Random Sort, Ceramic Heat & ‘White Bird’

Originally posted October 29, 2007

When I listen to the RealPlayer on random, I generally start off by sorting the 19,000 mp3s by their running times. Why? It seems to me that after a few truly random selections, the software settles into a pattern, rotating between three or four places on the long queue of songs. In other words, were the songs sorted by title, the program might happen on “Shadows” by Gordon Lightfoot and then go elsewhere for two or three songs, only to return to that spot for “Shadows on my Wall” by the Poppy Family and then, two or three songs later, play “Shadows Where The Magic Was” by James Hand.

That particular run would not be so bad, but when the player gets stuck in an area of multiple versions of the same song – for example, I have thirteen versions of “Key To The Highway” and, as mentioned another day, twenty-one versions of “The Weight” – then a pattern based on titles can be monotonous. The same holds true if the songs are sorted by artist or album or – to a lesser degree – by year.

So I sort by running time. The only drawback to that is that the program tends to stay in the middle of the road, playing neither the extremely shorts tracks nor the extremely long ones. So I rarely hear my Hamm’s Beer jingle from 1953 or “Her Majesty,” the little joke that closes the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Nor, more importantly, do I hear the longer tracks, generally concert performances or the various tracks that are full albums – or albums sides from the days when LP’s ruled. Among those are things a little more desirable to hear than “Her Majesty,” things like Sides One and Two of Johnny Rivers’ Realization, the “Mountain Jam” from the Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East, long suites by Chicago or Shawn Phillips and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

It was that last that brought the neighborhood of long songs, suites and entire albums to mind the other evening. On our way home from some Saturday errands, the Texas Gal and I stopped at a local big box store to replace her blow dryer. While she was sorting out the options – which included something that a blurb on one of the boxes called “ceramic heat technology” – I poked my head into the media section. I rarely find anything of interest there in this particular store; it’s usually current mainstream music at mainstream prices. But in the budget rack, I spotted the prism and rainbow of Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterpiece.

I’m on my third vinyl copy of Dark Side of the Moon, but I’d never owned the CD; the mp3 track I had was ripped from the public library’s copy of the album. So I grabbed the CD and went back to the hair care aisle, where the Texas Gal had decided to try the blow dryer that offered ceramic heat technology (left dismally unexplained by the information inside the box, as we learned later). Late that evening, I ripped the CD into one long mp3, pulled it into the RealPlayer and put the headphones on.

As the album played, I sorted the tunes by running time; Dark Side of the Moon clocked in at 42:57, the longest file of the more than 19,000. Next came “Mountain Jam” and then the two sides – as originally released – of Mike Oldfield’s 1973 album Tubular Bells. And I wondered if, having been started at the extreme end, the player’s random selection function would come back to that extreme after a few changes. Or would it revert to the safer, shorter middle of the road?

Four selections later, I had my answer. We were in the land of shorter pieces. So, casting about for an idea for today’s share, I decided that the next time the program selected a track more than six minutes long, I’d rip and share the album the track came from, as long as the CD wasn’t in print. Six selections later, the player settled on “White Bird,” the haunting and melodic opener to the 1969 self-titled debut of the late-1960s San Francisco group It’s A Beautiful Day.

As I wrote last summer when I shared a track from the album, it’s hippie music: flowing and soaring longer pieces featuring distinctive sounds: the violin and vocals of David LaFlamme and the vocals of Patti Santos. There’s sometimes some crunch, as in “Wasted Union Blues,” and “Time Is” has portions that are less than lyrical, especially its drum solo. But for the most part, the group’s first album flows gently like an earth mother’s long dress. It’s an album that’s one with its time, as much an artifact of its era as any album can be. (And it seems to be difficult to find new, if not formally out of print.)

White Bird
Hot Summer Day
Wasted Union Blues
Girl With No Eyes
Bombay Calling
Time Is

It’s A Beautiful Day – It’s A Beautiful Day [1969]


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