I'm a self-proclaimed music junkie. some say i’m even a music snob, with which I might agree if I didn’t have nearly 26,000 songs of all varieties, genres and artists in my iTunes library. I listen to music almost constantly —in the car, at the office, at the gym, traveling, sitting still, whenever. And with all of that music to choose from, you’d think there’d never be a dull moment. But it’s often a struggle to find that perfect song you want to hear at any given moment in time.
You see, all six or eight of my music sources are always on random shuffle—a “Radio Free Chuckie” type of situation that enables me to tap, discover and enjoy my entire music collection. It’s a great diversion from getting stuck in a rut of listening to the same old artists and certainly better than being subjected to sad and endless rotations of “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” on the radio. However, I’ve found that even digital shuffle algorithms can have their frustrations.
I’ve been told that the iPod’s shuffle algorithm is utterly unadulterated randomness in the truest sense. In fact, that’s why you get some unexplained happenstance such as two songs by the same artist back-to-back or the same song twice in the same sitting. However, I find this hard to believe sometimes when the Gods of Blind Drawing pick what I’ll hear next.
For example, my iPod contains the entire catalogs of some of my favorite artists, meaning there are literally hundreds of songs by the Stones, The Clash, Madness, Frank Black, The Who, The Kinks and many, many others. However, it seems that I can’t make it two blocks down the street without my “random” iPod shuffle landing on at least one Elvis Costello or David Bowie song.
I have just as many Stones songs on my iPod as Costello or Bowie, but I’m not hearing “I Know It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” as much as I’d like. What gives? In fact, now that I think about it I can count on one hand the number of Stones songs I’ve ever heard on my iPod. You’d think that with more than 300 songs from Mick and the boys in the mix I’d get offerings a little less predictable than the occasional “Brown Sugar.”
There are many songs I’ve never heard in the shuffle rotation—ever. I’ve never had an opportunity to enjoy George Jones belt out “The Grand Tour.” Never has there been a time when I could sing “domo arigato” along with “Mr. Roboto.” And the shuffle swami has denied me the chance to “make it funky” with James Brown.
Sometimes the Gods of Hit-and-Miss come up with more of the former. I’m talking about those glorious mixes when just the right song follows the killer one before it over and over again for an extended period of time. That’s when the shuffle concept delivers paydirt. On the other hand, there are just as many times when one must click through 10 or 15 to come up with a starting point for such a potentially magnificent situation.
Another potential problem with my Radio Free Chuckie car stereo output is when friends are riding along just when that embarrassing song you never knew you even owned rears its ugly melody. Past examples of songs I’ve had to explain away include “Disco Duck,” Spandau Ballet’s “True,” Jackson Five’s “I Want You back” and anything by Bob Seger.
Nothing’s worse, however, than shuffles that land on one of the 200 Christmas songs nestled among its 26,000 other options. Believe it or not, there have been so many times Burl Ives has wished me a “Holly Jolly Christmas” in the dead of summer that I’ve literally had to delete them all. Seems the only way to control “random” is limiting what it has to choose from.
Chuck Crowder is a local writer and general man about town. His opinions are his own.