Choosing the A-list, a Guest Guru writes…

Well the A-list is finally in, after many last-minute shenanigans, song switches but more desperately, cutting down of words from 900 to 600.  Adam warned me that if I delivered over 650 words that the sub-editors would be in there with a large pair of pruning shears, so to keep control, I had to shave myself, which I do almost every morning anyway.  

It was an outstanding topic.  You lovely Readers contributed in droves, and with a huge breadth of material.  I think there are 350 songs in the Spotify list alone.  But the topic was broad and threw up a huge variety of material. Perhaps I can quote :

“Bravery can take many forms – standing up for your beliefs, facing your greatest fear, putting your life on the line for a friend.  But in your case it’s definitely that haircut” 

Well no one suggested a haircut song, in fact most people took the subject pretty seriously.  I wanted to serve the topic and use as many examples of bravery as I could, I also wanted to spread the musical taste as broadly as I could too, but in the end readers, it was all about the song.  If I felt the song wasn’t COMPLETELY FANTASTIC then I’m afraid it didn’t make the cut, and some really amazing artists (and subjects sadly) dropped away.  But I needed to find the final list Outstanding musically in the first instance.  It kind of speaks for itself you’d think, but it’s amazing the circular journeys your mind goes on when you’re the guest guru.

For example, my first list was fairly intellectual in quality, songs that “should” be there because of the subject matter or the person being sung about being totally heroic for obvious reasons.  I also included songs from different genres, again in an intellectual attempt at “balance”.  Bit of metal, bit of country, bit of folk.  But a glance at the Giant Obelisk that is The Marconium will spin any balance attempts on their axis, and I got a little lost in what The Marconium was saying to us about The Guardian and it’s and our taste in music.  Were we really recommending Saint Etienne 5 times and Gilbert O’Sullivan none ?  Smokey Robinson 3 times and Smog five ??  I had to withdraw and go back to basics because there was little I could do but nominate some more songs to add to this huge collective undertaking.

In the end I went with my feelings.  I screwed my courage to the sticking place and elbowed the intellectual approach  (gave it the Spanish Archer) – and went with songs that made me feel brave. Songs that empowered the listener. And inevitably – artists that were totally unrepresented in the A-list.  This made it easier to whittle the final group of 25 great songs down into 12.  

I thank you all for making it such a great weekend, and I hope you enjoy the final list whatever your personal taste.

I would of course, encourage you all to be brave and put your name forward for guest guru.  It is a lot of fun.

76 thoughts on “Choosing the A-list, a Guest Guru writes…

  1. Well done Magicman ! ! !

    I can not wait to see the list – I am sure if you choose the tracks that you like best it will be a great list ! ! !

    Thank you for doing it – it is a lot of time, but it is a lot of fun also.

    I also would like to encourage people to volunteer. I actually emailed Adam again this week and volunteered again, so once everyone who has not done it has had their opportunity , I will have another attempt to annoy you all. 😉

  2. Well done, magic. Fingers crossed you won’t face too much carping when the list appears… I emailed Adam last week offering myself up as guru but never heard back. Dunno if that means my application has been denied…!

  3. Thanks Hoshino Sakura – your enthusiasm is very welcome, like a breath of fresh mountain air. I f enough people do not volunteer your turn will come round again very quickly !

  4. No Bish it doesn’t mean that, but you might want to try him again. Carping ? Bring it on ! Once it’s published I’m very happy to explain WHY certain tunes didn’t make it, and less likely, why they did.

      • Adam was very good at replying during office hours – not evenings and weekends.
        He also said there was enough volunteers from the original call out to last into Autumn .. so, a lot have said they’ll do it, without letting on in the threads.
        I’d be chuffed to see you and webcore as Guest Guru’s so I hope your names have been placed in line.

  5. I’ve just heard from Adam on scheduling my turn in the barrel. It took almost two weeks to hear from him so be patient Bish. To Magicman – thanks for the wonderful advice. I hope to take many of your points to heart on my watch. They were well thought out & more than fair. Thanks for being a part of this.

  6. I should say nice one magicman – I like the idea of ‘artists that were totally unrepresented in the A-list’ I think this was requested on an early social CD swap – but must be so much harder to cross reference now – good luck.

    Could be, you’ve set up a interesting – “is this really better that – just because it’s not represented” results thread.
    I look forward to the explosions and explanations – debated honestly.

    • The Marconium is like a maze where you get lost, become amazed, search in vain for certain artists, get overwhelmed by others. I could go further but don’t want to upset anyone. At least there’s some Muddy Waters on there these days.

      • But the simple fact is The Marconium doesn’t represent anything about the Guardian‘s or our taste because there is no collective taste. It states the number of times an artist was nominated well or fitted the theme best or was the personal pleasure of an individual guru. Nothing more, nothing less.

