Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


Leave a comment

Hey Google: Once may be good, but twice isn’t necessarily better

The iTunes playlists that Google automatically backs up to their cloud get hopeless cluttered with multiple versions of each song, til you reach the maximum size of 1000 songs. You can manually remove duplicates — one by one, folks! — but others crop up in their place.

It’s irritating. You can’t add any more songs to those playlist. When you play them, they repeat songs despite the “No repeat” setting. And downloading a playlist takes way more space and time than it should.

Duplicate songs screenshot

How a 75-song playlist looks when bloated to 1000 via repeats. Google must think I really want my Afternoon Tea.

I searched for solutions, but all I’ve found is this Python script from GitHub. And to run it, you just need to install an API. And to run that, you just need to set up a WebClient. And to do that, you just need a Computer Science degree.

So I’m just going to live with the duplicate problem. Those aren’t my “real” playlists anyway–they’re just a backup. A free backup, at that. So it’s a little buggy. So be it.

Google music services: Take two.

I don’t know if you’ve tried to play a YouTube playlist in Chrome recently, but this week, I did. I found a nice 56-song playlist of live performances, started it off at song 1, and figured I’d have a good set of tunes going for a few hours while I worked away.

Only it kept repeating songs, sometimes just one, sometimes a loop of two or three. It took me a while to figure out that this happened whenever an ad played–every three songs or so. It seemed to then go back in the playlist instead of forward.

I could “reset” the playlist to the right song manually, but after the sixth or seventh time of doing that when all I wanted was a steady flow of tunes, I was getting really cranky.

YouTube playlist - Adam Lamber live

This “no repeat” YouTube playlist wasn’t so much playing that way

I actually got to wondering if YouTube had a paid, ad-free version I could get instead. I was about ready to plunk my money down.

However, Google was not ready to take it. While they plan to launch subscription YouTube someday, it ain’t available yet.

But Google did help me out. Through their search engine I came across this solution:

  1. Use Firefox, not Chrome
  2. Add in the most wondrous (and free, no restart required) Firefox extension, Adblock Plus

After that, not only did the song repeating stop, so did all the ads! Woo hoo!

I’m sure many of you are like, “Duh!”, because you’ve been blocking browser ads for years, but if I’ve helped even one person not hear a song more times than they’d like (“these are my problems, my first-world problems”), my work here is done.


5 Comments

White Wine in the Sun

Today was “our” Christmas celebration, in advance of events with the extended family on the actual days.

As a result, it seemed apropos to play the “Christmas” playlist. (Particularly as I received a new iPod dock I had to try out.) But though all 82 songs are self-selected and heavy on the non-traditional, I gotta say that it’s just not my favorite type of music.

However, there are a few stand-outs.

* Sting’s “Gabriel’s Message”, a simply gorgeous song proving that not all rock star Christmas songs for charity have to suck.
* The Kink’s ”Father Christmas”, a somewhat dark yet catchy tune, that unfortunately seems timely: A poor kid just wants cash for Christmas, or “give my Dad a job ’cause he needs one.” All those toys? Gives them to the little rich boys.
* Adam Sandler’s Hanukuah Song which, OK, isn’t about Christmas at all. But though I’ve heard all the jokes in it many times before, it still makes me laugh. “OJ Simpson… Not a Jew!”
Do They Know it’s Christmas? Truly the weirdest set of lyrics ever penned by an atheist, and ones I’m sure Geldof, now an expert on Africa (as he wasn’t then), must wince over. Still, too many good memories around this song. And I love its jingly-jangly sound.
* Last year’s YouTube discovery, Spiraling’s mash-up of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”, producing the most awesome guitar riff in a Christmas song ever.

And this year’s YouTube discovery, courtesy of @eoutwater of the KW Symphony: Tim Michen’s “White Wine in the Sun”. Lovely, funny, and true, Minchen’s explains his fondness for Christmas despite his reservations about “the commercialization of an ancient religion, the Westernization of a dead Palestinian”. But you get to be with your family in a relaxed state, and that’s what it’s all about. 5 stars.


Leave a comment

Halloween playlist

Not sure why, as Halloween’s not a big thing for me, but got a yen to put this together. Not claiming these are the ultimate Halloween songs—just which of my songs are most “Halloween-y”. (And I wasn’t aiming for 50 songs. That’s just where it landed.)

