Reflections on Rock Music: Remasters, Reissues, and Bootleg Releases…

Originally posted 2009-03-16 23:51:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

In lieu of a video tonight, I’d like to take a moment and review one of the music industry’s favorite ways to make an extra dime on previously released material — also known as “remastered” and/or “reissued” albums.  And, just because it feels right, I’d like to incorporate some thoughts on the release of previously unreleased material, or “bootleg,” “b-side,” and/or “rarity” collections.

Remastered Recordings

What is a remastered recording, really?  Now, in some cases, a remastered recording can be the most exciting release in an artist’s catalog, particularly for longtime fans and audiophiles.  For instance, there really is no substitute for the fully stereo-version of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds.  This remastered disc created quite a controversy when it first came out, as you had purists who claimed it should remain mono, as it was originally intended and released by Brian Wilson and the boys.  Others embraced the all-new expansion of the sound on this classic album.  As for me, I cannot understand how anyone in possession of the Pet Sounds CD could refrain from skipping to track 14 every time to begin with the stereo recording of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”  Compared to the mono recordings, the second set of stereo-mixed tracks are crisp and clear as they pop out around your ears.  You can hear each instrument and truly appreciate the minute instrumental and harmonic details that are present in this Beach Boys masterpiece, as compared to the mono versions which have a tendency to crackle and feel claustrophobic when turned up to any reasonable volume.

This, unfortunately, is probably the exception in the world of “remasters.”

Beware music fans when you pick up a CD or read online that a disc has been “remastered.”  The trick here is to read into the fine print and ascertain to what degree the recording has actually been altered.  For instance, the classic packaging/marketing trick has been for a sticker on a CD case to read “Digitally Remastered.”  That sounds great!  I have to have this new and improved recording for my collection!…

Well, perhaps so, but half the time all this means is that someone converted the analog tracks into a digital format.  Depending on the artist, producer, remixer, and age of original recording, there has often been no real improvement to the sound of the recording.  I’ve certainly been burned a few times by this “Digitally Remastered” marketing…

That being said, there really are some truly great remastered recordings out there if you’re careful to ascertain the degree of thought and effort that has gone into the apparent “remastering” (Like the re-issue of the main albums in Bob Dylan’s catalog a few years ago — and you better appreciate the improvement in sound quality, because there’s no booklet or bonus tracks to speak of!)

Reissues

Not to sound bitter here or anything, but reissues can also be just another waste of money.  Or they can offer any amazing addition to your collection.  How can you tell the difference?  Well, here are a few tips:

