Skip to main content

how to write a '10 best' article

i recently re-posted one of those "top ___ essential albums" for the noise genre on my facebook page. i don't normally do that, but in this case, some of the choices were legitimately interesting, if questionable. as i'd hoped, it generated debate about its obvious oversights and its surprising inclusions, rather than the usual reaction such lists get. usually, the response is fifty shades of "this person is a fucking idiot" and, while a lot of the time i agree with those sentiments [at least as far as their article/ post is concerned], there seems to be little point in sharing something just so that people get angry about it. my friends have enough to be angry about without me making it worse.

my post did, however, spawn a couple of discussions about how exactly one should go about making such a list, given that music [or film, or books, or virtually any sort of cultural artefact] is something on which people hold both very strong and very subjective opinions. were there criteria that could make one list better than the others? was it even possible to come close to objectivity? is there even a point to coming up with one of these lists? so, rather than make my own list [which i do in my head all the time anyway], i thought i'd put years of music fandom and article-writing to use and write the more like space guide to creating 'all time best' lists.

my first piece of advice is simple: don't.

seriously, unless you're some sort of masochist who gets thrills from seeing your carefully composed work shredded by dozens of people or more, just avoid coming up with all-time bests. yes, it's tempting, because we always reflect on the things that influenced us, or enlightened us, or whose importance we feel should be recognised. but no one in the world is going to have our same list and anyone who knows enough about the subject to appreciate what you've done is going to be even more pissed off that your list doesn't match theirs. you can't win at this game. no one can win. so your best option is not to play.

but if you're determined, here's what i'd recommend, based on what i've seen both in terms of articles and the reactions to them.

1. know what you're talking about. the single greatest criticism that gets leveled at these lists is that the author doesn't know enough about the subject to credibly write about it. yes, everyone's knowledge has limits, but if you're writing about a genre of music that you've fallen in love with in the last year, unless you've dedicated some serious time to becoming an expert, chances are that you're going to have a lot of holes in your list. now, that's not to say that you can't work around that, but we'll talk more about that later.

2. talk about the 'why', not the 'what'. i think one of the reasons why these lists get trashed so quickly is that a lot of people who write them are content to offer just a quick description of what an item on the list is, not why it's being included. if you're going to talk about 'bests' or 'essentials', you should have a reason why something appears on your list. psycho appears on lists of greatest horror films not because everyone loves it so much [although most of them do], but because of things like its hyper-dramatic score, its gritty realism, its incredible editing [a whole scene in a shower, that shows all the horror, but none of the nudity] and its shock tactic of having the central character killed off quite early. people can watch or listen to excerpts of virtually anything online, so they don't need someone rattling off what its elements are. they need to know why it deserves to be considered 'the best', or some other superlative.

3. focus. you rarely hear griping about year-end best-ofs, not because people agree with them anymore, but because their bounded by a strict time limit. maybe your list would be different, but the list is more of a snapshot than something that claims to be a summation of years of everyone's work. this is especially true if points #1 and #2 seem like more work than you want to put in on a list few people will ever read. let yourself off easy and come up with a list that's about a very specific category of things. doing a best-of list of punk albums from the early 80s, or american power electronics acts is going to be less demanding than trying to come up with a comprehensive list of all the best releases in either category. on the other hand, if you really want to do a big, comprehensive list, refer to point #1.

4. it's ok to be subjective. if point #1 is a problem, but you still want to create a list of essentials, there is absolutely nothing wrong with making up a list of things that were influential on you and the development of your tastes, as long as you're not pretending that it's anything else. talk about the effect that an album had on you, how it changed your taste or your perspective. even if people don't agree with your choices, chances are they've experienced the sentiment and all of a sudden, what they're reading is more welcoming and inclusive. don't make enemies where you can make friends.

5. be the list you want to see in the world. this one's pretty straightforward, but create something that you'd be interested in reading. chances are that the things that annoy you about these sorts of articles are the same ones that annoy everyone else who reads them. but the reason that we keep reading them is because we are legitimately curious about what others who share our freakish tastes think.

so there it is, my debate-proof, eternal list of things that make a good list. if you disagree, it is because you are wrong.

the picture above is a page of the domesday book, specifically dealing with warwickshire. not the most entertaining book of lists, but definitely one that belongs on a list of important lists.

Comments

as long as you're here, why not read more?

dj kali & mr. dna @ casa del popolo post-punk night

last night was a blast! a big thank you to dj tyg for letting us guest star on her monthly night, because we had a great time. my set was a little more reminiscent of the sets that i used to do at katacombes [i.e., less prone to strange meanderings than what you normally hear at the caustic lounge]. i actually invited someone to the night with the promise "don't worry, it'll be normal". which also gives you an idea of what to expect at the caustic lounge. behold my marketing genius.

mr. dna started off putting the "punk" into the night [which i think technically means i was responsible for the post, which doesn't sound quite so exciting]. i'd say that he definitely had the edge in the bouncy energy department.

many thanks to those who stopped in throughout the night to share in the tunes, the booze and the remarkably tasty nachos and a special thank you to the ska boss who stuck it out until the end of the night and gave our weary bones a ride home…

friday favourites 20.07.12

i was almost going to skip it this week. not out of any disinterest, but i always feel weird posting something flip and cheeky on days when the news is choked with stories of some location filled with people going about their lives suddenly getting shot up by a lone maniac with some sort of personal gripe or agenda.

awful things happen every single day. people who lead otherwise normal lives are suddenly transformed through violence every single day. by the harsh standards of the world, what happened last night in aurora, colorado isn't even close to the worst. i'm sure families in syria would consider a day where ten people died to be better than average. but there is something about these completely random mass shootings in otherwise fairly peaceful places that haunts us all here in the western world. it happened today with aurora. it happened a year ago sunday in norway. it happened in another colorado town, now synonymous with the terror of such a massacre in 1999.

what h…

making faces :: je vois la vie en rose

you may have heard that some enterprising but probably not too bright folk started a fundraising campaign to push kylie jenner over the one billion dollar net worth threshold after forbes magazine touted her as the woman poised to become america's youngest ever self-made billionaire. the idea that there are people out there who can think of nothing better to do with their money than hand it over to someone who already has way more money than she could ever need is pretty gross if you think about it, which you probably shouldn't. and that's before you even take into account that jenner isn't self-made by any honest definition of the term: she comes from a family who already had billions, who then made millions if not billions more because of a television show that followed them around doing their billionaire things. she always had lots of money to spend on building a cosmetic line, and her presence on reality television gives her a massive built-in marketing platform. t…