March 24, 2013, by Stephen Mumford

The Soundtrack to your Life

Music is probably our greatest invention. What else can so quickly lift our spirits or reduce us to tears, the two often being only seconds apart? Philosophers debate whether music really was an invention. Perhaps it was discovered. It might exist in a Platonic realm, which is our aspiration to comprehend. Certainly there is a mathematical structure to music, as Plato noted.

Other animals may have got there before us: whales and birds have their own musical song. But it is the music we humans have created for ourselves that is the most truly meaningful to us. And while there have been great composers through the ages, music can also be immediate and of its time, as much of pop music is.

In recent weeks I have realised that I have a new favourite album. The tunes in pop music tend to be simple but designed in that way deliberately so that they stay in the listeners’ heads. That’s how I often realise I have a new favourite. The song’s there even when it’s not playing.

I have a long, growing list of former favourite albums. They last about half a year and are superseded. But that is good because I can then look back and think of them as forming the soundtrack of my life. Old favourites evoke memories of past times, good and bad. Each of the following carries a distinct meaning for me, which I shall not relate here. In rough order in which they have been my favourites, and without remotely attempting to be complete, I have loved in my time Queen’s News of the World (my first album record when I was 13), Joy Division’s Closer, Birthday Party’s Junkyard, Einstürzende Neubauten’s Drawings of Patient OT, Sonic Youth’s Dirty, Homogenic by Björk, Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix, virtually every Pet Shop Boys album as it came out, Pink Floyd’s first album featuring Syd Barrett, and a recent rediscovery of Sparks had me fall in love with both Propaganda and Hello Young Lovers. It’s an admittedly eclectic mix. But good music can be found in any genre. There was even one summer I was into Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill!

If you know some or all of these albums, then you know at least some of my life. And if you tell me your favourites, I will know something about yours. So what has been the soundtrack to your life?

Posted in AestheticsArt HistoryCulture and Area StudiesMusic