  • If it is a reissue of a recently released album, it’s probably just the same old material with a couple of shoddily recorded demos or tracks that didn’t make it to the album (usually for a reason) attached;
  • If it is an album that never made it to CD, then you must ask yourself: How much do I love this artist? If the answer is anything other than “very much,” then stay far, far away from this type of reissue!!  On the other hand, if the answer is “very much,” then what are you waiting for?  Some of my favorite CD purchases have fallen under this category, most notably Warren Zevon’s The Envoy.  I can’t believe that, previous to the reissue of this album in 2003, I wouldn’t have been able to hear such songs as “The Overdraft” or “Hula Hula Boys.”
  • If it is a reissue of a live album, you need to seriously question what has been improved since the initial release.  After all, what level of improvement can there really be in terms of sound quality?  It’s a live album.  It better have lots of additional tracks or an amazing, detailed booklet with updated interviews, etc.  Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison reissue is an excellent example of a worthwhile purchase in this category.
  • If it is an anniversary edition of a studio recording, some of the same criteria apply as above.  For instance, have the tracks been remastered?  (I mean, really remastered!)  Is there a decent array of bonus tracks added for the collector who already has the original album?  Is there a seriously detailed booklet with a decent number of pages?  I mean, after all, if this is an album worthy of a reissue, there must be a good deal of back story, historical importance, and/or artists from that band or other bands that are excited and willing to talk about it!
  • Finally, there is the enigmatic multiple format reissue.  What is this, you may ask?  This is when an album or collection of tracks is released and there are multiple options for the consumer.  For instance, when Pearl Jam re-releases their debut album Ten later this month, there will be three different packages available.  There’s the “Legacy Edition” with two discs — one with the original tracks, one with a newly remixed version of the album by original producer Brendan O’Brien and six bonus tracks.  There’s the “Deluxe Edition” with the aforementioned two discs and a DVD of Pearl Jam’s MTV Unplugged performance from 1992.  Then, there’s the “Collector’s Edition” with the aforementioned two CDs and one DVD, four vinyl discs (one with the original album, one with the remixed and bonus tracks, two with a live concert), a cassette version of Pearl Jam’s original “Momma-Son” demo, and “Package also includes an Eddie Vedder-style composition notebook filled with replica personal notes, images and mementos from the collections of Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament, a vellum envelope with replicated era-specific ephemera from Pearl Jam’s early work and a two-sided print commemorating the Drop in the Park concert.”  Wow.  Now that’s some selection.  For most people, the “Legacy Edition” really should be enough.  For me, the intermediate Pearl Jam fan (and the ultimate fan of CD packaging), I will consider the “Deluxe Edition” based on the price difference.  If it’s a reasonable amount more, I would really be interested to watch the unplugged performance.  As for the “Collector’s Edition” (valued on Amazon.com at $124.99), you truly need to be a Collector with a capital “C.”  Now, don’t get me wrong; they have really done it up with some amazing elements, but as much as I love and appreciate CD packaging, I’m not about to drop that much money on a single album reissue.  If my memory serves me well, this was the price for buying all the Dylan reissues at one point (again, admittedly without any booklet, bonus tracks, or memorabilia to speak of).

Bootlegs (and B-sides and Rarities)

A final category in this collection of corporate cash cows (and music lovers’ delights!) are officially released bootleg recordings.  For convenience, I’ll lump in B-sides and rarities.  Bootlegs, of course, are tracks that have not been officially released but are circulated underground among fans.  Perhaps the most famous release of a bootleg was Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes.  Worth every crazy, weird minute of sound, my friends!  Dylan’s celebrated Bootleg Series is dedicated to releasing unheard tracks and live concerts that have been — almost without exception — wonderful and worthwhile purchases.  Again, I would ask that you apply that aforementioned question to the purchase laid out before you:  “How much do you like this band/artist?”

Most bands, at some point or another, release a collection of unreleased tracks, b-sides, and rarities.  These are sometimes mediocre at best (Hootie and the Blowfish’s Scattered, Covered, and Smothered) with a minimum of only somewhat interesting liner notes.  However, these are sometimes wildly fascinating and rewarding, such as the Beach Boys’ Endless Harmony soundtrack, Warren Zevon’s Preludes, or Pearl Jam’s Lost Dogs (the latter incorporating a detailed and interesting read of a booklet).

The trick here, to be repeated once and only once more, is to evaluate how much you like the artist or band, and then to take a calculated risk.  In this writer’s opinion, half the fun of surfing the racks (or the web) and buying new albums — whether they be standard releases, remasters, reissues, or bootlegs — is the risk involved.  You may be — and perhaps most often will be — unimpressed or only somewhat entertained.  But it’s all worth it when you have those moments of revelation as you discover a truly worthwhile addition to your music library!

Music Review: Jim Fusco’s “Halfway There”

Originally posted 2009-04-13 23:55:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

When Jim Fusco released What About Today? in May 2005, his official website claimed that “this album will prove to be Jim’s best work to date.”  I didn’t think about it much at the time, but that tag of “to date” is key, particularly now — four years later — as he releases a new album.

Now, his website asserts that Halfway There is “his most professional and mature album to date.”

There is certainly something very appropriate about the title of this new release.  Careful listeners will certainly appreciate the conceptual and thematic connections.  In most places on the record, Fusco seems upbeat and generally optimistic, and yet there is a clear feeling of being stuck in a transition phase.  “You go on for miles then you stop,” he sings in “On For Miles,” possibly referring to his fiancee (now only months away from their wedding).  On “Exception,” he sings, “Why can’t we be an exception to the rule?”

