RNZ Music's Kirsten Johnstone runs us through the best music podcasts for both music discovery and music deep-dives!
8. Broken Record
Author and chart-topping podcaster Malcolm Gladwell, super producer Rick Rubin and former The New Yorker media editor Bruce Headlam present "liner notes for the digital age. Digressions, arguments, backstories, and random things to disagree with about music".
The first few guests are Rubin himself, Nile Rogers (Bowie producer, and co-founder of legendary American disco group Chic) and Rufus Wainwright, and they tell a good mix of stories about their careers and the people they’ve worked with, as well as nerdy insights into songwriting.
And if you’re interested in musicians' backstories, check out the newly-released The Rewind with Guy Raz (also the host of the Ted Radio Hour, if the name seems familiar.) It’s a Spotify production, and only available there for now. Hear stories from chart-toppers like David Guetta and Jessie J about their younger years.
7. Hit Parade
Slate Magazine's Hit Parade focuses on chart hits through the last fifty or so years. Chart analyst and pop critic Chris Molanphy's essay style narration is interspersed with cuts of music. It’s like a crash course in pop music history, but it’s not as dry as you might think. There’s an episode about Bon Jovi’s rise to the top of the charts where Molanphy openly displays his disdain for the rockers, but still objectively analyses their appeal and influence.
There’s also a great episode on Rick Rubin’s Def Jam Records and how it was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing rap to mainstream audiences, crossing musical and race boundaries along the way.
Disgraceland is “a true crime podcast about musicians getting away with murder and behaving very badly.”
Producer and writer Jake Brennan tells tightly scripted, unabashedly scandalous stories, in a way that puts you right into the minds of scurrilous musicians as they do their worst. For sure there’s some artistic license taken, but they’re also – from what I can tell – well researched, and come with bibliographies.
There’s a good episode about the Rolling Stones and their circus of the '70s: the drugs, the busts, the groupies (who included Canada’s first lady at the time).
There’s one about Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy which (quite disturbingly) gets into the mind of a junkie and reveals that his mother might have killed him.
But they’re nuanced stories that paint events and characters in a new light. For example, when Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes from TLC burned down her NFL boyfriend’s mansion, she wasn’t just being ‘crazy’ like she was portrayed in the media. She was actually the victim of domestic abuse and had good reason to fly off the handle.
5. Cocaine and Rhinestones
Cocaine and Rhinestones is a historical deep dive, as the title suggests, into the world of country music. It’s hosted by the son of outlaw country singer David Allan Coe, Tyler Mahan Coe, who's been hearing these stories his whole life.
It’s meticulously researched, and richly woven together, but it does take him a long time to get to the point: each episode is around 90 minutes long. There’s even one song he dedicates three whole episodes to. That’s four and a half hours for one three-minute song, ‘Harper Valley PTA’.
So as you can imagine, there are many twists, forks, and detours along this dusty road.
Tyler Mahan Coe has also collaborated with Nasville concert promoter Mark Mosley on a comedy podcast called Your Favourite Band Sucks, which – as you'd expect – is two dudes sitting around bitching about the over-ratedness of various bands including Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica, and Rage Against The Machine.
To be avoided unless your sense of humour is sardonic and you genuinely have hate for these bands.
4. BBC Soul Music
This long-running podcast by the BBC tells of listener’s emotional connections to songs, the way they punctuate their lives (birth, death, relationships, identity) and their different interpretations of the songs depending on their life experiences.
There are five or so different stories in each episode, and they're often powerful enough to make you cry on your way to work.
3. Song Exploder
Consistently one of the top-charting music podcast globally, Song Exploder lifts the hood on pop songs, breaking them down element-by-element, verse-by-verse.
The host Hrishikesh Hirway sets each episode up, then lets the artist and their music do the talking. They'll often get to the story behind the song, and break down the way it came together, illustrating the discussion with early demos, and/or soloing parts of the recording to listen to isolation.
NZ's Kimbra appeared on the podcast last year:
2. All Songs Considered
NPR Music’s main podcast offering has been going in its current form since 2005, and it’s a staple for anyone who wants to keep up with new music. Hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton are like your cool uncles who may not always get it right, but always have some insightful analysis and never take themselves too seriously.
1. RNZ Music podcasts
Do we podcast? Oh yes we do! Thanks for asking. Here's what we've got:
There’s Music 101, which includes:
- Pocket Edition – a highlights package of our Saturday afternoon radio show Music101
- The Mixtape – An hour of conversation and music selections from some of NZ's well-known music people.
- Most of the interviews we do for Music 101
There's The Sampler, where our resident music expert Nick Bollinger reviews the latest albums from both here and abroad, and New Horizons, where William Dart draws on his encyclopaedic knowledge and gargantuan record collection to offer insights and surprising links into rock, pop, country, folk and beyond.
We’re currently reviewing our podcast offerings and what we could be doing to best serve our music loving listeners. If you have great ideas and suggestions, or you’d like to tell us what you’d like to hear in a music podcast, please get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'Podcasts'.