“Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, my father and I were driving somewhere and talking about music … most times I would act as deejay … I can’t remember where or when, but during one of these sessions I turned to him and said, ‘Dad, I bet you I can name ten thousand songs and the artist who performed the song.’”
I first became aware of John Kirk’s intensely serious passion about building a perfect digital music collection around 2008, when he published a blog in which he discussed and rated a wide range of popular music. At that time, he had opined on what must have been over 5,000 songs. By 2009 it reached 8,200. His collection covered periods that started earlier than my own interest in music had begun and extended more broadly, but there was so much there that delved into the periods, musicians and styles I loved the most: rock, soul, rhythm & blues, popular, blues, jazz. As a subscriber, I was always thrilled to get the ping that alerted me he had added a song to his collection.
I was happy to learn in December that John had published a book, Building The Perfect Music Collection. It is the culmination of his 18-year obsession over curating popular music. For those of us who love reading a smart, opinionated, highly versed person’s take on a subject we enjoy as amateurs, it is a pure delight. In it, among many other things, John presents ”the perfect music collection,” his digital library of what represents, in his view, the “best 12,400 songs.“ A large-scale, gorgeous book of heft, in it John shares the story of how he became interested in music as a collector, as well as his very personal, yet analytical and criteria-based approach to listening to and evaluating music. Like any other form of art, John admits that how you pick what you love in music is highly personal. But there is nothing arbitrary about his collection.
What thrills about John’s collection is his unique, confident viewpoint. While his list includes the expected (The Beatles have the highest number of songs in the collection overall (267) and the highest number of five star songs (7), it throws exquisite curveballs by highlighting musicians who you will not find on the top of charts in popular music sites. Or anyone else’s list. A lifelong Californian, he is passionate about Los Lobos, for instance, a band that has the fourth highest number of songs in his collection overall, above The Rolling Stones (5th in his list with 117 songs), Eric Clapton (11th, with 68 songs overall) and Bruce Springsteen (28th with 51 songs). Other artists who “over-achieve” in his perfect music collection are Lucinda Williams (16th with 55 songs) and Alison Kraus (35th with 37 songs), who have more songs in his list than Michael Jackson, Steely Dan or The Kinks. Its beauty is that he offers a list not created by a committee, but by one highly thoughtful individual.
A few of his favorite things, John writes, include recognizing — against popular opinion - when a cover version eclipses the original, or when an original version eclipses the more famous cover version. He believes that Wilson Pickett’s version of Hey Jude is superior to The Beatles, that Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman eclipses Santana’s original. Duane Allman is his favorite guitarist (over Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix).
Learn more about John, his story of building a music collection over 20 years and get the book here.
The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter curated by Dish Stanley on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?