If we’re living in a golden age for television and food delivery services, then we must be living in one for podcasts too. Simply put, there are tons out there, many offering compelling content you can dig into hands-free, while knocking out another hobby.
Music podcasts are some of the best of the bunch. Yeah, there are great food podcasts and comedy and science ones too, but the shows devoted to tunes tend to really bring the entertainment. They cover all the great stories, from tales of rags-to-riches to burning out entirely. They give us a different glimpse of people we idolize and backstories for the ages. The best ones even turn us on to great new music or unearth new songs from favorite artists that we’ve never heard before.
This podcast is the work of diehard country music junkie Tyler Mahan Coe. If you recognize the name, it’s because his father is David Allan Coe, a songwriter who grew to some fame after his start busking in Nashville. The younger Coe is carrying on the legacy, only from a storytelling standpoint. Turns out, country music — real George Jones country music, not Dierks Bentley — is full of incredible sagas. It’s not really surprising, given the subject matter of so many classic country songs, but Coe connects all of the dots and paints painstakingly clear contextual backdrops, allowing for maximum enjoyment. Plus, you’ll probably end up with a new artist or two worth diving deeply into on your favorite streaming service.
Whatever you think about Spotify, the bots inside know a thing or two about linking your musical taste to other great artists. The service also produces a great podcast now and again, such as the cultish Bandsplain. The series takes on all kinds of artists and albums, from Kool Keith and Gin Blossoms to Metallica and Phish. It’s all over the board but grounded in expert opinion and stellar playlists, all put together by Yasi Salek. It’s like a very polished version of those wee-hours conversations you have with your best music buddies about, say, why Blink 182 produces such earworms. In other words, get the THC or CBD gummies out (or mix yourself a nice Boulevardier or Hot Toddy), and get listening.
Jad Abumrad is at the helm of this podcast. He’s responsible for Radiolab, one of the best radio shows of the last generation. This miniseries of sorts started really as a curiosity — he and Dolly are both from small-town Tennessee — but blossoms quickly into a lovely character portrait of a true American icon. Dolly Parton talks about everything, from influences and relationships to pop culture and her ability to play dozens of instruments (none particularly well, she says in signature humbleness). In the end, you realize why she’s adored by just about every human on the planet, and that kind of unifying magic is genuinely uplifting. After just a single episode, I put Dolly on my shortlist of celebrities I’d love to have a beer or coffee with.
I can’t tell you how many times Bob Boilen has turned me on to some incredible band I’d never listened to prior. That’s the beauty of this NPR program, cohosted by Rob Hilton. The two genuinely love music, and not just the currently trending indie act or the provocative pop artist. The podcast covers all kinds of music, with the overarching theme being quality. The commentary is always wise and the guests have gotten better and better as the show has aged. It’s really reached its apex, with music at the center of a rich cultural tapestry Boilen and Hilton help bring to life.
In podcast land, Questlove Supreme is practically ancient, having run since 2016. Listening, you quickly realize it’s been such a hit. Questlove is an unmatched personality with a unique take on music, having so much experience behind the drum kit, in the production studio, etc. It’s a fantastic one-two punch of having your favorite acts answer all of your fanboy questions while at the same time getting that insider info that only a fellow musician could extract. Many know the host as the drummer for The Roots and for the one-liners he’ll now and again deliver on Fallon. This podcast crawls inside his musical brain, along with those of his guests.
A true garage project from an outfit that adores the classic rock universe, this podcast is a slow-burning analysis of some of the greatest albums of all time. You know, the work of The Monkees, The Beatles, The Clash, Bowie, Buddy Guy, The Police, and more. And it’s not just for flower children of the 1960s and 70s (although that’s obviously the focus), as the show has taken on some more contemporary acts, like Death Cab for Cutie and Weezer. Sure, determining whether or not something is classic is subject to all kinds of opinions, and that’s precisely the point with this podcast. If nothing else, you’ll gain a new respect for a beloved LP and ask the question yourself as you revisit it from start to finish.
This excellent and fairly under-the-radar show out of Waco, Texas focuses on gospel and just how formative that genre really was (and still is) when it comes to American music. The genre forms the basis of just about everything we like today and it’s a fun journey to revisit some of the hits with host Robert Darden. Like most public radio enterprises, it’s not lacking in terms of nuance and detail. Better, it showcases the very best of gospel — genuine hits that are strikingly similar to some of the mega pop we enjoy today, if you listen closely. Most importantly, it focuses on the Black community behind so many of these hits, from an era when they were mostly overshadowed or given little to no credit.
What makes Song Exploder so cool is the reflective nature of the podcast. On it, artists divulge the backstory to some of their best work, going in depth in terms of the impetus for songs, how the lyrics came about, instrumentation, etc. If you want to get deep inside of the psyche of some of your favorite musical acts, this is your podcast. There’s huge appeal here, as the artists span the spectrum, from the likes of Iron & Wine or Peaches to Sampa the Great or Big Boi.
This riveting podcast series comes from great Los Angeles station KCRW. It’s self-described as “a collection of the greatest music stories never told,” which is pretty apt. The listener is treated to some ear-opening pieces about hugely-influential bands and figures, some of which remain relatively unknown to most. Better, the breakdowns are often enhanced by actual musician guests, whether it’s commentary from R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe or thoughts from Henry Rollins. The context here is rich and we not only get great sonic content but a real sense of the era that produced these pivotal music eras and moments.
The above podcasts ought to get you into the musical spirit in 2023. Even if you think you know everything about a genre or a band you don’t, and these brilliant platforms prove that. So get your earbuds ready and get lost in some incredible content related to your favorite sounds
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