Fifteen Years of Idle Time: The Road to Ultimate Mixtape

some of those original lists
some of those original lists

It’s an established fact that this whole Idle Time business began when grown adults passed notes back and forth at staff meetings, Top 5 lists running the gamut from music to breakfast cereal. Thanks, Nick Hornby.

After we published our Decades book in 2009, WH scribbled in my copy, like a high school yearbook. “I can’t believe this bitch was for real. Thanks for entertaining all of my stupid ideas. Next, 500 tracks!”

That book was the biggest list we had assembled to date: 400 albums curated, debated, and ranked in one of the most drawn-out processes any collective could have ever bothered with. But we didn’t want to stop there. And the idea that we could generate a list representing our favorite songs of all time didn’t seem at all daunting at the time. After that mammoth undertaking, this would be an afterthought, yeah? What marvelous hubris.

The first iteration, dubbed, simply, “500 Favorite Songs,” went off the rails fairly early in the process. We expanded the contributing roster slightly to include parties that, even if they hadn’t contributed to the Decades album list, at least participated in the ranking by taking part in one of the many roulette sessions (more on that tomorrow). So one by one, contributing Idlers dropped favorite songs onto a spreadsheet.

Capture2Take a look at the screenshot displaying a snippet of songs in the “B’s”. Nested between a Belle and Sebastian favorite and the eternal classic “Stand By Me” was a song none of us, save one, had ever heard.

Now, you get to have a listen to the version of “Deflektor Theme” that we downloaded to satisfy our curiosity.

Years later, I shared that sound file with DH, and told him how pissed off it made everyone when we played it. He laughed and said, “That’s horrible! That’s the wrong song!” Turns out there was a better version of Ben Daglish’s video game theme music that DH actually meant for us to enjoy.  Whether it would made a difference in how things panned out, however, is questionable.

The damage had been done. Things were said that couldn’t be unsaid. People got angry, hostile, and, ultimately, disinterested. The 500 Favorite Songs of All Time lives on only in a playlist in an old iPod that barely works. We tried to revive that list in 2010, but that, too, amounted to little more than frustration.

2012’s “Ultimate Mixtape” in progress

The third attempt at a master playlist of favorite tunes happened in 2012. This time it was going to be our favorite songs of the Idle Time era, and it was christened “The Ultimate Mixtape.” We actually got pretty far into the process this time around but… alas. Not meant to be. Again.

Ult Mixtape Sheet Capture
spreadsheets, the 2016 edition

After we revived the annual Favorites list in 2015, WH texted me with a very characteristic nudge. He said he liked the enthusiasm of the new generation of Idle Timers. And said, simply, “Ultimate Mixtape.”
So for the last few months, with every effort made to minimize insults, pretentiousness, and outright animosity, nine Idlers assembled via the Internet to craft a list of our 150 Favorite Songs of the Last 15 Years. “Favorite,” because “Best” is nonsense, and when you see some of the songs on this list you will, in all likelihood say but what about [that song] by [those guys]? or [this song] is a much better song off [this album]! Favorite has an inherent subjectivity that we have embraced in the older, wiser Idle Time.

And it’s 15 years because that’s how long we’ve been hosting this circus. It all began in spring of 2001 when WH dropped that CD-R on my desk. Happy Anniversary, us.

IMG_5675I’ll spare you a description of the process thus far. It sounds ridiculous even saying it out loud; downright stupid when I type it. The crux of it is this: the nine of us are showing up at Ocean Beach on Saturday (along with friends, family, and well-wishers) to light a fire and celebrate fifteen years. And we’re going to burn 150 little index cards with album covers, one by one, while raising our voices and pointing fingers, until just one song remains.

I’m pretty excited to see the results…