Most people have favorite songs, and the majority of the time we hear them by our own hand. For the most part, I don’t agree with the sentiment that one can play a loved song too much and ruin it. I have a rapacious attitude to things I take great pleasure in, and though we can fall out of love with things and people, it is rare for me to get sick of a song. (Conversely, I do believe in the power of the grower.)
Songs become favourites for various reasons. Perhaps a track is tied to a memory. Sometimes it is the craft of a near-perfect work. Maybe it is impossible not to dance to. People have favourites that might not induce happiness, but provide some other emotional release. It’s possible the lyrics are extremely relatable. Frequently, it is a combination.
With the advent of new technologies, many of us listen to music in a medium that would have been unrecognizable not long ago. There is a healthier market for records than one might expect, due to a sort of faux nostalgia from young people who were not around for their heyday, but cassettes are shunned even by charity shop bargain bins. MiniDiscs (lol) and the cracked jewel cases of CDs are, for most of us, no more. Streaming rules; I am not sure gen Z would understand “MP3”. My local park is a space where I can be alone – and feel part of the community
But the feature that has transformed us most as listeners is shuffle. A favourite track coming up on shuffle is the roulette ball landing on the correct number – but as if someone else had chosen it for you. Shuffle is the cousin of a DJ dropping a banger. I really don’t want to say that people “throw their hands in the air like they just don’t care”, but, well, they do. Now we can have that similar unexpected joy via earbuds on the commute to work, or when sweating on a treadmill, providing an extra kick of energy.
Sometimes a good shuffle isn’t as random as it might seem: algorithms pick up on the songs we appreciate most, and, like a dog being trained, the shuffle alters its behaviour accordingly. It isn’t that a song’s sudden hello hasn’t thrown me into the past and elicited stealthy tears (I don’t want to talk about it), or a song I hate hasn’t sneaked its way in when I’m listening to a suggested playlist.
But turning on shuffle is worth the risk: to hear the opening thrum of a classic that makes the heart beat faster, your smile grow wider and a shiver run down the spine.