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Listen to the full podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/swooncity/ultimate-heartache-playlist

I can’t help but wag my tail at the act of putting music into genres. It’s a somewhat vain and private pleasure to feel incisive enough to peel back the layers of a song to expose its “essence,” a single modifier of its sound or message. Then when you bring that song together with other pieces that you can distill down to the same essence, that’s really something to parade around town. Now you’ve taken one single word — “folk,” “metal,” “soul” — and plastered it across a multitude of bands and artists, claiming some degree of understanding of it all. You profess to the world: “I like (insert genre here)!!”

I remember the sly pride I felt freshman year when I could respond to the question, “What type of music is this?” My friends and I were all congregated on a Friday night, swinging our hips to the song I put on the iPod speakers in my friend’s dorm room: “Sugar Dumpling” by Sam Cooke. The song seems to pull our bodies this way and that without much effort on our part; we liked it, but in no way could we have explained why. In fact, for my friends who didn’t stray far from their contemporary electronic and rap music, it was their first exposure to Sam Cooke or any artist like him. In my memory, everyone in the room stopped dancing and slowly turned their heads towards me, faces full of wonder, excitedly anticipating my response to the question: “What type of music is this?” “SOUL.”

Even though I was, in that room, the single authority (a dangerously intoxicating feeling), I was still very new to soul music at that time. After watching a PBS documentary on the life of Sam Cooke, I fell down the rabbit hole and became obsessed. Otis, Etta, Aretha, Diana, Marvin, the entire Berry Gordy saga of one seminal recording studio. I “understand” the genre now in the sense that I know more artists categorized as soul and that I proclaim it to be my favorite type of music. However, I still struggle to put my finger on soul’s definitive sound. I’m continually fascinated and confused by how soul music can have this brightness and joy that lets good feeling sink into your skin, while at other times it can rip you to shreds with aching loneliness.

The only way I feel I can reconcile the varying parts of the soul music genre is its common passion and intensity. Exuberance, devastation, etc. — whatever the sentiment may be, it takes hold of the heart until it bubbles up and out through song.

And, in turn, listeners can feel it too. But a lot of other genres can similarly affect (some would even say ALL good art does this). So even though I wanted this show to put my favorite genre on a pedestal, my playlists are often filled with music outside of the single genre of soul. Yet these other tracks are not at odds with soul; they are steeped with similar passion. Swoon City will feature music that has soul.

The songs for the first ever Swoon City come from my “Ultimate Heartache Playlist,” a collection of tracks I developed freshman year as I was discovering my love for soul music. It started with essential artists like Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and the obscure but wholly important Penny & the Quarters — all of which have these songs that desperately cry out to another (an other), yet the act of longing feels so satisfying for both singer and listener. In short, they make your heart ache in the best way possible. In making the playlist, though, I kept adding artists that are in no way considered soul, like Feist and The Who, yet still gave me that satisfying ache. Thus, this playlist perfectly exemplifies what I want Swoon City to cover: an expansive soul.