What do you do when you go in an acquaintance's house for the first time? If you're a music fan, chances are you inspect the CD collection and start making snobby summary judgments that flavor your relationship with that person forever and ever.
At Amazon.com, you can vicariously check out whole communities' taste in music (and books and DVDs) with their "Purchase Circles" search by city, by company or school feature. Amazon groups the items it ships to every zip code, as well as the items ordered from each college or business. It then aggregates this info and constructs best-seller lists of items that are more popular with each specific group than with the general population, so don't confuse all the lists below with what's selling best overall. Since the uniquely popular lists are more telling, we've included them wherever possible.
Consider it a party guide of sorts -- you'll know whether to bring your earplugs or your dancing shoes to that barbecue in La Porte or the wedding reception in Magnolia.
(If you don't see your community here, there was insufficient data.)
Houston and the Near Burbs, Including Enron
Houston (uniquely popular): 1. Here's to the Ladies Christine Andreas 2. Flowers & Liquor Hayes Carll 3. Born to Howl Stone Coyotes 4. Come on Down to Texas for a While: The Anthology 1969-1991 Steven Fromholz 5. Greatest Hits Clay Walker 6. For the Last Time: Live from the Astrodome George Strait 7. Gravitational Forces Robert Earl Keen 8. Merry Texas Christmas, Y'all Asleep At the Wheel 9. No. 2 Live Diner Robert Earl Keen 10. The Very Best of B.W. Stevenson 11. The Live Album Robert Earl Keen 12. This Time of Year Steve Tyrell 13. Car Talk: Why You Should Never Listen to Your Father When It Comes to Cars Tappet Brothers, a.k.a. Tom & Ray Magliozzi 14. Alegría Cirque du Soleil 15. Ultimate Collection Jerry Jeff Walker 16. Bel Canto Vincenzo Bellini (composer) 17. ABBA - Gold: Greatest Hits 18. Live at the Old Quarter Townes Van Zandt 19. Saint Mary of the Woods James McMurtry 20. Let It Ripp Rippingtons
Bellaire (unique): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Room for Squares John Mayer 3. Home Dixie Chicks 4. Forty Licks Rolling Stones 5. Josh Groban
Pasadena (sales): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Josh Groban in Concert 3. Room for Squares John Mayer 4. Back in the U.S. Live 2002 Paul McCartney 5. Home Dixie Chicks 6. Frank Herbert's Children of Dune soundtrack
The skinny: Who woulda thunk that posh Bellaire and seedy Stinkadena would have such similar taste? Perhaps 'Dena's proximity to NASA is spurring sales of that Dune disc, or maybe the people who live there just wish they lived on another planet.
Enron (sales): 1. Brand New Day Sting 2. White Ladder David Gray 3. Supernatural Santana 4. Milk Cow Blues Willie Nelson 5. Everyday Dave Matthews Band 6. Human Clay Creed 7. Mad Season Matchbox Twenty 8. Maroon Barenaked Ladies 9. Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 Jill Scott 10. Fly Dixie Chicks 11. Hotshot Shaggy 12. Riding with the King Eric Clapton & B.B. King 13. No Angel Dido 14. The Better Life 3 Doors Down 15. Music Madonna 16. Black and Blue Backstreet Boys 17. Red Dirt Girl Emmylou Harris 18. A Day Without Rain Enya
The Fall of Enron: A Tale in Titles: Everyday in that Mad Season the Enron employees prayed for A Day Without Rain. They hoped that some Supernatural force would save the company's stock from getting beaten Black and Blue. Don't leave us Marooned, they begged. Ken Lay said stick with me, kids -- don't you know you're Riding with the King? Everybody believed him -- the Chronicle said he wasn't made of Human Clay. Then Hotshot Jeff Skilling decided to Fly, and soon it was revealed that Lay was No Angel. When Sherron Watkins spoke up, Lay told her to eat Red Dirt, Girl. On the Music played -- tomorrow's A Brand New Day and The Better Life will return, sang Lay from high atop his White Ladder. Instead, in the end, the bull never returned and everybody was singing the Milk Cow Blues.
The skinny: Okay, we cheated a little -- the Enron list comes from an older sample. But still -- it's such fun we had to include it, and there was insufficient data in the latest sample.
Telling choices: Nothing shouts 25-year-old, cigar-chomping, martini-swilling energy trader like Shaggy's Hotshot. Also, Barenaked Ladies Maroon sold well only at colleges and Enron.
Et cetera: Three of the 11 top-selling books at Enron are about the fall of the company, and Krakatoa : The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 seems like an apt choice for a company that rivaled that unfortunate island.
