Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Request Line: Sam Cooke Pandora Station

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 9, 2010

Friend of the blog Kyle writes:

Step 1 – Create a Pandora station with “Sam Cooke” as the only criteria.
Step 2 – Listen to it for an hour
Step 3 – Tell us how much better your life is

I can definitely do at least two of those, Kyle. Tell you about the third in a bit.

I should say that my experience with Pandora is rather limited. I’ve only used it once, really, and signing into my long-dormant Pandora account months after reveals that when I did, I created three stations, each based on single songs: Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust,” The Meters’ “Cissy Strut” and (surprise) Icehouse’s “Electric Blue.” I vaguely remember them all being vaguely unsatisfying for largely the same reason–they were all too random, and yet not random enough. As someone who tends to eschew traditional LP listening for more of a song-oriented, varied approach in his personal music-listening time, and as someone who invariably spends many time-killing hours in front of a computer a day, it would seem that Pandora would be perfect for me. But little things about its uncontrolled atmosphere end up irking me–the way it would opt for live versions of songs instead of their obvious studio counterparts, the way it would repeat artists with precious little discretion, the way it chose songs that were either superficially similar but conceptually very different, or the other way around. For whatever reason, I guess I need a human element in my random music listening–the feeling that someone who knows what they’re doing is programming or at least overseeing the schedule to make sure that it never gets homogeneous, and never devolves into complete chaos.

Anyway, despite not opting to use Pandora much on my own time, for such business as this, I could certainly think of worse ways to spend an hour. Here’s what Pandora came up with for a Sam Cooke-themed station, from 12:16-1:16 AM EST on June 9th, 2010:

Song 1: Sam Cooke – “A Change is Gonna Come”
Song 2: Percy Sledge – “You Really Got a Hold on Me”
Song 3: Ray Charles – “I Got a Woman”
Song 4: The Temptations – “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”
Song 5: Sam Cooke – “Wonderful World”
Song 6: Otis Redding – “These Arms of Mine”
Song 7: Ray Charles – “Georgia on My Mind”
Song 8: Wilson Pickett – “Bring it on Home”
Song 9: Sam Cooke – “Only Sixteen”
Song 10: Al Green – “Love and Happiness”
Song 11: Etta James – “All I Could Do is Cry”
Song 12: Garnet Mimms – “It’s Just a Matter of Time”
Song 13: Otis Redding – “Hard to Handle”
Song 14: Sam Cooke – “It’s All Right”
Song 15: Ray Charles – “Ain’t That Love”
Song 16: Al Green – “My Girl”
Song 17: Etta James – “Stormy Weather”
Song 18: Sam Cooke – “Lost and Lookin'”
Song 19: The Impressions – “People Get Ready”
Song 20: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – “I Second That Emotion”

And between those 20 songs, here’s about how I break it down tier-wise:

Knew Before, Never Much Cared For (2 Songs): “These Arms of Mine,” “A Change is Gonna Come”

-Hadn’t Heard, Wouldn’t Much Care to Again (4 songs): “Ain’t That Love,” “It’s All Right,” “Stormy Weather,” “It’s Just a Matter of Time”

Knew Before, But in a Better Version (1 song) : “You Really Got a Hold on Me”

Knew Before in Another Version, But This One’s Pretty Cool Too (2 Songs): “My Girl,” “Bring It On Home”

Knew Before in Another Version, But This One’s a Million Fucking Times Better (1 Song): “Only Sixteen”

Knew Before, Always Dug OK (4 Songs): “Georgia on My Mind,” “Hard to Handle,” “I Got a Woman,” “People Get Ready”

Hadn’t Heard, Digging OK Now (2 Songs): “Lost and Lookin’,” “All I Could Do Was Cry”

Total Classics (3 Songs): “I Second That Emotion,” “Love and Happiness,” “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”

One of My Favorite Songs Ever (1 song): “Wonderful World”

Ultimately, we’re talking pretty good numbers here, though there was a stretch a little over halfway through that was sorta deathly. Ultimately, I think I probably would have preferred a Smokey and the Miracles station–I generally like the lush mid-60s Motown stuff more than a lot of the rawer, more gospel-influences old-school stuff on display here–but it’s really hard to go wrong with most of these songs anyway, especially those by Cooke himself. His “Only Sixteen” was the real revelation for me here–I knew it as the mediocre soft-rock megahit for Dr. Hook in the mid-70s, but not as Sam’s significantly more peppy and more significantly less sucky original rendition. The other one that really grabbed me was Al Green doing “My Girl“–a cover so natural and obvious that I probably could’ve heard it without ever actually listening to it, but one which was still sweet inspiration on the ears nonetheless. (Incidentally, the surfeit of peer covers on this playlist makes me wonder why the soul singers of today never exchange tunes like this. If you saw Chris Brown taking a shot at “So Sick,” or Anthony Hamilton giving “Pretty Wings” a go, it would seem jarring and pointless, but back in the 60s, it seems like every big song went a few rounds with at least a handful of major recording artists. Might’ve been annoying back then, but it seems pretty novel a concept now.)

As for the original question, of how much better my life is after an hour spent with this station, I guess my answer would be only slightly, but not totally negligibly. The ending duo of “People Get Ready” and “I Second That Emotion” certainly helps with that, as both are likely in the very top percentile of smile-inducing, soul-easing pop songs. Unfortunately, I had to wipe out the station’s memory fairly quickly by switching over to listening to American Idiot immediately after. ‘Tis the week of Green Day: Rock Band, lest we forget.

Please continue to submit your article requests in the comments section below, or at twitter.com/intensities. If I don’t get to it the week of the request, I will soon enough thereafter.

Step 1 – Create a Pandora station with “Sam Cooke” as the only criteria.
Step 2 – Listen to it for an hour
Step 3 – Tell us how much better your life is

2 Responses to “Request Line: Sam Cooke Pandora Station”

  1. Garret said

    Tony pointed out to me once that Anthony Hamilton – “Charlene” is nearly the exact same song as “Pretty Wings” so that fact adds quite a bit to the pointlessness factor.

  2. Pandora doesn’t work in Canada. Or anywhere else but the US. It’s kind of annoying.

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