Another One

Can you stand another music post? If not, feel free to skip today’s post. I promise I won’t be offended.

It struck me the other day that there’s a medical crisis on our hands. It’s not as flashy as the current pandemic, but it’s been slowly building for the past eighty years or more.

Tony Bennett, of course, left his heart in San Francisco.

Sammy Kaye, Charlie Spivak, Jo Stafford, and the gods only know how many others left their tickers at the Stage Door Canteen.

And that only begins to cover the extent of the problem.

Pepe Llorens’ heart is in Barcelona. Nadia’s is in somewhere California–or perhaps scattered in pieces around the state. Want to check Herb Jeffries’ cardiac health? Better head for Mississippi.

It gets worse.

Edmund Hockridge deposited his heart in an English garden, Linda Scott abandoned hers in the balcony of her local theater–last row, third seat; if she ever wants it back, at least she knows where to look for it. And poor Ernie Tubb left half of his in Texas and the other half in Tennessee.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

Eighty years of research and yet medical science has yet to find a way to keep singer’s hearts in their chests where they belong.

It’s a crying shame.

Changing tracks (sorry).

Anyone else remember the Andrews Sisters “Three Little Sisters“?

The punch line of the song is the one about “tell it to the marine“. But in which sense?

The original meaning, dating back to at least the early 1800s, implies “because nobody else is dumb enough to believe it”. But the more recent American implication–circa 1900–is “because they’re the only ones who can do something about it.”

So which is it: are the girls going out on the town, or entertaining the troops at home?

Either way, it’s not a flattering portrait of those teenagers.

Of course it’s possible the song doesn’t know the whole story. Maybe whatever it is the young woman are doing is fully consensual, and the magazine bit is just a cover story for the girls’ parents, the armed forces censors, and anyone else who might get their hands on their letters.

Remember, no email or social media in 1942.

Now that I think about it, the song does say they’ll be “true until the boys came back”. Not a word about their plans for thereafter.

Let us not forget that Kerista was founded in the mid-Fifties. The philosophical underpinnings didn’t come out of nowhere.

I’m sure it purely coincidental that the founder, John Presmont, was–if contemporary accounts can be believed–an Air Force officer during World War 2. Still…one can only wonder how the Summer of Love might have evolved had there been four little sisters.

Getting to Bewildered

Some songs, though raise much more difficult questions.

Remember “Linda”? (Yeah, I’m sticking with the Forties here. Please place any objections in that circular filing cabinet over there. Thank you.)

The lyrics aren’t too bad. Okay, I’m stumbling a bit over why our narrator thinks telling his beloved that she puts him to sleep is a compliment. Other than that, however, it’s a fairly normal pop song.

The thing is, the song lyrics don’t tell the whole story here. See, the lyric sheet doesn’t include the spoken word segments that open and close the recording (dramatized here).

Yes, the post-WW2 period was one of great social change. I get that. And yeah, by some accounts, there was a shortage of eligible males in the latter half of the decade.

But, really!

How does Linda not notice that her stalker has completely failed to answer her perfectly reasonable question? Or does she expect to be ignored? What does that say about her upbringing?

She obviously doesn’t know–or doesn’t care about–the warning signs of an overly controlling, potentially abusive, partner. And that outro feels one set of broadcast standards away from “Forget about the coffee and talking, let’s just go to bed.”

The song–though not, I think, the framing device–was written for a young girl. Is it intended as a proper model for her behavior? An exaggeration for effect? It’s certainly not presented as a cautionary tale. And at the time the song was written, the girl in question* was less than a year old.

* Irrelevant to this discussion, the original Linda was Linda Eastman, the future wife of Paul McCartney–who wrote a few question-worthy lyrics himself. Clearly there’s a generational influence happening here.

And, of course, some questions can’t be answered. “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” springs to mind*.

* First published in 1922, but the most popular version is arguably Jimmy Witherspoon’s 1947 release.

When the singer talks about jumping into the ocean, she’s not talking about a little dip. The ocean gives and the ocean takes away; is suicide really nobody’s business but the principal? Morality aside, if the water gives back a body, someone has to deal with it.

Maybe it isn’t anyone’s business but those involved if a woman gives all her money to “a friend”, her man, or her father (or is that still “my man”? The language is ambiguous)–or the other way around, for that matter–but wouldn’t most people agree that an intervention is the correct response, especially if there’s physical abuse involved?

