It’s summertime. That means it’s party time. And where there’s a party, there’s music.
Unfortunately, I’m repeatedly unimpressed by people’s inability to come up with a good song selection. I’ve been to many parties where (assuming there’s music at all) the music is absolutely horrible. Back in the 1990s, for instance, I hosted a bunch of people older people at a remote location. Most of my guests ranged from age 22 to 55. The place had no music, so a friend brought his CD player and his CDs. His selection for the night? The Who’s Quadrophenia. Now, I love The Who. I’ve been a fan since age 15. But it was about as appropriate for the crowd as a transvestite stripper. When I asked if he might consider changing the music, he replied, “It’s a good album.”
And therein lies the problem. When selecting music for a party, quality really doesn’t matter. Quadrophenia is a good album, so is Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy, as is that home-made collection of you and your friends making up dirty lyrics on a karaoke machine. None of them, I submit, make good party music.
I would also point out that what is “good,” musically-speaking, is remarkably subjective in this context. I don’t contest for a moment that there are great pianists and mediocre ones, great singers and bad singers, great music and amateur music. Moreover, I’d be the first to admit that I’m the last person to pass judgment on such things. I’m not, you might say, musically inclined. I have a passing acquaintance with the piano and harmonica, I can read simple sheet music, but that’s it. I’m tone deaf and not talented.
Fortunately, the ability to select good party music doesn’t require musical taste or ability. It doesn’t require you to discern what’s good and what’s bad. It just requires you to keep in mind a handful of rules, which I’ve divided among two lists: the do’s and the don’t.
First, the do’s:
1. Figure out who’s at the party. Select music for that generation. If your generations are mixed, gear it toward the older crowd. The reason? Simple: The older crowd rarely likes the younger crowd’s music, whereas there’s quite a bit of the older generation music that the younger generation likes. Elvis died when I was in middle school, but I grew up listening to Elvis, so I always liked Elvis . . . and Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Roy Orbison. I’m not saying you shouldn’t mix in a few newer songs for the younger generation, but overall, gear it toward the older one.
2. Avoid songs that you know some people will hate. If you have mixed generations with younger people in the audience, look for mainstream songs from the older generation. Don’t pick out a bunch of “Do You Remember These?” songs and one-hit wonders that only the cognoscenti keep in their iPod.
3. Pick songs that meet either or both of these criteria: it’s well-known and/or has a good beat.
4. Be sensitive to the environment. I prefer “You Shook Me All Night Long” to “You’re So Vain,” but Carly makes a better selection at 4:00 in the afternoon with a mingling cocktail party. On the flipside, AC/DC is what you need after the booze is flowing and people are revved up.
5. For a safe pick that reaches across generations, grab tunes that have appeared in movies over the past ten years. I like the Four Seasons (see below) and I’m thinking that I want to play some of their music at my daughter’s upcoming graduation open house. What should I select? It’s obvious: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” which Heath Ledger made legendary among today’s teenagers in 10 Things I Hate About You. Similarly, I dig the Velvet Underground. Their “I’m Waiting for the Man” appears in Men in Black 3. It’s going on my list. “Sweet Jane” aint.
6. Throw in something off the wall once in awhile, just to keep everyone on their toes. “Because I Got High,” “Copacabana,” “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” and “Jessie’s Girl” are all good selections in this regard, but keep them rare. In my experience, these selections bat about .300. If a friend looks up from his drink, laughs, and says, “HA. I can’t believe you’re playing this,” you got a hit.
Now, those rules only take you so far. In order to get a good selection, there are a lot of “don’ts” and things to avoid:
1. Never select a song because it brings back special memories. They’re your memories, not everyone else’s.
2. If you recently saw a particular artist in concert, be suspicious if you think his music will be a good choice. People tend to get star-struck, even in mild forms, thereby losing objectivity. I recently saw Jersey Boys and I have a party coming up. I’m thinking a lot of Four Seasons would be appropriate. I need to think again.
3. Avoid songs that require everyone to shut the hell up so they can hear the lyrics.
4. Similarly, avoid songs that are funny (Adam Sandler’s “Ode to My Car” cracks me up every time, but it’s not appropriate for group listening).
5. Avoid (like the plague) music out of the mainstream. I like Bossa Nova and I think it makes great background music. Unfortunately, few people even know what Bossa Nova is, so if I’m going to play it, I need to limit it to the very beginning stages of the party where music is in the far (far) background and the volume low. Other things to avoid: heavy metal (unless it’s heavy metal that has made it into the mainstream, like select songs by KISS and AC/DC), rap/hip-hop, divas with all emotion and little beat, that little-known regional performer, anything your teenage daughter “looooooves,” and anything released in the past 12 months (it’s just too new and very few people will recognize it). Needless to say, these “don’ts” may have to be modified, if you have a unique crowd (if everyone at the party is a 15-year-old girl, I respectfully submit that dad shouldn’t be making the music list in the first place).
6. Never play songs by the same artist back-to-back, unless there’s a reason to. Also, never play the same artist more than once an hour. This type of rule, incidentally, makes the “shuffle” feature problematical. Consider creating your playlists in certain orders. I’ve done it that way for over twenty years. It’s a lot more work, but the enhanced environment is worth it.
Last year, I assembled a three-hour playlist for my son’s high school graduation. Later in the evening, Alex walked up to me and said, “My friends are really digging the music.” That was high praise. I knew my friends were digging the music, and they were the ones paying the graduation announcement invoices, but when the teenage boys said they were digging it, I knew I had become an expert of sorts.
It’s not hard. You can be an expert, too. Just follow those twelve hints, and you can’t go too terribly wrong.Bookmark it: del.icio.us | Reddit | Slashdot | Digg | Facebook | Technorati | Google | StumbleUpon | Window Live | Tailrank | Furl | Netscape | Yahoo | BlinkList
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