Usually, when you ask people with no imagination what their favorite genre of music is, they’ll say some variety of “oh, I listen to everything.”
Taking a journey through an iPhone’s worth of music like mine usually disproves that claim, often in the first or second track in a shuffle’s rotation.
Regardless of people’s subjective opinions about music, which is essentially what this column is, there are so many fine musicians spread across every genre, and I want to take the time to introduce/reintroduce my peers to some of my favorite music, from all genres.
I want this to be a back and forth kind of column, too, and if any readers have any recommendations for me to listen to, please reach out to my school email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With that, I’m kind of just going to go through some of my summer’s greatest hits playlist and just tell you what I’ve been jamming on and hopefully turn someone onto something!
Before we get into my hits of the summer, I’m going to quickly explain how I’m breaking up timelines for the purpose of keeping this list under 348 entries. I’m choosing 1990 as a benchmark “soft date” to divide entries between “classic” and “modern” because you can definitely see the industry as a whole move towards an electronic sound and influences (yes I know this isn’t always true but YOU try making this list). Anyway, here we go.
Classic Hip-Hop: “Don’t Sweat the Technique” – Eric B. and Rakim
Starting off with what I believe to be one of the best rap tracks of all time, and the fact that it was released in 1992 and the fact that many people agree with me, shows it’s staying power. I have a hard time finding a beat in any song that makes me bop my head more. The bass line, the sax loop, the funky drums sample, it’s all just perfect. And what do I have to say about Rakim that hasn’t been said? One of the best lyricists ever.
Modern Hip-Hop: “CUT EM IN (feat. Rick Ross)” – Anderson .Paak
From something almost 30 years old to something that came out a couple weeks ago, Andy continues his hot streak with this one, crafting another well-rounded track with excellent production layered with a sweet piano and guitar riff. Rick Ross is in typically fine form as well, lending his trademark off-beat flow to this one. Lyrically, the message about keeping the right friends close and knowing that enemies are necessary is something we could all internalize.
Classic Country: “Illegal Smile” – John Prine
John Prine was tragically taken from us this spring, and I was certainly due to spin his 1971 self-titled debut again, and my god, what a songwriter. Taking simple melodies and chord structures to tell poignant, funny, often heartfelt messages better than anyone. This one checks all three boxes and is one of my personal favorites for laying out in the sun with nothing to do. Honestly though, you owe it to yourself to check out the whole record if you’re unfamiliar with John Prine.
Modern Country: “Playboys” – Midland
Okay, I’ll admit it, I missed Midland when they debuted in 2017, but when I was turned onto their second record, “Let it Roll” (2019), I quickly and immediately realized what I had been missing. “Playboys” sums up Midland’s sound in one song. Mark Wyrstrach’s voice is perfect for the neo-country revival we’re currently in, as well as the layered harmonies above his lead. Lush, big production sounds and real, actual instruments like pedal steel guitar are all over this one, and the whole record. Can’t recommend them enough.
Classic Pop: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) – Stevie Wonder
As a bass player, Motown has remained a staple in my playlist since I picked up the instrument, and even before that as a kid, and this is just one of the best tracks off that label ever. Everyone’s favorite musical genius, Stevie Wonder, delivers one of the best love songs ever, as well as a tune you can’t help but dance to. For my hip-hop fans/producers, give this one a good listen on some good headphones and check out just the stank face funk here.
Modern Pop: “Scared to Live” – The Weeknd
I will admit that while I am into every kind of music, top 40 is probably my least listened to genre. When “After Hours” came out, I decided to give it a listen and I was absolutely blown away. As someone who pays attention to production value, the whole album and this song in particular floored me. And that’s not even giving Abel Tesfaye the credit he deserves, because the lyrics, melody, and vocal delivery will shake you to your core.
Classic Rock: “Thunder Road” – Bruce Springsteen
Now this is a song/album/artist I could gush about forever, and I have for the most part. “Born to Run” is one of the closest things I’ve heard to a perfect album, transporting you to these small American towns and conveying some of the most complex characters ever, all in 39 minutes. “Thunder Road” is simply a perfect song, in my opinion. Lyrics that make you long for a too-fast summer drive with some of your best friends from childhood, and framing coming of age in a way only the Boss can. All of this supported by the E Street Band, which deserves all the praise they get, and more.
Modern Rock: “Place in Time” – Joyous Wolf
One of the best accidental discoveries I’ve ever made (shout-out to Apple Music), Joyous Wolf dropped their debut album in 2019, after their cover of “Mississippi Queen” went mega-viral on rock and roll YouTube. These guys rock, plain and simple. Nick Reese has an all-time rock voice already, and if you’re a fan of anything from the 1990’s grunge scene, these guys will check a lot of boxes for you.
Classic Metal: “Run to the Hills” – Iron Maiden
I mean it’s Maiden, if you know you know. My metal “GOAT’s,” this is simply one of an infinite amount of awesome, galloping, heavy, classic tracks. Telling the story of the English colonizing America from both the perspective of the Native Americans and English, it’s a history lesson in a song (spoiler, Iron Maiden has a LOT of those, and this will not be their only entry). Musically, this is everyone at their peak. Bruce Dickinson’s voice soars, Steve Harris’ bass playing is simply unmatched, Nicko McBrain (best rock name ever) is crisp as all hell behind the kit, and the twin guitars of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray are perfect.
Modern Metal: “Walk with Me in Hell” – Lamb of God
And rounding out our list is just one of the grooviest songs you will ever hear in your damn life. Seriously, if you’ve made it to this point in the list, you need to listen to this track and try not to dance around in your seat during that opening riff. As is often the case, Chris Adler (drums) is the star of the show, and boy should LOG not have kicked him from the group. Randy Blythe’s lyrics can and will speak to anyone who either currently or has ever felt alone in their head or in the world. As a mental health advocate, but also someone open about my struggles, hearing this dreadlocked Virginian scream “take hold of my hand/for you are no longer alone/walk with me in hell” is sometimes exactly what I need to hear.