Fusco is even more blunt on “I Got You,” as he wails, “I’ll always have you here and shouldn’t that be enough?”

Halfway There is truly unmatched — as promised — in Fusco’s catalog in terms of not only sound quality and “professionalism,” but also lyrical content and overall effect.  This is an album that should draw listeners in and make them feel something.  From the opening track, this is apparent, as much from the snarl of the verse as from the fed-up indifference of the chorus.  The guitar solo is emotive and supported with a classic Jim Fusco — no, better — bass riff.

Go on: I dare you not to get it stuck in your head.

The Best Indie Album of 2009!

The Best Indie Album of 2009!

“Go Back to Him” sets the tone for an album that does what great albums are supposed to do, leading you from highs to lows as you wind your way through its eleven tracks. Perhaps due to his experience with the recording process (and life in general) or an array of new equipment and instruments, Fusco’s vocals are warmer, his guitar effects are more unique and authentic, and the overall sound quality is higher.  The volume level is impressive — sometimes to0 much so, as I’ve had to turn down a couple tracks during pronounced, high-pitched guitar parts.

Indeed, longtime Jim Fusco fans will find traces of sounds here and there that are reminiscent of past work, but this time around there is sense of evolution and a clear progression.  “Our Love Doesn’t Translate” should clearly be the single, as catchy and pretty as it is, weaving a tale of two lovers who don’t always understand each other or see eye to eye.  “A Night Away” is the distortion-drenched track for this album, showcasing just one of many energetic guitar solos and — although he sings “I’d rather be ashamed than proud and angry” — some considerable resentment.

The standout track of the album is “I Got You.”  It is placed perfectly on the album, just past the halfway point.  It begins as a quiet song, just an electric guitar, then a bass, and finally a lead vocal.  When the drums shake and roll into place about a minute in, the song picks up speed and continues its slow assault until just over a minute and a half in when Fusco belts out the first chorus.  The lyrics are my favorite on the album; indeed, this would be the first song I would discuss with him if I were to sit down for an interview.

The album closer, “Ruins,” makes a final and interesting statement on the overall theme of the album.  Using the metaphor of ancient historic ruins for a relationship, Fusco sings, “There was a time when everyone had admired you from afar… But nature has a way of tearing apart what we’ve built, and if it stands, it’s eroded away.”  He leads up to the conclusion in the chorus, “I guess that’s what you call progress.”  The song itself is a dark, haunting number, and you won’t find a better mix anywhere on the album.

As “Ruins” fades, you are left with a momentary silence before a quiet hum fills the speakers.  Almost a minute later, a guitar fades in to the pop powerhouse that is “Winning You Over.”  Not officially included on the album, all I can say is that this song fits firmly into the company of such songs as America’s “Here and Now” and the Wallflowers “Empire In My Mind” — all quality tracks that make you wonder, “Why not include this on the album proper?”

Fusco has said the song was recorded much later than the other songs and didn’t really fit into the album as a whole, which does make sense.

Halfway There is easily his best, most accessible and enjoyable album to date — it is clearly a prime time for Fusco to attract new listeners while impressing his current fanbase.

In his review of Jeff Copperthite’s 2008 album Greenlight, Fusco wrote, “As an independent artist, I’ve found that people don’t take our music seriously. They won’t listen to it in the car like every other album they own. They won’t recommend it to their friends and write online reviews. It just doesn’t happen very often.”  Halfway There is an infectious record.  I’ve already listened to it a half dozen times in the car alone, not counting just as many iPod listens, and I don’t see a time coming when I will want to take it out.  (Well, maybe when the Dylan album is released later this month… :-))

Oddly — perhaps sadly — this level of mastery comes at a time when Fusco, for the first time, has eschewed all the frills, including music videos, enhancedCD content, and even his own original design for the album cover.

Fusco at work in the Meriden, CT-based FMP Studios

Fusco at work in the Meriden, CT-based FMP Studios

This is yet another visible sign of advancement — he brought in talented and accomplished painter Ben Quesnel to design and create an original work that would be used for the cover.  If you watch Fusco’s Laptop Session for “Our Love Doesn’t Translate,” you can see the painting in all its glory.

