Had I known how difficult making a list of my Top 250 songs would be, I don't think I would have ever initiated it. In the past I might not have thought twice about spending lots of manpower and personal time agonizing over the difficult choices in a list like this, but as I've grown older my patience for this kind of thing has diminished. In fact, my original goal was to make a list of only my top 100 songs, but this task proved so difficult and limiting that I had to add an additional 150 songs to ease my pain! While this decision made it easier to include more of the artists and songs I wanted, it still did nothing to diminish my agony in ranking them. Still the resultant list is something that I am proud about and am excited to share it with you all. However, for those interested in these sorts of things I thought I would take a minute to share with you two things before diving into the list: my guiding principles in making the list and my process in making the list.
I am a list maker, I have been all my life. If it can be ranked or ordered, than it's likely that I have done it. I've always enjoyed the process of comparing, contrasting and ranking things. I like asking of things, "How much do I really like this? Why do I like this? Do I like this thing better than that thing?" It's nice to know that I do indeed like the film Casablanca more than the film Schindler's List. More than that though, it's the mental challenge that comes with asking those questions that I get the most enjoyment from. In the process of comparing Casablanca and Schindler's List for instance, I learned just how much I value certain things (like comedy and heartache) over another and why. Below are the guidelines are use when going about the ordering and ranking process.
Principles of the Top 250 Songs List
In the course of making lists, I've developed a pretty consistent view or guiding principle on how to order them. When I approached this list I asked the question, "What songs could I not live without?" This is the guiding question when I am forced to pit one song against another. For instance, if I was simply doing a Top 1 list, then that song would be the one song that I would want to have above every other. If I could only listen to one song in my lifetime ever again, it would be that one. If I was then given the opportunity to expand the list to a Top 2, then the second song I picked would be the next song I would want above every other in the world. Imagine I kept expanding that list until it reached 250 songs, you would then have the list that I have made.
This means my Top 250 Songs list is not a "Best Songs of All-Time" list. I am not making any claims that my list is an of objective take on the best that music has to offer. Nor could my list be called "My Favorite 250 Songs", because many of the songs on the list are ones that I don't listen to as often as others that haven't made the list. In other words, this is not a most-played on my Ipod list. Instead, by asking the question, "What songs could I not live without", the list becomes (in my opinion) a deeper and more diverse one. If all I get is 250 songs to live my life with, I'm not going to include 50 Beatles songs (even if might put them in a 250 favorite songs list) because I'm going to want to include more styles, artists, and sounds to compose a grander musical experience. With just 250 songs to live with, I find myself desiring to coordinate a vast combination of preferences based primarily on four things to varying degrees: personal enjoyment, personal meaning, musical quality, and historical importance.
A couple more technical points about the list guidelines:
- I"M NOT A MUSIC CRITIC: I can't stress this enough. I don't make any claim to knowing a lot of useful things when it comes to music. Everything I say about these songs should be taken with that in mind.
- All genre's of music were eligible to be on the list except for purely instrumental ones. So songs that were in musicals (but maybe not on radio) count, but film scores do not count. This also means that Christian songs were considered eligible as well, whether it was contemporary christian music, worship music, or even gospel hymns.
- There was no limit to the amount of songs that an artist could put on the list
- Only songs released before 2012 were considered. My thought is that seven months is too short of a time to truly rate a song.
Process of the Top 250 List
Taking on lists of this size, I use a pretty consistent ranking process. I've tried to relay the process as simply as I can.
1. Make an initial listing of all songs I feel might be eligible for the list
- This is a really lengthy process. I basically gather together a long long list of any and every song that I think has a shot at making the list. This meant I scoured my iTunes catalog and Zune catalogs. After that, I spent several hours going through Billboard lists to make sure I didn't miss any of the popular songs of the past that I might not have in my personal libraries. Lastly, I poured over other top song lists put out by places like Rolling Stone.
2. Begin categorizing and sorting
- After looking over this initial list (that was about 400 or so songs) I began to categorize them by genre of music. For this list I used the following genres: Country, 2000's Rock/Pop, 90's Rock/Pop, 80's Rock/Pop, Classic Rock, Oldies, Rap/R&B, Christian, Musical/Film. With a list this size, I find it easier to first begin ranking songs against their own genre. It's easier to compare Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder first, before comparing Michael Jackson to something like Garth Brooks.
- I will also set aside certain artists that are sure to rank multiple songs on my list, like The Beatles. It's important to rank them against themselves first, then bring them back into the group and rank them. This way I can be consistent from list to list.
3. Sort the categories further
- After putting the songs into genres, I split them up further into one of three levels: Must Have, Really Good, and Close Call. This allowed me to get an initial reaction to the songs and begin splitting them up and ordering them in a basic gut way.
4. Begin ranking the levels in the genres
- Now that I've got the genres and the levels within the genres I begin to rank them. My entire system boils down to taking two songs and comparing them. I ask the question, "Which one would I most not want to live without?" Before I get to that, what I will do is take a grouping of five songs. I will take the first two songs in that group and ask my guiding question and come up with a #1 and #2. Then I take the next song (song #3 now) in the grouping and I compare it to the #1 song and ask the question again. If I want song #3 more, then it becomes #1 and everything moves down one. If I don't want song #3 more, than it moves down and I compare it to song #2 and so forth. I do this till I have my initial grouping of five done.
- Now I will take another unranked group of five songs and do the same thing. Now it's time to begin combining the two groupings of five. To do this, all I have to do are compare the #1 song in each group since the groups are already ranked. I ask the question, "Which one would I most not want to live without?" The winner becomes the new #1 and the loser stays put in their grouping. Now I take #2 from the grouping that had the winning #1, and compare it to #1 in the losing group of five. Ask the question and the winner becomes my #2. I keep doing this until I've reached the end. I then take another grouping of five unranked songs, rank them, and then repeat the process of combining it with the now group of ten. I do this until the entire levels are ranked.
5. Begin combining the levels in their genres
- Since opinions change over time and with second looks and listens, I go back over the genres now that it is ranked and ordered pretty well to ensure that a song wasn't in the wrong level and needs to be moved up.
6. Begin combining and ranking like genres
- Using the same principle for combining ranked groups that I used above, I begin combining the ranked genres. I begin with like genres to make the ranking easier. For instance, I first began combining 2000's Rock/Pop with 90's Rock/Pop.
- I combined genres until I ended up with just two super-genres left.
7. Combine final two genres to make the Final Top 250
- Exactly as it sounds
8. Sleep on list, come back and make final adjustments
- It's here where I will be very attentive to the diversity of the list. I would purposely ensure that the list contains the diversity of music I would desire in a top 5, or a top 10, 50, 100 etc.
That's how I do it. Simple right? Okay, maybe it's a little obsessive. All of that said, I hope you enjoy the list!
As always feel free to comment on my choices. Just keep in mind, I'm no music critic. Even if I was one, I'd just be a part-time critic.