How did this song become such a huge hit?

Bewildered, Bothered, Not Bewitched

I can’t be the only person who finds popular music befuddling.

Not in a “how could anyone like that garbage” sense. Every group has been using that line against the music of anyone they don’t like for the last ten thousand years or more.

But we all have moments where a lyric just stops us dead in our tracks while we try to figure out what the heck someone is singing about.

Case in point: “On the Atchison, Topeka, and The Santa Fe“. The Johnny Mercer song–though I don’t doubt the Judy Garland song has a few headscratchers of its own.

But really: If the schedule is so regular that people use the train as a clock, why does the narrator need to tell Jim to get the rig? Doesn’t Jim know it’s that time already? And how big is that rig–it’s got to hold all the passengers from that “pretty big” list and their luggage. I suppose Jim could make multiple trips, but if everyone is going to Brown’s hotel, is that really the most efficient use of Jim’s time and effort?

Come to think of it, why Brown’s hotel? Is the town big enough to support multiple hotels? If not, why does the narrator specifically say “Brown’s”? Wouldn’t “the” be sufficient? Or if there are multiple hotels in town, why is Brown’s getting all the railroad business–does the singer get a kickback from the hotel for sending Jim’s passengers there instead of spreading the business around? Or does he just dislike the owners of the others?

Maybe these aren’t questions of great cosmic importance, but they’re the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night.

Don’t think this sort of confusion is rare. Consider “A-Tisket, A-Tasket“.

How does the singer know a little girl found the dropped basket, much less that she put it in her pocket? She isn’t reviewing security camera footage; not in the 1940s, certainly. Eyewitnesses? But if she’s found enough of those to confirm the kid grabbed the basket, shoved it in a pocket, and strolled off with it, wouldn’t one of them be able to identify the girl, or at a minimum, tell the singer which direction she went?

Come to that, if the basket was so important, how did she not notice she’d dropped it? Is this some kind of sting operation?

Did girl’s clothes in the 1940s have bigger pockets than girl’s clothes do today? Apparently so. Even if the basket was little, how the heck did the little girl get it in a pocket? And not just get it in, but have it be comfortable enough that she didn’t immediately pull it back out and carry it. It couldn’t have been all that tiny, after all, as the singer implies it was large enough to hold a letter.

This story isn’t adding up. At the beginning of the song, the basket is “green and yellow”, yet just a few verses later, it’s very definitively yellow. In fact, it’s specifically, not green (or red or blue) but yellow. And little.

Wait a second. A letter to her mommy? Where is Mommy that the singer couldn’t just give it to her instead of mailing it? And why is she more concerned about the basket than the letter? Was it a gift from Mommy?

Is it just my imagination, or is this getting awfully deep–and confusing–for a song based on a nursery poem?

And don’t be fooled by the fact that both of these songs are pushing 70. Confusing popular songs are a universal. I’d be willing to bet you can think of an example from your favorite decade with no effort at all.

Taking Note

There are a few things that annoy me about SiriusXM–most notably the amount of time spent reminding listeners that there are no commercials and their programmers’ habit of preempting channels for special events (and rearranging the channel lineup with little or no warning).

Even so, as you may have gathered, I like the service. It could improve–less channel segmentation, or at least more channels that cover a range of genres would be nice–but it’s worth the annual subscription.

It’s starting to scare me, though.

Not too long ago, on a cold, gray day when I was more than normally ambivalent about going to work, I got a station break as I backed out of the garage. That ended as just as I shifted into Drive, and I headed up the hill listening to “Mama Told Me Not to Come”. That was followed by “Old Man” and then “Stairway to Heaven”.

At this point, having been informed that I shouldn’t go to work because I was old and going to die, I was seriously considering turning around and going back to bed. Unfortunately, at that point I was halfway across the bridge, where turnaround points are non-existent–and besides, I’d already paid the bridge toll.

So I made the decision to go on, only to be reminded that “People Are Strange”. I could only agree. And change to the 40s channel. Which had, of course, been preempted in favor of “Holiday Traditions”.

I managed to switch to an 80s alternative channel before succumbing to the urge to rip the radio out of the dashboard, but it was a close call.