        I don’t really see how you could upset anyone – except if you were insinuating Smokey Robinson is better than Smog – because your taste thinks so … and the Marconium should represent your idea of that taste.

        Some artists are missing because each Guru hasn’t picked up on them in their chosen themes – not because they are in competition with other artists.

        Although Tom Waits has been playing a blinder home and away for the last 7 seasons – much to the annoyance of some RRers. 😉

      • I dunno Shane, The Marconium contains our collective Recommendations. If bystanders are curious as to the nature of the game it is an amalgamation of songs which we have – for better or worse – Recommended. So we are, like it or not, recommending Smog more than Smokey. “I think”.

      • It’s an amalgamation of songs which people have – for better or worse – Recommended ..

        Correct, but those people could have popped in once and got that track A listed or been here 7 years shouting out 50 songs a theme, but been A listen once too – you can’t represents a collective taste.

        It does, at most, represent 9 different Guru’s taste – but only in so much as working with what they were given – you could recommend Smokey 50% of the time in each theme and he still might not be picked. You could recommend Smog 1% in each theme and he could be picked every time.

        It’s not related to amounts of nominations.

        As an example: The Mountain Goats are nominated every week (almost) at least once by me and once by shoey – we play our own game within a game.

        In your theory, this number of recommending would amount to LOTS of Mountain Goats tracks representing RR – even if it’s only recommendations from two players – because of the amount they are recommended. But it doesn’t, because he has three RR A listers, and two of those are the same song.

        So number of shout outs and indeed A listings doesn’t represent a collective RR at all… the best I can do is (since the online only) blog started it represents your taste 12 out of 906 times (but that obviously) doesn’t take into account other nominators songs you were beaten to – but love. There would certainly be many that you seriously object to.

        So to end all my stupid rambling – there’s no telling (without a huge amount of research) if ‘we’ are recommending Smog more than Smokey, but Smog’s recommenders (maybe putting more effort in, to get the tracks noticed, as they are less well known) have nailed themes (and pricked up the ears of Gurus) 5 times to Smokey’s 3.

        Does that make sense?

    • I’ve learned some new thnigs from a blog post. One other thing I have discovered is that in many instances, FSBO sellers will reject you. Remember, they’d prefer not to use your services. But if anyone maintain a gradual, professional romance, offering guide and keeping contact for around four to five weeks, you will usually be capable of win interviews. From there, a house listing follows. Many thanks

  7. I’m looking forward to both your list and to my turn. As well as the above ways of selecting songs, there’s the idea of a narrative that some Gurus have gone in for. For example, I got an A-lister with Ewan MacColl – The Manchester Rambler, which I’m sure owed a lot to the way it wrapped up how Paul Mac wanted to write about the topic. The article’s here if anyone wants to see. Paul was definitely more into hip-hop than classic folk !

    I like the way you describe moving from an intellectual approach to songs that make one feel brave, and even the idea that representation in the Marconium could be a tie-breaker. One must whittle somehow…

      • Low risk of me getting mad. After nearly five years, admittedly as much off as on the blog, my A-listers are in single figures. I’ve only ever griped at an A-list once, which as I remember was shared by you, when Paul did ‘great middle 8s’. I felt a bit silly afterwards and have forsworn complaining. Even when JonD did his “nobody has mentioned this fantastic song…” thing, with a song I’d nominated !

      • I only repeat the tale as a warning to us all to be careful when Guruing.

        JonD’s first topic was Great B-Sides, and one of my nominations was X-Ray Spex – I’m A Cliché. After the deadline, on came Jon:

        Now the deadline’s passed, I’d just like to mention a few of my favourite B-sides that nobody nominated:…

        One of which was X-Ray Spex – I’m A Cliché.

        In Jon’s defence, I had forgotten to name the band, as it was part of a continuing conversation about them; and The Guardian had turned off the option to have all comments on one page, at that stage of the technical development of the website. And he was apologetic when I e-mailed him.

      • Recall Catcher had the guru dissing one of his suggestions – haven’t heard from him since. A real shame.

  8. Nice post magicman, A fair deal of internal fortitood displayed by your approach – I too am looking forward to the results.

      • On last week’s results thread, he got a surprising (to me) number of recommends to his snidey little jibes, so clearly he doesn’t wind everyone up to the extent that he irritates me (and perhaps you, DP). Funny how one assumes he is a ‘he’, innit. Something about the belligerence, perhaps…

      • Think the best place to engage, if inclined, would be on RR, as many have. Understand the need to vent, but it seems like talking behind someone’s back to carry any disputes from RR over to the ‘Spill, or any other public forum come to that.

      • And just to say, don’t ever get wound up by ‘Recommend’ clicks. There are posts on the last couple of pages this week that have a crazy number of Recommends, which can’t possibly be one per active contributor. Amusingly in this particular case.

