Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Paul vs. Technology

Tonight's round features Pandora on the Roku, armed with nothing but Crazy Frog

The setup:

I'm an Apple fanboy...and have been ever since I had my first Apple IIc computer. If Apple has the product and I have the need for the area it serves, I'll buy it.

Last year I bought the new AppleTV... I love it, use it regularly and would recommend it to anyone. It's great for playing your iTunes library, streaming movies, watching baseball and much more.

But...

I was jealous. I had my eye on Hulu. I liked Hulu on my Mac, loved it on my iPad but was annoyed that AppleTV didn't feature it. It was a glaring omission in an otherwise perfect product.

Then I discovered Roku. Roku is basically an AppleTV knockoff with more content including Hulu, Pandora and much more. The interface isn't as smooth as AppleTV, nor does it have the ability to stream your iTunes, but with a Roku and an AppleTV connected to your TV, you could almost not have to deal with cable.

With Roku, I rediscovered Pandora. When I was living in Singapore, my good friend James Murray clued me in to Pandora as a great way to listen to music. Unfortunately, licensing laws put the lid on Pandora streaming music outside of the US and I quickly forgot about it.

Now that I'm using Pandora again, I wanted to flex its muscles and see what it was capable of.

Tonight's ground rules

Arm a new Pandora station with a crappy song and see if we can get Pandora to get us somewhere good, or at least entertaining...and see how long it it takes to get there. An added experiment is to see if I can "train" Pandora to get to somewhere remotely near my actual music tastes from one bad song.

And we're off!!!!

Crazy Frog's Axel F: Yep, this is the most annoying song I could think of. And it holds up. For the sake of the experiment, I give it a thumb up. By the way, I have to give props to the people behind Crazy Frog for taking a song as annoying as the theme from Beverly Hills Cop and making it even more annoying. By the way, if you're curious, there are 46 Crazy Frog songs available in iTunes.

Gummibar's Funny DJ: In 1996, I could have walked into any bar in Singapore and heard a song like this, with a deeper vocal. This is like Crazy Frog meets Aqua. Not a good combo. Verdict: Thumbs down

Crazy Frog's We Like To Party: Now, when I was thinking of this experiment, I knew this song would come on, but I honestly thought the Vengaboys' original version would be the one we'd hear. Having Crazy Frog's version come up was an added bonus. Maybe I should rethink my covers blog entry from the other day. Verdict: An ironic thumbs up

Reel 2 Real's I Like To Move It: Fits well with what's been played so far, but...no, I can't stomach listening to it. Verdict: Thumbs down

Haddaway's What Is Love: Okay, because of Crazy Frog, Pandora thinks I'm big into the late '90s cheesy dance music. If I were Haddaway, I'd be mortified that I'm being lumped with Crazy Frog. I wonder if Pandora has a complaints section that deals with disgruntled artists. By the way, I can't listen to this song without thinking of the film Night at the Roxbury, which is a better movie than one would be led to believe. Verdict: I end up listening to the whole thing, because I couldn't go all the way to thumbing it down.

Crazy Frog's Crazy Frog Sounds: Wow, this is nothing but Crazy Frog making a series of really annoying noises, which I know could be used to describe any Crazy Frog song, but wow, the level of annoyance goes to 11. Verdict: Thumbs down

Los Del Rio's Macarena: Yes, it's as bad as you remember, and 15 years later (yes, it's really 15 years old) it's still an earworm. Verdict: Thumbs down

Scooter's The Logical Song: This is the first time I've ever heard this, which is basically a souped up, Crazy Frogged version of Supertramp's song by the same name. It's horrible. Verdict: Thumbs down

Queen's We Will Rock You: I gotta say, I didn't see this one coming. Queen's got no business being in the middle of this dreck, but it's a welcome appearance. Verdict: Thumbs up

Taio Cruz Break Your Heart (Featuring Ludacris): I'm pleasantly surprised that we've moved away from the late-90s technocrap, but this isn't exactly what I had in mind. Verdict: Thumbs down

Vengaboys' We Like to Party Now: It's good to see Pandora is delivering both the cover and the original song within nine songs. Now, I'll admit this song grates on me as much as any others, but I can tolerate it. And I know I'm getting dangerously close to Pandora's "you're not allowed to skip for an hour" rule, so I chose to give the song a green light. Verdict: A less ironic than I'd like to admit "thumbs up"

Alvin & the Chipmunks' Funkytown: Funkytown is a great song, and I can even tolerate Pseudo Echo's cover of it, but I'll be damned if I'm going to listen to the Chipmunks mess with this. Verdict: Thumbs down.

OH NO!!!! I've hit the skip limit! I have to keep listening to Alvin asking me to take him to Funkytown. I think this may be Dante's fourth level of hell.

Queen's We Are the Champions: I'm dying to know the connection between Crazy Frog and Queen. Does this mean Vanilla Ice will come up soon? Verdict: Thumbs up

Alvin & the Chipmunks' Three Little Birds: No one gains from having the Chipmunks cover what might be, in my opinion, Bob Marley's most beautiful song. And to add insult to injury, Pandora won't let me skip it. Verdict: Thumbs down

Gummibar's I Am Gummy Bear (The Gummy Bear Song): I love how the title has in parentheses "The Gummy Bear Song", in case you had any doubt that Gummibar's song called I Am Gummy Bear isn't about gummy bears. And why do the Gummibars have a record contract? This is painful. Verdict: Thumbs down

It's about gummy bears, by the way.