Despite the warning and the obstacles SiriusXM put in my path, I did make it to work, survived the day, and made it home in one piece, but the next time the radio gives me a warning like that, I think I’ll take its advice. Far easier on the nervous system.

Actually, I should clarify one thing.

My car radio is an older model–I got it at Circuit City, back when there was a Circuit City. So, no touchscreen, no bluetooth, no voice or steering wheel controls. What it does have is a simple segmented LCD panel just wide enough to show eleven characters in all-caps.

So my warning was actually “MAMA TOLD M”, “OLD MAN”, and “STAIRWAY TO”.

Generally not a problem, but it does mean I occasionally get a bit of cognitive dissonance. Did you know The Kinks had a 1966 single called “SUNNY AFTER”? After what? The lyrics don’t give much of a clue.

Then there’s that immortal Stones’ classic “LETS SPEND “. I hadn’t thought the song was quite that explicit about what Mick and Keith were planning.

The real prize, however, was learning that “JEFFERSON A” had a top-ten hit in “WHITE RABBI”. I didn’t know Grace Slick was Jewish…

Despite its limitations, I have no plans to replace the radio with something newer and more capable.

Something else I won’t be getting: Apple’s new AirPods Max* headphones.

* Yes, that is the official name for them. The hazards of applying a single name across a product line. “AirPods”–plural–makes sense for a set of those things you stick in your ears, but rather less so for a single device that covers both ears.

Even if Apple is correct in calling them the greatest auditory experience since “musician” meant “that guy who bangs two sticks together” (I’m paraphrasing their advertising, if you hadn’t guessed.), we can’t lose sight of the fact that, like the rest of the AirPods line, they’re Apple-only.

There’s also–and I can’t believe I’m writing this–the price tag: $550!

That’s more than half the cost of a new M1-based MacBook Air or an iPhone 12.

Reminds me of those legendary restaurants that are so expensive they only need one party of four to pay their rent for the month.

Granted, Apple has always had a reputation for expensive gear, but even by their standards, this is excessive.

If you have to have Apple-made headphones to go with your Apple-made electronics, stick with Beats. Unless you’re in the hundredth of a percent of the population with absolutely perfect hearing you only listen in an acoustically-sealed room, you’re not going to hear the difference.

Seasonal Sickness

Can I share something with you?

No, strike that. I’m going to share something with you.

I’m sick of Christmas carols.

Not in my normal “If I hear ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ one more time, someone is going to die–and it won’t be me,” way.

A few out of the ordinary holiday songs can usually lift me out of that mood.

This year, not so much. I mean, it’s only December 2nd, and I’m at the point where not even Lefty curling up in my lap and purring until his ears–and mine–vibrate does the trick.

I’m not sure I can take another three weeks of “I’m here in prison/the army/quarantine and won’t be able to guzzle eggnog/open presents/smooch my sweetie this year, so you all have a great time without me” songs.

Have you ever noticed how much thematic overlap there is between the non-canonical Christmas songs and Country music? I’ll admit I hadn’t until just now. But I digress.

It doesn’t help a bit that the SiriusXM Forties channel has been replaced with their holiday music channel. If I want a little Gene Krupa or Cab Calloway, I have to fall back on my own music collection! Oh, the horror! The inconvenience!

Yeah, okay, I exaggerate for effect.

But I’m serious about the carols. I don’t usually reach this point until around the 22nd or 23rd.

I’d blame it on reaction to COVID-19–a desperate attempt to establish some normality in the face of the current-and-impending surge, but really, nothing in the onslaught is any different than it was in previous, virus-free years. And, while I’ll cop to a certain amount of virus-imposed weariness and ennui, that doesn’t seem relevant to Early Onset Carol Intolerance.

Hmm. If this malaise to get any significant attention from the medical community, it’s going to need a better acronym.

Am I alone in this suffering? Or is anyone else out there in the same position? If so, should we form a mutual support group?

“Hi, I’m Casey, and I only disemboweled three carol-spouting speakers today. And none of them were human.”

Maybe we’d better each go this one alone.

Odd Associations

Argh!

Forgive me if I sound a trifle aggrieved. I’ve got “Escape” on my mind.

Or to put it another, perhaps more accurately, I’ve got “The Piña Colada Song” running through my head.