  9. Oh and I should have also mentioned this methodology : as soon as a song was nominated I searched in Spotify and added it to the long list – if there was time (!) I listened to it immediately, but I had the long list on play all weekend. If it wasn’t on Spotify (not that many!) I put it into a separate list and visited the YouTube link. Dropbox had a few. The rest I googled (very few) It was by and large a Spotify event. And – this is the point that pertains to all, not just future gurus – by the time it was Sunday I could not for the life of me remember who had nominated what.
    Which is probably a good thing ?
    Apart from one song, which will be evident tomorrow.

  10. One thing I’m not clear on is who picked the theme? Thanks to whoever it was – one of the best we’ve had in some time.

    Hope the other guest gurus share their process too.

  11. Hi magicman, just to say we’re out and about today and this evening, and commenting on your results post today will depend on when it goes up, relative to when I’m near broadband, and relative to family duties ! So if I’m not there, it’s life rather than negativity. Definitely looking forward to it though, whenever I get to read it.

  12. I was quite happy being mean to the staff gurus , they are paid journalists and, frankly, if they can’t stand a little ribbing they should look for a new job.
    However I am resolved to be totally supportive and kind to the “guest” gurus. Volunteers deserve respect and kudos for the hours put in.

    One small plea to all prospective gurus. Please remember that Spotify is not available in some countries and some very valued contributors cannot access it.
    I haven’t used it much either lately. Ever since their “5 strikes and out” policy kicked in. So , please, where possible supply Youtube links too.

    • Apart from the final YouTube playlist, I don’t think it’s up to the gurus to post YouTube links. Surely the nominators should do that?

      Spotify’s 5 strikes policy seems perfectly reasonable to me. If you like something enough to play it more than 5 times, why not buy it? Or get a subscription? £4.99 a month for unlimited plays and no commercials is as cheap as a bargain price CD.

      Anyway, nice list, Magicman. Unfortunately, I’m frantically packing to go to the End of the Road so I won’t have time to listen today or to comment on this week’s column. See you all next week.

      • I was simply making a polite request ( at least I think I was) to bear others in mind. I don’t need the advice about Spotify , thanks all the same.
        I’m the only one who decides how I spend what little money I have spare.

      • p.s.

        Please ignore that comment. I’m not in a great mood today. I tried to remove it but don’t know how !

  13. The thing that caught my eye in all of this – and not just because it was in call caps (you know, like teenagers who haven’t mastered the language fo) – was the decision to only pick songs you (magic) thought were COMPLETELY FANTASTIC.

    Sometimes the Readers Recommend reads more like Readers Mention . I have been as guilty of that as anyone, so I’m not passing judgement. With volunteer gurus I am trying to restrain myself to limit their workload and discarding songs that fit but that I wouldn’t recommend to a friend. (I’m finding it more satisfying to listen to a lot and nom a little, too).

    That’s why COMPLETELY FANTASTIC caught my eye. I hope every guest guru will be guided by that and none of us ever feels we have to produce lists that tick all sorts of boxes to keep people happy. If you won’t nom songs you aren’t in love with, why would pick them?

  14. Nice one, magicman! Great criteria for picking tunes and I really like your playlist. In fact, I’m off to volunteer now…

    Tip: if I get a slot, be sure to nom songs with loud guitars at over 160 bpm if you want to make the playlist


  15. “Well no one suggested a haircut song,”

    I’m chopped liver? Did i not put up David Crosby? Even got a few donds? Humpf.

    • The spirit of JonD strikes again! No guru’s perfect, and I guess it’s easy to miss one nom among many… I didn’t notice you nomming Crosby, which is a shame, ’cause I’d have given you a dond if I had!

    • Dear Humpf – the quote above was about hair styles, which we sometimes refer to as ‘haircuts’. They weren’t my words but a joke about Leo Sayer. It was there to amuse you. Yes of course I noticed your Crosby nomination and all of your other ones, but that wouldn’t have been as funny. Sorry you weren’t amused.
      While I’m here mollifying grumps I should point out that donds and Recommend clicks had Absolutely No Bearing on my choices At All. Readers Recommend ?
      Gurus Choose !

  16. Quick afterthought re. versions. When we did songs by Welsh artists, I got A-listed for Heart Of The City, which I nominated in the version by Dave Edmunds for a closer fit with the theme. Jon D, quite rightly, preferred Nick Lowe singing it live, and on the List had it as Rockpile, though the song was never issued under the band’s name. So there’s a precedent for occasional Guru’s licence with versions !

  17. Sorry magicman, that was a convoluted story intended as a positive example of Guru creative licence. The Welsh 50% of Rockpile have some fantastic guitar and drum breaks on Heart Of The City, but it’s a Nick Lowe song and he’s from Surrey !

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