Top Music in 2011

Looking at iTunes, I see my top song this year was “40 Day Dream” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. I listened to it 137 times. A few of those must have been in 2010, since I bought it that October, but there’s no question it was one of my favorites this year. (Sadly, there’s no way with an iTunes Smart List to learn what a song’s play count was during a certain period of time.)

(Note that “40 Day Dream” is on the same (eponymous) album as “Home”, a song covered by Jorge & Alexa Narvaez in their charming YouTube viral video.)

Following “40 Day Dream” in my most-played list were “Bye Bye Bye” by Plants and Animals, “Buildings and Mountains” by the Republic Tigers, and “Can You Tell” by Ra Ra Riot, with 116, 111, and 106 plays, respectively.

As it happens, all those are digital downloads from Amazon. I have a handful of songs from the iTunes store, but only a few, since a web browser offers a much better shopping experience than iTunes does. Web browsers have offered tabs since, when, 1997 or so? But iTunes is pure-linear, and shopping on it interferes with other things you might be trying to do with iTunes.

If we subtract out all the digital downloads, leaving just songs that I’ve ripped from actual physical brick-and-mortar CDs, my top songs from 2011 were: “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, “He’s a Pirate” by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer, “Mr. Roboto” by Styx, and “Africa” by Toto. (Don’t wince at my taste: serious musicians love that song! See track 11 here.)

The pirate song is from my collection of Film Music of course. The others are, like those I mentioned previously, from a playlist of music that has appeared on the TV show Chuck. If we subtract out “Chuck” music and “Film Music” then my top songs in 2011 were: “YYZ” by Rush, “A Raft of Penguins” by Ian Anderson, “La Villa Strangiato” by Rush, and “There is a Green Hill” by the World Wide Message Tribe. Also in the Top 10 list are the Genevan Psalter’s Psalm 124 by Calvin College, “Peace of Mind” by Boston, and “Just Showed Up (for My Own Life)” by Sara Groves.

The Goodbye Look

Well. Here’s something different: Mel Torme covering Donald Fagen’s “The Goodbye Look“:

That’s my second-favorite track on, The Nightfly, one of my all-time favorite albums. My favorite track is “Walk Between Raindrops.” If you don’t like it, well, you’re a loser, I’m sorry. And if you do like it, try Kamakiriad, Fagen’s next solo album, which was released just 11 short years later. Start there with “Tomorrow’s Girls.”

Smart Playlists Just Got Dumber

I mentioned recently how handy it can be to create complex “Smart Playlists” in iTunes. Suppose you want to make a smart play list like this one:

iTunes offers boolean logic for constructing Smart Playlists.

It says the songs in this new playlist have to be “My Non Dogs.” (My Non-dogs is another playlist that includes songs that are either unrated or rated 3 stars or above.) But besides not being dogs, this playlist’s songs also need to be performed either by David Byrne or by the Talking Heads. In other words, iTunes gives us a friendly way to construct a query using boolean algebra.

Prior to iTunes 10.4, that was easy enough. There were little buttons at the end of the pane. A ‘-‘ button deletes the rule; a ‘+’ button adds a new rule; a ‘…’ button makes a rule with multiple conditions, as above:

iTune's old '...' buttons

The problem is that iTunes 10.4 got rid of the ‘…’ buttons:

iTunes 10.4 no longer has '...' buttons.

Smart playlists can still use boolean algebra: all my old lists still work. The only problem is trying to make a new one. How do you push a button that’s not there?

The answer is to hold down the option key. Then the ‘+’ buttons become ‘…’ buttons:

In iTunes 10.4, hold down 'option' to turn the '+' buttons into '...' buttons

I should point out that taking a screenshot is a lot more difficult when you’re holding the option key. The only way I could figure out to do it was by doing a “Timed Screen Grab” using the Grab utility:

The 'Grab' utility is located in '/Applications/Utilities/Grab.app'

iTunes playlists, Drag’n’Drop, and Wacom tablets

I noticed that with iTunes 10.4 (80) I can no longer drag songs from one playlist to another. It doesn’t matter whether the source is a smart playlist or a regular dumb one, or even the main music library.