  1. Angel Main Theme (the Sanctuary Extended Remix) – Darling Violetta – Live Fast, Die Never (Music from the TV Series)
  2. Another World – Joe Jackson – Night And Day
  3. Ballad for Dead Friends – Dashboard Prophets – Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Radio Sunnydale (Music from the TV Series)
  4. Bat Out Of Hell – Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell
  5. Beware Of Darkness – George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
  6. Boris The Spider – The Who – Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy
  7. Brain Damage – Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
  8. Buffy Main Title Theme – The Breeders – Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Radio Sunnydale (Music from the TV Series)
  9. Clap For The Wolfman – The Guess Who – The Greatest Of The Guess Who
  10. Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd – Pink Floyd The Wall
  11. Cry, Little Sister (Theme From The Lost Boys) – Gerard McMann – The Lost Boys
  12. Dangerous – The Who – It’s Hard
  13. The Devil You Know (God Is A Man) – Face To Face – Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Album
  14. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me – Roger Daltrey – The Lost Boys
    [A darker—and, I think, better—take on the Elton John song]
  15. Down in the Park – Foo Fighters – Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by ‘the X-Files’
  16. End Of The Night – The Doors – The Doors
  17. Funhouse – P!nk – Greatest Hits…So Far!!!
  18. Ghost Story – Sting – Brand New Day
  19. Ghost Train – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Get Happy!!
  20. Ghostdancing – Simple Minds – Glittering Prize: Simple Minds 81/92
  21. Gold Dust Woman – Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  22. Happy Phantom – Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes
  23. Hell’s Half Acre – Robbie Robertson – Robbie Robertson
  24. Keep Myself Awake – Black Lab – Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Album
  25. Lost In The Shadows – Lou Gramm – The Lost Boys
  26. Moonlight Drive – The Doors – Strange Days
  27. On the Run – Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
  28. People Are Strange – Echo & The Bunnymen  – The Lost Boys
    [The original Doors version would also do. This cover isn’t much different.]
  29. Phobia – The Kinks – Phobia
  30. Rest In Peace – James Marsters – Once More, With Feeling (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
  31. Rhiannon – Fleetwood Mac – Greatest Hits
    [Though Rhiannon isn’t a very scary witch]
  32. Science Fiction/Double Feature – Richard O’Brien – Rocky Horror Picture Show
  33. Showdown At Big Sky – Robbie Robertson – Robbie Robertson
  34. Something’s Gonna Die Tonight – The Doughboys – Tribute to Hard Core Logo
  35. Spooky Girlfriend – Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel
  36. Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
  37. Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s A Doll Revolution) – Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel
  38. Thriller / Heads Will Roll – Glee Cast – Single
    [I don’t have the Michael Jackson original, but I do like this mash-up]
  39. The Time Warp – Rocky Horror cast – Rocky Horror Picture Show
  40. Transylvania Concubine – Rasputina – Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Album
  41. Under a Raging Moon – Roger Daltrey – Under a Raging Moon
  42. Under Your Spell / Standing (Reprise) – Amber Benson and Anthony Stewart Head – Once More, With Feeling (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
  43. Unmarked Helicopters – Soul Coughing – The X-Files: Songs In The Key Of X
  44. Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy
    [A recent acquisition. Ah-oo! Werewolves of London]
  45. Wicked Annabella – Dave Davies – Rock Bottom Live At The Bottom Line
    [So good I’ve included it twice.]
  46. Wicked Annabella – The Kinks – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
    [One list I saw had Apeman by The Kinks as a Halloween song. What? Nothing Halloween-y about Apeman at all. This one, though, is about a scary witch who snatches away naughty children who refuse to go to sleep. Clearly composed by an exhausted parent.]
  47. Witches’ Song – Marianne Faithfull – Broken English
  48. X-Files Theme – Mark Snow – Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by ‘the X-Files’
  49. X Files Theme (Remix) – P.M. Dawn – The X-Files: Songs In The Key Of X
  50. You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night) – Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell
    [“On a hot summer’s night, will you give your throat to the wolf with the red roses?”]


Leave a comment

Old music in shiny new packages

I had some quiet days off after Christmas, during which I had the time to enjoy my newly acquired music. Though the “new” should perhaps be put in quotes…

Lowest of the Low – Shakespeare My Butt Deluxe Edition

First of all, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since this was first released. I guess I can’t continue to refer to Lowest as one of the “new” bands that I like.

The core of this reissue is a remastering of the original CD.  But though I played it through my best available sound system, I couldn’t actually tell if it the sound quality was noticeably improved. I suspect that’s because I couldn’t help singing along with every track at the top of my lungs. (Yes, I was home alone at the time. Cats didn’t seem to mind.)

What remains apparent, though, is that this is a damn good album. Nearly 65 minutes long, with no bad songs. It’s an irresistible mix of super-catchy tunes and really intelligent lyrics. So you like the album on first listen, and don’t hate yourself for it later on repeat listens.

