tl;dr: lots of Bach, if you’re not into that sort of thing, at least check out Mel Brooks. And if you’re not into that *either*, well then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
Following Jordan, here is a list of my top 10 iTunes tracks by play count. In reality, it’s more like the top 10 *albums*, because most of the works are spread out over multiple tracks.
Technically speaking, my most-played “song” on iTunes is “Ambient Waterfall Sounds for Ultimate Bedtime Relaxation, Deeply Lucid Dreams,” with 188869 plays. But that’s a little bit misleading. The track basically consists of white noise, but (slightly irritatingly to me) it varies slightly in tone and pitch over the 4 minutes 44 seconds of the track. So I rigged it to run on a 2-second loop, which i play overnight when trying to sleep at conferences.
#1. Musical Offering, 296 plays [the number of plays from each track is not constant, so I will just go by the highest number for each album]. My recording (by the Ensemble Sonnerie) is arranged for Oboe, Violin, Viola, Harpsichord, Flute, and Viol. There comes a certain point in the evening where the only possible music one wants to listen to the Musical Offering. And that time is 3AM. As you can see from the play count, I am up a lot at 3AM.
#2. The French Suites, Glenn Gould 215 plays. The French Suites are easy to play and even easier to listen to.
Then again, perhaps you would prefer the French suites Mel Brooks style:
#3. The Cello Suites, Yo Yo Ma (his second recording), 207 plays. OK, this is also something to listen to at 3AM.
#4. The Art of Fugue (Juilliard String Quartet) 200 plays. They built their own custom-made viola in order to avoid having to transpose the score up a fifth (which is what the Delme string quartet do in one of my other recordings of this piece). I highly recommend this recording from 1982. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip on youtube.
#5. The Art of Fugue (Glenn Gould) 196 plays. My only regret is that it is not complete, as Gould only recorded the fugues I,II,IV,IX,XI,XIII and, of course, XIV. (There’s also a version by Gould on the organ on this recording which I don’t listen to). Instead of linking to this recording, let me link instead to a fascinating interview between Gould and Bruno Monsaingeon with Gould at the piano (I’ve linked to the the video at the end of the first (fairly ordinary and early) fugue:
#6. Inventions and Sinfonias (Andras Schiff) 151 plays. There’s a common theme to this list so far, and it is Bach. This CD holds a special place for me as it was my first piano Bach recording. Glenn Gould has an even more than usually idiosyncratic recording of these, so I more often turn to Schiff on this one.
#7. Ave Verum Corpus (Byrd, King’s Singers) 150 plays. We’ve finally broken out of Bach! The intimacy of this recording (for so few voices rather than a choir) is what appeals to me.
#8. Arias “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” and “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben” from St Matthew Passion, 129 plays (Michael Chance/Ann Monoyios). I don’t usually have three hours to listen to the entire recording, but these Arias are certainly some of the highlights. Here’s Michael Chance in a different recording of the same aria:
#9. Gnossiennes #1-#3 Jean-Yves Thibaudet, 121 plays. Perhaps you would like to see (actors portraying) Wittgenstein, John Maynard Keynes, and Lydia Lopokova pretend to be the solar system? I actually saw this Derek Jarman film in the theatre with Patrick Emerton…
#10. An Die Musik (Schwarzkopf) 119 plays. Whenever I sing/play lieder, I always finish by singing this.
This isn’t my favourite recording, but it’s the oldest one I had. In fact, when it comes to Schwarzkopf singer lieder, my favourite performance is her singing of Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen here:
I should note that these numbers are all coming from iTunes on my laptop. My listening habits are somewhat different on my iPod, where I’m much more likely to listen to (say) Beethoven or Mahler. As an indication of how long a time period these numbers represents, I gave the analogous numbers on Jordan’s Blog http://quomodocumque.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/real-life-rock-top-10/ in 2010. Interpolating between these two sources, it suggests I listen (at home) to either the Art of Fugue or the Musical Offering about once a week, which seems about right.
Added: Please list your own top 10/top 5 in the comments! Already TG has introduced me to something interesting.