Thursday, 9 June 2011

What's The Deal With The 'Recently Played' Playlist On The iPod?

Something very interesting occurred to me just last week.  After claiming to be a music nazi to some relatively new friends over the weekend, I was charged with the task of assuming the DJ roll which ordinarily, I’d insist upon, or somehow wrangle my way in and take charge anyway, however this time, given the differences in our ages and backgrounds, and eager to impress, I asked the question; ‘what kind of a mood are you in?’. 

Expecting the standard reply of something along the lines of pop, twang, 80s, rock, et cetera, I have to admit that I was a little caught off guard when they took my iPod from me, and unanimously decided to adjust the settings to shuffle, and hit play on the Recently Played playlist. 

Not that that bothered me at all, as it could only affirm my cracking taste in tunes, however it was risky.  I was concerned that at any moment, The Carpenters, or one of the many guided meditations I had been listening to, would start playing, leaving me red faced and picking up the pieces of my broken street cred, whilst listening to some soporific articulation on being true to oneself, and my divine life purpose!  Oh, the irony!

Fortunately, this didn’t happen, however what did happen struck me as rather unusual.  I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s on my high rotation list in any given month– mainly because I suffer from mild bouts of iPod fatigue from time to time, yet still make the same selections as the day before.  I can honestly say that from day to day, week to week and even month to month, I know exactly what’s been played on my iPod.  Or so I thought. 

I love my iPod.  I do.  Possibly a little too much.  I absolutely cannot be without it.  I currently live in a regional part of Australia, and outside of the major cities, it’s a case of mission impossible to hear decent tunes, or any sort of radio show on the local airwaves.  Suffice to say, my little black iPod has played a crucial, and very significant part in the preservation of my sanity during this time. 

Music brings me joy, and at some point of every day, on several occasions, I scroll through the various playlists, podcasts, artists or albums, make a selection and let the music fulfill it’s purpose.  However on this particular occasion, what followed was a succession of songs from the so-called Recently Played playlist, which I’m certain, I had never played, let alone realised were actually on there in the first place!  How could this be? 

On closer inspection, not only did the Recently Played playlist reveal a number of songs that I had not listened to in months, if at all, but it didn’t display most of the songs I had recently listened to, including the guided meditations!  In fact, if a stranger were to scroll through it, according to my iPod, not only would I appear to be Lee Hazlewood’s number one fan, but it would appear that I’d never listened to Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky or My Morning Jacket's Evil Urges, despite the fact that they, amongst many others, are on high rotation, and have been for years!  And where was Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See? – I revisited that album just last week.  Surely that’s recent enough?

And what about the Top 25 Most Recently Played playlist?  Imagine my surprise when the songs featured on this particular list were just as out of whack, and featured Blinking Lights (For Me), a song by the Eels, a band I’ve never really been able to get into, and a song that as far as I’m aware, I’ve never heard before in my life!  Of course I played the track to make sure I wasn’t going completely bonkers, and just as I’d suspected – no recognition.  None.  What are the Eels doing in my Top 25 Most Recently Played List?!?  And more to the point, how did it come to be on my iPod in the first place?!?

This got me thinking about an article I read in 2006 about the randomness of the shuffle function.  Suspicions were raised when according to the author of the article, despite the thousands of songs on his iPod, when the random function was selected, the iPod undeniably favoured Steely Dan over all of the other thousands of choices!  Could this mean that the programmers at Apple are big Steely Dan fans, and the shuffle function isn’t so random afterall? 

And what is going on with my Recently Played and Top 25 Most Recently Played playlist!?  It’s almost as if the iPod has a life of its own!  A strange one, too I might add, but hey, I’ve always maintained that you can’t argue taste – even if it is with a machine!  Sigh… I’m sure there must be a perfectly rational explanation for this, but until then, it just simply doesn’t make sense. 

I’ll be honest; I’m not at all techno-savvy whatsoever, so if anyone else has the answer, please can ya let me know?  It could spare us all from a potentially similar awkward moment at our next soiree!

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