Below is an audio-only video of “Rosy and Grey” from Shakespeare My Butt—it appears they never made proper videos for these tunes…

The reissue also includes a DVD, where the same visuals come with two soundtrack options: Interviews and Soundtrack. On Interviews, you get various band interviews that were all news to me, because for a band I like so much, I actually knew nothing about them. Like, the band members’ names, or anything. Now, I’m better informed, and they do come across as thoughtful and decent guys. On the Soundtrack portion, you get these alternate versions of the Shakespeare songs on variety of instruments, including a kazoo! It’s pretty cool, actually, and I’ll probably replay that version more.

And finally, you get liner notes, mainly by Dave Bookman of 102.1 The Edge (so it really strikes me that in the interview segment, the band says they can’t get their newer stuff played on The Edge anymore, because they’re not on the corporate playlist) and British novelist John Donoghue, for whom this album inspired a novel of the same name.

Ray Davies: See My Friends

While this CD does consist of all new recordings, it is of older songs, redone as duets between composer Ray Davies and various artists: Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams, and so on. A lot of long-time Kinks fans hate this thing, some complaining so vociferously about it that I was almost afraid to play it.

But now I think they’re just being grumpy and close-minded. True, not everything is great here: Bon Jovi doesn’t exactly improve on the original “Celluloid Heroes”, and while I’m all for women tackling songs originally interpreted by men, Paloma’s version of “Lola” just comes across as weird.

But other things work really well. There’s just a rightness to Metallica, one of the best metal bands ever, interpreting the song widely credited as the original metal song, “You Really Got Me”. And Amy McDonald made a great choice in covering “Dead End Street”, a 1965 song that unfortunately sounds like it’s describing today’s conditions. The interaction between her and Ray is also quite charming.

I also enjoyed the creative mashing of certain songs: “Days” with “This Time Tomorrow” by Ray with Mumford & Sons, and “All Day and All of the Night” with “Destroyer” by Ray with Billy Corgan. The slightly less-known songs “Long Way from Home” and “This Is Where I Belong” are nicely interpreted by Lucinda Williams and Black Francis. And if Jackson Brown doesn’t really improve on the Kinks original “Waterloo Sunset”—who could?—at least he doesn’t wreck it.

The Who – Live at Leeds Deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition

This one was my Boxing Day gift from me to me, as Amazon.ca put it on sale from $79 to $49 Christmas Day. UPS delivered it to me on December 29. (I see it’s now back to $79, plus you have to wait 3-4 weeks for it.)

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this that basically boiled down to:

  1. Damn! I’m tired of buying this same album over and over!
  2. Wasn’t the original six-track album perfect in itself? Why keep adding stuff?

To point 1., I sympathize, but I’m not really in that boat. OK, I did buy Leeds once before, but only once, and that was as an iTunes download. I’d since been kind of regretting that, since iTunes downloads don’t have quite the full audio quality of a CD. Plus, I’d been feeling that this was one case where having the LP would be fun too, if I could find one with all the original inserts and such.

So, this package, a mondo thing that includes the original LP, a hardcover book with all the originals inserts (and other stuff), the deluxe CDs, plus another two CDs  of the previously unreleased Hull concert, and even a 45 of Summertime Blues / Heaven and Hell, was perfect for me.

And point 2—why keep adding stuff?—I thought was just stupid. I mean, if The Who had sucked that night except for the original six songs, then you might have a point, but they didn’t. The whole concert was amazing. So why wouldn’t you want it all? If you’re that nostalgic for the six songs, create a playlist of just those ones.

Nevertheless, the LP is the first thing I played when I got the set. Apparently it preserves the original cracks and ticks that were excised from the digital version, but I can’t say I found them that noticeable. And it’s good, of course, but man, is it ever short. I will say that it is impressive that the original made such an impact, despite its brevity.

And the other add-ons? Well the book is a nice collection of Leeds-related information, some of which I’d read before, some I hadn’t. Along with reproduction of album inserts, it has some great photos, and a play-by-play of each song on deluxe CD.

I’ve listened to the Hull concert a couple times. Though they did an admirable job of restoring the sound to this (in particular, bass was missing from the first six tracks and had to be Frankenstein-ed in from Leeds), there’s no doubt that Leeds sounds better overall. Hull also has a lot less of the between-song patter you get on Leeds, and I miss that, since Townshend and Moon are hilarious. But it is a great one for admiring Moon’s druming, as that’s really forward in the mix. It’s also interesting how two concerts, with identical song line-ups, two nights apart, can nevertheless have quite a few differences in interpretation. This was not a band that just went through the motions. Therefore, to me, it’s worth having both (even though I also have Isle of Wight, and Tanglewood, and some of Woodstock, all of from this same period).

I do find it slightly annoying that we get both concerts not in the original order, for the purpose of keeping all of Tommy on one CD. But that’s easy enough to rectify manually.

So, the only thing missing from this package? Video. Herewith I gave you the only footage released from the concert so far, from a Japanese release of Leeds, apparently. (This was pulled down from YouTube a while ago, but seems to be back.)

