Thinking Aloud on a “Top Ten for Newbies” List

What is the purpose of such a list? True fans love to make recommendations to eager novices. Fans love it when someone becomes interested and seeks their advice on what to listen to from among the hours and hours of music available, and hundreds of CDs on sale.

Many of the lists that appear in magazines, books, online, etc. should really be called “My Top Ten Favorites.” There really are slippery lines in Top Ten lists between

  • “what I want you to listen to,”
  • “what somebody who knows this stuff thinks you will also enjoy.”
  • “what some authority thinks you should listen to”

Top Ten lists are subjective. Whatever is included in the list is going to reflect two things: WHO compiled the list, and WHAT his or her goal is with the list.

WHO is the compiler? Compilers all have favorite artists, songs and recordings that are going to get selected over other possibilities.

WHAT is the compiler’s goal? Trying to put into words WHAT the goal of a list is goes a long way toward understanding what is on the list.

If the goal is to make recommendations from among current active performers and recording artists, then the CDs are going to be recent—at least during the active listening lifetime of the compiler!

If the goal is to list what is currently popular (rankings that used to be reliably determined by CD sales and radio playlists), then chant CDs are highly unlikely to occupy any of the ten spots.

If the goal is to name the ten most historically important albums, then the list is going to range from hip contemporary sounds to vintage and even outdated sounds.

If the goal is to identify popular vocalists, then instrumental albums are not going to be considered. Same for instrumental traditions like slack key, steel guitar, and ʻukulele-vocalists are going to take a back seat.

If the goal is to identify important SONGS, then the compiler will have to make choices from among different artists who have recorded the song. Compilers then have to consider whether current availability of the album should factor into the decision. If I want you to listen to a certain song, should I recommend an artist whose album has been out of print since the 1970s, or should I point you to an artist whose CD can be ordered from any number of different sources? For example, I LOVE Bill Ka‘iwa’s recording of “Hawai‘i Aloha,” but the LP Kamaaina Songs (Hula HS-523) has been out of print for decades, has not been reissued on CD, and comes up only occasionally on ebay.

If the goal is to make recommendations to someone who has only $100 to spend on Hawaiian music, then we have real choices to make. Should that include a chant CD? Should that include an individual artistsʻ slack key guitar CD, or only an anthology CD? And—which one??? The historical anthology produced by HanaOla has historically important performances, but none of the sparkle of recent CDs with state-of-the-art production values as well as compelling artistry. Five record companies have issued anthology CDs of artists on their labels, and all are different!!! (I am partial on these grounds to Dancing Cat Records and Palm Records, although the live performances captured on the Daniel Ho Creations CDs would draw interest as well.) Any responsible recommender, however, would NOT say buy one of each companyʻs anthology CDs, because there are many other styles of Hawaiian music, and a library that can only have five or six CDs has to reflect that diversity. Shouldnʻt it?

Who the “recommendee” is will also factor into consideration. A Newbie who wants to listen to more Hawaiian music may not be ready for the “everything-including-the-kitchen-sink” approach. That Newbie may simply want to know who else out there is playing the kind of music that attracted his/her attention. For example, someone who really likes The Makaha Sons and wants to hear more like that should be sent to Ho‘okena, Nā Kama, Sons of Hawai‘i, Holunape, Kaukahi, ‘Ale‘a, etc., and not necessarily to Genoa Keawe, Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln, Andy Iona or Sol Ho‘opi‘i. Someone who really loves the steel guitar stylings of Sonny Kamahele should probably not be sent to the ‘ukulele playing of Troy Fernandez—at least not immediately!

Much thought will be required for someone who is approached by a librarian with a limited budget. What goes into a library is going to be what is accessible for a wide range of listeners; in turn, listeners will go to a library expecting that what is available somehow represents something meaningful or important. Not everything needs to be of the listening pleasure variety. Sometimes historical significance is going to trump listening pleasure. Hopefully listening pleasure will be represented, though.

And for anyone (like me) who teaches college-level music appreciation courses, a course listening list will be of the “take your medicine” approach. There are going to be things on the listening list that you may not choose to listen to, but you need to know something about the artists, songs or performance styles (in order to pass the course!). Grit your teeth, buckle down, and get through the listening list.

Serious fans who are approached by Newbies sometimes start at the level of the music appreciation course listening list: “you really have to hear X, Y and Z.” And that runs the risk of forcing medicine on the Newbie, and even turning them off of Hawaiian music. How tragic would that be!

So the question becomes: if we are making recommendations to encourage a Newbie, what can we recommend to increase their interest and [then] encourage them to explore and discover?

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One Response to Thinking Aloud on a “Top Ten for Newbies” List

  1. Pingback: My 2009 Top Ten CDs for Newbies | Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure

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