Ivory Tower Tunes
Rice University (sales): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Wilco 3. Home Dixie Chicks 4. World Without Tears Lucinda Williams 5. Chicago soundtrack 6. 1000 Kisses Patty Griffin 7. Back in the U.S. Live 2002 Paul McCartney 8. Fly Dixie Chicks 9. Don't Give Up on Me Solomon Burke 10. Sea Change Beck 11. Abbey Road Beatles 12. Specialist in All Styles Orchestre Baobab 13. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Howard Shore (composer) 14. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Beatles 15. Wait for Me Susan Tedeschi 16. The Richest Man in Babylon Thievery Corporation 17. Kind of Blue Miles Davis
Baylor College of Medicine (sales): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Home Dixie Chicks 3. A New Day at Midnight David Gray 4. Back in the U.S. Live 2002 Paul McCartney 5. Fallen Evanescence 6. Let Go Avril Lavigne 7. Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors 8. A Rush of Blood to the Head Coldplay 9. Lullaby: A Collection Various artists 10. Missundaztood Pink
Texas A&M (sales): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Chicago soundtrack 3. Home Dixie Chicks 4. Forty Licks Rolling Stones 5. Elvis 30 No. 1 Hits 6. Failer Kathleen Edwards 7. Brushfire Fairytales Jack Johnson 8. Queen - The Platinum Collection: Greatest Hits I, II & III 9. Busted Stuff Dave Matthews Band 10. A Rush of Blood to the Head Coldplay 11. Cry Faith Hill 12. Room for Squares John Mayer 13. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Beatles 14. U2 - The Best of 1990-2000 15. A Wonderful World Tony Bennett, k.d. lang 16. The Beatles ("The White Album") 17. Josh Groban
University of Texas (unique): 1. Flying Saucer Tour Vo1. 1 Bill Hicks 2. Today Raul Malo 3. Smile Lyle Lovett 4. Parachutes Coldplay 5. 1000 Kisses Patty Griffin 6. The Visit Loreena McKennitt 7. Oh, Inverted World Shins 8. Shut Up You Fucking Baby! David Cross 9. Home Dixie Chicks 10. A Rush of Blood to the Head Coldplay 11. World Without Tears Lucinda Williams 12. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 13. Nickel Creek 14. Failer Kathleen Edwards 15. Chicago soundtrack 16. The Hours (score) Philip Glass 17. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Wilco 18. Buena Vista Social Club 19. Buffy the Vampire Slayer 20. Wide Open Spaces Dixie Chicks
The skinny: The Aggies are übertraditional (Stones, Beatles, Elvis, U2, Queen); the Owls are geeky eggheads (Beck, Orchestra Baobab, Lord of the Rings soundtrack, Thievery Corporation); and the Horns are snobby and uncouth (the Shins and Glass in the former, Hicks and Cross in the latter). Tell us something we don't know. Okay, here goes. Coldplay didn't make the cut at Rice. Only the Dixie Chicks, Norah Jones and the Chicago soundtrack are best-sellers at all three schools. That Lovett made the list at UT and not his alma mater A&M should be cause for alarm among the Aggie faithful, as should the inclusion on their list of two of the Beatles' trippiest albums -- 36 years after the Summer of Love, has LSD finally reached College Station? And what about that Queen boxed set? Surely the Corps of Cadets hasn't taken to prancing around to "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Most puzzling is the Baylor College of Medicine chart. Would you want a Tim McGraw or Avril Lavigne fan operating on your brain?
Far Burbs and North Side
Humble (unique): 1. Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors 2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 3. Smile Lyle Lovett 4. Any Given Thursday John Mayer 5. Josh Groban in Concert 6. Chicago soundtrack 7. Josh Groban 8. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 9. Let Go Avril Lavigne 10. Room for Squares John Mayer 11. Elton John - Greatest Hits 1970-2002 12. Home Dixie Chicks 13. Forty Licks Rolling Stones 14. Songbird Eva Cassidy 15. Cry Faith Hill
Spring (unique):1. This Time of Year Steve Tyrell 2. Songs You Know by Heart Jimmy Buffett 3. Duets Barbra Streisand 4. Josh Groban in Concert 5. Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Music of Johnny Cash Various artists 6. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Bryan Adams, Hans Zimmer 7. The Look of Love Diana Krall 8. Boogie Woogie Christmas Brian Setzer Orchestra 9. Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors 10. Josh Groban 11. A Christmas Gift of Love Barry Manilow 12. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 13. Forty Licks Rolling Stones 14. Room to Breathe Delbert McClinton 15. Sentimento: Andrea Bocelli 16. Home Dixie Chicks 17. Smile Lyle Lovett 18. Chicago soundtrack 19. Room for Squares John Mayer 20. Elvis 30 No. 1 Hits
Cypress (unique): 1. Elton John - Greatest Hits 1970-2002 2. Elvis 30 No. 1 Hits 3. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 4. Let Go Avril Lavigne 5. Chicago soundtrack
The skinny: It's always Christmas in Old Town Spring, so perhaps that's why there are three holiday discs on Spring's list. The north side's a little more country than the south side and a lot more so than the southwest side -- Tim McGraw rules Humble and also made the list in Spring, but almost nowhere south of Bush Intercontinental.
