So here's the thing. I've only just discovered shuffle on my iPod.
For as long as I've had the ability to randomise music (starting with a button on my first CD player in 1989) I've never wanted to. I've always thought that an album was created as an album. I never really bought compilation CDs and never had much interest in a best of/greatest hits collection.
I want to know exactly what my favourite bands were doing at one particular time and I feel it's, in some way, disrespectful to just give a cursory glance to the last 10 years, or whatever the contrivance for the latest collection was.
Also, albums as a whole work like a time machine for me. I can put on REM's Document and remember being in my friend's basement, playing it for him and waiting for his reaction to this wonderful discovery I'd made. A single song from that album won't transport me back to that day in year 10. It has to be the whole thing.
It's the same with Sonic Youth, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Superchunk, Sebadoh... I could namecheck for hours but I think you get the point.
Probably this all comes from my wanting so strongly to control my environment. I feel like listening to this particular artist from this era and I'll go on a journey with them. Fuck you if you don't want to come with me. It's where I am and where I'm going and you never understood me anyway.
Yes, it brings out the tediously rebellious teenager in me. So what? Like you don't have one in you? Don't judge me.
If I want to throw caution to the wind and two seemingly unrelated songs back-to-back I'll listen to the radio. Garry Seven's "Smoke 'em if you've got 'em" on 3RRR on a Friday night is perfect for this. It's always full of surprises, all of them curious and exciting. When each song starts it puts a smile on my face and makes me wonder at how Seven came to put those two songs together.
Another reason I rejected the random play function is because, so often when I was at a friend's house for a party or a little get together and the random was selected I was disappointed for two reasons: There was no filter for when the shit songs in my friend's collection came on (songs my friend likes but potentially fill me with the urge to stab); How lazy my friend was that they didn't take 30 minutes to put together a playlist of some sort.
So I've never put the random function into play on any of my music devices and maintained my snobbery. Until last week when I accidentally started playing the Top 25 Played playlist on my iPod. As it was playing I thought: I like all these songs but I've heard them so much (derr).
I have almost 4000 songs on my iPod. So much that I've forgotten a lot of what's there. So I decided to start playing in shuffle mode. AND I LOVE IT!
I love it because all the songs I have on my little device are grade-A, 100% superbly rockin' tracks. There's almost no room for disappointment (except for the discovery that I have a Death Cab for Cutie album on there -- must remember to delete). Every song is a surprise and puts a smile on my face. It's just like listening to the radio but without any breaks and without the danger of having any songs I don't like.
Now I understand why shuffle/random is so popular. It's taken me so long and I feel like such a doofus. Bring the random. Free me up. Remove the control from my listening and just throw those songs at me.
I'm off to rediscover the buried treasure in my music collection. Excuse me.
Nb: Just because I've started embracing this sort of freedom does not mean that I'm becoming like all those goddamn sandle-wearing, sun-loving, 'ooh look at the pretty flowers' people who are happy and enjoy life. I still use the music to block all that shit out.