SIX months after this part-epic, part-ludicrous journey through my iPod began and we have reached a biblical landmark – the momentous number 1,539.
History has largely ignored the figure 1,539 – the most interesting things which appeared to have happened that year are the first horse race at England’s oldest racecourse, Chester, Henry VIII contracting to marry Anne of Cleves and Hernando de Soto introducing pigs into North America.
And 15.39 is normally about the time in the office when people start looking at their watches and wondering if another cup of tea is really enough to get them through to the end of the work day.
But on this A-Z musical odyssey, Stump took the revered number 1,539 spot with their quirky 80s indie classic Charlton Heston which marks – at least until some more tracks are added – the 10,000 to go point.
(The landmark almost went, and perhaps technically does, to the equally-deserving Charlotte Street by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – and who can go against a song with the opening line “I was looking for a rhyme for the New York Times”? – but Cedarwood Road from the unwanted new U2 album sits up in the cloud, appearing only in faded grey in my iTunes and not at all on my iPod. And long may it remain that way.)
When this journey started, there were 11,235 tracks sprawled out in front of us and quick calculations had it taking a minimum of two years.
Since then, 304 non-U2* tracks have been added – it has been a fairly barren spell in terms of buying music, although expect a bit of an influx of new stuff in the six weeks before departing for 10 months on the road in Africa, when it is all likely to go very quiet on that front.
And that two-year minimum looks incredibly optimistic. With the current rate equating to roughly 3,000 tracks a year, that comes in close to four years – although there’s some long days on the road plugged into my headphones lying in wait for the next year.
So what other lessons have we learned over the past 1,539 tracks?
First, there’s a lot of stuff on my iPod which has passed me by, been ignored, somehow forgotten or simply overlooked. It has been great to rediscover tracks and their accompanying albums or to hear, sometimes for the first time, stuff which has been downloaded but ignored in favour of other new music picked up at the same time.
The majority of the A-Z journey has taken place while driving, while listening at home has then been the chance to investigate the stuff which has pricked my fancy along the way.
Sadly, there is also some stuff which has me shaking my head as to how it got there (although, slave to the rules, it has to be listened to).
Hence, The Cave by Mumford and Sons made it into the latest batch of tracks, courtesy of a brief (and mistaken) early thought they may be worth listening to during the loading of the iPod for a previous journey.
Annoyingly, as my laptop somehow became the main source of music, it seemed to be one album which several members of our group requested – although the elderly Russian woman in the carriage next to us on the Trans-Siberian railway seemed to have some taste when she complained about it being played too loud. Or at all. Hard to say.
The second lesson is that it is a mistake to look ahead to see what is coming up.
If there’s nothing that catches your eye, the whole thing can become a bit of a drag as you just try to get through the apparent barren spell. But if you spot one or two classics in the middle distance, they always seem to be a little bit further away than you thought and you are too busy waiting for them, rather than taking in the musical scenery as it hoves into views.
Besides, the song you have been waiting for will be gone far too soon. Far better to sit back and let it come as a pleasant surprise (that is when a working knowledge of what is in my collection has not already provided a few big clues as to what lies ahead).
The third discovery is that there’s a strange sort of “are we nearly there yet?” mentality which comes into play as you near the end of each letter.
The final 100 or so tracks become a bit of a burden as excitement grows for a brief arrival at the next destination and the fresh impetus provided by heading out on to the path through the next letter.
And the final lesson is that, six months in, this remains a good idea. It’s been fun, providing a real focus to my listening habits, as well as triggering plenty of memories and tales to tell in this blog (although really should start writing some of them down).
A previous attempt to do this – on a much smaller iPod and, with it, much smaller collection – hit the rocks when the five-song (A-E) Cassandra Geminni suite by The Mars Volta somehow blocked the road ahead.
For some reason, listening to this great block from the experimental half of the great At-The Drive In (who popped up in the latest section with Catacombs) seemed like too much of a task and the whole thing ground to a halt.
But this time, the whole chunk Geminni experience passed on a drive to work and we headed through a largely vintage section from acts we have seen before – early REM with Catapult, Sonic Youth from their best spell with Chapel Hill, The Lemonheads with Ceiling Fan In My Spoon, the mighty Sugar with Changes, Ceremony from New Order and The Wedding Present’s fine cover of Cattle and Cane (for some reason, no sign of The Go-Betweens’ original).
The Smiths’ just missed out on number 1,500, an absent e meaning Cemetry Gates had to slot in behind Cemetery Polka by Tom Waits, while we had two outings for The Cure, Charlotte Sometimes and The Caterpillar.
Both Cure tracks took me back to my teenage years – when they were one of the few bands the disparate musical clans in our sixth form could agree to listen to – but for all of The Caterpillar, my mind was occupied by a snatch which sounds remarkably like Light & Day/Reach For The Sun by The Polyphonic Spree.
We’ll get there. Eventually…
*Just as this paragraph was being written, I Will Follow by a very young U2 (ie back when they good) came on the radio. Why couldn’t they just leave that early stuff as their legacy?