App of the Week: Take guesswork out of guessing artists's works

Curt Brandao reviews an app that can tell you every detail about that song playing in the background.

Screen grab of the Shazam app
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When I was a mere tyke in the early 1970s, my teenage brother was sometimes enlisted to drive me from one scheduled appearance to another in his baby blue Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and it was never the highlight of either of our days.

First, he was always late - nothing cries "pitiful" more than being the last second-grader to be picked up from Little League practice.

But second, after he arrived he insisted on jamming an eight-track tape of The Kinks into the car stereo and blaring their songs so loud I couldn't hear myself think (at the time a challenge for me even under the best of circumstances).

Not surprisingly, around that same time, I also never gave Walter Cronkite my full attention when he was on TV talking about East African dictators - only bits and pieces occasionally got through.

How do these things relate? Well, until about two years ago, I thought the chorus to You Really Got Me was "I'm Idi Amin! I'm Idi Amin!"

The app

If only I'd had Shazam (free, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry, Nokia) a smartphone app that clears up musical misconceptions by retrieving a song's entire biography after it records just a snippet as it wafts through bars, bounces around elevators, or even bursts through blown-out speakers in a baby blue Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (if there's still one out there).

It even serves up the lyrics so you can stop pop-culture blind spots before they start.

The details

Shazam offers a paid version as well for Dh22 that features LyricPlay, which displays words from any of the 25,000 most popular songs on its servers in real time, karaoke style.

However, for now this feature is only available for smartphone users with IP addresses in the US, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Germany Spain, Australia and New Zealand.

Still, everyone who buys the paid app gets unlimited "tagging", a kind of hyper-social-network-connected filing system for things you've Shazam'd.

But whether paid or free, once a song is identified Shazam's scroll-down menu can make you an instant expert on that song you probably just vaguely recognised a few seconds ago, pointing you to the identified artist's iTunes collection, YouTube videos, tour info, bio and even live shows.

On a related note, the website curates a seemingly infinite list of misunderstood music lyrics submitted by readers, including national anthems ("Oh, Canada, we stand on cars and freeze …"), but Shazam offers a mobile solution for settling disputes among friends about all flavour of Top 40 minutiae.

And I'm sure The Kinks, at least, will appreciate the effort.

Make the most of your smartphone with App of the Week. Have some great personal finance apps that you want to share? Write to Curt Brandao at