When it comes to my casual music listening habits, I have my personal favorites I frequent most. Those favorites tend to stay in the familiar waters of rock and pop. Specifically, most of the time, I listen to new wave, post-punk, soul, and music between 1965 and 1995. Now, there is a lot of material to cover in those areas on their own. New developments in recording technology and distribution increasingly made it easier for artists to make music. There is so much to explore outside the realm of commercial pop radio when you dive into the sounds of smaller indie labels. However, it can grow tiresome sometimes and I crave for something new and different.
When I say “new,” I’m not necessarily referring to the latest record releases. “New” in this context would mean music outside of what I typically listen to: rock and pop. This occasional yearning has led me to explore various types of folk, world, experimental, and other types of music. Not only do I learn something, it is a good way to cleanse the palate and you just may find your new favorite thing.
Now, there’s a bit of science behind why I, and others, tend to listen to the same things despite the vast resources we have available to find new music. In his book Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty, Ben Ratliff explains in a time where the Internet offers us access to any and all types of music, the ability to have music on demand has actually limited listening in a way. With YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, and other streaming music services at your fingertip, you can easily control the music. There is no need to sit through a song you don’t like when you can just skip. That type of instantaneous musical gratification has impacted how we listen and interact with music. With the ability to cater the exact sounds we want, we tend to overlook or ignore music that could be new and potentially exciting. It is a scenario where freedom comes in the form of too much choice.
Unintentionally closing my mind because of my ability to seek out what I want when I want is something I am guilty of too. We all are. I forget this sometimes until I get to the point where I am experiencing musical fatigue. That’s when I wake up and realize I need to explore. Not only for the sake of refreshing my senses and getting back to a point where I can enjoy the music I love, but feed my curious appetite as a full-time music lover.
I have a variety of different ways I explore new music. I volunteer for a non-profit radio station. I read books about music I’m not familiar with. I work in a music archive. I have all sorts of music available to me, so I try not to waste those opportunities.
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of early vocal records. Before Elvis Presley shocked the nation and introduced rock and roll to millions of white kids, popular music was a little more “white friendly” and non-threatening. Artists would record songs that were fun, lite, and generally not shocking. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that sort of popular innocence and naiveté. Though, it does make the music sound quaint by today’s standards. Still, it can be refreshing in a way to drop baggage and listen to a fun record.
A song I’ve just been in love with lately has been Eileen Barton’s “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake.” Going all the way to #1 on the Billboard Best-Selling Pop Singles chart in 1950, this signature song by Barton is catchy and fun. A percussive knock on a wood block simulating someone is at the door kicks off the track and is followed by a cheerful “come in” from Barton. Surprised by her visitor whom she hasn’t seen in many a year, she launches into her tune. Accompanied with a bass and rhythmic clapping, Barton sings about baking her guest a cake and hiring a band if she only knew they were coming. Towards the middle of the song, a full band comes in and joins the joyous celebration.
Barton only recorded a handful of singles in the 1950s. Her version of this song actually stands out as the most famous. And rightfully so. While legends like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope recorded their own versions, Barton brings the song to life with an unparalleled energy and vigor.