Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quiet: Genius At Work


As much as I love my iPods over the years, I despise iTunes. It has the Apple condescending “do things our way or not at all” attitude that makes iPhotos absolutely unusable. So when I heard that the new updates to the iPod line included a full version upgrade to iTunes, I gritted my teeth. But it had a new feature I wanted to try. Supposedly, the Genius button will take a song and then make a playlist with similar music from your songs. I call it the Pandora Effect. I gave it a try using two of my favorite and most iconic songs, “London Calling” by The Clash and “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen. Here are the results:
  1. “London Calling”, The Clash
  2. “Psycho Killer”, Talking Heads
  3. “Like a Rolling Stone”, Bob Dylan
  4. “Space Oddity”, David Bowie
  5. “Rock Lobster”, The B-52's
  6. “Gimme Shelter”, The Rolling Stones
  7. “Do You Want To”, Franz Ferdinand
  8. “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, The Clash
  9. “Hungry Like the Wolf”, Duran Duran
  10. “Lola”, The Kinks
  11. “I Ran (So Far Away) ”, A Flock of Seagulls
  12. “Pinball Wizard”, The Who
  13. “And She Was”, Talking Heads
  14. “Sultans of Swing”, Dire Straits
  15. “Knockin' on Heaven's Door”, Bob Dylan
  16. “Killer Queen”, Queen
  17. “Rebellion (Lies)”, The Arcade Fire
  18. “Boys Don't Cry”, The Cure
  19. “Piece of My Heart”, Janis Joplin
  20. “Runnin' With the Devil”, Van Halen
  21. “My Generation”, The Who
  22. “Sunshine of Your Love”, Cream
  23. “Heart of Glass”, Blondie
  24. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, U2
  25. “Changes”, David Bowie
  1. “Born to Run”, Bruce Springsteen
  2. “Just What I Needed”, The Cars
  3. “Only the Good Die Young”, Billy Joel
  4. “Go Your Own Way”, Fleetwood Mac
  5. “Hot Blooded”, Foreigner
  6. “Crazy on You”, Heart
  7. “White Room”, Cream
  8. “The Sound of Silence”, Simon & Garfunkel
  9. “Walk This Way”, Aerosmith
  10. “Hungry Like the Wolf”, Duran Duran
  11. “Kodachrome”, Paul Simon
  12. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, Bruce Springsteen
  13. “We Didn't Start the Fire”, Billy Joel
  14. “Angie”, The Rolling Stones
  15. “Piece of My Heart”, Janis Joplin
  16. “Forever Young”, Rod Stewart
  17. “I Won't Back Down”, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  18. “Slow Ride”, Foghat
  19. “In a Big Country”, Big Country
  20. “Thunder Road”, Bruce Springsteen
  21. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, U2
  22. “Like a Rolling Stone”, Bob Dylan
  23. “Won't Get Fooled Again”, The Who
  24. “Born to Be Wild”, Steppenwolf
  25. “Reelin' in the Years”, Steely Dan
For only having a single song to base the list off of, it seems to have done a pretty good job. U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" made both lists. On the other hand, so did "Hungry Like The Wolf" by Duran Duran. I'm not sure what these new-wave pretty boys have in common with either The Clash or Broooce.

But they did make one huge direct hit. Putting “Hot Blooded”, my YouTube hit, on the BTR alone justifies its algorithm. They nailed me dead to right.

But how would the geniuses do with more obscure selections? I have a lot of artists on my playlist that fall into the folky wimminy category. The one song that always brings a tear to my eye is “Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls. Let's see what gets picked to along with it:
  1. “Power Of Two”, Indigo Girls
  2. “As Cool as I Am”, Dar Williams
  3. “Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels) ”, Jim Croce
  4. “The Mummers' Dance [Edit] ”, Loreena McKennitt
  5. “Bleecker Street”, Simon & Garfunkel
  6. “Sensitive New Age Guys”, Christine Lavin
  7. “Ghost”, Indigo Girls
  8. “Falter”, Lori McKenna
  9. “Echoes”, Dar Williams
  10. “Evidence”, Tara Maclean
  11. “Love's Recovery”, Indigo Girls
  12. “Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter”, Phranc
  13. “Northern Sky”, Nick Drake
  14. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, Jim Croce
  15. “Distracted”, Ani DiFranco
  16. “What Do You Hear In These Sounds”, Dar Williams
  17. “Tom Dooley”, The Kingston Trio
  18. “I Ain't Marching Anymore”, Phil Ochs
  19. “Comfortably Numb [1979] ”, Ani DiFranco/Dar Williams
  20. “It's Not Happening”, The Be Good Tanyas
  21. “Get Out The Map”, Indigo Girls
  22. “Ride Me Like a Wave”, Janis Ian
  23. “New York's Not My Home”, Jim Croce
  24. “Overlap”, Ani DiFranco
  25. Zombie Jamboree”, The Kingston Trio
It also seemed to do a good job.The two additional Indigo Girl songs “Ghost” and “Get Out The Map” mix well with “Power of Two”. The geniuses definitely nail Ani DeFranco as an artist with appeal to an Indigo Girls fan. It also found my sole bootleg Phranc song, proving a little bit of depth to the Genius knowledge base. On the other hand, it seems to think that Jim Croce is in need of gender reassignment surgery, having picked two of his songs including the mega-cheesy “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, a real mood killer on this particular list.

