We're surrounded by all sorts of playlists these days, and many of them -- iTunes celebrity playlists that have been meticulously crafted to demonstrate serious hipness (Alanis Morrisette sees "such courage" in Eminem; Michael Moore says of Springsteen: "What can I say? Bruce is THE man") or newspapers' desperate attempts to prove they're on top of everything -- allow you to forget what a really great idea they actually are.
A good playlist (or mix tape or party mix or whatever) is not just a chance to line up all your favorite songs in a row and press play. The "Garden State Soundtrack," unadventurous and exhaustingly ubiquitous as it is (at this moment it's playing for the second time today in the cafe I'm writing in), has become so successful because, taken as a whole, it presents such a potent and coherent emotional landscape, a steamroller of wistful, bittersweet prettiness. A well-made playlist can work very much like a good film score: It can cast a powerful mood, capture a dramatic narrative, pinpoint an elusive emotion, recontextualize a beloved track in order to hear it in a new way. And maybe best of all, a playlist can be a powerful tool for introducing people to new music: With perfect placement and a little bit of strategic cushioning, challenging and unknown music can be made palatable, understandable and -- would you believe it? -- enjoyable.
Now it's your turn. For the next several weeks, we'll be taking submissions for great, summer-themed playlists from Salon readers. We'll pick and publish the very best ones, rewarding several a week with gift certificates for free downloads at eMusic or iTunes -- your pick. Then, at the very end, Audiofile will reward the winner, the creator of the ultimate Salon Summer Soundtrack, with ... a shiny new iPod (20G).
Here are the rules:
Other than that you can do as you like, and you can interpret the summer theme however you want to, or make it more specific (songs for summer driving, songs for drinking mint juleps on the porch on a summer evening).
In the meantime, here's a summer playlist of mine, which transitions loosely from obvious and uncomplicatedly summery songs -- nothing says summer like power pop, or like Aimee Mann singing about cotton candy at the Virginia State Fair -- to some more unusual musical permutations of summer: the Books' "Lemon of Pink," which sounds like it was made by some crickets with a laptop; the hot weather chill-out vibe of Mike Ladd live in Paris; the breezy electronic pastoralism of Mdrz; and the sweet, lonely ululations of Panda Bear.
1. "Sun," by Toms
2. "The World May Never Know," by Dr. Dog
3. "Dear John," by Aimee Mann
4. "Boisa-bis-o-boisa," by Jens Lekman
5. "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)," by Eels
6. "Figaro (Stones Throw 101 Remix)," by Madvillain
7. "Once Around the Block," by Badly Drawn Boy
8. "Kissing Kecia," by Mike Ladd
9. "Red Night," by Pure Horsehair
10. "The Lemon of Pink," by the Books
11. "Prospect Hummer," Animal Collective and Vashti Bunyan
12. "Blaue Fdden," by Mdrz
13. "Hotel Tell," by the Sea and Cake
14. "Venus," by Low
15. "Track One," by Panda Bear