The album isn’t perfect, though.  The fourth track, “Write it All,” is both a writing collaboration and a rare duet — his first since My Other Half.  Fair warning: that second voice is disconcerting and may lead listeners to frisbee-toss their discs out the windows of moving cars.  (Actually, that second voice is me!)  In all seriousness, “Write it All” is perhaps my favorite collaboration I’ve ever written and performed — and there have been many — with Jim, and I think fans of MoU will especially appreciate this track.

Another notable collaboration showcased for the first time on this album is with longtime friend Alberto Distefano.  “Go Back to Him,” “Our Love Doesn’t Translate,” and “Ruins” were written while on vacation in Italy, and the influence of a new environment with a rich history and unique language is apparent in the writing.  His previous album may have been “purely Jim Fusco from top to bottom,” but the injection of a second perspective seems to have sparked new and different ideas and perhaps even a new era for this already established, accomplished songwriter.

If you’ve made it this far in reading my review, there really isn’t much more that can be communicated in words.  The bass is bassier.  The guitars are crisper, more jangly.  The vocals are as ambitious as ever.  Truly, this is an album that deserves your attention —  it’s only the second great album of 2009, in league with Bruce Springsteen’s Working On A Dream.

Click HERE to listen to the album for free!

Trust me, you’ll be glad you tuned in.

Music Review: Indie Music Songwriter Jeff Copperthite’s “Greenlight”

Originally posted 2008-04-22 23:54:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

You know, I’ve been putting this off for some time now, but I’ve been thinking of EXACTLY what I wanted to say since the first time I heard Jeff’s new album. When I saw Chris’ review, I really wanted to read it, but I chose not to before I wrote my own, as not to be swayed by his opinions, although 99% of the time we’ll disagree, at least a little bit.

What can I say about Jeff’s album that will put it into a light that those who don’t know him will understand. Well, I’ve already covered THREE songs off of it for the Laptop Sessions series- on two separate occasions, I’ve given up my opportunity to play an original song I’ve written in favor of a song from this album. And that chance only comes once every three weeks for me. That’s the respect I’ve given this album.

As an independent artist, I’ve found that people don’t take our music seriously. They won’t listen to it in the car like every other album they own. They won’t recommend it to their friends and write online reviews. It just doesn’t happen very often. But, I listened to Jeff’s album 11 times, according to iTunes (I use my iPod in the car), and I’ve always found my iTunes play counts to represent only about half the times I’ve actually listened to something (probably because I’m turning the iPod on and off when I get in and out of the car). Actually, I find myself returning to “Greenlight” very often, even after it’s had its initial run in the car stereo.

Yes, I designed the album covers and put the whole thing together. Yes, I made the website for it and did the writeup. But, I still got to listen to this album and experience it like I haven’t done for many years now. Chris and I, in our better days, used to be true companions when it came to creative projects. There wasn’t a thing either of us could do without the other having a hand in it. It was a fruitful time that I know I’ll never get back. That’s the problem when other people, wanted or unwanted, enter your friends lives.

I never thought I’d get the opportunity to share an album with someone again. I thought, as with all of my projects in the last two to three years, any independent project I was a part of would be kept a total secret until “release day”. Not so with Jeff’s album, though. He brought his songs to me at every step of the journey, asking for advice and looking for some friendly words of both laud and criticism. I was happy to be that person, especially because I know that in many other situations, I’ve been replaced as that person. So, here’s a great toast out to Jeff’s wife, Sherry- always support Jeff in all his creative works, but thank you very much for not having a clue about music! 🙂

So, you would think that this review (I promise, it’s coming) is going to be nothing but a sales pitch with no criticisms. Well, I’m going to be truthful- I’m not putting in criticisms just for the sake of it, but I want to give my honest interpretation of Jeff’s album, “Greenlight”, and here it is.

