There’s a certain kind of music fan that seems to enjoy arguing about music, almost as much as listening to it. Categories can be broad an all-encompassing — Top 10 Songs Ever, Desert Island Discs, Most Important Artists, or the topics can by specific — Best Songs About Food, Greatest Quincy Jones Productions, Ten Best Beatles Songs, but in almost every case, the conversations are ardent.
Both WXPN in Philadelphia and Slacker Radio are filled with people like this — passionate music obsessives who like a good dialogue, and love contextualizing music. They don’t just hear melodies and lyrics, they experience the political, social and pop culture matrix of the song’s era.
So, when Bruce Warren, music obsessive and programming lead for WXPN, mentioned to me that they were planning a special month around the Greatest Year In Music History, we got very excited.
Surely there had to be one year that towered over the rest. How could there be a better year for music than 1967, the “summer of love”, and its soundtrack of Sgt Pepper, Good Vibrations, and Aretha Franklin’s Respect? Well, tell that to a jazz head who counts 1959 as the year that Brubeck’s Take Five, Mingus’s Ah Um, and perhaps the greatest jazz album ever, Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue were released. And what about 1984 with pop royalty like Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson all releasing argubably their greatest albums, while The Replacements, Husker Du and a slew of American college radio heroes reinvented the underground in response?
What was the greatest year in music history? On second look, this was a really tough question to answer. Music is so personal, and so hard to pin down. Still, the question itself seemed like a perfect fit for a quick partnership between WXPN, Slacker, and our respective audiences. Could we collectively try to answer what is perhaps an impossible, or at least impossibly subjective question?
We are enormous fans of WXPN and their take on radio — hand-crafted, intelligent, with a distinctive editorial voice. Their hosts are knowledgable and relatable, and they know their music history backwards and forwards. Slacker, in turn, has a passionately engaged audience, some pretty impressive musicologists of our own, and a technology platform perfect for skipping from year to year as you listen and decide.
Let the rumpus begin.