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Opening Pandora’s Box

Opening Pandora's Box
I’ll start this post with a riddle: What do these songs have in common?

The Long Black Veil — Johnny Cash
We’re Going to Be Friends — The White Stripes
How Soon Is Now – The Smiths
Here Comes the Sun — The Beatles
Speed of Sound — Coldplay
Boy’s Don’t Cry — The Cure
Tower of Babel — Elton John
Ocean – Lou Reed
China Doll — Grateful Dead
Let It Be — The Beatles (The good one with the guitar solo)

Give up? Keep reading.

Here’s your first clue: I love Pandora. I’m the only person in my social circle, possibly the only person in America, who has yet to sign up for Spotify. Why? I just told you. I love Pandora.

Whether I’m listening to the Lemonheads Station, or the Bruce Springsteen Station, or “Father Christmas” Radio, the application never fails to present me with similar songs that seem tailor-made to suit my tastes. This is true time and again with one notable exception. The exception is the common anchor tying those ten songs above together.

If you said Beatles Radio, or Cold Play Radio, or All Male, Mostly Guitar-based Songs that Len Generally Likes Radio, you’re wrong. The answer to the riddle is this:

That Old Wheel Radio.

“That Old What Radio? Really?”

Yes, That Old Wheel Radio. Really.

“That Old Wheel” is a country duet from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Jr. It’s got a classic country blues groove that isn’t so different from Cash’s own Folsom Prison Blues.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JGLa-rrc0I[/youtube]

Listening to this, I would expect Pandora to pair me with Merle Haggard, or George Strait, or Waylon Jennings. The White Stripes? The Smiths?The Beatles? I don’t understand.

I thought maybe it was just my imagination, that maybe I kept catching the service and/or this specific station at the wrong moment. I had to know the truth. It was time to break out the scientific method.

The last day in the office before the Christmas break, I played That Old Wheel Radio for four hours straight. Not only did my co-worker tolerate 240 minutes of inexplicable musical pairings, she helped me keep the extended song list. Because yes, I noted every song played. (Special thanks to Nadine for covering for me when I was on the phone or, um, er indisposed.)

Nadine suggested that perhaps Pandora was presenting us with a list of artists covered by Johnny Cash, whose own musical tastes seemed to stretch very far and very wide. A truly horrific case in point:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzIaI00sV8o[/youtube]

After two hours I did try to trick the service into a more country state of mind. I hit the “NEXT SONG” button several times in a row, even though it forced me to bypass some songs I really liked. It worked! Pandora served up two country songs, including Someday You’ll Want Me to Want You, by Gene Pitney and George Jones. But it didn’t last. The next three songs were:

The L.D. Eye Theme — Crucifucks
High and Dry — RadioHead
Bizzare Love Triangle — New Order

Don’t get me wrong. I love the songs Pandora offered me. I’m just not sure how, using their stated methodology, they were able to tease a thread from Johnny Cash to The Crucifucks.

And yet, somehow, it works.

Those folks at Pandora are either really smart or really lucky. All I know is that I’ll keep listening.

What’s your favorite Pandora station?