For over half a decade, one of my favorite independent creators has been a guy named Anthony Fantano, who runs "The Needle Drop" (https://www.theneedledrop.com/) and styles himself 'The Internet's Busiest Music Nerd™'. Fantano is a one-man Pitchfork.com (he'd likely shiver at that bestowed moniker) who reviews an incredibly wide range of music via videos posted to his Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/theneedledrop/videos).
One of my favorite things he does on his channel is his annual 'List Week', where he takes some time each December to discuss the best and worst stuff he's listened to throughout the year.
List Week is an entertaining way to wrap up the year, and it always highlights some stellar music from the year that I missed.
Plus, his discussion of the worst tracks and albums is a must-watch.
Honestly, stop reading this and watch his "Worst Songs of 2021" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8Nq8_7n7oE&t=13s) real quick.
In late 2019, as the 2010s were ending, Fantano announced that he would do his List Week thing on a larger scale. That he was going to do several lists that attempted to wrap up the entire decade.
As somebody who largely went through their 20s in the 2010s (and therefore has very strong opinions about music from that decade), I was really naturally interested in this exercise - particularly his list of the Top 100 Songs of the 2010s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnkw3tjc4ck).
I was so intrigued, in fact, that I assigned myself the same prompt to build my own top 100 lists. A list of tracks that I felt were irreplaceable to my decade.
So back in November 2019, I spent too many hours trying to chisel down my 100-song playlist 'Statue of David' from the gigantic block of marble, all the music I listened to and loved over those ten years.
I found that valuing art - especially art near and dear to you - is really, really difficult.
Should I be heavily valuing tracks that instantly transported me back to a time and a place?
Or ones that reminded me of a friend or relationship as soon as I heard the first notes?
Or maybe songs that have grown with me over the years and I value more now than I did when I first heard them?
All good questions.
Maybe Fantano's job is actually quite difficult.
The list I eventually came up with attempted to balance my nostalgia with my current tastes. It's imperfect and obviously skewed towards music released in the latter half of the decade (remembering your favorite song from before Spotify's Annual Wrap-Ups isn't a cakewalk, it turns out - I mean...what were your favorite ten tracks from 2011?).
What I found out making this list is that there's more to this process than just completing the list of 100 songs you like, there's value in the reflection that comes from this exercise that makes it exceptionally worth the hour or two (or ten) you might spend getting your list exactly right.
Why do this?
Before I reveal my list to you for judgment, I think it's important to take a moment to reflect on why this was such a great exercise.
Is it Kind of a Great Memory Tool?
People take photos all the time to remind them of a time and a place in their life. That works really well; seeing the smile on your face, the face of a friend or loved one, frozen in a moment can be transporting or a lovely reminder of a time you may have forgotten.
However, pictures lack the sound, smell, and feel of the moment they capture.
There's something about hearing a song half-forgotten that can transport you back into a moment as few other things do.
It's like catching a whiff of chocolate chip baking while passing a bakery that instantly and deeply reminded you specifically of being a kid because it smells exactly like mom used to make them.
A song, like a smell, reminds you of a deeper - back of the brain - kind of way that hits differently than photos or other memory tools.
Shorting through my past playlists, Spotify wraps, iTunes playlists (2010-2012), and other sources where I'd squirreled away music was an incredible memory tool for reexamining and uncovering important moments over that decade.
More than once a song reminded me of a time half-forgotten in real and visual terms.
Leads to a Surprisingly Valuable Reflection on Personal Growth
The other reason this exercise was valuable was that it forced me to examine how I'd grown and changed over a very important chunk of my life.
This wasn't painful or anything, but the simple exercise of thinking about who I was, what I was doing, and how I was feeling (even about something as trivial as music) in 2011 verse 2019 was a level of self-reflection I found valuable.
I wasn't the same person a decade later, but I was evaluating the music of my life against itself and determining which songs deserved to rank higher than others.
It led to questions like:
"Is a song that got me through a breakup more important than a song which I associate summer parties and a brief fling years later?"
"I can't stand this song now, but it was literally my top-played song in 2015. Does it make my list?"
I'm sure if you do this exercise, you'll have your questions that - although obviously silly in the grand scheme of things (as both questions above are) - will really bend you out of shape.
I found that valuable. But maybe I need to journal more or talk with a therapist.
It Results in a Great Playlist
The final reason to put yourself through this exercise is that you'll create maybe the most important/🔥 playlist in your Spotify/Apple Music/Amazon account.
It's your top 100 songs from an entire decade - that's going to have some serious heat on it, right?
When I'm in a music rut and can't find anything I want to listen to, my Decade List (2010-2020) is my safe harbor, my port in a storm, my gas station after the empty light comes on.
After talking up this playlist and exercise, I think it's time that you got a peek. It's personal and imperfect so judge it with the same kindness you'd extend yourself in this exercise.
That said, I will accept no option on this playlist that doesn't agree that it's the hottest shit ever assembled.
So without any further ado...here's my list hosted on Spotify:
And here's the Fantano list that inspired the exercise:
Some artists are included on this playlist who public opinion has shifted against (for good reason). I've chosen to keep them on this playlist because it's a time capsule of mine - imperfections and all. I am aware that I would likely not include Ariel Pink, Kanye, or Octavian if I were to make this list today.