Telling choice: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Humble). Three mainstream country albums aren't surprising, but who knew Humble was so full of closet Dungeon Masters?
Pearland (sales): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Home Dixie Chicks 3. Chicago soundtrack 4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 5. Bob Dylan Live 1975 Bob Dylan & the Rolling Thunder Revue 6. Live in Paris Diana Krall 7. More Than You Think You Are Matchbox Twenty 8. The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac 9. Justified Justin Timberlake 10. Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors 11. Elvis 30 No. 1 Hits 12. Josh Groban in Concert 13. Shaman Santana
Friendswood (sales): 1. Josh Groban 2. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 3. Fallen Evanescence 4. Unleashed Toby Keith 5. Chicago soundtrack 6. It Had to Be You The Great American Songbook Rod Stewart 7. Elton John - Greatest Hits 1970-2002 8. Home Dixie Chicks 9. Josh Groban in Concert
League City (sales): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Home Dixie Chicks 3. The Better Life 3 Doors Down 4. Cry Faith Hill 5. Chicago soundtrack 6. The Spirit Room Michelle Branch 7. Failer Kathleen Edwards 8. Romantic Melodies Mannheim Steamroller 9. Gods & Generals soundtrack 10. Room for Squares John Mayer 11. Live in Paris Diana Krall 12. Brainwashed George Harrison 13. Back in the U.S. Live 2002 Paul McCartney
Seabrook (sales): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Home Dixie Chicks 3. Room for Squares John Mayer 4. Let Go Avril Lavigne 5. Josh Groban in Concert 6. Josh Groban
Galveston (sales): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Home Dixie Chicks 3. Josh Groban 4. Chicago soundtrack 5. Josh Groban in Concert 6. Elvis 30 No. 1 Hits 7. Bering Strait Bering Strait 8. The Very Best of Cher 9. Failer Kathleen Edwards 10. Room for Squares John Mayer 11. Forty Licks Rolling Stones 12. Imagine Eva Cassidy
The skinny: Norah rules the south side -- she took first place everywhere except Friendswood, where she came in second. They also love them some Dixie Chicks along the Gulf Freeway. Pearland seems to be an island of liberalism and hippiedom. Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac and Santana appear on their music list, and their book chart is topped by The Hobbit boxed set, and Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men also makes the cut. (Moore's book also made the list in neighboring Friendswood, but so did Sean Hannity's Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism. ) League City's preference for Mannheim Steamroller's Romantic Melodies conjures icky images of NASA scientists in heat.
For the love of God and all that is decent in creation, never go to a party in Friendswood. You'll be serenaded by Rod Stewart's drecky remakes of pop standards, Groban's passionless pop-classical platitudes, the (formerly) Christian metal of Evanescence and Toby Keith's apelike bluster. Friendswood has the worst taste in music of any town from the Sabine to the Brazos.
Anyone know why a Siberian bluegrass band such as Bering Strait would be so popular in Galveston?
Southwest and West Side
Missouri City (sales): 1. Room for Squares John Mayer 2. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 3. Elvis 30 No. 1 Hits 4. The Spirit Room Michelle Branch 5. The Rising Bruce Springsteen 6. Let Go Avril Lavigne 7. Elton John - Greatest Hits 1970-2002 8. Michael Bublé
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Sugar Land (unique): 1. Elvis 30 No. 1 Hits 2. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 3. Audioslave 4. Live at Folsom Field - Boulder, Colorado Dave Matthews Band 5. Let Go Avril Lavigne 6. Room for Squares John Mayer 7. Get Rich or Die Tryin' 50 Cent 8. Back in the U.S. Live 2002 Paul McCartney 9. Forty Licks Rolling Stones 10. Shaman Santana
Katy (unique): 1. Mamma Mia! soundtrack 2. Home Dixie Chicks 3. Let Go Avril Lavigne 4. More Than You Think You Are Matchbox Twenty 5. Josh Groban
Richmond (sales): 1. Come Away with Me Norah Jones 2. Josh Groban 3. Home Dixie Chicks 4. Back in the U.S. Live 2002 Paul McCartney 5. Gold: Greatest Hits ABBA
The skinny: Standards reign out toward the Brazos bottoms. Norah, Elvis, Elton, Michael Bublé, the Stones, ABBA, Groban and McCartney all have the Southwest and Katy Freeway commuters singing along in their Tahoes and Escalades. Their kids roll their eyes in the backseat and slap on the Avril-blaring headphones. John Mayer and Dave Matthews booms from the Jeeps, and as far as country goes, if it's not the Dixie Chicks, it's crap.