But Warren is no fool. All of this genesis bears witness to some of the station’s older listeners “who grew up with WMMR”. He says the last 200 songs will represent a consensus between these ballots and that “No. 1 is by far number 1. “I wouldn’t let it spoil, what a consensus, but I wonder. Would that be what my friends, who are tired too, predict? “Ladder to Heaven”? “Born to Run”? Would Aretha Franklin perform her usual canonical role of bringing both Black America and women to the top of the pile? Didn’t anyone put the words “Sinead” and “O’Connor” on their ballot?
One compelling aspect of this countdown business is philosophical. With more than 2,000 songs, a certain percentage would likely always match the taste of XPN. Local acts like the Hooters, Amos Lee and Low Cut Connie are very present here. And believe it or not, “local” extends to Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, who had nearly 30 entries between them by Monday noon. But how would a countdown of the 2,020 greatest songs run, for example at WDAS, where the format is now old-school R&B and “The Steve Harvey Morning Show” anchors the Am-Block? Power 99 used to have a nightly countdown show in which one song – Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay” or Keith Sweat’s “Make It Last Forever” or Prince’s “Adore” – dominated for weeks. What would a more epoch-making company look like? Would WMMR find a way to move forward there too?
And what would the same countdown at a similar station in Anchorage or Montgomery or Chicago or the Bay Area reveal? Does it matter that some company sizes flattened the pop palette? Can a diagram still quantify local tastes? Would an accurate answer prove as annoying as accurate polling data, since we now partially live on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube? Is this whole process just too random and subjective to continue?
I agree no; it is not. I appreciate the folly, the surprises, the mind-boggling idea that a ranking process could put the number 1,995 next to something as heavenly as Franklin’s “Amazing Grace” and play another song after Ella Fitzgerald made “Mack the Knife” In Exciting Mass murder. I think “Brilliant Disguise” is a better Springsteen song than certain finalist “Born to Run” but no chart will ever reflect that because it’s a blasphemous position. But I like the drama of blasphemy and the certainty of what a diagram tells you: modernization is hard work. XPN is still a kaleidoscope.
It is true that you can create your own massive, perfectly tailored playlist. But you will miss the astonishment that Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” starts the 767-to-764 block and A Tribe Called Quest’s “scenario” tears it to pieces. It wouldn’t be a shock to hear Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne Regrette Rien” (1.093) follow Notorious BIG’s “Juicy” (1.094), which Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Band on the Run” had followed ”(1.095 ). There’s nothing wrong with Dan Fogelberg’s 40-year-old Same Auld Lang Syne, and he swears it’s the lonely ghost lurking on Taylor Swift’s two quarantine albums. Same thing – if you get up late enough – to hear XPN’s newbie Rahman Wortman go a little crazy and exclaim that Outkast’s “BO B (Bombs Over Baghdad)” actually made the cut.
And Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu” and the Richard Harris travesty known as “MacArthur Park” certainly couldn’t be frightened. I suspect the people who voted for these two knew they were trolls. But it doesn’t matter. Even songs that are as confusing (well, so terrible) as they culminated in days and days from something we have become increasingly estranged from: word of mouth.