A social media challenge and revisiting favourite albums: An exercise in understanding the 'impact' of our music choices

Amit Gurbaxani

Feb 21, 2020 09:42:31 IST

Last week, a friend invited me to participate in a social media relay challenge that entailed posting 20 albums that have “really made an impact” on me, every day over the next 20 days. I was to also tag another person in each post, asking them to do the same. All I have to do is share the album cover, without explanation. Even though I don’t partake in social media relays as a rule because they quite literally involve entering into an endless loop, I made an exception in this case because it seemed like fun. But I decided I wouldn’t do the tagging. I’m cheating in the challenge again, because this column is sort of, if not exactly, an explanation.

The first question I pondered over was: How do you define impact? There are some albums that we listen to on loop in the weeks just after they’ve been released. Yet sometimes we never hear these albums again. In other words, is there a difference between music that entertains you and music that affects you? The best kind does both.

Here are some of the criteria that ran through my mind: Did it soundtrack a phase in my life when it helped me get through stuff? Do I keep returning to it when I want to lighten my mood or channel an emotion that’s ideally expressed in isolation, such as anger or frustration? Or did it simply further my understanding of a genre and its roots?

At the end of the process – I’ve picked the albums but only posted nine at the time of the publication of this piece – I realised that if in some alternative universe, I had the talent to be a professional musician, I would probably be a folk-rock singer-songwriter. I guess this is natural because as someone who writes for a living, the lyrics hold as much importance to me as the instrumentation.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of my selections were sets I loved during my early adolescence. Studies have proven that our musical tastes peak when we’re in our teens. These lists therefore are likely to be very different for people from different generations or even those born in different decades. A glance at those of other people participating in the challenge validated this.

 A social media challenge and revisiting favourite albums: An exercise in understanding the impact of our music choices

For me, the most interesting aspect of these relays is that they celebrate peculiarities and give us insight into people’s personalities

I was conscious about including at least five Indian albums, and that there was a reasonable balance between genders. Was this the right thing to do? Is the idea of these exercises to be as spontaneous as possible, and to share sans filter?

One thing I didn’t pay heed to was genre. I was a little surprised to find that there’s no hip-hop in my mix, and that some of the obvious greats such as the Beatles, Stones and Led Zep are absent from it. This isn’t because their music doesn’t speak to me. It’s just that The Smiths’ cynicism rang truer for me personally.

For me, the most interesting aspect of these relays is that they celebrate peculiarities and give us insight into people’s personalities. Are there titles in my choices that would be considered guilty pleasures at best and downright uncool at worst? I’m fairly certain there are quite a few.

To clarify, my list is not a ranking. I’m well aware that attempting any such chart would be a fool’s task. This is kind of ironic because as I’ve shared before, my deep love for music can be traced to my childhood habit of listening to Top 40 radio countdowns through which I was introduced to everything from house to heavy metal. Which leads to me wonder if I’ve always been more of a singles fan than an album aficionado.

That thought also led me to justify allowing the inclusion of greatest hits and soundtracks. While accommodating them might seem like a cop-out, I felt it was fine because I got into some of my favourite bands after they broke up. Their best-of compilations were how I discovered them and these had a bigger influence on me instead of any one LP. Besides, these groups were never that huge on the charts.

The most enjoyable part about this challenge has been reliving the records. Like for instance, snapping my fingers and singing along to Tony! Toni! Tone’s funk-filled Sons of Soul just like I did in my room on Saturday afternoons sometime during the early 1990s. It’s been equally great seeing fellow music lovers spontaneously posting comments about their own associations with a specific album. This entire affair is undoubtedly biased towards the past, but that’s okay. One of the most powerful things about music is its ability to create some of life’s most vivid memories.

The albums I’ve posted so far (in alphabetic order)
August and Everything After, Counting Crows
Automatic For The People, REM
Kandisa, Indian Ocean
MTV Unplugged, 10,000 Maniacs
Rangeela, AR Rahman
Rumours, Fleetwood Mac
Sons Of Soul, Tony! Toni! Tone!
The Best Of, Talking Heads
Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman

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Chetavni, the long-awaited debut album by Mumbai-based conscious hip-hop crew Swadesi, is not easy listening. There’s nothing quite as infectious as their hit 'The Warli Revolt', but that doesn’t take away from it being one of the most important releases in Indian rap this year. At a time when artists who speak out against the establishment are branded anti-national, Swadesi is among those acts that don’t shy away from telling it like it is. The tracks call out the ruling regime on everything from casteism to warmongering, and they’re each set to dance-friendly beats. Hopefully, audiences bopping their heads along to these verses at their gigs won’t miss the messages. At least for the tunes in the languages they understand. Swadesi’s lyrics are in Hindi, Marathi and Bengali and releases like theirs make me wish that more Indian albums would come bundled with digital booklets. Even without the ability to read the words as you listen, Swadesi’s sense of rage and despair comes through.

Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox

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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2020 10:39:22 IST