I obsessively compile and curate playlists. Here’s a generous sampling – all are on Spotify (thephilnel).
Celebrations of Life, Death, and Grief. (This category needs a better title, I know.)
Funerals / Celebrations of Life
- Gloria: Celebration of Life. Music played in the background during the September 2023 meeting of the Gloria Hardman Fan Club.
- Terry’s Mood: Music for the Funeral of Terrence Dudley Webb. Music played at my Uncle Terry’s funeral.
On the Shortness of Life
- Grief; or, You in Everything. Assembled a few days after my mother’s passing.
- Life’ll Kill Ya; or, This Mortal Playlist. These are songs about reckoning with the inevitability of death. The 1st half is usually more uptempo & funny; the 2nd is more sad & reflective.
- Paul Simon Sings Songs About Aging and Death. The themed Paul Simon compilation you have been waiting for! (Or possibly not.)
- Go! Songs about traveling. Suitable for children & the adults in their lives.
- Home, vol. 1. Recreation of a mix for children, limited by what Spotify has.
- Home, vol. 2. Another recreated mix, within Spotify’s limitations.
- Nonsense. Whimsical songs with vocals. The “lyrics” are either entirely or mostly nonsense. Mostly because the Mills Brothers do sing, “Oh, that Tiger,” Lionel Hampton’s band practices spelling, Al Jarreau goes so far as to sing some intelligible sentences, & 2 others here sing in languages I don’t speak.
- 1980s: over 100 covers of songs from the 1980s
- Beatles covers. Over 200 cover versions of songs by the Beatles.
- Bowie covers. Over 50 cover versions of songs by David Bowie.
- Clash covers. Over 30 cover versions of songs by the Clash.
- Dylan covers. Over 80 cover versions of songs by Bob Dylan. (And, yes, I know there are many more…)
- Hendrix covers. 40 cover versions of songs by Jimi Hendrix.
- The National covers. Over 20 cover versions of songs by the National.
- R.E.M. covers. Over 40 cover versions of songs by R.E.M.
- Bruce Springsteen covers. Over 40 cover versions of songs by Springsteen.
- TMBG covers. Over 30 covers of songs by They Might Be Giants.
- “Weird Al” Yankovic Polka Mega-Mix. All 13 of Yankovic’s polka medleys, from “Polkas on 45” (1984) to “The Hamilton Polka” (2018).
- uptempo downtempo. Downtempo covers of uptempo songs.
- Xerox. Great pop is not original. It just sounds original. This is a playlist of songs that influence other songs, side-by-side with the songs they influenced.
- Exercise!!! 46-hour playlist. Many genres, no repeats. Also available in ten separate playlists (each of 4.5 to 5 hours in length): Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10. I also created a YouTube Exercise Music playlist version: over 550 songs, all of which have a video, ranging from live performance to something more conceptual. (No static images.)
- Exercise! 12” from the 1980s and 1990s. 3 hours of dance mixes, mostly from the ’80s. AC/DC, a-ha, Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock, David Bowie, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Echo & The Bunnymen, Eurythmics, Hall & Oates, INXS, Janet Jackson, New Order, Prince, Public Enemy, Simple Minds, Tears for Fears, & more!
- Exercise: Meditative Instrumental. 4 hours. Good for yoga or indoor cycling.
- Feminist Fight Songs: Oh Bondage, Up Yours! Compiled in response to the US Supreme Court’s fascist majority revoking women’s bodily autonomy.
- Radical Songs. “Radical” is fairly broadly defined here. Over 300 songs presented roughly in chronological order. When I couldn’t find a version of the song from its original time period, I substituted a later recording.
- RESIST 2017: Sand in the Gears
- RESIST 2018: Uprising
- RESIST 2019: Rise Up
- RESIST 2020: This Mix Kills Fascists.
- Mose Allison: Top 25. Mose Allison’s Greatest Hits! Well, in a way. An introduction — presented in chronological order — to the dry & tuneful observations of songwriting legend Mose Allison (1927-2016)
- Atomic Cocktails. Some favorite uptempo lounge, exotica, and space-age bachelor pad music.
- Carsie Blanton’s Greatest Hits. An Introduction to Carsie Blanton, a superb singer-songwriter you should know.
- Bowie: Changes 1969-2016. A career retrospective of David Bowie’s work, focused on more popular songs, and presented in chronological order. (This playlist is not limited to the songs included on ChangesONEBowie or ChangesTWOBowie, etc.)
- The Clash: The Singles. All of the singles released by the Clash, except of course for “This Is England” from the final album (Cut the Crap), which the band disowns.
- Elvis Costello: The Singles. All 83 singles (of this writing) released from 1977 to the present, plus a baker’s dozen should-have-been-singles.