Striking to me how tiny the stage was. This was one of the biggest bands in the world at that time, and they were playing at a university hall. That doesn’t happen anymore, and that’s partly why we no longer get live albums as good as Live at Leeds.


Leave a comment

Odds and sods

I’d mentioned to some that the SD card from our trip had cracked right in half when inserted into the computer. Well, it turns out that Windows 7 has a feature to help you recover from such a thing. To access it, simply remove the card, reinsert it, and accept the repair option. In the end, we lost very few photos. (And I’ve finally managed the finish the web pages about the trip.)

Too bad it took us a few weeks to figure that out.

*****

Have a new iPod classic. Well, new to me. I bought it used on Ebay. It’s in excellent shape, though; looks brand new. I was mainly after greater storage capacity, and boy do I have that now: 120 GB. Given that it’s taken me 5 years to get to 30 GB, that should be enough for some time. It’s also black, which is somewhat cooler-looking than the white. And it has a better screen, a “cover flow” feature (which I’m not entirely sure of the point of, but is weirdly compelling to look at), more information displayed about each song and playlist, and the ability to create Genius playlists on-the-fly.

The Ebay experience was a little stressful due to uncommunicative seller, but to his credit, he was very fast in shipping it out. So fast, in fact, that he didn’t even bother to remove his 60 GB of music first. So much music, so little I have any interest in. To start fresh? Click that scary, never-before-used “Restore Factory Settings” button.

*****

More nice tributes have come in for Pete Quaife of The Kinks, including an obituary in the Globe and Mail on July 1, by one his former—but post-Kinks—bandmates. Also very beautiful was Ray Davies’ dedicated rendition of “Days”, the most perfect song to sing to a departed friend (and a song he’s often associated with Pete in the past). Ray almost loses it on the opening lines.


Leave a comment

RIP Pete Quaife

Having gotten a little behind on checking in on Kinks news, I found out only today that Pete Quaife had died. Pete was the original bassist for The Kinks, a founding member of the band who left in 1969. So his bass lines underscored all their great early hits, starting with “You Really Got Me.” His bass is particularly prominent in the opening of one of the most beautiful songs ever, “Waterloo Sunset”. And he even got to sing lead once, on the country-esque “Willesden Green.”

Pete also happens to be the only member of The Kinks I’ve met personally. It was at an academic conference, of all things, albeit one on the subject of Popular Culture. The conference was in Toronto, and Pete was living in Canada at the time. He presented a session on the British Invasion in general, and The Kinks in particular. His presentation was funny and engaging, and he was very congenial about shaking hands afterward.

So, I find myself pretty bummed that he’s gone. At 66, he is the first of the four founding members of The Kinks to die.

Really nice tribute to Pete from the maker of the Do It Again documentary (a quest to reunite the original Kinks. Now I’m bummed again.)

Another artifact of Pete’s time in Canada: A YouTube video of his appearance on On the Road Again

Pete spent years on dialysis. He passed the time making cartoons about it. Actually pretty funny…


Leave a comment

The Shuffler

Spent some time today reading this thread in Salon

Inspired by The Onion’s Random Rules feature. Select “Shuffle Songs” from your iPod’s main menu and tell us the first five songs that it plays. No cheating, no skipping embarrassing songs you’d rather not tell us you have on your iPod, and feel free to give some commentary on the songs themselves or how you feel the five songs do or do not work in conjunction with one another.

Considering it was mostly just a very random list of songs, it was fairly interesting. I wasn’t too surprised at the number of people with songs I’d never heard by cool new bands I’d never heard of, because the list of cool new bands I’ve never heard of is just so very long. But I was surprised at the number of people with only classical musical on their iPod. At least, there were only classical pieces amongst their five songs.

Anyway, of course I had to try this. Not that I hadn’t shuffled all songs many times before, but this was the first time for this purpose. Here is what I got:

1. The Kinks – Property

OK, so one of my favorite Kinks songs ever. That’s a good start.

2. I’m a Believer – Smashmouth (from Shrek)

I don’t even know where I got this song from. I like it, though. Not too different from the Monkees’ original.

3. Layla – Eric Clapton (from Live Aid)

I extracted this from the DVD. It’s a lively version.

4. It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night (Live) – Prince

Ooh, iPod bringing in the funk!

5. Flash! U96 (from Queen Dance Traxx)

Oh, I love Queen Dance Traxx! Though I bet the vast majority of Queen fans find it completely appalling. But I love dance versions of Queen songs. This one is basically a dance remix of Flash!, with Freddie and band’s original vocals retained.

(I stopped the pod then, but it was heading into the Classical, with some Schubert.)

Nothing too embarrassing, though if I’m not embarrassed by Queen Dance Traxx, perhaps I’m not embarrassed by much…