Music Mixes: Content or Context?

So I was listening to Pearl Jam’s newest album Backspacer (about which I have conflicting opinions) in the car yesterday, and the song “Supersonic” came on. Aren’t there like 15 other songs with that title out there? I wondered.

Try 208. (This does, admittedly, include lots of repeats of the same track on different compilations.) A search on allmusic.com shows notable tracks called “Supersonic” by Bad Religion, Jamiroquai, Oasis (including a version performed by the Ya Baby!!! String Quartet), and Zodiac.

I dreamed for a moment about a mix CD with every song paired up (or thriced up, or quartered up…) with another that shares the same name. Online searching and downloading of music would make this a snap.

The big question, though: do I include songs even if they’re not particularly good? Or more exactly, on a mix, does a song’s content or context provide more listening pleasure?

I admit that I’m a context junkie. I adore the CD a friend made me as part of our occasional SKAME series (Super Kick-Ass Music Exchange), in which she collected multiple pairs of songs that touched on the same theme or shared another similarity–e.g., “Songs about leaving relationships” or “Songs that use field recordings.” I dream these days of making a CD with a single symmetrical wave of content, beginning and ending with the same track (one electronic version, one acoustic/live version) and revolving around a song (yet to be discovered) that sounds the same backward and forward.

But of course, when making CDs as gifts, I’m always afraid that people will ignore the context and focus on the content. I worry that even if Pearl Jam’s “Supersonic” is surrounded by 4 other songs with the same name, listeners will say, “Wait, this is the best Pearl Jam song he could find?”

I’m going on like this partly because I think these considerations might matter in other realms of art and rhetoric. When does my video/podcast/essay fit the bill because it stands as a beautifully perfected whole, and when does its context matter more? And even more disconcertingly: who gets to decide?

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