A Spotify playlist can only contain 9,999 songs. That's the limit, much to the annoyance of a vocal group of users. From the crate-digging record collector to the scrupulous mixtape crafter, there's a long tradition of obsessive list-making that's baked into our conception of pop music, which only intensified with the introduction of Napster and iTunes in the early '00s. In the streaming era, maximalism rules.
Which is how we arrived here. What would it look like for an individual to select the 1,000 "best" songs on Spotify? How would you organize it? How many Duran Duran songs would be on it? (Answer: three.) By limiting myself to the catalog on Spotify, a company founded in 2006 by a startup in Stockholm that now boasts 140 million monthly active users, I hoped to discover how the service shaped listening habits, genre trends, and ideas around taste.
Through a combination of intuition, calculation, research, lack of sleep, feverish Googling, and enthusiasm, I've attempted to cobble together a mini-history of modern music. But keep in mind that Spotify is an incomplete collection and I'm a flawed listener. (Here's proof: There's a song by Crazy Town on here.) For starters, the 1,000 songs on here pretty much all emerge from the late-20th century and are centered around American pop music -- broadly defined here as the intersection between rock, R&B, hip-hop, country, and electronica -- with digressions into other genres that will probably scan as entry-level or misguided to experts in those fields. Every playlist is a mirror. This particular mirror reveals I know shit about classical music.
So why read (or, more importantly, listen) on? Increasingly, streaming services keep listeners focused on the familiar. The algorithms that craft your weekly Discover playlist don't exist to challenge, stimulate, or provoke you. They're designed to keep you plugged in -- perhaps with "fake artists" and label-curated songs. In the hopes of making this massive list of songs potentially useful, I've used a few strategies to organize this list. The songs are divided into smaller playlists using the following criteria: genre, region, record label, topic/theme, mood, and, for 10 essential artists, by individual. You may not be familiar with all of the 1,000 best songs on Spotify, but if you have 77 hours and 2 minutes to spare, you'll find at least one song that expands your mind -- and maybe even add to your own list of 1,000.
The Legends | The Genres | The Labels | The Cities | The Grab Bags | The Full List