Black Eyes Peas' Boom Boom Pow: You know what, the Black Eyed Peas fit perfectly in this mix. Take that however you want. Verdict: Thumbs down

I'm still banned from skipping.

George Thorogood's Bad to the Bone: So, have we transitioned from cheesy 90s dance tracks to songs overused in kids movies? Or are those two oeuvres one in the same? Verdict: I played it through, since George Thorogood and I went to the same high school.

Sean Kingston's Fire Burning: In my best Charles Barkley voice, "Oh, this is turr-uh-bull!" Verdict: Thumbs down (and skipping is still not permitted)

Black Eyed Peas' I Got A Feelin (DJ Clubplay Mix): As of right now, the Black Eyed Peas are only one song behind Crazy Song in plays on this little journey. This makes Haddaway look like Lou Reed. Verdict: Thumbs down

Survivor's Eye of the Tiger: Hmmm...didn't expect this one to show up. I'm not even sure how I feel about it being here...or why it's here. Verdict: Thumbs up...just to see if it moves us away from the Black Eyed Peas.

Basshunter's Russia Privjet: Uh-oh...this feels like we're moving back toward Crazy Frog territory, but with a deep Russian accent. Not good. Verdict: Thumbs down...and we can skip again

Europe's The Final Countdown: GOB's theme!!!! I guess this is what you get for up thumbing Eye of the Tiger. Are the Scorpion's Winds of Change far off? Verdict: A cornballin' ironic thumbs up

Survivor's Burning Heart: Oh no, clearly I screwed up by encouraging more Survivor. This is, I think, the theme from Rocky IV. It's like a bad carbon copy of Eye of the Tiger. I hope I can nip this sort of thing in the bud. Verdict: Thumbs down

Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama: Did you think we'd get from Crazy Frog to Lynyrd Skynyrd in 24 steps? I thought at best we'd get to Milli Vanilli in that amout of time. Verdict: Thumbs up

Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine: I'm genuinely perplexed now. I mean, I've got to give Pandora credit for getting me somewhere I don't mind. I like GNR, but I just don't understand how I got here. Verdict: Thumbs up

Bon Jovi's Runaway: I may have given Pandora too much credit. Clearly the Survivor endorsement has clouded this feed. Bon Jovi at his cheesiest? Yikes! Verdict: Thumbs down

Bob Seger's Old Time Rock and Roll: Now, I know I'm a bit of a 80s nut when it comes to music, but not this version of the 80s. As far as I can tell, Pandora now thinks I like cliched 80s soundtrack songs, 90s techogarbage and anything by Survivor. This is a worry. Verdict: Thumbs down

AC/DC's Highway to Hell: Unexpected. At this point, I have no idea what to do. If I 'thumbs up' it, I run the risk of more metal, and I'm afraid it will send me down a dark miserable pseudo-hair metal era (although I do like a fair bit of AC/DC). If I 'thumbs down' it, it may take me back to either Barbie Girl or a, shudder, Survivor song. Verdict: Abstaining...letting Highway play out

We Will Rock You Cast's We Will Rock You: Just because I gave Queen the okay, Pandora, doesn't mean I want to hear this...ever. Verdict: Thumbs down

Lipps Inc's Funkytown: Maybe we're getting back on track. This may be the first track that I'm genuinely liking because I like it. Verdict: Thumbs up

Aerosmith's Sweet Emotion: Definitely back on track. This is Aerosmith's best song and I would be happy to have this in any mix I was playing. Verdict: Thumbs up

Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar On Me: Dammit, another dilemma... I actually like this song, but I know what liking it will make Pandora do. Honesty is the best policy, yes? Well remember this when Winger comes on please. Verdict: Thumbs up

Van Halen's Jump: Yeah, this is what I was afraid of. I love David Lee Roth-era Van Halen, but this is my least favorite song of theirs. Let's see if we can move Pandora up the dial a little bit. Verdict: Thumbs down

War's Low Rider: We can't get any farther away from Crazy Frog with this one, can we? Unless there's a Crazy Frog version of Low Rider. Whew, just checked...there isn't. Verdict: Thumbs up

Creedence Clearwater Revival's Proud Mary: Okay...when I started this little project, I told myself that I'd go on until I thumbed up four consecutive songs or a Duran Duran song came up. But never in a million years did I think we'd get here...at Creedence? The Dude's favorite band? I'll abide...and keep the game going.

Buffalo Springfield's For What it's Worth: This is a classic. I'm impressed that Pandora got us there. Verdict: Thumbs up

Chic's Le Freak: Hey! We're getting closer to my actual taste in music. The last eight songs are actually in my music collection. Verdict: Thumbs up

So, what have we learned this evening? Pandora's smart enough to start with a lousy song and get you to something you like relatively quickly, with only a few stumbles. It may not get to the center of your music tastes, but it will get you to the edges faster than expected.

By the way, Pandora, we're not done experimenting... I have a few more tricks up my sleeve!

Postscript: As I was cleaning up this blogpost, I was still listening to my Pandora creation. Just now The Beatles Eleanor Rigby came on. I guess you can make a silk purse out of a frog's ear! Mind you Warrant's Cherry Pie came on as well. So there's that...

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