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The 9,000 Song Long Playlist: There Must Be a Better Way

The challenges of turning a 960 page reference book into a single playlist could point to some interesting new features for music streaming services

I was casually browsing Chartmetric – the music analytics tool that offer a limited free version – when I found something intriguing. I was looking at the stats page for a random favourite artist, Simple Minds, and there was a list of Spotify playlists where their songs appear, and these playlists could be ranked by the number of followers. The first was user-generated (“OTH Playlist”) and had 20,445 followers, the second was from Spotify (“Cocina de Clásicos”) with 11,604 followers and finally there was the third one, which caught my attention for a couple of reasons worth explaining. 

The third playlist was “1001 Albums You must Hear Before You Die (Degustamenorca.com)” by user  Manel Juanico Iveldie and had 10,815 followers.

“1001 Albums…” of course is the name of the famous book, originally published in 2005, edited by Robert Dimery and part of a larger series (1001 Movies, 1001 Places, 1001 Books etc.). 

The Iveldie playlist evidently serves to collect as many songs from the 1001 albums as possible and it is a wonderful resource for curious listeners to look for critically acclaimed music they might not know. The fact that the list has more than 10,000 followers highlights how widely Mr. Iveldie effort has been appreciated and serves its purpose.

But here I get to the “intriguing” point I alluded on my initial sentence: “1001 Albums” is a reference book, 960 pages-long in my edition, most of them full of relevant information and commentary, texts and images. What exactly happens when all this is “translated” in one playlist? What exactly is lost or missing?

Let’s open the playlist in the Spotify app:

We see a cover image, actually a cover from the book (the David Bowie/Aladdin Sane one, I am not sure which edition of the book this is. My book has Sid Vicious on it). 

The app informs me that the playlist has 10,819 followers (4 more than were listed on Chartmetric). It also informs that it has 8,999 songs and lasts 610 hours and 32 minutes.

The first songs in the list are the tracks from “In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning” by Frank Sinatra, which is exactly the first album on the book. I believe the list maintains the chronological ordem from the book: Elvis Presley homonymous debut album comes next for both.

But now come the questions. For starters, there is no easy way to know how many of 1001 Albums are actually present in the list, or which are missing. Nor if the albums are complete or if there are tracks that are missing.

Perhaps there are more than 1001 albums in the list: thru the years, there were revised editions to the book, with a few albums being removed and replaced by others, usually more recent ones. According to this Rate Your Music list, since the first edition there has been a total of 1079 different albums listed on the book.

What is the scope of Iveldie’s list? The first edition? The latest? All of them? There is no way to know in the app.

For curiosity, a few years ago I found and “liked” another “1001 Albums” playlist. It was created by ‘A Winslow Barger’ and was described as “almost complete”. It has 9,967 songs  and lasts 666 hours and 32 minutes. It has 5,316 followers.

There is some ‘date’ information we can look. Barger added the first songs to his list in May 2014 and latest in March 2019. Iveldie’s list however only dates a single album (Modern Stories by Kev Minnery, added March 2020), the rest of the list this field has no date information at all.

And… those are all the facts we can tell from the playlists and Spotify.

Of course the book has more information. Browsing my Brazilian 2007 Edition I can see that for every album there is a year of release, label, producer, cover design, country of origin and duration. Not all but many have a track list and bullet points highlighting 3-5 key songs.  Also photos, essays, and quotes from the artist, of course.

But when the book was first published in 2005, the basic idea was you have to purchase/borrow/copy every single album. The idea that for a small monthly fee you would have instant access to all these albums was not yet a reality.

Now we are in 2020 and accessing 1001 albums is easy. However the experience of exploring the 1001 albums could be so much better if we had better tools.

Suppose you want to listen everything.

Starting from page 1  – “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” by Frank Sinatra (1954) –  and going thru end – in my book, “Myths of the Near Future” by The Klaxons (2007): We know this is going to take more than 600 hours, or 25 days of straight listening. Imagine a more human rate of 90 minutes per day, six days a week, and it will take one year and a quarter. 

The very least we need is a way to “bookmark” in the list the exact song we stopped listening each session so it is easy to resume from that point. Imagine how many devices and contexts the user will listen music for this typical year and a quarter: cell phone, tablet, home pc, work pc, in the car, in the airplane, working out etc. Those bookmarks should be synced across devices and easily accessed. 

Now, if we don’t start at album one, there should be a way in the playlist to check which songs have been listened or not.  A check ‘liked’ or ‘not liked’ would be fine, and it could be a like not directly related to “like” that adds songs to the user “library”.

How to navigate the list? Can I see only the albums from a certain year or decade? Country of origin? Genre, label, producer? Artist? To simply go to a certain point in the list is a problem. A 9000 item list requires a lot of “page down” clicks. On the MS Word default template, a 9000-item list takes more than 200 A4 pages.

Can I see the bullet songs the book encouraged me to listen first? Perhaps it would be nice to rank all those songs by their own number of plays by Spotify users…

Also nice: see how many times I listened each song or skipped it. Date when each was last listened. Read the essays?

Imagine how cool would it be to properly merge the amount of information and context present in a reference book like 1001 Album with extreme convenience and efficiency of Spotify.

I think this should not even be called a “playlist”, we really could use a new metaphor for this mix of content and functionality. The music streaming experience would be highly enriched for many users.

And, of course, this functionality could be used far beyond “1001 Albums”. Any kind of music anthology would benefit from it. Year-end lists for example, would also benefit from these tools.

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