Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson is an editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he writes the advice column The Good Listener, fusses over the placement of commas and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the weekly NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk.

In 1993, Thompson founded The Onion's entertainment section, The A.V. Club, which he edited until December 2004. In the years since, he has provided music-themed commentaries for the NPR programs Weekend Edition Sunday, All Things Considered and Morning Edition, on which he earned the distinction of becoming the first member of the NPR Music staff ever to sing on an NPR newsmagazine. (Later, the magic of AutoTune transformed him from a 12th-rate David Archuleta into a fourth-rate Cher.) Thompson's entertainment writing has also run in Paste magazine, The Washington Post and The London Guardian.

During his tenure at The Onion, Thompson edited the 2002 book The Tenacity of the Cockroach: Conversations with Entertainment's Most Enduring Outsiders (Crown) and copy-edited six best-selling comedy books. While there, he also coached The Onion's softball team to a sizzling 21-42 record, and was once outscored 72-0 in a span of 10 innings. Later in life, Thompson redeemed himself by teaming up with the small gaggle of fleet-footed twentysomethings who won the 2008 NPR Relay Race, a triumph he documents in a hard-hitting essay for the book This Is NPR: The First Forty Years (Chronicle).

A 1994 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Thompson now lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his two children, four cats and a room full of vintage arcade machines. His hobbies include watching reality television without shame, eating Pringles until his hand has involuntarily twisted itself into a gnarled claw, using the size of his Twitter following to assess his self-worth, touting the immutable moral superiority of the Green Bay Packers and maintaining a fierce rivalry with all Midwestern states other than Wisconsin.

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Monkey See
10:54 am
Fri May 22, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour: For 'Mad Men' And Letterman, A Week Of Goodbyes

Jon Hamm as Don Draper.
Michael Yarish AMC

This week's taping presented us with a few conundrums: Host Linda Holmes had already begun her vacation, while I know jack-all about the seven accumulated seasons of Mad Men, whose finale we were duty-bound to discuss. Our solution involved a pair of our most beloved guest panelists — Gene Demby and, from a studio in L.A., Barrie Hardymon — and a brief interregnum in poor Linda's vacation. (I stayed home and ate snacks.)

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat May 16, 2015

The Good Listener: Can I Deflate The Beach Balls At Concerts?

One letter-writer's nightmare scenario.
Shaun Lowe iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the package shipped Next Day Air but addressed to the guy who moved out of our house eight years ago is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: deep thoughts on beach balls at concerts.

Margaret H.W. writes via email: "Why do music festivals seem to hand out beach balls to drunk, high 19-year-olds? If I would like to listen to music WITHOUT beach balls, what are my anti-beach-ball options? CAN I DEFLATE THE BEACH BALLS?

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat May 9, 2015

The Good Listener: Can A Song Really Save Your Life?

It's easy to imagine music standing between life and death.
Vladimir Vitek iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a backup pallet of kennel-grade cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: thoughts on when music might stand between life and death.

Ann L. writes via email: "Can a song really save your life?"

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Listen To A New Song By Mates Of State

Mates Of State's new EP, You're Going To Make It, comes out June 16.
Shervin Lainez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon April 27, 2015 9:24 am

Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel aren't the first married couple to write songs about the challenges and celebrations inherent to lifelong love, but few focus more intently on a sense of play. Still, there's nothing naive or unrealistic about their songs: When they sing, "Love loud / Don't lose loud" in 2008's "The Re-Arranger," they're taking care to package a sweet little two-word slogan with a subtle but potent reminder that loving loudly is a job of endless maintenance.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat April 25, 2015

The Good Listener: Why Do People Hate Nickelback So Much?

Leave Nickelback alone!
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 2:11 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside flyers that assume we have the means to acquire luxury items is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: thoughts on the intensity of online backlash.

Andy S. writes via email: "Why do certain bands get singled out for seemingly out-of-proportion online hate? (See: Nickelback.)"

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat April 18, 2015

The Good Listener: How Much Should I Tip A Street Musician?

Tipping is customary for good service.
iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside bales of deep-discounted Easter candy is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on buskers, tipping and etiquette.

Holly R. writes via email: "How much of a tip is good for the street-side musician with a cup at his feet? What about for one playing in a bar?"

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Monkey See
6:03 am
Fri April 17, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Daredevil' And Credulity

NPR

Originally published on Fri April 17, 2015 9:28 am

Last Friday, Netflix dropped its latest 13-episode bundle of original programming: the grim and occasionally grisly superhero drama Daredevil, based on the Marvel Comics mainstay of the same name. Starring Charlie Cox and a large supporting cast, the show takes place in a bleak New York City neighborhood that's ruled by a murderous crime syndicate and defended by blind lawyer Matt Murdock, whose other heightened senses make him an oft-overmatched but extremely resourceful crime-fighter.

