’t find any Weezer here, and you certainly won’t find any Metallica. If this makes you, phantom reader, want to leave the page right now, I say this to you: GOOD. If you think generic hogwash like that goes on my top 100 list, I don’t want you to read my blog—not that you’re reading it anyway.

Ranking this many albums is harder than you, my imaginary reader, might think. How do I decide what gets ranked above what? Do I really like this more than that? After much thought and many feeble ideas, I came up with the following system:

“Hit songs”: Tally the number of songs that are absolutely, positively indispensable to the album. Normalize to ten (so that albums with more songs don’t get an unfair advantage).
“Skippable tracks”: Tally the number of songs that are so boring or sonically unpleasing that one would have to be in a drug-induced coma to not skip them. Normalize these to ten, and subtract them from the total.

Each of the following categories received a one to ten score:

“Hits versus filler”: Many albums have some songs that can’t really be considered indispensable, but are certainly not skip-worthy. How do these songs measure up to the best songs on the album? Is there great disparity, or is the quality of the music basically maintained throughout?
“Catchiness”: This is somewhat self-explanatory, but I also considered how likely the songs were to get stuck in my head. Not that only good songs can get stuck in one’s head (sadly, it’s often the opposite), but it does indicate some level of catchiness.
“Memorability”: How well do I remember the songs on the album? If I listen to an album that I haven’t heard for a long time, are there songs I don’t remember, or does every track feel familiar?
“Tendency to Return”: How often do I listen to this album? Do I tend to come back to it every few weeks, months, years? I have fond feelings for many records I listened to in middle school, but rarely listen to them nowadays. On the other hand, some albums I discovered in my teens are still constantly being played as an adult.
“Impact”: This is a hard one to define, really. It’s more of a gut feeling I have about the album. I thought about including cultural impact for this, but I decided that this was my rankings about my favorite albums and it all has to be about me. Besides, how do I judge the cultural impact of something for which I wasn’t around? (I listen to lots of old music.) Basically, this category considers the mental, emotional, or musical impact an album has or had on me. There are a lot of factors that went into my decision on how many points to award an album, but you, ethereal reader, will just have to accept that it is perfectly, 100% accurate and not arbitrary in any way.
“Bonuses and Deductions”: Sometimes for songs that I either really love or really hate, I add or subtract half a point. Other [NOT] arbitrary decisions were made on a case-by-case basis, as will be discussed when I get to the albums.

In total, this is essentially a 60-point scale, although with the bonus system I suppose an album could have received more than 60 points. As it turned out, the highest score was 59.5, so we’ll call it a 60-point scale. I’m not going to give the actual scores the albums received, as my illusive readers will surely nitpick. I might mention specific bonuses and deductions. We’ll see how it goes.

The hard part is trying to decide what to review. My decisions on questionable content I describe here:

Classical music: No question. Classical music was excluded for the purposes of this project. I’m sure I’ll write plenty of stuff about classical music (as I have done extensively in the past), but these are pop albums that I am ranking.
Musical Theater: This is closer to being pop music, but I opted to exclude these from my rankings as well.
Greatest Hits Compilations: In some cases, all I know of a band is a greatest hits album. However, due to the very nature of this type of compilation, an unfair advantage is given. But that doesn’t mean I excluded them. Instead, I deducted six points, or 10% of the maximum score. In every case but one, I did not include a greatest hits album if I am very familiar with the studio albums of a group in question.
Live Albums: Live albums are similar to greatest hits compilations, as most bands are going to play their best songs live. However, they are legitimate albums, unlike “Best of...” records. I opted to deduct three points for live albums, or 5% of the maximum score.
Movie Soundtracks: I excluded movie soundtracks, with one exception, which I will not reveal now. I have my reasons for this exception, and will talk about them when it comes up.

When I first started this project, I tried to start ranking albums from memory, without even listening to them. No dice. I realized it was not going to work, except for the very few albums that I know so intimately that I’m practically living in sin. This meant that I was going to have to listen to every album I ranked, and how would it be fair unless I listened to every album I have ever loved? This meant, for example, that I had to track down Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other, which was my favorite album in ninth grade. Honestly, I expected it to make the top 100, but (SPOILER) it did not. Sad day. In total, I listened to more than 150 albums, some of which I didn’t even bother to rank, and others which scored very, very low. I did not even bother to track down at least another 100 albums with which I am familiar, as there was no way they were going to make the list.

Given the fact that I was trying to speed up the process, I did skip past songs on albums that I know very well. One ironic thing about this song-skipping is that songs that I love were often skipped (you know, those “non-skippable” tracks that are indispensable and got the album extra points?), but tracks that were more questionable or even absolutely horrible were given a more earnest listening, in an effort to be fair. This is the exact opposite of what I was giving and subtracting points for in the first two categories listed above!

Really, though, it was a lot of fun. I had to rack my brain and come up with all of my favorite albums from ever since I started listening to pop music. It was challenging, and I’m sure I missed some. For example, I realized, as I was writing this post, that I completely ignored Aerosmith. Now, Aerosmith isn’t one of my favorite bands, and I’ve mostly only listened to random tracks here and there, but I do recall that I used to like Hot Rocks. Theoretical reader, you might just see Hot Rocks, if I can track it down, on the list. I’m really afraid that I will think of a crucial album in the middle of this epic series of posts, and it will mess up the entire order I’ve come up with so far! And yet, if I haven’t thought of it by now, it’s going to score a one on both impact and tendency to return, and that will make it nearly impossible to make the list. We shall see. Perhaps I will curse this whole project before long and just give up. It’s not like anyone actually reads this blog and will be upset that I stopped at number 50.

One last point: I listen to a pretty diverse set of music, but my tastes are by no means exhaustive. Country and rap do appear on this list, but they are underrepresented. Some bands that I like a lot do not appear on this list, or appear very low in the rankings, because I like songs by the band, but not necessarily albums. If I had readers, they might say (spoiler!), “Hey, where the heck is Jimi Hendrix?!” And if that question were asked, I would point out that I love the song “Hey Joe,” and that Jimi Hendrix is basically all right, but I think his albums are filled with a lot of junk sitting beside the gems. There’s a large chance that if a band doesn’t appear on this list, I’m familiar with them and like some of their songs—just not enough of them from any one album.

I’ve spent enough time on this post that was written “For No One” (foreshadowing!). Soon, probably tomorrow, I will begin the list. My plan is ten posts, with ten albums for each post, counting down from 100 to 1. One final spoiler: Pink Floyd is not appearing on this list. I hate Pink Floyd. I try really hard to like them, and even listened to two albums for this project (Dark Side of the Moon and Piper at the Gates of Dawn), but I just hate them. Sorry. They’re not as bad as Metallica, but no one is as bad as Metallica (really, the final spoiler: The Black Album is in the number one spot. Count on it).

1 comment:

  1. My friend, Danny Brown, is a famous blogger. This comment will ride the tidal wave of his fame all the way to a syndicated column. Mark my words. "Subjective objectivity"--even though it is absurdly fictional (or precisely because it is)--will one day rule the vapid opinions of lesser minds.