As a workaround, I can copy (cmd-c) and paste (cmd-v), but this is … umm … sub-optimal, because you have to change playlists to do it. Then when you go back to the first folder, any search you might have used before is now gone.

My first thought was that it was a feature that Apple just dropped because that’s how they are, so I posted it to the discussion list on Apple’s site.

But when I made a more serious effort to find the solution, I found it. I found it a lot, in fact, which shows what a lousy job I did searching for an answer the first time. I summarized what I learned there, and I’m repeating the key points below because I’ll find them quicker on my own site.

The problem appears to be using a Wacom tablet. See the discussion here and (same thread) here and here. No idea when that will be fixed. I use a 8 or 9 year old Graphire, and drivers have been a problem for most of those. Sigh.

But this experience also made me learn that you can right click to add selections to a playlist.

I even learned how that first column works, which I never knew before.

Smart Play Lists in iTunes

Speaking of playlists…. I like the smart playlist feature in iTunes. The best part is building lists constructed from other lists. Here’s an example (click on the image for a larger version):

Smart Playlists in iTunes

Earlier this spring I saw the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage. (It’s a good documentary; I never blogged about it–what do you say? “The best rockumentary since Spinal Tap!”–but I mentioned it when I first learned of its existence.)

Anyway, since then, I’ve found myself listening to a lot of music from the late 70’s and early 80’s. So I made myself a smart playlist of music released in the decade from 1974 to 1984. That’s roughly when I was in high school and college, so that’s what I called it.

But I quickly discovered that a lot of the music from that period stunk. So I made another smart playlist of just my highest-rated songs: four and five stars. Then I edited the high school and college playlist to only include music that was also in the high-rated playlist.

That was good, but then I realized that what I used to listen to back then was mostly Rock with a little bit of Pop and New Wave sprinkled in for flavor. So I constructed another list that only included those genres, and edited my high school and college list so it only drew music that was both high-rated and rock/pop/new wave.

The playlist seen above is a final variation. Sometimes I just want to hear an old favorite. But sometimes I want to hear an old favorite I haven’t heard lately. So I made still another playlist with old favorites that haven’t been played in a month.

It’s all terribly neat, in a geeky way. It makes me wonder if there’s a limit of how many lists-within-lists I could make. It also explains why it takes iTunes about three minutes to boot up when it wasn’t closed properly. But the really amazing thing is that it’s there at all: usually, Apple turns off anything that computer geeks would appreciate, so that [whoever’s their their mass-market demographic target ] won’t get confused by it.

So Now It’s Okay…

…to like Rush? That’s what it says in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Both the book and the film attempt to come to grips with a band that has had the most unusual career trajectory, defying age and the loathing of critics to fly high for decades, with no end in sight.

I’ve been listening to Rush since they assumed control with 2112, and honestly, I don’t much care for anything they’ve done in about 20 years. I just checked iTunes, and the highest rating I’ve given anything they released since Counterparts is 3 stars. I gave that to “Faithless” on Snakes and Ladders, and “Vapor Trails” and “Earthshine” on Vapor Trails also have 3 stars.

Still, even if their work hasn’t done much for me lately, I’m glad they’ve kept trying. I’d hate to see Rush become a nostalgia act going from casino to casino playing nothing but the old standards.

Ah, but what standards! From Permanent Waves to Moving Pictures to Signals, Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, Presto, and Roll the Bones: what great records! (Great live performances, too: my Amazon wish list has some of their concert DVDs. Hint, hint.) As an old headbanger, I’m glad that these kids today are learning the awesomeness that is Rush. (Check out this performance of “YYZ” for an example.)

Eurology – Now With the Amazing Flute-Cam!

I happened on this video earlier while looking for Ian Anderson‘s “Eurology.” This is a very creditable cover version, but what makes it worth watching is the amazing flute-camera the artist (Jackinart) put together.

At first, watching it makes you a little sea-sick, but it’s worth watching to see how a flutist holds their instrument. I always thought there would be more wobble than this, but it’s pretty much rock-steady. Very impressive. And a great song, of course.