Yes, as you may have gathered from last week’s post, I’ve been listening to the Seventies Pop channel on SiriusXM recently. I appreciate the sheer variety satellite radio offers, and for the most part I like hearing an occasional track that’s not in my own record* collection (I won’t go into just how often “occasional” is; just keep in mind that I grew up listening to the radio in the seventies.)

* Okay, yes, these days it’s an mp3-with-intrusions-of-flac collection, but that doesn’t exactly fall trippingly** off the tongue. And much of my accumulated music does exist on rarely-played Lps.

** The spell-checker wants to change “trippingly” to “cripplingly”. Which may be an appropriate word for the way that phrase does cross the lips, but would rather change the meaning of the sentence.

I mean, I’ve got no Ike and Tina Turner in my collection, but their version of “Proud Mary” is nice–and rough. Chicago, The Who, Elvin Bishop, and Fleetwood Mac in the span of an hour? Sure.

Curiously, I’ve yet to hear “Stairway to Heaven”. Is it too “rock” and not sufficiently “pop”? Or do I just have bad timing?

But anyway, doesn’t SiriusXM have some moral responsibility to keep tripe like “Escape” off the airwaves? Haven’t we suffered enough?

Apparently not.

Who decided this was a love song, anyway? She’s cheating on him, he’s cheating on her, and they coincidentally discover they’ve got complementary kinks.

This is not a revitalized relationship. It’s a poisonous hellpit that’s bound to end in tears, murder, or both. Thank all the gods they’re not inflicting their inability to communicate on anyone else. Though Rupert Holmes has a hell of a lot to answer for.

But I digress.

I’ve had three different people tell me the disinfectant we use at work smells like margaritas.

Seriously? It just smells like bleach to me. Which is what the stuff actually is.

Are three people having identical COVID-19 olfactory distortions? Nasal hallucinations? Or am I the only person in the world who doesn’t think margaritas smell like bleach?

Maybe I just don’t drink enough margaritas.

Maybe I should ask someone if I should be salting the rim of the disinfectant bottle.

Maybe I’m thinking about this too much. Rest assured, I’m not planning a taste test. It’s just one of those ideas I can’t quite get out of my head.

Like “The Piña Colada Song”.

Damn.

I think I want a martini.

How’d I Miss That?

I freely admit to being a bit slow. Somewhat oblivious, even.

But even so, I can’t believe it took me almost forty-five years to spot this.

Still, as far as I can tell–a quick web search, a perusal of the relevant Wikipedia article, and a consultation with a couple of people with a grounding in the music of the mid-seventies–nobody else has noticed it either.

Which really surprises me. Forty-five years and nobody has noticed that “Take the Money and Run” can be read–heard?–as a lesbian story?

Stop laughing. I’m serious.

Check out the lyrics.

Every person mentioned in the song is mentioned with a pronoun. Except for one.

“…shot a man while robbing his castle”

“Bobbie Sue…she slipped away”

“Billy Mack…he knows just exactly what the facts is”

But Billy Joe is always referenced by name. The song wouldn’t change an iota if their name was spelled “Billie Jo”.

Still think I’m crazy?

Okay, maybe I am. Granted, certainly, Steve Miller isn’t noted for being the most socially activist musician out there. Not now, not back in the mid-seventies.

But, still, I can’t help picturing some record company executive taking a look at a proof of the lyric sheet for the Fly Like an Eagle album and choking. “Stevie-baby. Love the album, but this one song? Just can’t do it. Two chicks in love? Totally kill sales in the Midwest. Look, just make one of them a guy. Whatdya say?”

Perhaps that’s overblown. Heck, maybe Mr. Miller himself didn’t realize the implications of his lyrics–there’s a well-known story that when author Isaac Asimov confronted a critic over his interpretation of one of Asimov’s stories, the critic replied, “What do you know? You’re only the author.”

Still, as a writer, I’d like to think Steve Miller’s been slipping this bit of (none-too-effective) subversion past listeners for more than four decades. Fiction is far more fun than boring Reality.

People Are Strange

People are strange.

And wrong.

A SiriusXM channel is once again the target of my ire. Or, in this case, I should say that the listeners of 60s on 6 are at fault.

I missed it late last year when they ran a poll to collect the “top 600 songs of the 1960s” and I also missed the playthrough of the entire list. But no matter. They re-ran it this past weekend, and as you may have gathered, I have bones to pick.

