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 the podcasts All Songs Considered and Pop Culture Happy Hour. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the weekly 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 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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All Songs Considered
10:54 am
Thu May 30, 2013

The Good Listener: What's More Important, Lyrics Or Music?

Which is more important: The word "Hallelujah" or music that says "Hallelujah" on its own?
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu June 6, 2013 12:05 pm

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All Songs Considered
10:28 am
Thu May 23, 2013

We Get Mail: What's A Modern Music Snob To Do?

Even music snobs can find some common ground.
Diesel Sweeties

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 10:32 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the booklets of money-saving coupons we use to light kindling in the fireplace is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, tips for obsessive music fans in an age of instant online gratification.

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All Songs Considered
10:28 am
Thu May 16, 2013

We Get Mail: Can You Build The Perfect Cover Song?

It is some sort of crime against humanity that The New Pornographers' members have never gathered to record a cover of Enrique Iglesias' "Escape."
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:02 pm

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All Songs Considered
10:30 am
Thu May 9, 2013

We Get Mail: How Can A Vinyl Lover Start Over From Scratch?

For fans of vinyl records who regret discarding their collections, it's not too hard to start over.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:03 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the ironic promotional cassingles is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how a regretful fan of vinyl records can re-create her discarded collection.

Kirsten Elbourne Mathieson writes: "I'm big-time regretting getting rid of all of my record albums years ago. Any advice for someone starting from scratch with vinyl after all these years? What albums must be heard on vinyl rather than CD/digital?"

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All Songs Considered
12:09 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

We Get Mail: What To Do When You've Burned Out On Your Favorite Music

Listen enough, and you can even grow tired of Jeff Buckley's music. Once burnout sets in, how do you rekindle a musical love?
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:04 pm

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All Songs Considered
10:17 am
Thu April 25, 2013

We Get Mail: Should Parents Try To Get Their Kids Into Great Music?

How much should parents feel responsible for making sure their kids hear Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:05 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the solicitations disguised as tax refunds is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, what role parents can and should play in teaching their kids about classic albums.

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Music
7:52 pm
Wed April 24, 2013

Jittery Jams: 10 Songs For Coffee Lovers

Frank Sinatra's "The Coffee Song" makes light of a perceived Brazilian coffee glut.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Fri April 26, 2013 12:46 am

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All Songs Considered
10:37 am
Thu April 18, 2013

We Get Mail: Do CD Hoarders Need An Intervention?

So you've got a ton of CDs. What's the problem?
Lars Gotrich NPR

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:05 pm

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All Songs Considered
8:48 am
Thu April 11, 2013

We Get Mail: When Someone You Love Likes Music You Hate, What Do You Do?

If someone you love likes Jack Johnson, but you don't, how do you find common ground?
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:11 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the fruit baskets welcoming us to our new office is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how to reconcile a person you like with musical tastes you don't.

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All Songs Considered
6:30 am
Mon April 8, 2013

Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson Returns With A Plea To 'Make Good Choices'

Sean Nelson will release his first solo album, Make Good Choices, on June 4.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 1:05 pm

There'd be nothing wrong with "one-hit wonder" status if the term didn't suggest some sort of creative limitation; if people didn't assume that one hit means only one good song. But for Sean Nelson and Harvey Danger, the 1998 smash "Flagpole Sitta" has had a way of overshadowing the superior but less widely heard material that followed. By the time Harvey Danger self-released the tremendous 2005 album Little By Little..., the group's incisive, catchy, thoughtful post-hit songs were known mostly to obsessives and cultists.

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All Songs Considered
10:07 am
Thu April 4, 2013

We Get Mail: Digging For Gems In Genres You Think You Hate

The Pistol Annies' Ashley Monroe recently released a solo album, Like a Rose, which helps stretch the boundaries of mainstream country music.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:12 pm

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Thu March 28, 2013

We Get Mail: The Power Of Pulling The Plug

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:13 pm

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The Record
1:59 pm
Mon March 18, 2013

Jason Molina, A Folksinger Who Embodied The Best Of The Blues, Has Died

Steve Gullick Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon March 18, 2013 3:04 pm

Blues music is supposed to be cathartic — a way to process and package pain in ways that make it palatable; to take our hurt and ache, set it outside ourselves, give it a tune and rhythm that makes it tangible and real yet somehow less terrifying.

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All Songs Considered
2:50 pm
Wed March 13, 2013

Baby Bands, Pop Stars And Room-Filling Joy: What To Expect At SXSW 2013

Twin Horns Of Joy? Members of the band The Bottom Dollars play on the street in Austin, Texas, during the opening night of the South by Southwest music festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Sat March 16, 2013 7:55 am

Listen to Stephen Thompson's conversation with Audie Cornish on All Things Considered by clicking the audio link.


The South by Southwest music festival kicked off Tuesday with the first of five straight nights of music overload: The clubs, makeshift music venues and front porches of Austin, Texas, were overrun with little-known discoveries-in-waiting and big names alike, as well as tens of thousands of fans who have flocked to the city in search of epiphanies.

