How To Listen To Music At Work Without Driving Yourself Or Others Totally Crazy

Listening to music in a social setting is, much like a relationship, a compromise. If your partner or BFF is into Taylor Swift, you should probably keep the Marilyn Manson to a minimum when you’re on a road trip. Kevin and I trade off Ipods when we’re driving: I know to avoid Mika and Cake, and he knows that Disturbed is acceptable, but only if the volume is kept at a level where we can still converse.

It’s the same thing at work, only with more people and a wider age range to please.  Our office radio is usually set to the Portland soft-rock station, which either makes me fondly remember the early 2000s or makes me want to poke my eardrums out with a toothpick. I have a feeling offices pick these kinds of stations because they irritate everyone equally.  The tunes I find particularly painful are not always the ones my coworkers detest, and vice versa.

A few days ago Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” came on. I admit I have a tremendous soft spot for this song, partly because it’s a classic and partly because I grew up on Rod Stewart (and Huey Lewis and Journey and Steely Dan). Plus “Forever Young” is a prime example of the epic 80s emo of which I am so fond. Unfortunately, my coworker was not impressed.

“So…Rod Stewart?”

“What, you don’t like Rod Stewart?”


“Oh come on, this one’s a classic!”

“Yyyyyeah. It’s just not the best way to start off the morning.”

“Well, do you want me to put in my Ipod?”

“Sure, what do you have?”

“Is Michael Buble acceptable?”

“Michael Bubbly? Sure.”


This has led to the development of a routine concerning the radio. Every morning, I dutifully turn it on and see how long I can listen before it plays some really horrendous song that gets stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Usually I can make it an hour or so, but recently “Total Eclipse of the Heart” made its appearance within the first ten minutes. I leaped up and threw in my Ipod and everyone in the office was happier for it. This reinforced my belief that there are some commonalities that can lead to an enjoyable auditory setting for every office.

For The Love Of Moses Please Skip:
1. “The Logical Song” by Supertramp. Not only is it a supremely weird song, but the only reason I recognized it was because I heard a parody of it first. The problem is I can’t remember who did the parody or when I heard it, and that’s driving me nuts.

2. Mark Anthony. The Latin music craze is so 2000. Now I have been known to engage in an obnoxious Ricky Martin singalong or two while in the car, but that’s between friends. You and your coworkers do not need to be subjected to this.

3. Anything from “Grease.”
That radio station played “You’re The One That I Want” not once, but twice in one week. That was when I decided I needed a work playlist. Again, for karaoke or a singalong with friends, “Grease” is perfectly entertaining, but in the workplace, it’s just obnoxious.

4. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.  The song itself is actually kind of enjoyable, in an emo/power-ballad “Separate Ways” kind of way. If I could hear it for the very first time today, I would probably think it was epic and unintentionally hilarious and download it.  Unfortunately, it’s been forever ruined thanks to two things. The first was its use in an anti-drug assembly during middle school, which involved an interpretive dance during which guys in black bodysuits with “COCAINE” and “MARIJUANA” written on their chests tormented a girl in a ragged white dress. The second is the song’s own music video, which is honestly one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen “The Ring.” (Watch the literal parody afterward. It’ll make you feel better.)

5. “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne.
We’re just barely on the cusp of boy bands and their ilk becoming nostalgic, but we’re still not quite there yet. Avril Lavigne’s old tunes serve only to remind us of how awkward and terrible high school is, or to remind the older folks how awkward and terrible their children’s high school was. Nobody needs that in the office. It’s already awkward enough.

Honorable Mention: “Listen to Your Heart” by DHT and/or Cascada. This song totally rubs me the wrong way. The chorus goes: “Listen to your heart when he’s calling for you,” which just…nyeeahhh. The verses are all about a woman who’s lost in her relationship and feels awful and wants this relationship to just be over, but no, she’s a woman, therefore she must obey her soft fluffy womanly feelings and stay with her man just because he wants her too. Not okay. And since it’s also not okay for me to become a raging feminista at the front desk, I tend to avoid this particular ditty.

So Try Playing:
1. Taylor Swift. Not gonna lie, the high point of my day is when “Mine” comes on the radio. Two or three times now, I’ve heard a catchy tune and looked up the lyrics, only to discover that Taylor Swift sung it.  This is a little weird for me, because I tend to be the girl who refuses to listen to certain music because it’s cool.  And not in an edgy, indie, hipster way – I skipped out on Outkast and Justin Timberlake in favor of “Lord of the Rings” soundtracks and Ani Difranco.  Only recently have I begun to admit that Black-Eyed Peas and Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga are actually pretty fun. Generally the more mellow Top 40 hits (Coldplay, John Mayer, etc) are a pretty safe bet for the workplace.

2. KT Tunstall. She’s mellow and melodic, but won’t put you to sleep. Most people are likely to know “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” but the rest of that CD is also great. Try “Suddenly I See” and “Another Place to Fall.”

3. Michael Buble. His singles might be a little overplayed at this point, but I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t appreciate this dude’s voice.

4. Sugarland/Lady Antebellum.
  Oregon is divided into “Portland” and “everywhere else.” The “everywhere else” in Oregon tends to enjoy country music, some areas more so than others. I am by no means a country fan, but I’m developing an affinity for the more mainstream “country” like Lady Antebellum, Shania Twain, etc. I downloaded Shania’s “Forever and For Always” years ago and lost track of it until recently, but it impressed the older generation when it came on in the office. My other go-to country-ish favorites are “Something More” by Sugarland and “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum.

5. Sara Bareilles. You’ve heard “Love Song.” I am 98% sure of this. You’ve probably also heard “Fairytale,” and most recently, you’ve probably heard her single “King of Anything.” Oh, you’ve probably heard “Many the Miles,” too (one of my favorites). Her upbeat songs are, well, upbeat and easy to listen to, but she can also turn around and rip your heart out with songs like “City” or “Gravity,” so be judicious with those. The first time “Gravity” came on I listened to the first few seconds, then started crying and skipped it. I still haven’t been able to listen to the whole thing and I’m not sure why. I feel like I stumbled across someone’s extremely private diary detailing an awful breakup, and that I’d be violating her privacy by listening to that song. So…yeah, skip that one in the workplace.

Then again, I’m very lucky to work at an office that allows me control of the music. I know I wouldn’t be so lucky at a department store, or (heavens forefend) a dentist’s office. Have you guys had any terrible music-at-work experiences?


4 thoughts on “How To Listen To Music At Work Without Driving Yourself Or Others Totally Crazy

    • Oh, I am – I kind of overdosed on Jem during college. 🙂 Plus all the songs I have are a little too sexy and/or angry for work, ie “24” and “Come On Closer.” But I’ll give those a listen when I get home!

  1. At the warehouse, they play the weirdest satellite radio station that is an absolute mess of oldies, brand new tracks, and miscellaneous hits from across the decades. I’m talking AC/DC followed by the Village People followed by Miley Cyrus. It’s barely audible over the clamor of industrial machines, but for the brief moments when it can be heard, it’s musical Russian roulette. Right now though, thanks to my busted foot, I’m stuck in the office, where the music is more constantly audible but at such a volume as to be easily ignored. Plus, the office shift only overlaps with mine for about two hours; after 5:30, I can blare whatever I want from my iPod+Tunebug into the empty cubicle nest. My current “productive” music of choice is anything from Rise Against. Those slamming, rebellious guitar riffs are perfect for speeding up the repetitive motions my new duties entail.

    • That doesn’t sound so bad – at least you know you’re not going to hear the same set of songs every day. Village People would be a bit much, though.

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