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All Songs Considered
2:52 am
Sat April 4, 2015

The Good Listener: Have All The Good Songs Been Written?

Even Robert Johnson was synthesizing old ideas in new ways.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside an assortment of expensive cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on whether all the great song ideas have been used up.

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All Songs Considered
8:20 am
Wed April 1, 2015

Song Premiere: Heartless Bastards, 'Gates Of Dawn'

Heartless Bastards' fifth album, Restless Ones, comes out June 16.
Courtney Chavanell Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 12:04 pm

For Heartless Bastards, rock 'n' roll entails a lot of heavy lifting, most often in the form of hundreds of club shows each year. It's a work ethic reflected on the Ohio-born, Austin-based band's albums, as singer/guitarist/powder-keg Erika Wennerstrom sets her rugged wail against the efforts of musicians churning out muscular blues-rock.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat March 14, 2015

The Good Listener: How Can I Experience SXSW Without Actually Going?

Even if you're missing SXSW, lots of people are taking pictures of it for you.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri March 20, 2015 9:45 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside laminates containing SXSW's most coveted VIP party passes, all of which are set to arrive the day after we leave for Austin, is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on SXSW envy.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat February 14, 2015

The Good Listener: Is It OK To Attend A Concert On A First Date?

Jeez, people. The guy with the acoustic guitar is trying to perform right behind you. Get a room, would you?
iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the boxes of chocolate we bought ourselves to eat alone in the dark on Valentine's Day is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on the collision of concert etiquette and first-date etiquette.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat February 7, 2015

The Good Listener: How Can I Avoid Love Songs?

When it seems like every song on earth is about love or its absence, the heartsick need a strategy.
iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the pheromone-laced collars we ordered in the hopes that our cats will stop acting like jerks is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on how the heartsick can avoid songs about love, sex and desire.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat January 24, 2015

The Good Listener: If You Don't Like Music, Do You Have A Soul?

Music isn't for everyone.
Cristian Casanelles iStockphoto

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the tiara we ordered as the grand prize at our upcoming eating contest is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on people who simply don't enjoy music.

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All Songs Considered
12:03 pm
Thu January 22, 2015

Playing SXSW 2015? Send Us Your Songs

Ana Tijoux was a big part of NPR Music's SXSW 2014 coverage. Now, we're preparing for this year's festival.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed January 28, 2015 11:10 am

Every year around this time, many of us on the All Songs Considered team — including Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Ann Powers and me — each dredge through nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. And every year, we wind up missing something. In pursuit of music by thousands of bands, hundreds slip past our radar altogether.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Mon December 22, 2014

Dessa: Something Old And Something New, Suitable For Choir

Dessa recently reworked two of her songs with Minnesota's VocalEssence choir.
Kelly Loverud Courtesy of the artist

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All Songs Considered
5:53 am
Thu December 11, 2014

Stephen Thompson's Top 10 Albums Of 2014

Beyonce unleashed the year's grandest and most enduring pop juggernaut (even if it technically came out in 2013).
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 8:15 am

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Mon December 8, 2014

Song Premiere: San Fermin, 'Parasites'

Ellis Ludwig-Leone of San Fermin.
Denny Renshaw Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu April 9, 2015 3:19 pm

San Fermin's self-titled 2013 debut is an intricately composed set of impeccable chamber-folk songs, written in solitude by Ellis Ludwig-Leone and performed by a small army of highly trained ringers. By the time the album came out, Ludwig-Leone had already written a sequel in a similar spirit.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat November 22, 2014

The Good Listener: Do Some Musicians Play Too Well?

Is Yngwie Malmsteen too good at playing guitar for his own good?
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat November 22, 2014 10:26 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Pokemon products whose arrival signals our kids' descent into video-game-induced catatonia is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on whether superior technique can detract from music's quality.

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All Songs Considered
8:18 am
Sat November 15, 2014

The Good Listener: For Thanksgiving, Is There Music Everyone Can Agree On?

"I just love this music. Is this Nurse With Wound's collaborative album with Current 93?"
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Sat November 15, 2014 2:07 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Kung Fu Panda DVD to replace the one we wore out is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on a playlist for the whole family.

Joe writes via email: "Thanksgiving will be at my family's place this year, and I'm having fun with the meal-planning. All the stress, though, is built around how my relatives and I get along. We love each other, but ... you know how families are with politics and different tastes and all that.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat November 8, 2014

The Good Listener: Am I Too Old To Go To Rock Shows?

