This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #428: Midnight in a Perfect World by DJ Shadow.
Every song in this list is here for a reason. In some cases, the song showcases the musicianship of the players or the singing prowess of the singer. Sometimes, a song has made this list because of its historical significance to the genre it represents. At times, the reason for including a song on this list is that it is simply boppy and fun and people like it a lot. Today’s song, “Midnight in a Perfect World” by DJ Shadow, is unlike any other song in this entire list! It is unique in an artistically-creative way that is quite amazing, actually. It is, also, historic, in the sense that when the song was released in 1996, as part of an album called, “Endroducing”, it was the very first album EVER in the history of recorded music to be made up entirely of samples. There was no recording studio. There were no singers nor musicians. There was only a small sound mixer and a collection of over 60,000 albums and singles to draw sounds from.
For those unaware of what sampling is, the simplest explanation is when an artist borrows an existing drum beat or song phrase or guitar cord sequence that already exists in the world and incorporates that into their own song. Sampling really got its start in the early days of Hip Hop. In those cases, the rapper would focus on rapping his/her words and would borrow some other songs/sounds to fill out the background soundscape. You may recall that many Hip Hop artists would use DJs who scratched sounds from albums on turntables. These experiments with small bits of sounds, repeated or extended or distorted was how “sampling” was born. Since those early days, sampling has become more sophisticated, with the magnus opus of efforts being the album, “Endroducing” by DJ Shadow.
The song, “Midnight in a Perfect World” does not at all sound like a song that was created entirely on a computer mixing board. It is lush and Jazzy and would be something you could easily find playing at a coffee bar or a cocktail party. The song is silky smooth. There is not a single millisecond of misplaced sound. The whole song is comprised of thousands of individual music samples borrowed from hundreds of albums. I cannot imagine, for the life of me, how DJ Shadow was able to recognize that a particular 3-second drum beat sequence, looped and repeated four times would be the perfect complement to a single Jazz singer’s note that is extended for eight seconds and so on. In essence, he has taken thousands of scraps of sounds and reassembled them in a completely new and different order and ended up producing something extraordinarily beautiful. My mind is boggled at the epic nature of this undertaking.
If you are still unsure of exactly what I am talking about then, perhaps, the music video will help. The video actually shows you, in visual terms, what sampling sounds like, in aural terms. It is amazing! So, here is what I want you to focus on when you watch this video….you will see multiple smaller screens as the video begins. Find the one with the man at the drum kit. As you watch him play, you will hear drum beats in real time in your ears. If you watch the drummer carefully, you will see that his clip actually restarts every few seconds. What this signifies is that DJ Shadow has taken a small sample of this man drumming and is repeating the small sample on a repeatable loop. So, as you listen to the drumming, you see this small clip play and restart several times. The same is true of the singer who approaches the microphone. That man only ever utters a few notes. His video clip repeats, too, which means his few notes repeat aurally as you watch it. The overall effect of this is a seamless wall of sound that blends together perfectly. It almost seems like live performances but, it is all small, tiny samples of sounds mixed together by a master craftsperson.
In the video, DJ Shadow is the man in the white t-shirt. The video shows him going into his favourite record store. His personal collection is said to contain over 60,000 albums. The video, also, shows the small mixing board that he used to create the song, “Midnight in a Perfect World”, as well as, the stacks and piles of albums he has all over his home (where he does his work). I have said many times that I like live music best but, there is something about what DJ Shadow has accomplished here that blows my mind. Music is an Art form. What DJ Shadow has done is use sounds in a completely original way to create beautiful Art. There is not another song on this entire list that was created the same way that “Midnight in a Perfect World” was. It is one-of-a-kind. Enjoy. Be dazzled.
The link to the music video for Midnight in a Perfect World by DJ Shadow can be found here.
DJ Shadow, as expected, has cool website that you can check out by clicking on the link here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for their support of original and important music and the musicians who make it. A link to their website can be found here.