#XPN2021: Eight notable things we heard and saw in the first 48 hours
As of this morning, Saturday the 4th of December, we have rounded two full days of the WXPN 2021 All-Time Greatest Albums countdown. The music has been terrific, the conversation has been bustling, and here’s a rundown of things that stood out to us.
1. The synchronicity is uncanny.
The countdown presents the albums in the order they were voted on — plain and simple. In the case of a multi-way tie (and in the lower numbers, there have been some very multi multi-way ties, our statisticians tell us), that cluster of albums is randomized. And yet, the synchronicity of randomization can be magical. Observe the way The Moody Blues’ Sur La Mer came in at No. 1,899, followed immediately by another Moody Blues album, Long Distance Voyager at No. 1,898. Or the A-B-A-B placement of Van Morrison’s The Healing Game at No. 1,856, followed by Melissa Etheridge’s Yes I Am at 1,855, followed by Van’s Poetic Champions at 1,854, followed by Etheridge’s self-titled at 1,853.
2. The segues are divine.
Folks in the XPN-verse are fond of using the term “trainwreck segues” to describe the unexpected match-ups and generally chaotic nature of the first few days of the countdown. I don’t love that phrase, though, because it implies disaster, while almost all of these segues I’ve heard are anything but — and the run of Laurie Anderson’s pensively droning “O Superman” from Big Science at No. 1,914 into Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons” from Joanne at No. 1,913 into Flight of the Conchords’ “Business Time” from The Distant Future at No. 1,912 was purely divine.
3. Pop is in the house.
Without knowing the full results of the voting (programming higher-ups are keeping that information under lock and key), it certainly seems like an openness towards and embracement of post-millennial pop and modern rock is represented, at least in the lower numbers of the voting — exemplified on Friday when Ed Sheeran’s X landed at No. 1,836, followed by Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia at No. 1,835.
4. Timing is everything.
Yes, this is an album countdown and not a song countdown, but placement of the albums has allowed the programming staff to get clever with the timing of the songs — like playing Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” in the middle of the night when Bleed American landed at No. 1,817, or Khruangbin’s “Friday Morning” on Friday morning when Con Todo El Mundo came in at 1,757.
5. The #XPN2021 countdown is like a box of chocolates.
That aforementioned randomness, though — it can be the best part of these countdowns, and a good argument for listening from the beginning, especially as albums closer to the top raise that high via mass consensus (and are thus less surprising). Twitter user Kristin Philips had a solid analogy: “the first third is a box of fine European chocolates, the middle is a heart-shaped box of Whitman’s, and the last third is a bag of Hershey bars.”
6. Philly music unites overnight.
A Philly-centric cluster happened in the early morning hours of Friday, when Voices by Hall and Oates came in at No. 1,747, followed by Hop Along’s Get Disowned at No. 1,746, followed by Sailing to Philadelphia by Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler (not a Philly person, but still) at No. 1,745. This was shortly followed at No. 1,736 by I Don’t Live Here Anymore by The War on Drugs, which is perhaps the newest album (just over a month old) to be named a “greatest album of all time.”
7. Maximum volume is the way to greet the day.
At 10 a.m. on Friday, shortly after Mike Vasilikos took the wheel, the countdown standings took a LOUD turn. Vulgar Display of Power by Pantera came in at No. 1,690, with Motörhead’s Ace of Spades at No. 1,688, and Megadeath’s Rust In Peace at No. 1,686. None of these appeared on the 2005 edition of the XPN Greatest Albums countdown, or on the XPN airwaves in the 1990s…and as Twitter user ChrissMari suggests, maybe that’s a good thing!
8. Let’s get weird.
A great component of any XPN countdown is the way we’re able to stretch our musical palette into territories that rarely show up in regular rotation. Examples: Einstein on the Beach by Phillip Glass showing up at No. 1,545 and making a remarkably cosmic journey for anyone who happened to be driving at that moment, or the late great MF DOOM’s delightfully left-of-center hip-hop clocking in at No. 1,512, immediately after a 12-minute burner from Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking at No. 1,513.
9. Variety is the spice of the #XPN2021.
So what’s making the assortment and randomness of the musical selection really pop this time around? Twitter user Burgle Your Turts has a hypothesis: by asking people to vote for ten albums, we’re in a way forcing them to think in the spirit of variety. Besides, we’ll get to multiple songs on album X — maybe it’s Dark Side? Who knows? — when we break into the top 100 of the countdown.