Reindeer Games

Reindeer Games

Although I’ve had a wonderful first semester in Minneapolis, it’s really great to come back East for a few weeks. Not only am I dodging that brutal weather, I’m getting to spend some time with friends and family whom I don’t see that much under normal circumstances. This list includes my younger brother, a pop music dork whose encyclopedic rock nerdiness is an inspiration to me. The sheer tonnage of music to which he is hip is utterly staggering, and am I not an easy person to stagger, in terms of rep knowledge.

My brother and I have developed a ritualistic nightly game entitled “Best Song/Favorite Song,” a trifle of deceptive simplicity in which we take a band whose output we know back to front and each propose our favorite songs and, separately, the songs we feel are the best of the group’s catalogue. Articulating one’s preferences in this way forces one to confront the distinction between the substance of the music and its impression on us—the bottle, as it were, and the bottle-shaped column of water inside it—independently. Reflectively, the meat of the game lies in deducing what it is about you that makes you answer the way you do. “Best Song/Favorite Song” invites you to examine both the structure and material of the music and the wrinkles in your own subjectivity as a listener in a high-contrast context.

This might sound like a harmless variety of record-collector shit-shooting, but believe me, it can be torturous. We become extremely self-conscious, second-guessing the “best” song as we reconsider the germane strata of songcraft; conversely, we can never pin down a “favorite” song without considering and discarding dozens of candidates. Nor is it a practice whose rewards are limited to pop music: Although I’d hesitate to try it with new music or traditional classical music on the basis of scale, any activity that prompts self-analysis vis à vis musical perception is a useful one, I think.

So if you’re killing time with music-savvy loved ones this holiday season, consider a round or two of “Best Song/Favorite Song.” I imagine that a few eggnogs could only improve it!

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One thought on “Reindeer Games

  1. JimB

    There’s a related distinction between best song versus best performance of a song. When people talk about someone’s “best song”, they usually mean that person’s performance of the song, not distinguishing it from the underlying composition. But it’s interesting to look for songs that work when other people do them. “I Can’t Stop Loving You” may be one of the best country and western songs in the latter sense because Kitty Wells and Ray Charles both did very good, very different, versions of it. You can assert that even if you don’t believe that it was either Wells’ or Charles’ “best song” in the former sense.


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