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Rediscovering Music through the iTunes Genius function

OK.  So, I’m completely hooked on the Genius function of iTunes.  In combination with the Airtunes that I installed into my home a few weeks ago, I’ve been listening to a lot more music lately.  With over 14,300 songs in my iTunes library so many combinations are possible.  I’m rediscovering songs I haven’t listened to in ages.

Many years ago my friend Ian commented that you easily bet that a song playing in my car would be either Bob Dylan or Greg Brown.  For the most part, he was correct.  While a lot has changed since Ian said that about my music collection and tastes—though Dylan (811 songs in a query) and Brown (352) are still staples of my collection (and should be of everyone’s collection!)—my thirst for good music and meaningful lyrics still remains.

That being said, I’m now compelled to test his theory.  Since I’m now often using the Genius function to create my evening playlists and in iTunes you can chart the number of times a song is played, I can figure out the frequency which a specific song played on my computer.  I’m also a fan of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity which is peppered full of Top 5 lists and scenes out of every music lover’s life.

Yes, this is an exercise in being addicted to music.

As an experiment, I’ll be posting the Top 5 most played songs of the week on my iTunes.  You may find this boring or you could find out about some new music.  Or, if Ian is correct, you will just find too much out about Bob Dylan and Greg Brown songs.  If you’ve never listened to either of them, what a great discovery for you!

We will find out a little out about iTunes Genius function and if it really helps me discover songs I haven’t played recently or if it just goes to the familiar, comforting voices.  I’ll post some selected lyrics here, too.

Top 5, Week Ending October 25, 2008

  1. “Wagon Wheel”, Old Crow Medicine Show from O.C.M.S.

    It is no surprise to find out this song was inspired by Bob Dylan chorus.  Listening to you hear echoes of The Basement Tapes and American roots music.  Two verses remind me of New England this time of year:

    “Runnin’ from the cold up in New England

    I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time stringband

    My baby plays the guitar
I pick a banjo now
    Oh, the North country winters keep a gettin’ me now
    Lost my money playin’ poker so I had to up and leave

    But I ain’t a turnin’ back
    To livin’ that old life no more”

    At the 2007 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this was the most covered and requested song by campers.  Under the tent everybody wanted to know if someone could play it and one morning I was eating breakfast and, after eating, a group of friends got out mandolins and guitars and played their own version.  That year, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers covered it at the Bob Dylan tribute session.
  2. “Indianapolis”, The Bottle Rockets from 24 Hours A Day

    When I was living in Yellow Springs, Ohio for college I was not that far from Indianapolis.  All of the out of state students had some level of mocking disgust for the flat cornfields of Ohio and farmlands of Indiana.  However, we considered Yellow Springs our oasis.  It was our home.  While we were only just 2 hours away from Indianapolis, the chorus always brought a goofy grin and laughter to my friend Al’s face:

    “Can’t go west, can’t go east
    I’m stuck in Indianapolis with a fuel pump that’s deceased

    Ten days on the road now
    I’m four hours from my home town

    Is this hell or Indianapolis with no way to get around”

    Now the Antioch University Board of Trustees has shut down Antioch College, faculty and alumni have kept Horace Mann’s ideals alive with the Non-Stop Liberal Arts Institute in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This fall was their first term.  I’ve been thinking often about the classes in community centers, bookstores, and living rooms.  Yellow Springs is their home and oasis.

  3. “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”, Bob Dylan from Street Legal

    This is one of the most underrated songs from one of the most underrated albums by the genius himself.  It’s a song about persistence, diligence, survival, and so much more.  In these difficult economic times, we’re looking for signs of hope.  I keep thinking about sacrifice:        

    “The truth was obscure, too profound and too pure, to live it you have to explode.
    In that last hour of need, we entirely agreed, sacrifice was the code of the road.”

  4. “45”, Brian Webb available via download on his MySpace page.

    I’ve heard Brian sing this many times at Club Passim and other venues.  While he hasn’t released it on a CD, he does have it available for purchase on his MySpace page.  We’ve realized so many things in this world are broken lately.  It’s time to fix them:

    “I’m getting over the notion
    That we’re better off broken.

    And I swore, it sounded right

    So, I just played it forever
    Like some kind of broken record
    On a 45.”
  5. “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” Madeline Peyroux from Careless Love
    Peyroux’s voice with Bob Dylan’s lyrics provide us a window of what it might have been like to have Billie Holiday cover his songs.  Many artists, including Shawn Colvin on Cover Girl, have covered this song but this version feels different to me.  Since, the music has made me nostalgic from my travels in Ohio, this lyric makes me smile:     

    “I’ll look for you in old Honolulu,

    San Francisco, Ashtabula,

    Yer gonna have to leave me now, I know.”

    I don’t know many artists who could find something to rhyme with ‘Honolulu’.  Ashtabula is a small town in northern Ohio.  Driving back to Antioch for the beginning of a semester I used to stop off the exit for gas.  One time, I tried to stay in a hotel there but there weren’t any vacancies due to a Ham Radio Convention.

OK.  Of the top 5 for this week there were no Greg Brown songs.  One song was by Dylan.  There was a cover of another one of his songs.  And, “Wagon Wheel” has his fingerprints and style all over it.

Maybe Ian was right.  We’ll see.

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