There are a lot of different ways to
listen to music. You can get the "Greatest Hits" packages of an
or just go for the best albums in a discography, etc. But if you
for anything less than a completist approach, and you end up with some
dark corners there, stuff you would never find unless you shine the
been doing through the entire discographies of various artists.
Some of them I'm familiar with and listened to on a regular
basis. Others, I only knew a few tracks from the radio or
(showing my age) the years when Mtv played videos.
It's interesting to see how bands and artists evolve, whether it's
organic or forced. For example, I'd never heard the earliest
albums by REM nor the most recent. I was there with them in that
middle period when they were popular. I didn't get in on the
ground floor, and I didn't stick with them after they did that
disconcerting detour with "Monster." It's interesting to hear
where they came from. The early albums have a lot more quirky
tracks that would never have made it to any compilation.
Eventually they figure out they're a pop band. They write pop
songs. They become radio's darlings. I wouldn't say they
sold out; they managed to retain their identity, just in more polished
form. Where did they go after that? It was interesting to
see. That's why I call this a journey.
If you undertake a journey through a discography, there are several
approaches you can take:
I've never gone the middle strategy, but I
have tried the "bouncing around" approach with Rush and Bowie's
respective discographies, mainly because I was familiar with large
sections (i.e., several entire albums) by each already. Also
their early material would be difficult to plow through for several
albums in a row before they grow have proficient and original
- Start at the beginning and work through to the current (or
- Begin with the most recent material and work your way
- Take albums at random.
However, in general I have simply worked forward chronologically, and
that's perhaps for the best in most cases. You get to see the
evolution of the band or artist. Components of the repertoire are
accumulated and less effective devices are shed.
Additionally, it's important to go back through and listen to things
again, at least once. After you've gotten to the end of a musical
journey, it's a good idea to go back and listen to the same material
again with your new understanding of who the artists end up being at
the end of the journey. You pick up on a lot of things you've
missed the first time through. I wasn't doing this when I first
experimented with musical journeys. However, one of my partner
Dani's friends was taking a similar approach as I was (independent of
me), only she always made three passes through, which is a good idea if
you have the time (or dedication) to do that.
To appreciate the changes (and the context in which they occur), you
can listen for certain longitudinal patterns within the music.
Here are some I found myself pursuing.
Stylistic periods - Listen for
distinct changes from one style to the next that are retained for
several albums. These often follow from changes in the band's
line-up (e.g., Pink Floyd sans Barret, then Waters), but it may also
come out of instrumentation, such as when REM's Peter Buck started
including the mandolin and other instruments in their recordings more
contemporary trends - For example, incorporating electronic
sounds as REM and Clapton did during the late '90s and '00s.
weren't on the A-list - A lot of great material escapes notice
during periods when artists aren't getting a lot of airplay.
Sometimes this is before they make it big; other times it follows their
bands whose journey I've taken
I've listened to everything by the
- Brian Eno
- The Cramps
- David Bowie
- Depeche Mode
- Django Reinhardt
- Judas Priest
- The Misfits
- The Sisters of Mercy
- The Talking Heads
Note that there are plenty other bands like Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin
are ones who I grew up listening to and grew to know organically; I
didn't listen to them systematically the way I did with these guys.
You find interesting things like how Brian Eno had almost a completely
separate career as an anti-rock star on his first handful of albums
before delving into purely instrumental music for the next few
decades. Or that Queen sounded a lot like Led Zeppelin in their
early years before they developed the more flamboyant style(s!) we
think represent them now. REM turned out to be capable of
producing some really great songs on their later albums that were too
quiet and contemplative to ever be hits. I was floored by the
quality and kicked myself for having given up on them decades
earlier. Similarly, while Depeche Mode's early albums did nothing
for me, I loved their later albums and found many of the songs among
their most beautiful work.