The Re-think alternative to book clubs is to explore music with friends instead. To me, there are few things more fun and stimulating than sharing and really listening to your friends' musical tastes. Not only do you expand your own repertoire of enjoyable music, but also you discover more about people than at a dinner party.

wordle image for The Re-think Alternative To Book ClubsI've been doing this with an ever-expanding group of like-and unlike-minded people for some years now, and they usually think it's one of the most enjoyable evenings they've ever spent. You don't need an iPod for this, though being able to search for the music on iTunes or similar means you can create a CD of peoples' favourites to take away and play.

The trick is to take a theme. Dylan's recent role as a DJ on satellite radio introducing music with a common theme - 'weather' was his first outing - is a tribute to my idea, which he obviously stole from the collective unconscious. So here's some formats to get you going on your own Re-think Music Club. Do let me know how you get on, your own variations, and of course some stunning playlists!

1. Desert Island Discs

This is inspired by the Radio 4 show (devised by Roy Plumley) where celebrities choose 8 songs they would take to a desert island with them. A mixture of their favourites and those that remind them of memorable ups and downs in their life or career.

The Full Monty version of this is to do all 8, but you'll need to start before dinner as it will probably take a long time. One of you might play the role of interviewer Sue Lawley: apparently she wears fishnet tights a lot, but this is an optional extra!

The important thing is to not just hear the music, but also ask penetrating questions about why they love this piece so much and what it means to them. A few drinks may help if you want to explore true life confessions. A friend told us that one track reminded him of a time when he discovered his then-wife was having an affair, so this can be tearful as well as joyous. Music triggers emotions like few things do ...

The short version is to just choose three songs each. Here you might take it in turns to play one.

2. Themes

Great themes we have used include:

  • Passion
  • Authenticity
  • Beauty
  • Guitar

So all songs selected link to this theme - for example, Son House's a cappella John The Revelator is a super one for authenticity; most things by Lucinda Williams will do for passion; and Vaughan Williams for beauty. And I won't start the list for guitar (Robbie Robertson and Richard Thompson might be a reasonable beginning ...)

Here it's best if you play two tracks each, and when you really get into it, there's another variation...

3. Links

Bring along a large stack of CDs or your iPod and you will find that you can make links between songs - in title, theme, mood, or influence on a song you want to play.

So, for instance, Robbie Robertson's Fallen Angel could lead (unhappily) to Robbie Williams' Angel, which could lead (more interestingly) to Stephen Duffy's great album, Keep Going (he co-wrote some of Robbie Williams' latest album), or more literally to Vaughan Williams - and Lucinda Williams again!

You don't need to be a music anorak to enjoy this. The links could be more intuitive - like choosing ones with a similar 'feel'. There's a wonderful unpredictability to the evening! But not so random as the next section.

4. Track 7

This is my shorthand for introducing a certain randomness into the music you play. Try just playing track 7 on every album you bring along. A slight problem for iPod users who have 'cherry-picked', but I think you get the idea.

Of course, you may have some debate over this: my son tells me I've got it all wrong and track 5 is the one to go for!

Random shuffle on an iPod can also be fruitful in getting you to re-think, listening to songs you didn't know would come up or have forgotten.

Other variations include:

  • What's in my car today
  • Songs beginning with the letter 'B'
  • Anything recorded in the new millennium
  • New/old: you have to play one very new track followed by something old (your definition of 'old')

But I recommend Track 7 as a starting point because then you can argue whether this number song on a compilation counts in the same way as 7 on the original album.)

That's enough to be getting on with. More versions to come! I look forward to hearing how a Re-think Music Club contributes to your summer, together with alternative versions and interesting play lists.

Finally, for those who like this kind of thing and believe they can tell a lot about a person by what they listen to, here's my play list as of June 12, 2006:

What I'm Listening To (old and new):

  • Rather Ripped by Sonic Youth
  • Martha Wainwright by Martha Wainwright
  • Bob Dylan's DJ stint with XM Satellite Radio
  • Funeral by Arcade Fire
  • You? Me? Us? by Richard Thompson
  • Beware of ABCO by George Harrison (bootleg)
  • Tiger Lily by Natalie Merchant
  • Al Green's Greatest Hits by Al Green
  • Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Can you recommend something - music, books, film, art, or whatever - that is a re-think in its field? Try your hand at a review and we'll publish it.

Originally published: Mon 19 Jun 2006


Copyright © 2015 Nigel Barlow. All Rights Reserved.