Audio rounds. So simple. Such a pain in the ass.

Now that I’ve gotten all zen on you, have some fun with the audio round I put together for May’s quiz at the Old Pequliar. Then I’ll explain what I mean.

If I Had a Stammer: Each of these songs repeats a word or phrase in its title.
Can you name the title and performer for each clip?

  1. The clip: Question 1
  2. The clip: Question 2
  3. The clip: 10May04_Q03_audio_audio
  4. The clip: 10May04_Q04_audio_audio
  5. The clip: 10May04_Q05_Audio_Audio
  6. The clip: 10May04_Q06_audio_audio
  7. The clip: 10May04_Q07_audio_audio
  8. The clip: 10May04_Q08_audio_audio
  9. The clip: 10May04_Q09_audio_audio
  10. The clip: 10May04_Q10_audio_audio
  11. The clip: 10May04_Q11_audio_audio

Most audio rounds go like this: I play a song clip, and you get a half point for identifying the performer and a half point for identifying the song title.

It’s simple and easy to understand, but each question is basically “Recognize this song from a 20-second clip?” There’s not much room for reasoning it out. You either get “You Get What You Give” by The New Radicals or you don’t.

I’ve mixed up the formula, but “What is this song?” is solid, and doesn’t involve wheel invention. It’s also popular with the pub crowd, which is the most important thing.

That leaves me content and structure to dazzle your brains with rather than clever premises.

Content: Which songs?

Step one: Pick an interesting topic. (Really, do that and you’re halfway home.)

The best audio round topics turn up wayyyyyy more songs than I could possibly use. It kills me to leave out a couple of songs — like “Rush Rush” this time. A broad selection means it’s easier to include a variety of songs. (And lets me bring back the category back in a few months.)

For “If I Had a Stammer,” the “repeating words” idea turned up tons of possibilities, especially once I branched out from my initial idea of titles that were literally one word repeated.

(Side net: Simplenote has made brainstorming and compiling audio rounds much, much simpler. I’ve got five or six active ideas for audio rounds, with a Simplenote file for each one. Whenever I hear or remember a song that fits a category, I can add it to the list at a moment’s notice.)

Once I started putting together the round in earnest, I had a list about 50 songs long. That helps me ensure variety on a lot of fronts: Easy vs. hard to get, multiple decades, multiple genres (pop, rock, country, hip hop), obvious vs. non-obvious candidates, popular stuff vs. music nerd stuff, songs from my own library vs. songs that I don’t know well or listen to.

That last bit’s important: I don’t want the round to become a “guess James’ music tastes” round. Mostly.

(That’s another way Simplenote helps: I can take more time to research songs, so I stray further from my own playlists. I think I underrepresent hip-hop, for example, mostly because I don’t listen to much of it, so I’ve been making a deliberate effort to include more.)

“If I Had a Stammer” includes one song from the ’60s, two from the ’70s, four from the ’80s, one from the ’90s, and three from the ’00s. That’s pretty good, but I could’ve taken one or two away from the ’80s and added one or two to the ’90s, given the demographics of the pub I host at.

I didn’t own eight of the songs (though I happily bought several of those for the round). “Boom Boom Pow” is contemporary and wildly popular; “Hold On, Hold On” and “Take Take Take” are contemporary but niche; “Anything, Anything” is familiar to a lot of people but not really a hit.

And the round had a curveball, a song I knew I had to include the moment I thought of it: “Mahna Mahna.” It’s the Muppets. Iconic Muppets. It came out in the ’70s but kids have rediscovered it for years. It was fun to watch people switch in an instant from concentration to delight, because who (this side of Statler and Waldorf) doesn’t love “Mahna Mahna”?

The structure: How should I put them together?

Ideally, the audio round (like most rounds) is easiest in question 1, hardest in question 10.

Like that ever happens.

Still, it’s what I aim for: Open with a song that no one is going to miss, end with a song you need a music nerd to get. (Or at least an inner music nerd.)

One challenge: It’s really, really hard to find a song that everyone knows. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was a good pick, but one team missed the title and another the artist.

Going by the scoresheets, I should’ve started with “Tonight, Tonight,” which one team missed the title of (though everyone got Smashing Pumpkins). “Boom Boom Pow” was a good second or third track — one team guessed the song was “We Suck Suck Suck.” Four teams got full credit for Neko’s “Hold On, Hold On,” and I wouldn’t have touched that song if I hadn’t known our crowd was a) local and b) rife with KEXP fans.

“Anything, Anything” was just about perfect for its slot. Lots of people were singing along, but only a couple of teams knew both the title and the artist. (Most popular guess for title: “Marry Me, Marry Me.”)

The hardest song turned out to be “Over and Over” by the Dave Clark Five. One team got the full point.

Astute readers will notice that I didn’t address the eleventh song on the list. At the Old Pequliar, thanks to a now-departed host, the audio rounds always go to eleven. And I usually like to use that eleventh spot as a punchline, of sorts. “Mahna Menha” is one example: familiar, fun, something most people know and love.

Sometimes #11 will be a song that everyone knows and is a total blast — “YMCA” and “Faith” have both appeared there. If I hadn’t used “Mahna Mahna” this time, I’d have gone with “Hot Hot Hot” — it’s always good to leave people buttrocking.

On the other hand, I’m happy to sacrifice familiarity for fun: In March I ended with “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” by Johnny Rivers, which most people knew the title of. When I did a round on artists’ last top 40 hits, the eleventh spot went to Pat Boone’s gloriously kitschy and racist “Speedy Gonzales.” No one got a full point for that one, but the song was transcendently awful.

Regardless, it’s an eleven-point round. I figure it should take a lot of work to actually earn all eleven points.

In conclusion

How I try to do it:

  1. Pick an interesting theme.
  2. Pull from a broad variety of songs.
  3. Try to go from easiest to hardest.
  4. End with something fun.