Two years ago, I was stealing internet from a neighbour, which allowed me access to her iTunes. The library itself was empty, but her Limewire list was full of the most lowest-common-denominator music ever, all Top 40 club jams---Usher's "Yeah!," Justin Timberlake's "Rock Your Body," "Lady Marmalade" from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. On one hand, I admired her shamelessness---who can hate on "Bootylicious"?---but on the other I wish iTunes had a chat function so I could help her out: "Dude! People can see you! Hide the Celine Dion! Nickelback is unacceptable!"
There's not much point to being an unimpeachable indie snob---you enjoy little but your inflated sense of superiority, and you look like a humourless douche when the rest of the party is singing along to "Vogue." But there is some accounting for taste.
Even if you make an event-specific playlist, inevitably someone feels the need to play DJ and take over the party, which means your entire collection will be exposed. So clean it up first. When you download single songs from someone other than Steve Jobs---nobody is pretending you, or we, don't---make sure you fill in at least the artist and song fields correctly, since the original files will often be misnamed either as security or laziness/idiocy. Who will know you have the leaked White Stripes single if it's under "unknown" at the bottom of your list?
There are a few artists who are universally adored despite late-in-life mediocrity, decades-younger spouses or appearances in advertisments, so you'll never go wrong with The Beatles, Stones, Bowie, Marley, Cash, Dylan, Prince, Radiohead or Springsteen, though the more obscure your selection, the better (live bootlegs impress, but live boots from Europe cement reputations).
For pure coolness points you should have some Joy Division, Ramones, Pavement, Velvet Underground, Tom Waits and the band that most recently defined a generation (allegedly), Arcade Fire. And for dudes who use "We are all feminists" as a line on artsy chicks who know better, throw in some Emmylou Harris, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams and the baddest badass, Patti Smith.
They have sold skillions between them, which hurts your indie soul, but they also represent career highlights with songs that still hold up and hit nicely in crowd settings. So to please the people, you should have Nirvana's Nevermind, Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, Pearl Jam's Ten, Kanye West's Graduation and Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. Who's gonna slag you, that guy who also has all these records? Alanis didn't sell 25 million albums to her family.
We all get caught up in the blog frenzy once in a while, so no one will judge if you've got any of these debuts. None of them are all that great when the dust settles---or are stirred up briefly by lacklustre second and third records, then clear like a chat history, as if they never existed: Broken Social Scene, You Forgot it in People; The Libertines, Up the Bracket; The Shins, Oh Inverted World; The Strokes, Is This It; Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend. If anything, you'll bond over your tendancy to react irrationally to Pitchfork reviews.
There's always that one summer jam that everyone loves. Shit, my dad recorded his own version of "Crazy." There are lots of number-one hits in the world, which are great for finding common ground. So keep some Jay-Z, Kelly Clarkson and Madonna around.
AC/DC. Dolly Parton. Elton John. Oasis. Britney Spears. There was a time when all of them were taken seriously as pop cultural forces (even Britney, back in the "Baby One More Time" days). Their best work is long behind them, but you can still enjoy the hits from yesteryear, shame-free, because that was some good shit. A late-night singalong is the cornerstone of any successful party.
There are some artists who all boast records popular in "the mainstream" that are also secretly enjoyed by many indie wanks. They include Coldplay, Dashboard Confessional, Dixie Chicks (only since the Bush incident), Eminem and Meat Loaf (seriously, dude transcends decades). All it takes to unleash the wave of admissions is you throwing one on. There's a chance no one will fess up and you'll be fucked, buthey, college is all about life lessons.
“In My Life,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” “Everything In Its Right Place,” “Dead Souls,” “Heroin,” “Innocent When You Dream,” “A Case of You,” “I Lost It,” “All I Really Want,” “Porch,” “Into The Groove,” “Shot Down In Flames,” “Don’t Panic,” “Lubbock or Leave It.”