I cannot comment on the track listing, ie. order of songs. I actually chose the order they should go in, so if there’s any criticism here, you gotta problem with me! 🙂 But, seriously, the track listing was chosen as a way to present Jeff’s great songs in front, his good songs in the middle, and ending with another great set. Of course, with an album of nine songs, there isn’t much of a cross-section to work with in those three categories. Take my word for it: the “good” section isn’t very long.

The album starts with “Shadows of Your Dreams”, a fast number that fades in (which I enjoy as an album-opener) and then gets it beat. This song is perfect at slot Number One (okay, one comment) because to me, it sounds the most like a song off Quilt’s (Jeff’s band) last album, “Expressions”, where Jeff wrote every song.

The production on the album is simply astounding. The clarity in both the vocals and instruments is nothing less than impressive. Jeff’s talents at ALL the instruments he plays is clearly apparent, as well. He plays some great guitar solos throughout and each song tends to have so much more than just a couple rhythm guitar tracks- he comes up with a different melody all together.

The only problems I have with the sound are minor, but I think are important to point out. I’m not sure if it’s an effect, but some (and “Greenlight” has MUCH less of this than previous efforts) songs have this odd Barenaked Ladies “Gordon” album vocals effect to them. You can hear it clearly on “Home” and it sounds like a fake double-tracking. It almost makes the album sound more dated than it needs to be. I don’t hate the effect, but sometimes I wonder what it might sound like without it.

The second beef I have with the sound is the dated sound of Jeff’s Roland Electronic drum kit. The sound isn’t bad, but some of the toms and cymbals sound very “late 90s”. One other problem I’ve noticed in some songs (most apparent in “What Not To Do”) is the fact that Jeff uses a metronome to keep time in his songs. There’s nothing wrong with that- kids, you should always use one in recording. I don’t, and my songs tend to speed up. But, Jeff is a bass player and a piano player both first and second. He’s a drummer third, at best. So, at various points in the album, I notice him coming in a bit too early or too late on some drum beats. The tempo of certain songs tends to plod, as well, when the metronome is used, as it doesn’t sound as dynamic as it could be. Now, don’t get me wrong- it is INCREDIBLY difficult to play to a metronome- why do you think I don’t use one? But, if you’re going to use one, it has to be correct, or the mistakes will be very apparent.

Now, moving on to more songs:

“Home” is not only my favorite song on this album, but stands as one of my all-time favorites. It has a GREAT tune and a great message about a man who loves nothing more than to come home to that special someone. The backing vocals are spot-on (something Jeff’s struggled with in the past) and the combination of percussion and a great bass line make this a standout track on ANY album. I have nothing but positive things to say about this song.

I also love the title track, “Greenlight”. It’s a bit slower, but I just LOVED it when Jeff played it in Fusco-Moore Studios. The song also tells of a man that is happy where he is, but realizes that there might be something more. The line, “What good have I done, for those that I know” is poignant and I love the way he sings. The middle 8 is a great change from the rest of the song and I only wish there were a high harmony on the “for me, for you” lines. The solo simply rocks on this song- the addition of the reverb makes it sit well in the mix. Jeff also busts out a piano solo in this song, which is also both well-played and fitting. The ONLY qualm I have with this song is the addition of the percussion on the chorus. I loved the way it sounded without the shaker track. The chorus had this great beat that I just gravitated to. The shaker takes that away for me and makes the song “faster” than it’s supposed to be.

That brings me to another thing I wanted to point out. Jeff is trying REALLY hard on this album. He’s trying to make these both great songs and great recordings. He tried, and succeeded, to stay in perfect pitch throughout the album. He also tried to make these songs sound fully-produced. That said, he may have tried a bit too hard on songs like “Greenlight” with addition of shakers that really didn’t need to be there. I can’t fault him too much because most of his efforts only helped the overall feel of the album and made it sound so professional.

Next, we have an instrumental that I’ve known for years, called “Jam Session”. I can’t say much about the content because, well, it’s an instrumental, but Jeff simply rocks this song. He is a great, professional musician. He plays the life out that guitar and piano, while the rhythm tracks add to the spontaneity of the song.

