The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


July 6, 2012

Jeremiah Tucker: Perfecting a summer playlist takes skills

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Fourth of July is still visible in the rearview mirror and a long summer stretches before us. It’s official. We are in the thick of outdoor grilling and BBQ season.

Assuming you haven’t already keeled over dead from the heat, you’re likely planning your own backyard hangout in the near future, and though any social gathering worth attending requires a great playlist, a summer one is particularly important.

It’s warm out, people are outside and they want to have a good time. But unlike a dinner party where the music is ignored or a wedding where you can skate by playing the same 20 songs played at every wedding, the music at a summer party is more wide-open.

Here are some tips:

  • Don’t play background or sad-sack music: Summertime is time of celebration, and the music should reflect that. You don’t go to an outdoor party to hear gentle elevator music. The music can be fun, breezy, brash, aggressive or danceable but never boring.
  • Know your audience: If you’re hosting a family reunion with people present who remember when Benny Goodman was tearing up the charts, you might not want to terrorize them with your love of ‘90s gangsta rap. Similarly, if you’re hosting a cookout for a bunch of disaffected teenagers, this isn’t an opportunity to convince them side one of Yes’ “Close to the Edge” is ground-breaking and cool.
  • Don’t pander: That said, don’t try to please the specific tastes of anyone present at the expense of everyone else.
  • Do play crowd pleasers: Don’t be afraid to play the hits, regardless if it’s The Beatles, ABBA, Guns N’ Roses, Notorious B.I.G. or Beyonce. You’re the host and it’s your job to entertain. I, personally, like to play “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Party in the U.S.A.” at all 4th of July festivities.
  • But not too many: If all you play are hits, you might as well turn on the radio or throw on a “Now!” compilation. You run the risk of the songs congealing into a bland stream of chart-toppers. Show you’ve got some discernment and personal taste.
  • Don’t be afraid to throw some curveballs: Peppering the playlist with surefire party starters frees you up to play some quirkier choices.

    Maybe play some deep cuts from favorite big-name artists or play something by a lesser-known artist with broad appeal.
  • Take some risks. Those are the songs that wind up paying off the biggest.
  • Do some genre hopping: Play some country next to some punk or some hip hop next to classic rock. It keeps things lively and people guessing.
  • Only play songs you love: It’s your party, and you should personally endorse everything coming from your speakers.
  • But don’t play songs only you love: While you may think Garth Brooks’ fictional alternative rock persona Chris Gaines is underappreciated, you’re likely the only one. Don’t chance it.
  • Make sure the playlist is long: Like the beer and food, you don’t want to be scrambling to add to your playlist at the end of the night.
  • Also, be sure you have enough of a certain type of song. If it looks like you have a rager on your hands, you should be prepared to either keep a dance party going or slowly mellow everyone out.

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