- Cowboy Junkies: Greatest Hits. A “greatest hits” for the Cowboy Junkies, a band with (unjustly!) few hits outside of its native Canada.
- Dessa: The Greatest. An introduction to Dessa, featuring (my) favorite songs – presented in chronological order. She has more critical acclaim than hit singles. But she deserves hits. In a perfect world, these would be her greatest hits. Also recommended: My Own Devices (her memoir), Deeply Human (her podcast).
- early rock ‘n’ roll 1928-1954. The roots of rock ‘n’ roll, in chronological order. This is rock before Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the rest.
- Aretha Franklin: 52 Greatest Hits. Starting in 1961, a chronological tour through her earliest singles, her Atlantic heyday (1967-1979), the Arista years (1980-2007), and ending in 2014.
- Harmony: from ’30s pop to Doo-Wop, Vocalese, and Beyond. Though a few of these are a cappella, all depend on vocal harmonies. Presented in chronological order, this playlist offers a pre-history of doo-wop (close-harmony singing of the 1930s), lots of doo-wop, plus a little vocalese & more. “Asleep in the Deep” is actually “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”
- Heavy Metal Thunder: The Roots of Hard Rock. Pre-Zeppelin hard rock, 1954-1968.
- Hem: Meeting Place (Greatest Hits, 2001-2014). Hem is not a band with “hits” as such. But this is a collection of my favorite Hem songs — and a good introduction to the band for any who may not know their work!
- John Hiatt: Circle Back, 1983-2018. A career retrospective of John Hiatt, featuring some favorite tracks — not necessarily singles.
- Billie Holiday: 52 Essential Songs. A greatest hits for Billie Holiday, covering 1935 (the recordings with Teddy Wilson) to 1956 (Lady Sings the Blues).
- Ennio Morricone: Favorites. Ennio Morricone’s greatest hits — or, at least, this is my subjective rendering of that idea.
- The National: Greatest Hits. An introduction to one of our very best contemporary bands, The National — which is not a band with hit singles. Tracks presented in chronological order. You might also enjoy The National’s Influences: Where Is My Mind? and The National covers.
- R.E.M.: Singles 1981-2011. All 61 singles — the A-sides released during the band’s 30-year recording career.
- Cécile McLorin Salvant: An Introduction. One of the greatest contemporary singers. If you don’t know her, you should.
- Regina Spektor’s greatest! Featuring singles, hits, collaborations, covers, and many other great songs.
- Squeeze: Greatest, 1978-2022. The best songs by Squeeze, covering their career from early greatness (1978) to brief dissolution (the Difford & Tilbrook album, 1984) to reunion (1985) that lasts until longer break-up (1998-2012) and reformation (2012-present).
- Staple Singers: Greatest Hits. A dozen songs by the Staple Singers, focusing solely on their hits (1967-1984). Let this serve as an introduction. Their full catalogue is deep and worth exploring. If you’d like to do that exploring, here is a longer playlist of The Staple Singers & Mavis Staples.
- TMBG: Filibuster Vigilantly [Sampler]. A succinct (well, 90-minute) introduction to the genius of They Might Be Giants – presented thematically.
- Fats Waller: 22 Favorites. An introduction to the delights of composer, pianist, organist, & performer Thomas “Fats” Waller (1904-1943). All tracks presented roughly in order of recording. Spotify lacks “Blue Eyes,” “The Bells of San Raquel,” & many other great tracks.
Greatest Hits by Year
- 12” Mixes: 1980s & 1990s
- Pop Music: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2012. After around 1989, the playlists become increasingly less comprehensive and more idiosyncratic.
- 2013: Odds Are. Best of 2013, according to me.
- 2014: Mental Radio. Best of 2014, according to me.
- 2015: Just You Wait! Best of 2015, according to me.
- 2016: Take Us Back. Best of 2016, according to me.
- 2017: Everything Now. Best of 2017, according to me.
- 2018: Now or Never Now. Best of 2018, according to me.
- 2019: The Future Is Here. Best of 2019, according to me.
- 2020: Can’t Tell the Darkness from the Flame. Best of 2020, according to me.
- 2021: We Cannot Resist. Best of 2021, according to me.
- 2022: All Comes Crashing. Best of 2022, according to me.
- 2023: The Balance. Best of 2023 [in progress], according to me.
- Affirmation, Mostly. A mix to start your day. Or my day, at any rate.
- Friendship Mix Tape. Songs of friendship and support.
- Mom’s Favorites: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Songs that my mother used to sing along to.
- Popular Favorites: Uptempo. An upbeat & mostly cheery playlist, featuring many genres of music. One song per artist.
- You Can Do It!: An Encouraging Mix
Instrumental and Classical
- 1980s instrumentals. 6 hours of instrumental tracks from the 1980s (&, yes, a few tracks from 1979). Very rarely, a vocal appears (Steven Tyler on “Walk This Way”), but 97% vocal-less.
- Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas performed by Richard Goode, Claudio Arrau, Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred Brendel, Igor Levit, and Emil Gilels.
- Big Lazy. “Guitar Noir.” “Music to drive back to jail by.” “The bastard son of Link Wray and Jim Thompson.” These are but a few of the ways that Big Lazy’s fans have described the band’s music. This playlist includes all of their releases to date.
- Cinemaphonic: Electro Soul & Soul Punch +. All tracks on Spotify from the compilations Cinemaphonic: Electro Soul & Cinemaphonic: Soul Punch, plus more late-1960s & 1970s film library music.
- Concentrate: Instrumentals. Music for focusing on the task at hand.
- GHIBLI meets JAZZ. Both GHIBLI albums from the Kazumi Tateishi Trio: GHIBLI meets JAZZ: Beautiful Songs & GHIBLI meets JAZZ: Memorable Songs. (Imagine, if you will, the Vince Guaraldi Trio performing selections from Miyazaki film soundtracks. That’s what this sounds like.)
- Instrumentals! An expanding playlist of over 400 uptempo instrumentals.
- Morricone! Mostly instrumental favorites from Ennio Morricone soundtracks, plus a few covers at the end.
- Haruka Nakamura: Still Life I & II +. Still Life I and Still Life II, plus other solo piano pieces by Nakamura.
- Overpowered by Funk: (Mostly) Instrumental Grooves, 1967-1975. Over five hours of instrumental funk. The Meters, Parliament, Funkadelic, Commodores, Isaac Hayes, James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Sly & The Family Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kashmere Stage Band, many more. Guaranteed to improve your mood & get you moving.
- Peace Pieces. Music to calm your mind & help you unwind.
- Quiet Piano. Ambient and jazz piano. Sometimes solo piano. Sometimes as part of a duo or trio.
- Django Reinhardt: quieter songs.
- Sax Solo. Unaccompanied sax solos. Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, Lee Konitz, Hamiet Bluett & others.
- Take Four: Afternoon Coffee Break Instrumentals. All uptempo instrumentals, many genres (jazz, ’80s synth pop, surf/rockabilly, soul, funk, electronica). Some familiar tunes. Some not.
- Fats Waller: Instrumental Favorites. Thomas “Fats” Waller (1904-1943) on piano — and sometimes on organ.
- New York, New York
- Songs of the 50 States. One song for each of the fifty US states, preceded by Allan Sherman’s “Holiday for States.”
Seasons & Weather
- Autumn, Leaves: Fall Playlist. Songs for September, October, November.
- Halloween Mega-Mix. 120 songs with a Halloween theme.
- Rain. Over 80 songs about rain.
- Summertime. Over 130 songs about summer.
Single Songs. (Each playlist is devoted to many versions of the same song.)
- It’s Only a Paper Moon (E.Y. Harburg, Billy Rose, and Harold Arlen)
- Jitterbug Waltz (Fats Waller)
- Look for the Silver Lining (Jerome Kern and Buddy DeSylva)
- Night and Day (Cole Porter)
- Pennies from Heaven (Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston)
- Run on for a Long Time / God’s Gonna Cut You Down
- Sing (Joe Raposo)
- Smile (Charlie Chaplin, John Turner, and Geoffrey Parsons)
- Spiegel im Spiegel (Arvo Pärt)
- St. James Infirmary Blues
- Under Pressure (David Bowie and Queen)
- You Go to My Head (J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie)
- 4’33” (John Cage)
- abstract quiet
- Almost Blue. A quiet and sometimes melancholic playlist. 75 songs.
- Classical: Sleep
- R.E.M. at night: quieter songs
- Sleepiest Mix. Songs that induce slumber.
- Sounds of the Sea: 6 hours.
- Lynda Barry’s One! Hundred! Demons! soundtrack. All of the songs in Lynda Barry’s One! Hundred! Demons!
- Helvetica: Soundtrack. The soundtrack to the documentary film by Gary Hustwit. Featuring El Ten Eleven, Motohiro Nakashima, and others.
- Italian Cinema, 1965-c.1976. Umiliani! Morricone! Piccioni! Film music by Italian composers, 1965-c. 1976. Inspired by — and much of its playlist drawn from — a mixtape created by Bill DeMain in the late 1990s.
- Soul: All Music by Jon Batiste. All of Jon Batiste’s music from the film Soul.
- Stop Making Sense (original version, 1984). The soundtrack to the Jonathan Demme concert film of Talking Heads has since been released in expanded versions. This is the original 1984 version, with only songs on that release (and in the same order as that release). So, if you want to hear the original soundtrack, this is it!
- Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming: All the songs. All the songs in Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming. Presented in the order they appear in the book.
- Cats: Everybody Wants to Be a Cat. Songs about cats – not cats as metaphor, but actual cats.
- Coffee Break! Over 50 songs about coffee.
- Corporate Melancholy: Everything Must Go. Version of a mix created for Andrew Burke’s “Abandoned Targets of Canada” Tumblr, documenting the 133 Target stores that opened — and then, within 2 years — all closed. (“Version” because Dragonette’s cover of “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” isn’t on Spotify; so, that’s been cut.)
- COVID-19: A Coronavirus Pandemic Playlist. 25 hours of music, many varieties, all thematically connected to the corona era. I began this playlist on March 13, 2020.
- Days. Over 100 songs that reference days of the week.
- Dogs: Everything Reminds Me of My Dog. 25 songs about dogs.
- Eat It: Songs About Food. Over 150 songs of food (usually literally but sometimes figuratively): Nat King Cole, Ramones, Weird Al Yankovic, Mills Brothers, B-52’s, Fats Waller, Barenaked Ladies, Cab Calloway, Parry Gripp, Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, They Might Be Giants, RUN-D.M.C., Cookie Monster, Weezer, many more!
- Elvis Is Everywhere. Over 30 songs about Elvis Presley, including: Dire Straits, Living Colour, Colorblind James Experience, Proclaimers, Waterboys, Wynonna, Patty Loveless, Kirsty MacColl, Kacey Musgraves, Alannah Myles, Emmylou Harris, Jarvis Cocker, Steve Goodman, Roy Orbison, Paul Simon, Greg Brown, John Hiatt, Scouting for Girls, Belle and Sebastian, Was (Not Was) with Leonard Cohen, and others!
- Fast lyrics. Gift of Gab, Jaz-O, R.E.M., Daveed Diggs, Ana Gasteyer, Robert Preston, Lambert, Hendrix, & Ross — and others who can sing quickly!
- Film: Songs About the Movies. Cinema-themed songs, featuring the Beatles, the B-52’s, Anita O’Day, Adam Schlesinger, Public Enemy, Paul Simon, the Kinks, the Muppets, Duran Duran, Dire Straits, Steely Dan, TMBG, John Prine, the Postal Service, Gil Scott-Heron, Laurie Anderson, and many others.
- Guitar Rocktacular. Electric guitar that rocks. 1 song per artist (guitarists appear more often). Jimi Hendrix, Dick Dale, Angus Young, Chuck Berry, John Frusciante, Vicki Peterson, Kurt Cobain, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jack White, Prince, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Joe Perry, Wayne Kramer, Eddie Van Halen, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, many others.
- In These Shoes? “I said: ‘In these shoes? I doubt you’d survive.’ I said: ‘Honey, let’s do it.'” This is not a mix about footwear.
- JFK, 22 Nov. 1963. Songs that reference (directly or more obliquely) the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).
- Let There Be Drums. Songs with prominent drums.
- Night. Songs of the night. Police, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Ray Charles, Frankie Valli, Katy Perry, Madeleine Peyroux, Gladys Knight, Sam Cooke, Bob Seger, James Brown, Art Blakey, Rolling Stones, Pretenders, Morphine, Frank Ocean, Postal Service, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, R.E.M., Hem, Echo & The Bunnymen, and many others.
- Noir. Songs that evoke the feel of film noir, including but not limited to music actually from film noir.
- Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be. Borrowing its title from Sam Phillips’ “Taking Pictures,” this playlist’s nostalgia is reflective & slightly ambivalent. Graham Parker, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Aimee Mann, Death Cab for Cutie, David Bowie, Weakerthans, Bruce Springsteen, Bill Withers, B-52s, Kinks, Clash, Beatles, R.E.M., many others.
- Numbers. Over 200 songs featuring numbers.
- Radio, Radio. Over 75 songs about the radio.
- Title of the Mix. Over 40 songs about songs – a meta playlist.
- uptempo melancholic pop
- Weekend! “It’s Friday again. It’s Saturday, Sunday. What?” A playlist made for my sister, niece, brother-in-law & all who like to head out of town for the weekend.
- 1980s Christmas
- Blue Christmas. Melancholic holiday music.
- Cool Yule. Christmas Music: swing, big band jazz, and lounge.
- Thank God It Isn’t Christmas Every Day. Off-beat holiday selections named for a Mitch Benn song not on Spotify.
- A Very Jazzy Christmas. Christmas: No vocals. Real jazz. (No Kenny G. or other ersatz jazz.) Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Terrence Blanchard, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Haden, Hank Jones, Dexter Gordon, Stanley Jordan, MJQ, & more.
- Yule Get Through the Holidays: Xmas Megamix. Over 10 hours of Christmas / Holiday music of many varieties.