I realize that with any venture of this sort, inequities are inevitable, but really, this one is so flawed, I have to limit myself to the Top Ten, or this post will be longer than most novels. I mean, really, how can “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” (#96) be more “top” than “White Rabbit” (#97) and “MacArthur Park” (#98)*?

* I almost said “in what universe” but clearly the answer would be “this one”. Ah, the tribulations of an author looking for just the right phrase…

Honestly, I like all three songs (I’ve mentioned before that I have low tastes), but Henry is quite literally a single joke repeated three times–“Second verse, same as the first”–while the other two make the effort to tell a complete story. They’re complete artistic thoughts that attempt to answer the questions they raise. Why does the widow prefer Henrys? Does being Henry the VIII give the singer the option of executing or divorcing his wife not open to the common Brit?

Anyway. The top ten*.

* The full list is online, of course.

The Beatles got two tracks into the top ten, “Yesterday” (#10) and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (#8). There are nineteen other Beatles’ numbers scattered through the list–not a unreasonable number for the most influential band of the decade. But “top” is not “important”. I may shake my head in sorrow, but I won’t complain out loud.

I also won’t complain about the inclusion of “My Girl” (#9). The Temptations are certainly worthy of a top ten slot, and “My Girl” is certainly one of their better cuts.

But really? “Downtown” at Number Seven? Yes, Petula Clark probably had to be in there somewhere, but how does that particular song make it that far up the list? “Don’t Sleep In the Subway” only hit Number 321 and her second highest placement–“I Know a Place”–is well back at Number 179. (Petula’s also the only woman to crack the top ten. Even the great Patsy Cline only made it to Number 13 with “Crazy”.)

Moving on.

“Cara Mia” from Jay & The Americans? What were the voters thinking? I know, I know: they weren’t.

The Beach Boys’ kick off the top five with “California Girls”. They also had twenty other tunes on the full list. Personally, I’d have picked “Surfer Girl” (#200) over “California Girls”, but I’m mostly okay with this one.

“Oh Pretty Woman”. No top list would be complete without Roy Orbison and this is his best-known work, if not his best musically. But “top” isn’t “best” either. And Roy did have seven other songs on the list.

Number Three is “The House of the Rising Sun”. Great song. Great car singalong. But, third toppest song of the 1960s? I haz a dubious.

“Satisfaction”. Um. Big hit, though I prefer Devo’s cover. And the Stones did put a total of ten tracks in this top 600. But their next best showing was “Get Off My Cloud” at Number 138. That’s quite the drop off–nearly as dramatic as Petula Clark’s. Still, it is the Stones. Give it the benefit of the doubt.

Which brings us to Number One. The toppest of the top. The absolute musical pinnacle of the decade. Who is it? Not Elvis (twelve songs on this list, peaking at Number 21 with “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”).

Brace yourselves.

“Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers.
Seriously.

This is a miscarriage of justice on a par with the 2000 Presidential Election. I suspect somebody was stuffing the ballot box.

But then again, maybe it’s perfectly legitimate. Nobody who survived the election in 2016 can say voters always make the right choice. Not with a straight face anyway.

People are strange. (Oh, and “People Are Strange” didn’t make the list. The Doors only got one song into the Top 600: “Light My Fire” at Number 50. Go figure.)

How About 32,000?

A few further comments on my iPod rebuild, now that I’ve had a little time to play with the device and have started to get the hang of Rockbox.

The flash drive is much lighter. Those few grams may not seem like much, but you notice the difference. And, since there are no moving parts, using a modified iPod on the go feels more comfortable. Exercise? Potholed roads? Sure, go ahead. Better yet, add a cheap Bluetooth transmitter that plugs into the headphone jack, and you can do away with that annoying wires to your headphones or the car stereo’s aux jack.

If you’re doing the hard drive replacement, it’s a good time to look at your iPod’s battery life. On the one hand, opening an iPod Classic is such a pain that you might want to save yourself some trouble and expense by swapping in a new battery at the same time you put in the flash card. On the other hand, the flash card uses so much less power, you may not need to replace the battery to get adequate life.

Not only does the flash card use less power than the original hard drive, it’s much faster. When I did some tests with Rockbox prior to the drive replacement, it took hours for the software to build its database of music. After the replacement, with about five times as many tracks, building the database took less than ten minutes.

