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Same Song, Better Tune

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

It may be less common in the streaming era but I think we’ve all listened to an album so many times that we know what song is coming next. It’s this odd feeling when one track ends and you’re basically already singing the words to the next one but it’s really just a sign that you’ve heard it too many times, the songs, the album, they’ve just become stale. For example, I honestly think I’d be okay if I never heard “Stairway to Heaven” again in my life. It might be the greatest song of all time but I’ve heard it so many times that I’m just over it. These are the same feeling I have with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and anyone who was raised in the 90s thinks of that song and Wayne’s World synonymously but, since that song has been such a staple since I was a kid, it’s played out. Yet, I’ve gotten down to that song in recent years, at both a bar with my friends where we had an impromptu dance party and at a Skrillex set but they both had special circumstances, they were instances where the random irony of it overplayed the cheesy connotations.

The notion I’d like to explore and the thought I’ve been having lately is that hearing a song played randomly is better than when it comes on in a place where we’re expecting it, like an album or a playlist. Now this isn’t an extremely original concept (the ‘Shuffle’ button exists for a reason) but I think it’s fair to say that a random song has a certain allure to it. Like when someone drops on “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” at party and suddenly you’re thinking, this might be a cool party, or a DJ throws on an unexpected mash-up of “Welcome to the Jungle” that somehow kicks ass and you’re thinking, this guy might be alright. It’s almost an affirmation that the person listens to the same music as you and even if it’s a song that has been played out to you for, you still get where the person is coming from because you’ve also had that song on playlists, you’ve loved it too.

I think this also goes for when you’re listening to something random, like a Spotify playlist or the radio. I don’t know if it’s the unexpectedness of it that makes it more enjoyable but even if it’s a song I’m sick of, I’ll usually still get a kick out of it. This is how it is for me with the song “Wish You Were Here”, an all-timer in my opinion, one that can’t go out of style. It must be said, not only is this Pink Floyd classic one of the most played songs of all time, I used to play it over and over again on different speakers to do a quality control testing on them so it’s as played out as play out gets. It’s actually a really great song for testing speakers because the intro has the lo-fi crackling and the radio station talk as a fade in, so it allows you to pinpoint subtleties, but the point is, I’ve probably heard certain sections of it a few thousand times. Still sometimes I’ll be someplace, be it a bar or a bookstore and it’ll come on and I’ll still enjoy it, I’ll still catch myself singing along.

I do think it should be noted that this can only go so far or hold true to a certain extent because even a random radio DJ can over play a song and those radio stations that play the top 5 songs on repeat for the entire day are a great example of taking it too far. Not only that but even more modern mediums like Pandora or Satellite Radio tend to become somewhat repetitive after listening to them for long enough. It’s not a true science, I don’t think that would be a fair statement but I will say that it exists to a degree. I think hearing a song randomly makes it sound better, I think it’s more rewarding. Maybe it’s just an instance of situationism, like on a Friday drive home from work with the window down when “Take The Money And Run” comes on and even though you’ve heard it a million times, you’re ready for the weekend so you’re singing about "Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue". It might just be that when a song comes on and you weren’t expecting it, it’s more meaningful and I’m really not totally sure why, if it’s because we think we relate to the person putting it on or if it just hits us differently because of its randomness. I don’t know why a random song sounds better, it just does.

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