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All Songs Considered
1:31 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

We Get Mail: Picking The Perfect Travel Playlist

This little scamp gets ready for Norway's Trondheim Metal Fest by psyching himself up with the music of Napalm Death.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:14 pm

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All Songs Considered
12:34 pm
Wed February 27, 2013

We Get Mail: With Kids In The Car, Who Controls The Stereo?

This little scamp has no say over the car stereo.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:14 pm

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Fri February 22, 2013

The Good Listener: Do I Come To SXSW If I Don't Have A Badge Or A Billion Dollars?

Whether you buy a $795 badge or show up with a little spare cash on hand, SXSW has something for you — and will expect you to stand in line at some point.
Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

Originally published on Thu March 6, 2014 6:06 am

[This story originally ran on Feb. 22, 2013, but still applies today.]

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Valentine's Day cards that got returned with no forwarding address is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how music fans could and should approach SXSW, the gigantic music festival held every March in Austin, Texas.

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All Songs Considered
11:08 am
Thu February 21, 2013

Playing SXSW? Send Us Your Song

This member of Middle Brother had someone send an MP3 to All Songs Considered a couple years back, and now look at him: He's on the NPR Music website again.
Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

Originally published on Sat February 23, 2013 4:08 pm

Every year around this time, all four members of the All Songs Considered roundtable gang (Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Ann Powers and me) each dredge through more than 1,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. We base our coverage and festival schedules on the music we've researched in advance — and have found some of our favorite artists, like Kishi Bashi in 2012, as part of these blind pre-fest taste tests — and this year, we want to be sure we're considering yours.

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All Songs Considered
9:20 am
Thu February 14, 2013

It's Valentine's Day, So Here's A Gorgeous Love Song By Rhye

Rhye's debut album, Woman, comes out March 5.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu February 14, 2013 11:25 am

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All Songs Considered
5:03 am
Thu February 14, 2013

We Get Mail: Music To Help You Ignore Valentine's Day Altogether

Sometimes our hearts are neither broken nor bright on Valentine's Day. The indifferent need a soundtrack, too!
erin m via Flickr

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:19 pm

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All Songs Considered
1:54 pm
Tue February 12, 2013

Song Premiere: Take A 'Tofutti' Break With A Wonderful Oddball

The Heligoats.
Courtesy of the artist

In concerts, The Heligoats' Chris Otepka spends a good deal of time explaining his songs, often introducing them with strange, funny, byzantine stories that somehow serve as functional explanations for the words he's about to sing.

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Monkey See
1:49 pm
Fri February 8, 2013

Play-By-Play: Read Along With The Grammy Awards

Taylor Swift gives the opening performance at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards Sunday in Los Angeles.
Christopher Polk Getty Images for NARAS

Originally published on Sun February 10, 2013 11:11 pm

With the conclusion of Sunday night's ceremony, Linda Holmes and I have now live-blogged fully one-eleventh of the Grammy Awards' 55 annual incarnations. Below is our original post and an archived live blog of the telecast:

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All Songs Considered
10:41 am
Thu February 7, 2013

We Get Mail: Why Do We Need Breakup Songs? Aren't We Suffering Enough?

Do breakup songs just make everything worse?
Marat Sirotyukov iStockphoto

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:20 pm

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All Songs Considered
11:03 am
Thu January 31, 2013

We Get Mail: As Valentine's Day Approaches, Do We Still Need Mixtapes?

In an age of digital files, does handpicking and handing someone a music mix still matter?
Leah Tihia via Flickr

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:23 pm

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All Songs Considered
1:11 pm
Thu January 24, 2013

We Get Mail: When You Hear Music, Are You Really Listening?

Anna Bryukhanova iStockphoto

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:24 pm

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All Songs Considered
2:19 pm
Wed January 16, 2013

We Get Mail: Loved My Millions, Hated By You — What To Do?

Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:24 pm

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All Songs Considered
7:08 am
Thu January 10, 2013

We Get Mail: A Father-Daughter Wedding Dance That Won't Make Everyone Gag

How do you pick a song for a father and daughter's wedding dance without spiraling into sappiness?
Lindsay Pierce via carolynhack/Flickr

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:25 pm

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Music
1:22 pm
Mon December 24, 2012

Another Year, Another 'Christmas With The Chipmunks'

The Chipmunks, left to right: Simon, Theodore, Alvin.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon December 24, 2012 4:37 pm

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All Songs Considered
9:08 am
Thu December 13, 2012

We Get Mail: Learning To Love Music You Don't Know

Virtually every genre of music yields enough new material to overwhelm even the most dedicated listener.
Lars Gotrich NPR

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:26 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the piles of new CDs and holiday cards from local merchants are many smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, ways to delve into unfamiliar genres.

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All Songs Considered
9:32 am
Wed November 21, 2012

We Get Mail: How Much Music Is Too Much Music?

With so much new music, who has time to listen to this? And with all this old music, who has time to listen to the new stuff?
passetti via Flickr

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:29 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and tucked into the piles of new CDs is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. In this holiday-shortened week of over-indulgence, we answer questions about too much music and not enough time.

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