Similarly, there’s no lag between tracks. Unlike the hard drive, there’s no spin-up time when the iPod wakes up the flash drive. Well, okay, there is, but it’s measured in fractions of a second instead of multiples of a second.

Rockbox supports music in many formats that Apple’s software doesn’t know anything about. If you keep your music in a flac format for the best possible sound on your computer, loading it to an iPod via iTunes requires converting it to aac or mp3. Sure, iTunes takes care of that for you, but it still takes time and you wind up storing a duplicate copy. Why waste the space on your computer–not everyone has a 50 terabyte server in their home office. Admittedly, the music may not sound any better on the iPod–let’s be honest, even when the iPod Classic was new, there were complaints about the sound quality–but it’s certainly not going to sound any worse either.

To be fair, everything isn’t wonderful in Rockbox-land.

It doesn’t work exactly like the original iPod software. Buttons do some different things, so there is a learning curve.

You can still use iTunes, but you don’t have to. Be aware that if you don’t, you lose Apple’s music management, metadata editing, and playlist generation. Those can all be replaced, but if you’re comfortable with Apple’s approach, you might want to stick with iTunes.

If you do stick with iTunes, however, you should know that some versions have a limit on the number of tracks you can store and the number of tracks per playlist. On some older versions, those limits may be as low as 100 per playlist and 25,000 total. If you like the “I forgot I owned that” moment of discovery that comes from setting your device on “shuffle” and letting it skip around through your entire library, 100 tracks isn’t going to work for you.

Rockbox also has a playlist limit (although there’s no total track limit). However, unlike Apple, you can change it. By default, the limit is 1,000 tracks. The “Settings” screen will allow you to change it to 32,000, but if you’re willing to live on the edge*, you can crank it up as high as you want. For the record, I have around 42,000 tracks–I’ve been buying music for four decades and I’m a packrat–so I set the limit at 64,000 tracks.

* The documentation warns that this can result in memory shortages, but so far at least, I haven’t had any problems. (As a reminder to myself, to set a limit higher than 32,000, you copy Rockbox’s “config.cfg” to “fixed.cfg” and edit the new file with any text editor. Delete the lines you don’t need and change the track limit to whatever you want. When you turn on the iPod, config.cfg gets loaded first, then anything in fixed.cfg replaces the settings in config.cfg. That allows you to make changes while you’re listening to music, but always return to your normal setup at power-on.)

Rockbox isn’t as polished as Apple’s iPod software, but it more than gets the job done. I love having 42,000 tracks in my backpack. Assuming the average song is five minutes long, that gives me more than three months of continuous music and comedy with no commercials. Not bad at all, even if the iPod has to be recharged every couple of days.

When 120GB Isn’t Enough

I’ll admit up front that this post will probably only be of interest to a couple of you.

But for the sake of the two or three of you who might find it useful, allow me to take you all back into the past.

Before there was the iPhone, there was the iPod in all its many sizes and shapes. And in those days before streaming, you needed lots of storage to carry all your music with you.

Of course, back in those days, “lots of storage” meant something very different than it does today. We’re talking 2001-2004, and the top of the line iPods had astoundingly large 40GB hard drives.

Yes, actual hard drives, not flash storage. Itty-bitty 1.8-inch drives. Packing that much storage into something that small was expensive. The fourth-generation iPod that came out in 2004 cost $399 for that 40GB model. But you could, in all likelihood, put your entire music collection on that drive.

Fast forward to 2007 and 2008. By then, Apple was moving to the streaming model. They didn’t really want people carrying their collections. They wanted everyone to stream their music from the iTunes store to their spiffy new iPod Touch devices which maxed out at 32GB of flash storage.

Of course, those of us who had big collections didn’t go for that at all, and we jumped on what turned out to be the last generation of non-touch iPods: the iPod Classic with 80GB, 120GB, or 160GB of storage.

Those Classics have served us well, but our collections have grown. And, regrettably, hard drives do fail. A fifteen-year-old drive should rightly be regarded with suspicion.

The result is a bunch of excellent music players gathering dust.

Naturally, this is the point where the Internet and some dedicated hardware hackers step in.

Flash storage is cheap. What if we could replace that 1.8-inch hunk of metal with an SD card? Physically smaller, use less power, read and write faster, and offer capacities well beyond 160GB.

