Mu­sic pod­casts hit the right note

Keep­ing in mind that qual­ity in the genre varies wildly, JOHN MEAGHER rounds up the 10 best mu­sic pod­casts


Af­ter crude begin­nings, pod­casts have be­come an es­sen­tial part of the day for many of us but, un­til now, mu­sic pod­casts have lagged be­hind those amaz­ingly ab­sorb­ing crime ones like Se­rial, S Town and Dirty John, or peer­less long­form pol­i­tics se­ries like Slow Burn, which first tack­led Water­gate, and is now ex­haus­tively look­ing at the Bill Clin­ton-Mon­ica Lewin­sky scan­dal.

There are in­nu­mer­able mu­sic pod­casts out there, but the qual­ity varies wildly and the US is where it’s at when it comes to the best in class.

The fol­low­ing 10 are well worth ex­plor­ing — you’ll learn a lot about new mu­sic and plenty more about the songs and al­bums you al­ready know and love, and all will make the daily com­mute that bit more in­ter­est­ing.

There’s no bet­ter place to get into a great mu­sic pod­cast than these very di­gestible 20-minute pro­grammes tak­ing a look at a par­tic­u­lar song. The beauty of it is that it’s the artists them­selves who takes pre­sen­ter Hr­ishikesh Hir­way though the com­po­si­tion— talk­ing about every­thing from its con­cep­tion and in­spi­ra­tion to mu­sic and words and on to the record­ing. One of the best episodes sees St Vincent talk about ‘New York’, while any U2 ob­ses­sives out there will be in­trigued to hear Bono and the Edge talk about ‘Cedar­wood Road’, the song named af­ter the street that the front­man grew up in.

I touched on this mar­vel­lous pod­cast when writ­ing about deal­ing with ‘mu­si­cal paral­y­sis’ a few weeks back and it’s es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing to those of us who love the long-form stan­dard of true-crime shows like Se­rial. Here, it’s ap­plied to al­bums, Kanye West’s epic My Beau­ti­ful Dark Twisted Fan­tasy. The third sea­son looks at Frank Ocean’s Blonde and, as be­fore, the al­bum is ex­plored in the most trainspot­ter­ish de­tail: each episode is roughly 30 to 40 min­utes per track and man­ages to be both eru­dite and fun.

The New York Times may have been in Don­ald Trump’s crosshairs ever since en­ter­ing the Oval Of­fice, but Amer­ica’s ‘news­pa­per of record’ has long been a by­word for great journalism and su­perb arts crit­i­cism. If their cov­er­age of the mu­sic is some­times a lit­tle stuffy, there’s none of that in this lively top­i­cal pod­cast, which cen­tres on the week’s big al­bum re­leases and events. Sure, much of it is US-ori­ented, but host Jon Caramanica and guests are al­ways en­gag­ing. Last week’s, on the le­gacy of the late Aretha Franklin, is cap­ti­vat­ing.

Coun­try mu­sic is a source of end­less fas­ci­na­tion once you dive in, and this pod­cast is re­ally strong on some of the genre’s most fas­ci­nat­ing artists. Mu­si­cian Tyler Ma­han Coe is steeped in the in­dus­try — he’s the son of vet­eran coun­try star David Allen Coe — and he finds in­trigue in con­flict and con­tro­versy. He looks at Loretta Lynn’s record­ing of ‘The Pill’ and the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind Merle Hag­gard’s ‘Okie from Musko­gee’. The 14-episode first sea­son of­fers a won­der­fully side­ways take on the his­tory of coun­try and Coe’s sto­ry­telling is so strong that the 90-minute episodes fly by quickly.

Only launched in May, this en­ter­tain­ing pod­cast by the US arts and cul­ture web­site, The Ringer, of­fers an ir­rev­er­ent view of the lat­est pop and rock re­leases. You can glean some­thing of the tone from the episode ti­tles — ‘How much is too much Drake?’ be­ing a case in point — but there’s much knowledge and in­sight among the con­trib­u­tors too.

NPR — Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio — has There’s more than mu­sic cov­ered, but

— which just re­leased its 110th episode — is an en­gag­ing pod­cast pre­sented by Dave Han­ratty and cre­ated by Head­stuff. A se­ries of No En­core pod­casts, dubbed The Re­visit, take a look back to a spe­cific year in Ir­ish mu­sic.

Niall Byrne needs lit­tle in­tro­duc­tion to any­one in­ter­ested in new Ir­ish mu­sic — and new mu­sic, full stop — and the DJ-blog­ger-jour­nal­ist’s pod­cast takes a look at mu­sic news and hap­pen­ings at home and abroad. Andrea Cleary co-hosts.

It’s just started, but Roisin Mur­phy’s

sounds promis­ing. The brain child of a beer com­pany, the Moloko singer will in­ter­view a dif­fer­ent artist over six episodes and the first one fea­tures Groove Ar­mada in con­ver­sa­tion. long been a key re­source for lovers of US in­die and be­fore In­ter­net 2.0 it was likely the place that fans heard An­i­mal Col­lec­tive and Griz­zly Bear for the first time. This pod­cast has been run­ning a long time — since 2005 — and cen­tres around dis­cus­sion of the best new mu­sic.

There are se­ri­ous pod­casts out there for lovers of rock, jazz and clas­si­cal, but pure pop is less well served. One of the most il­lu­mi­nat­ing is this pod­cast, hosted by mu­si­col­o­gist Nate Sloan and song­writer Charlie Hard­ing and run by the US-based Slate Me­dia. “We break down pop songs to fig­ure out what makes a hit and what is its place in cul­ture,” goes the blurb. “We help lis­ten­ers find ‘a-ha’ mo­ments in the mu­sic.” And a bit of a-ha too, no doubt. The beauty of Switched on Pop is the en­ter­tain­ing way Sloan and Hard­ing go about their work.

If you’re a mu­sic fan hooked on all those true-life crime pod­casts — and West Cork, in case you haven’t heard it, is a mas­ter­ful true-life pod­cast close to home — you’ll want to lis­ten to Disgraceland. Billed as a se­ries look­ing at “mu­si­cians get­ting away with mur­der”, it ze­roes in on some of the most no­to­ri­ous mo­ments in mu­sic his­tory — in­clud­ing Jerry Lee Lewis, aka ‘The Killer’, and the mys­te­ri­ous death of his fifth wife — and the strange case of a Nor­we­gian black metal band and a mur­der con­vic­tion.

Chris Molan­phy is a pop writer on the on­line cul­ture mag­a­zine The Slate and his en­ter­tain­ing and in­for­ma­tive pod­cast takes a look at all as­pects of pop his­tory. He fo­cuses on trends and looks at their starting points and de­vel­op­ments. Af­ter the Gram­mys this year, Molan­phy ex­am­ined the ubiq­uity of rap in the charts and looked at how the genre only started to be­come main­stream when Aero­smith went into a stu­dio with Run DMC in 1986. You may know the story, but this pod­cast fills in all the de­tails.

Some­thing of a loose canon but a cool idea none­the­less, this pod­cast pairs mu­si­cians, artists, film­mak­ers and ac­tors in con­ver­sa­tions about their work. The episodes typ­i­cally fo­cus on mu­sic, but there’s dis­cus­sion on film and art too. They artist-on-artist con­ver­sa­tions are un­mod­er­ated and guests have in­cluded the Na­tional’s Matt Berninger and sax­o­phon­ist ex­traor­di­naire, Ka­masi Wash­ing­ton.

‘Mu­si­cians get­ting away with mur­der’: Jerry Lee Lewis and the mys­te­ri­ous death of his fifth wife fea­ture in Disgraceland

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