However, I am also a leading internet authority on cheesy music. Perhaps the cheesiest song in my collection is “Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook. Let’s see if the ‘Geniuses” at Apple can discern quality and the lack thereof.
  1. “Sylvia's Mother”, Dr. Hook
  2. “Mother and Child Reunion”, Paul Simon
  3. “Leader Of The Pack”, The Shangri-las
  4. “Rag Doll”, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons
  5. “Sloop John B”, The Beach Boys
  6. “Angie”, The Rolling Stones
  7. “Colour My World”, Chicago
  8. “Promises”, Eric Clapton
  9. “So Far Away”, Dire Straits
  10. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, Paul Simon
  11. “Dancing in the Street”, David Bowie/Mick Jagger
  12. “Bungle in the Jungle”, Jethro Tull
  13. “Only Sixteen”, Dr. Hook
  14. “I Love The Nightlife”, Alicia Bridges
  15. “Just Like a Woman”, Bob Dylan
  16. “The Last Time”, The Rolling Stones
  17. “My Little Town”, Simon & Garfunkel
  18. “Hooked on a Feeling”, B.J. Thomas
  19. “My Hometown”, Bruce Springsteen
  20. “Sky Pilot”, Eric Burdon & the Animals
  21. “Rikki Don't Lose That Number”, Steely Dan
  22. “Long, Long Time”, Linda Ronstadt
  23. “Loves Me Like a Rock”, Paul Simon
  24. “Two Out of Three Ain't Bad”, Meat Loaf
  25. “Mr. Tambourine Man”, The Byrds
Cheesy is in the eye of the beholder and most of these songs, while definitely able to induce lactose intolerence, are of higher quality that the collected works of the good Doctor Hook. The only clear bullseye hit is the inclusion of the sap-tastic classic “Hooked On A Feeling”.

Overall, I think these geniuses need to hit the books just a little longer.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What song would make a good GeniusList?

11 comments:

HRH Courtney, Queen of Everything said...

Oh, see, and I can't WAIT to play with this. Give me another month, for my computer upgrade, and we'll have a playlist war. :)

Elizabeth said...

What a fun new feature, I'm going to have to give it a try. I use my iPod mostly for working out, so I think my song would be "Enter Sandman" Metallica.

2fs said...

Eh. I find this a boring feature, and it took forever to set up with my enormous playlist. Anyway: the way it works, probably, is by collecting data from iTunes users: similar play frequency, ratings, etc. - in other words, it essentially crunches data on the premise that if 100 people like Song A and 99 of them also like Song B, it's a good bed that if you know someone likes Song A that they'll like Song B. What those algorithms can't accommodate is when you like a song for a non-obvious reason (as in: because it's megacheesy, not because it was a chart hit of the early '70s), since fewer people are going to rank songs similarly by more obscure criteria.

I suppose it's a moderately useful little doohickey for people who don't know that much music and want to explore (it also points at songs not in your collection at the iTunes store).

On the other hand, I don't quite get the iTunes hating: I'm not a Mac user, and I don't see a whole lot of "my way or highway" w/iTunes. You may have to fiddle with the settings (such as not ripping to Apple's AAC format, and not buying copy-protected songs), but otherwise I've had no problems using iTunes as my main mp3 player, even though I have a bunch of other audio & mp3 software.

yellojkt said...

iTunes has gotten more flexible. In the first Windows version, you couldn't rip to mp3 and all the tunes disappeared into the impenetrable iTunes magic database. It has gotten better, but still not as customizable as Media Player. I can't believe I just defended a Microsoft product.

yellojkt said...

And in the playlists I have made, it has yet to point me to an iTunes song I don't own. I figured the upselling opportunity was the major point of the feature

2fs said...

Of course it won't put a song you don't own in a playlist: it wouldn't be a playlist if you couldn't *play* it. It does, however, point you to recommendations at the iTunes store (if you have that panel visible).

DemetriosX said...

This looks like an interesting feature, but let's face it, last.fm has been there and done that better

On the Indigo Girls list, I count 6 to 8 songs by male artists (not sure about Nick Drake or Phranc), so I'm not sure why you say it thinks Jim Croce need gender reassignment. (There are 3 Croce songs on there, BTW; numbers 3, 14, and 23.) At a guess, I'd say the list reflects a singer/songwriter with guitar set, rather than just angry chicks with guitars.

It obviously didn't realize you wanted cheesy for the last list. Running through the songs in my head, I can hear a certain commonality in a lot of them. (And you put B.J. Thomas in there just to reinforce your "whitest guy on the Internet" reputation.)

To really put this thing to the test, I'd try either Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law or Jimmy Soul's If You Wanna Be Happy.

yellojkt said...

I've never tried last.fm, but my son turned me onto Pandora, which is crying foul over the increased internet royalties.

Phranc bills herself as an "all-American, Jewish, lesbian folksinger" and has never been close to the mainstream. I don't mind and even expect a few dudes in an Indigo Girls playlist, but Jim Croce just seems so out of place. Especially since I have artists like John Hiatt that would seem to fit in better.

yellojkt said...

Now I see the recommendations. I had hidden the Genius Sidebar since it didn't seem to do anything.

For "London Calling" it recommended a bunch of Ramones songs that I already own, so I have to give that feature a C- as well.

Jeff said...

I'm just giggling over the fact you have "I Love the Nightlife" on your iPod. I'm trying not imagine you dancing around with your headphones on.

Jumper said...

It seems so pointless. Of course, it might be nice to have a robot disk jockey to arrange and play my tunes for me. Especially if I could confuse it. I still say Pandora has it beat. I can give it two songs, such as a Temptations song and a Patti Smith song, and darned if it can't pick something I've never heard out of the ether (aether?) and amaze me.