Turns out you can.

It’s a three step process, which I’m going to document here, partly for any of you who have elderly iPod Classics going to waste, and partly to help me remember how to do it, in case I need to repeat the process somewhere down the line.

Step One: Get the necessary hardware. You need a small circuit board to allow you to put an SD card where the hard drive used to be. You also need the SD card or cards.

At this point, I’m going to recommend iFlash. I bought their iFlash Solo*. Total cost, including shipping from the UK, ran me $44. I probably got lucky, but even in the face of world-wide lockdowns, it only took a couple of weeks to get here.

* The Solo, as the name implies, holds a single SD card. Iflash also offers the Duo and the Quad, which allow you to use multiple cards and have them show up on the iPod as a single drive. Handy if you want really awesomely large capacities or want to make use of whatever SD cards you have lying around the house.

Note that the iFlash boards call for SD cards. If you want to use a microSD card, make sure you get one that comes with an adapter. I wound up with a 512GB PNY microSD card. It came with an adapter and ran me about $100.

Step Two: This is the hardest part. Apple very much does not want you to open your iPod Classic. I failed completely. A friend of mine who repairs computers failed completely. I finally wound up taking the whole pile of parts to a local Mac repair shop. They opened the iPod, swapped the drive for my Solo+512GB microSD card, and reassembled the device. Best $30 I’ve spent all year.

Step Three: At this point, if all you wanted to do was replace a failing hard drive with and SD card, you’re done. Plug the iPod into your computer, let iTunes format it, and you’re all set.

13-1

Unfortunately, if you wanted to increase the capacity of the iPod, you’ve got more work to do. Take another look at that picture. “127 GB Free”. What happened to the rest of my 512GB?

Well, back in those long-ago days, operating systems couldn’t easily deal with drives larger than 128GB. There were some tricks available (hence that 160GB iPod Classic), but they were very limited.

So, to take advantage of that new space, you have to replace Apple’s iPod software with something more modern. Like Rockbox. Specifically, Rockbox for the iPod Classic.

Let’s extend our steps a bit.

Step Four: Install Rockbox. It’s easy. Plug in the iPod to your computer, download and run the installer. Whoops, forgot a step.

Step Three Point Five: Rockbox doesn’t recognize the Macintosh disk format. So you need to use iTunes on Windows to format the iPod. Launch iTunes, plug in the iPod, and say “Yes” when iTunes asks if you want to initialize the iPod.

Okay, back to Step Four. You can take the defaults on the installer. Select your iPod and follow the prompts. You will have to reboot the iPod at one point, but don’t worry, the Rockbox installer will tell you when to do it and how.

Once Rockbox is installed, you’ll see this:
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Yup, still only seeing 128GB. That’s because we have to reformat the iPod to use the entire SD card. So, on to

Step Five: This is the tricky bit. The iPod needs to be formatted in FAT32*. Unfortunately, Windows won’t let you format a drive larger than 32GB in FAT32. There are a number of programs that will let you get around that restriction. Google is your friend here. Or use a Mac and choose “Windows (FAT)” as the format.

Don’t worry about what these names mean. They’re just different ways to lay out the data on a drive.

    1. Using Windows File Explorer or Mac Finder, copy the folder “.rockbox” from the iPod to your desktop. This folder is where Rockbox stores its configuration. Without it, your iPod won’t boot to the point of being able to play music.
    2. Format the iPod.
    3. Copy the “.rockbox” folder back from your desktop to the iPod.

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Ta-da! (Let’s not go into why a 512GB SD card only gives you 462GB of storage.)

Step Six: Load up your iPod. You’ll find that it is much faster. (Quieter, too.) Which is not to say it’s fast. The connection is still USB2, which puts an upper limit on how quickly your music can be copied. But you can always start the copy and let it run overnight.

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That took about twelve hours. But I’ve still got more than a quarter of the SD card free. I figure I shouldn’t need to upgrade the storage for at least another six months.

(Oops. Just realized I forgot to set the iPod’s clock. I’ll go do that now.)

Anyway, total cost of the upgrade was well under $200. That’s less than a 32GB iPod Touch. (The current top of the line iPod Touch will run you $400 for 256GB.) Makes the math easy, doesn’t it?