Next, is the best song ever written. Okay, fine- I’m biased- I WROTE IT! 🙂 I wrote “What Not To Do” because I was struggling with the idea that even though I don’t want my friends to fall into the same pitfalls I’ve fallen into, they’ll do it anyway because people usually learn from other’s mistakes. Jeff turned my song into a great production. That little guitar riff he plays during the opening chords is very R.E.M.-like and the production is great. If you ever get a chance to listen to the backing track to this song, you’ll realize how much work went into this song.

Another point I want to mention is a tricky one because I don’t want it to come across the wrong way. Jeff’s vocals, in prior albums, have always a bit “lackluster”. He sang the songs “flat”. I’m not saying he sang the NOTES flat- I’m saying that it was a weird combination of being on-key, but sounding a bit monotone. He tends to sing louder, as well, when he’s unsure of notes or having trouble hitting them. I bring this point up to explain how much progress Jeff has made with “Greenlight”. The feeling he puts into the vocals here is great and his voice has a softer quality to it now. Again, he really tried to make this album great, and with respect to the vocals, he definitely delivered.

“$500” is the weakest song on the album, in my opinion. But, I still enjoy it. The palm-muted guitars are great- he got a great sound out of his Fender. But, the bridge (before the chorus) harmonies are a tad bit off. I can’t really put my finger on it. However, the harmonies on the chorus have the same thing going on, but it WORKS! That “you know that I’m not rich” harmony is stuck in my head more than it should be. I love the guitar work on this song, from the acoustic in the background of the verses (great and unexpected) and the little back-and-forth strumming pattern before the “rock out” sections is really cool. Plus, you gotta love the slide at the end of the solo.

Jeff, in previous albums, always had a bit of trouble expressing his feelings in “mainstream-sounding” lyrics. For instance, in one song off of Quilt’s “Expressions”, Jeff explains to a girl that she’s “like a beaver in the heat”. It’s been like five years and I still don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. And the only conclusions I come to are dirty, at best. That said, Jeff really worked hard to make the songs on this album have great lyrics. They never sound awkward (maybe a bit on “$500”) and all are insightful and on-topic.

“Aware” is my second-favorite song on the album because of its great tune, fast pace, and great message about being unable to “see what goes on without me”. It has superb guitar playing and I love how Jeff’s voice shows so much emotion on the last “Oh, I’m not able to see” line. This song really defines the album for me.

“Searcher” is a song that showcases Jeff’s amazing talents on guitar and piano. Not only does he play great solos again, but the sounds he produces for the rhythm electric and piano are so interesting. I usually don’t like instrumentals all that much, but the sound is so captivating, I can never skip by it.

“Easy” is a great song. Not only does the song have a great story, but the chorus is infectious. It’s almost like two different songs, the way the instrument sounds change from the verse to the chorus. I love the “epic” sound to this track and that’s why it was chosen to end the album.

Jeff could charge whatever he wanted for this album because of how solid and impressive it is. As Chris said, “It’s pretty amazing when Jeff Copperthite and Jack Johnson come out with an album in the same week and I’m listening to Jeff”. So true. “Greenlight” makes a real case to case independent musicians seriously and I hope Jeff will continue to be prolific and continue with this amazing progression from album to album.

Buy Jeff’s album by clicking HERE!

Reflections on Rock Music: The Subtleties of the Playlist

Originally posted 2009-06-22 23:50:42. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

For those who don’t know me, it can safely be said I’m a music dork for the ages.  And so, with that distinction clearly in place, it is with great honor that I present to you an article for the Laptop Sessions new music blog dedicated to what is perhaps my favorite digital innovation:

The playlist.

For anyone that owns an mp3 player and certainly anyone that uses iTunes, playlists offer new and unique ways to group your songs.  Whether you’re making one for yourself, a friend, or significant other, there are countless formats you can use.  Here are the major categories:

1.)  The Artist Compilation

This is the ultimate test of your knowledge and love for a given artist:  Can you create a compilation of a band or artist’s best songs?  Here’s the added twist:  In my personal opinion, I think compilations should adhere either to the length of a CD (about 74 minutes) maximum, or 20 songs at most.  Giving yourself a boundary to work within forces you to nix some songs that just shouldn’t make the cut, even if they do remind you of the first time you kissed your significant other, or whatever.

