I sat down with my laptop today with the intention of creating a compilation song list (or mix tape, if you prefer) for my 50-55 minute daily drive to school. The last list I compiled has stuck around as the default playlist on my mp3 player for a couple of months, but the pulp is just about sucked completed out by now.
The problem is I couldn't find the right table setter for the first song today. Compilation song lists are like batting orders. You need a lead-off batter to set the tone and grab the attention right off the bat -- an instigator. Your two-hole song's most important role is bridging the gap to the MVP candidate on the list, the third song in the order. Two hole has to be solid, so failure is unacceptable. Clean-up, on the other hand, is just the opposite. It's all risk, home run or strikeout, the Adam Dunn of songs. Swing for the fences with a wild card song and hope you hit it out of the park.
Unfortunately, I never found my table setter, so I put the list off for another day. Nick Hornby would understand. Here's a passage from Hornby's 1995 novel-turned-movie High Fidelity:
I spent hours putting that cassette together. To me, making a tape is like writing a letter---there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again, and I wanted it to be a good one. . . .
A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick it off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with "Got to Get You off My Mind," but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs, and . . . oh, there are loads of rules.
Anyway, I worked and worked at this one, and I've still got a couple of early demons knocking around the flat, prototype tapes I changed my mind about when I was checking them through.