My favorite Dave Matthews Band song is “#41 – Say Goodbye,” a 12-minute track from the “Crash” album.
What goes on during the dash in that song title is this: Drummer Carter Beauford connects the “#41” part of the tune with the “Say Goodbye” part by playing one of the most fluid and exciting little drum solos I've ever heard.
So one of the first things I did when I downloaded the new version of iTunes — the “Genius” version – was click on that song to see what would happen.
iTunes Genius, you see, will make playlists for you based on whatever song you select. (Look, I know there's something inherently wrong about that, but we'll get to that.)
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Here's what I was hoping for when I clicked that song: jam band heaven. iTunes Genius would start making connections to other bands and artists who have a tendency to stretch things out a bit. After all, aren't geniuses supposed to be intuitive?
Some hits, some misses
Alas, iTunes Genius appears not to be a genius at all. More like a B-minus student bragging to his frat brothers about how he's skating through his sophomore year.
Props to iTunes for putting these songs on my playlist, which I dubbed “Say Hello”: the Grateful Dead's “Ripple,” the Allman Brothers' “Whipping Post,” Blues Traveler's “But Anyway” and a live, seven-minute version of Pearl Jam's “Daughter.”
Question, though, iTunes Genius: What were you thinking when you included Annie Lennox's techno-glossy “Why”?
Or, for that matter, several enjoyable but incongruous English rock songs such as Peter Gabriel's “Solsbury Hill” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by the Police?
Even more annoying: iTunes Genius at its core is really just another element in Apple's effort to sell more music downloads.
Once it generates your playlist, it offers a panel to the right-hand side of your screen, part of which consists of “Top Songs You're Missing.” Absent from my Dave Matthews collection: “American Baby,” “Satellite” and “The Space Between.”
Yes, well, the space between my ears is still occupied by some brain matter, and I'll be danged if I'm going to spend $2.97 acquiring those three songs just because iTunes Genius says I ought to have them.
Whose job is it, anyway?
In the end, though, my objections are more than monetary. They're philosophical, even ethically rooted: A fella (or a gal) ought to make his or her own playlists.
Take another look at “High Fidelity,” the movie in which John Cusack's character waxes eloquent – OK, kind of whiny, really, but still – about life, love and music, and how making a “mix tape” for a woman constitutes a modern act of chivalry and devotion.
For that matter, sit at your computer on a misty day feeling blue and let your mind wander over the music of your life. I did that recently and came up with “Sea and Sand” from the Who's “Quadrophenia,” Steely Dan's “Deacon Blues” and Led Zeppelin's “I'm Gonna Crawl” (“The Rain Song” being entirely too obvious).
Stand up, America! Make your own mixes! Tell Apple with its iTunes Genius to get stuffed!
Oh, wait a minute.
The new version was, as usual, a free download.
OK, I'll keep it. But that doesn't mean I have to love it.