I don’t know if anyone is really interested in these post-match analyses, especially as a new topic takes off, but here is mine anyway.
To a large extent, this was a Project Management job, the kind I used to do for a living once upon a time. There was a definition (songs about the army), a deadline (Wednesday midday) and a Project Board (the RR community): I just needed to scope the size of the task, create a Project Plan, execute it and montor progress. I had the spreadsheet ready to log all the nominations, with columns for suitability, theme, genre, tone and also links to music and lyrics, so it was a question of listening, reading and logging, then sorting and editing. Two lists would then fall out around which I could wrap a narrative. Simples, as they say.
I was determined that the lyrics would drive everything, so I found and read as many as I could, sometimes in preference to listening to whole songs (it was often a much quicker method of assessment). I was hoping to find songs that said something about the nature of armies or the experience of being in the army, so was not very interested in personal tales of loss and separation (for example). My attempt to broaden things out to different types of army largely failed, so it became a look at the army experience.
The volume of work surprised me. Whether I was being too methodical or simply too slow I’m unsure, but it took me all of Friday to examine the 100-ish songs nominated between 10pm and 10.30pm from the previous night. At that rate, I wouldn’t meet the deadline. However, it became clear that the blog thins out considerably after that initial frenzy: it gets padded out with duplicate noms, justifications, donds and chatter. It’s no wonder that many A-lists have been mainly songs nominated early as that’s when the vast majority of new suggestions are made.
I plodded on with my method, even noting blatantly unsuitable songs in my spreadsheet so that I wouldn’t have to duplicate the process of dismissing them a second time. Although I got a bit lax with such songs, I still ended up with 273 nominations in there. It took me through to the end of Monday to evaluate them all.
By the end of Sunday, certain themes seemed to be emerging – recruitment, training, being in battle, being in peace, losing comrades, being killed – and I classified the songs I hadn’t dismissed accordingly. Sorting and shuffling my final list on Tuesday somehow produced 12 songs that I thought said something about those themes and I was able to wrap them in some words. There was a political tone to several songs, so the Michael Gove reference seemed a legitimate afterthought.
I didn’t dismiss any song because I didn’t like it. I took the view that I’m the curator, so my taste should only really be applied to on-topicness. I did, however, cut down on ‘lyrics sung to popular tunes’ (of which there were several written by soldiers themselves), military drumming and chopper noises. I do not particularly like the Sabbat track, for example, but I firmly believe it belongs where it is in the list.
I spent Wednesday collating a B-list of songs that still said something worth saying or said it in a musically interesting way but weren’t ‘good enough’ for the A-list. By then I’d probably spent approaching 30 hours on the project. I doubt a Guardian guru ever did that and I’m curious about their balance between finding appropriate songs and simply songs that they recognised/liked. I was able and willing to invest that much time but it’s a completely impractical process to perform week after week.
I enjoyed getting the job done. I’m quite happy with what dropped out into the lists and I’m pleased with (most of) the feedback. I’m slightly disappointed that no-one picked up on my ‘ungrateful dead’ line, however……