Thursday, August 10, 2006

Pandora's box o' music

Granted, this isn't breaking news but let me add myself to the chorus that's been praising Pandora. In case you haven't heard of it, this free online service lets you build your own virtual radio station based on a group of artists and/or songs you enter there. It then calculates what other artists you'll dig based on this info, including tempo, types of harmony, instrumentation, etc.. If you need the technical info, it's part of the Music Genome Project.

I had an account set up there for a while but never really used it, figuring it couldn't offer me much beyond what I already knew or listened to. What a clueless snob I was!

I decided I was in a power pop mood one day so I started a Big Star station, beginning with B.S. themselves. I added a few other related artists (dB's, Raspberries) and waited to see what happened. I had songs loaded up by all the artists I chose and then the fun began. 20/20, an unjustly forgotten late 70's band, appeared as did the Bangles, Sloan, the Posies, Blake Babies, the Romantics ("Talking in Your Sleep" plus "Little White Lies," a nice one I didn't remember) and the Troggs (mostly known for "Wild Thing" but here doing the lovely "With A Girl Like You").

What was surprising here was that some of the hits I knew already but never really loved actually sounded good now. Furthermore, the obscure songs by the familiar bands that the program selected sounded good too. Even some performers I sometimes or usually can't stand had a good song that made me think twice: Tom Petty's "Listen to Her Heart," Brian Jonestown Massacre's "This Is Why You Love Me," the Knack covering Buddy Holly's "Heartbeat" (from their first record) and that Tommy Tutone song about a phone number. Plus there was other cult gems that slipped my mind but were definitely worth reviving, including the Bats, Richard X. Heyman and Sloan.

Even bigger surprises were in store. The program also selected power pop moments by bands that you wouldn't list in that category ordinarily. 38 Special? Yep, a decent little tune called "What Can I Do?" Pat Benatar?? Yep, "Out-A-Touch" is a good song too. A rockin' little song that sounded kind of Stonesy? Sure, it's from a Keith Richards album ("Eileen" from Main Offender). Early UK punk band the Adverts?? Their "Love Song" does indeed belong on the list. Other bands that had their p-pop moments included there were The Who (a live version of "Squeezebox" where Townshend ribs Moon) and Cheap Trick (a demo of "Come On, Come on").

Plus for supposed know-it-alls (i.e. me), there were also artists I'd never heard of before but wanted to know more about now, including Eugene Edwards, Manda and the Marbles, Sarah Blasko.

Granted, Pandora isn't perfect. The occasional stinker came up that was related to the music I asked for but definitely wasn't what I wanted to hear: Berlin's "Like Flames" (at least it wasn't "The Metro"), Michelle Branch, the Quarter After (partly a BJM spinoff), Goliath (a prog rock band from Kentucky!).

But then again, how many radio stations always play songs you love. That'd be a little boring, wouldn't it? And even with satellite radio's expanded selections for all types and tastes in music, there's no customization like there is for Pandora. Not yet at least and they should really consider it. In the meantime, you should just log on to their website and enjoy all the streaming tunes for free.

In the meantime, I'm grateful to them not just for all the great music I thought I knew or forgot about but for throwing so many musical revelations at me: that doesn't happen often enough with radio not to mention other types of media...

5 Comments:

Anonymous John said...

I too have come to love Pandora, but find myself liking it more when I mash up a number of different genres to create the ideal one-stop station. The music genome part is a kick as well. It's playing the Jayhawks' "Two Angels" for me right now, and says it is doing so because "it features pop rock qualities, country influences, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation, paired vocal harmony and thru composed melodic style." I've never heard what I like be so clinically rendered.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous James said...

Linda Ronstadt (I'm not kidding) did a suprisingly good power-pop number on her new wave album, Mad Love. I think the title was "How Do I Make You," or something like that. The first time I heard it, I didn't know who it was, and I couldn't believe it when I found out.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Jab @ BZT said...

Seems to me Pandora's been around for a significant number of years. I think I remember trying it back when I still had dial-up and of course, it didn't work well. But now on cable, I've rediscovered it recently and am constantly blown away by what it comes up with. I put in Tim Buckley. Then I wanted to add late era Talk Talk but I wanted it to know I didn't mean the early keyboardy stuff from them. I went and got the Laughing Stock CD out of my rack to put a song title in after I'd plugged Talk Talk in. I'll be damned, Pandora just as I sat down began playing the exact song, After The Flood, that I was about to plug into it. Amazing I tell you.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous warsaw(x) said...

Boy, they even have "The Dead C" stuff, that led me to a Lungfish song.

4:56 AM  
Blogger Tony Sclafani said...

Anyone who likes Rondstadt's "Mad Love" LP should check out the out of print LPs by the Cretones, an LA power pop band. Their songwriter, Mark Goldenberg, penned "Mad Love" and the original is on theie debut album as well as a few others Linda R. covered. When it comes to Linds, I think her best work is the cover of "Hasten Down the Wind," but that's just me...

1:35 AM  

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