Can you be too old for rock 'n' roll?
iStockphoto

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the pulverized shards of an Eli "Paperboy" Reed LP is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on how aging might affect your concert attendance.

Michaela writes via email: "I'm growing increasingly conscious of being among the oldest attendees at concerts lately. Is there a specific age at which I should stop going to indie-rock shows and just stay at home in my rocker?"

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All Songs Considered
7:07 am
Sat November 1, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do I Share Music With My Kids? Should I?

How do you share music with your kids without going overboard?
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Sat November 1, 2014 1:03 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the bales of fan letters for HMSTR is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, tips for new parents who can't wait to share their favorite songs with their kids.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat October 25, 2014

The Good Listener: Where's All The Great Halloween Music?

Dead Man's Bones' 2009 debut belongs in any discussion of Halloween music.
Hama Sanders Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the fake blood we ordered for our son's Andrew W.K. costume is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on Halloween music.

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All Songs Considered
11:05 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Song Premiere, Robin Bacior, 'If It Does'

Robin Bacior's new album, Water Dreams, comes out Jan. 13.
Kim Smith Miller Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on

Robin Bacior's honeyed but vibrant voice hits gently, bestowing the listener with comfort and calm. The Portland singer-songwriter knows exactly what kind of arrangements suit her best: In "If It Does," from her forthcoming album Water Dreams, that gorgeous voice is laid atop a spare but shimmering bed of piano — and paired perfectly with Dan Bindschedler's cello.

This is subtle, nuanced music: Like the rest of Bacior's work, "If It Does" doesn't grab you audaciously. But it doesn't let go, either.

Here's Bacior, writing about "If It Does":

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat October 18, 2014

The Good Listener: How Can I Become A 'Music Person'?

A reader grew up listening to Rick Astley and now needs to know: Is it too late?
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the shoes our kids outgrew in the time it took to have them shipped is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on remedial music fandom.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat October 11, 2014

The Good Listener: When You Need To Concentrate, Which Music Is Best?

With Twin Peaks coming back in 2016, it's a perfect time to let Angelo Badalamenti's score return to your headphones.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat October 11, 2014 9:33 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the promotional ghost peppers we unwittingly spilled on our pants is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a request for music to fill your head with sound, but not distractions.

Quint Smith writes via Twitter: "I'd love to see that editing playlist with Stars Of The Lid you mentioned on [Pop Culture Happy Hour] posted somewhere. I'm in need of ideas."

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All Songs Considered
1:20 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

The Lone Bellow, 'Then Came The Morning'

The Lone Bellow's second album, Then Came The Morning, comes out early next year.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu April 9, 2015 3:41 pm

Brooklyn's The Lone Bellow seemed to arrive fully formed: Its self-titled 2013 debut came stuffed with intricately assembled bundles of crowd-pleasing folk-pop, each more dramatic and infectious than the last. Charismatic, photogenic, endlessly hooky — The Lone Bellow has been the complete package since day one.

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All Songs Considered
3:50 am
Sat October 4, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do I Avoid 'The iTunes Pit Of Despair'?

The "Playlist" feature will help keep you from losing track of the albums you absolutely must hear.
Stephen Thompson NPR

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the ingredients to an Ozzy Osbourne costume that'll fit a 10-year-old girl is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on managing a library while maintaining one's connection to music.

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All Songs Considered
5:54 am
Sat September 27, 2014

The Good Listener: When Was Pop Music At Its Lowest Point?

We like his early stuff better, before he sold out and joined The Stray Mob.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and among the Penzeys Spices catalogs that help us remember our ex-roommates' names is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on pop music's nadir.

Josh in Chicago writes via email: "Paula Abdul had four No. 1 hits, spanning 1989-90. One of them featured a rapping cartoon cat. Was that period the nadir of pop, pre-Nirvana?"

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat September 20, 2014

The Good Listener: Saying No To 'Songstress' And Other Forbidden Words

Sarah McLachlan gets called a "songstress" a lot. Translation: "Look everyone, a lady is singing a song!"
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat September 20, 2014 9:31 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the unsolicited phone books we toss straight into the recycling bin is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on words we'd prefer never to hear associated with music.

Eleanor writes via email: "You've tweeted about your hatred of the word 'songstress.' Writing about music is tricky, but what words do you think should ALWAYS be avoided, and why?"

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All Songs Considered
3:33 am
Sat September 13, 2014

The Good Listener: Do You Ever Just Get Sick Of Music?

Maybe the release of a new U2 album isn't cause to declare the death of all music.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Amazon Prime order containing items we could have acquired at the nearest vending machine is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on fatigue and embitterment.

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