The trick here is to compile a set of tracks that are both comprehensive and satisfying in one grouping, taking care to order them in an interesting manner that gives the compilation a life of its own.  Sometimes, chronological is okay.  But if you’re just going to choose tracks and throw them randomly into a playlist, then please don’t even try.

These are valuable playlists to have, particularly for more under-the-radar bands like Ben Folds and (until last week’s “Best of” release) the Wallflowers, as well as artists whose greatest hits come in multiple and/or unsatisfying formats, like R.E.M. and (until recently) Bob Dylan.  Even when you love albums like I do, you may just want to hear a mix from time to time.

2.) The Artist Catalog Playlist

Similar to the artist compilation, the artist catalog playlist focuses on one band or artist.  However, this is for true fans only.  The playlist comprises a chronological collection of any and all tracks you can get your hands on.  Oh yeah, I’m talking about all those demos, live tracks, and soundtrack cuts you’ve accumulated over your long career as a fan.

Personally, I drop all the studio albums into the playlist first, ordering them by release date, and then I add all other tracks around those mainstays.  Even when a track has technically come out previous to a studio album during the same year, I put the tracks after the album.  My reasoning?  Hey, the albums are — hopefully — the first, best source for great tracks and provide some great structure to what could be an exhaustive (and exhausting) playlist.

This works very well for bands with popular, lengthy careers — like Pearl Jam — or more under-the-radar artists, such as Wilco (I spent more time than I should have compiling my “Wilco, etc.” playlist, which includes a ton of Jeff Tweedy solo work, Golden Smog, Loose Fur, and more) and Jim Fusco (don’t even ask — of course I included such great rareties as “Parody Writer” and all the bonus tracks on releases like My Other Half and the enhanced CD section of Formula).

3.)  The Themed Playlist

Perhaps the most popular of all playlists, I think anyone who considers him/herself a fan of music or of life in general should have to make at least one themed playlist for someone special, or at least for personal use.  Just last night, my friend Dana Camp was describing the track listing of a “Date Playlist” that he has.

Recently, I’ve made playlists for the drive to the beach, rush hour traffic, the unfortunate bank overdraft/identity theft crisis of a friend, and you better believe that I had a downright melancholy compilation prepared and put to good use while I was broken up from my girlfriend last year.  These sorts of playlists are the most versatile, and the degree to which you take the song choice and track order into consideration say at least as much about you as the tracks say about the artist/band.

4.)  Long Format Playlists

Last but not least we come to the long format playlist.  Similar to the artist catalog playlist (which can be played straight through in chronological order if you prefer), this list is most often played while your iPod or other mp3 device is in shuffle mode.

My favorite examples of this type are the “Albums by Year” compilations I put together recently.  On my iPod, I have playlists titled “Albums – 1990,” “Albums – 1991,” and so on up to the still-expanding “Albums – 2009.”  Because I’ve been spending a lot of time working recently, each day I choose a year and just let it play.  This is fun and fascinating because you can laugh and say, “Wow, I haven’t heard that song in FOREVER!,” as well as begin to appreciate in retrospect the songs and albums that came out during the same years.  For instance, I didn’t really fall in love with albums and music in general until the turn of the millennium.  Now that I’m listening to the 1991 playlist, I’m coming to appreciate the juxtapositon of Tom Petty’s more straightforward Into the Great Wide Open with the more alternative Ten (Pearl Jam) or Temple of the Dog (by the one-off band of the same name), as well as the atypical acoustic format and vocal clarity of R.E.M.’s Out of Time.  What will it be today?  Maybe I’ll go back to the hey day of my early musical roots, circa 1997 or 1998…

…and then remember why I came to love the Sixties music of bands like Bob Dylan and the Beatles!

Seriously, though, I hope you have enjoyed my breakdown of playlist formats.  If you have any of your own, please comment — I would LOVE to be able to think of more ways to effectively utilize the playlist functions of my iPod.