This blog post will seem rather long, purist, and completist. That is the point. Sorry.
In around 1989, when I was 16 or 17, I got Dave Marsh’s Heart of Rock and Soul book, probably on the strength of a Q Magazine review. I spent the next few years searching for the songs it described, mostly from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Living in Swindon (UK), before the web, before Amazon, this involved many disappointing visits to awful second hand record shops.
At the time, UK radio was dominated by some awful crap and UK politics was coldly populist, as if it wasn’t hard enough being a teenager. Dave Marsh’s passionate rants gave me something better. My opinions of music and US politics have been pretty much lifted from him ever since, maturing only slightly.
His book introduced me to artists I would never have found otherwise, such as Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Roy Orbison, and Bobby Bland. It invited me to love Motown, Stax, Chess, and Atlantic soul wholeheartedly. It elevated Springsteen, Madonna and Prince above their mediocre company. I made time for George Jones and Patsy Cline. But I found only a fraction of the 1001 songs and over the years I stopped looking and graduated to other distractions. I lost my collection of CDs and cassettes in a series of moves, when I couldn’t take what I couldn’t carry. My small box of vinyl was allegedly taken to a charity shop in the 90s. I even lost the book.
Google Music All Access
A couple of months ago, I signed up for Google Music All Access, got a new copy of the book, and started hunting again. I’ve built up a Google Music playlist of most of the songs from Heart of Rock and Soul. Until now, I had still never heard a third of the songs. Almost all of them fill me with joy.
This time around I’ve realized how many doo-wop songs are in the list, and how good they are. And there are a couple of wonderfully strange old R&B songs that are new to me: such as Brenton Wood’s Oogum Boogum. I’m not enthused about most of the country songs that are new to me, but they might grow on me.
The kids seem to like it too. I had been trying to bombard them with Motown and Stax collections without much success, but the variety of this playlist sometimes grabs them. They like the doo-wop and the girl groups.
The rest of this post is a rather specific snapshot of the distribution and licensing problems that still seem to affect online music, along with a lack of curation by actual humans. I guess it’s representative.
I’ve blogged separately about some of the problems with Google Music specifically.
Multiple versions, re-recordings
I guess this has been possible for ages with Apple’s iTunes (though I use Linux and Android) but only All Access lets me listen to multiple versions of each song to decide which one is the original recording, without forcing me to pay for each attempt. That’s important because many 50s and 60s songs have been re-recorded so badly so many times. Presumably the original contracts wouldn’t have let the artists earn money with the originals, though I doubt they ever made much from the faked greatest hits compilations either.
I used 45cat.com and Google image searches to find pictures of the original 45″ singles, whose labels often mention the duration, so I knew where to start.
Just for instance, Google Music has:
- 25 versions of “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I am)” by The Tams, with around 10 different durations.
- Over 100 versions of “Be Bop A Lula” by Gene Vincent, with around 25 different durations.
- 26 versions of “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugar Hill Gang, with around 10 different durations.
- 25 versions of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by The Animals, with around 8 different durations.
- 100 versions of “A Lovers’s Question” by Clyde McPhatter, with around 5 subtly different durations.
(And that’s ignoring the Karaoke versions that exist of almost all songs. I wish I could just turn them off in Google Music.)
It would be great if Google could at least calculate the duration after stripping silence from the start and end of tracks. It would be even better if it analyzed the tracks and offered to group them into apparent duplicates. It would be a Googly problem to solve.
It would then be nice to blacklist some compilation albums so they don’t even appear in the search results by default. For instance, this “The Premium Collection” Drifters compilation seems to be all half-hearted re-recordings but this “Essentials” Drifters collection, though incomplete, is full of wonderful.
Google Music is Incomplete
I’ve been far more successful with Google Music than I ever was with second-hand record shops, but I had to go to Amazon for some MP3s, and some were only on iTunes. I’ve also had to buy a few CDs to get stuff that I can’t buy digitally anywhere. That got my count up to 992 out of 1001.
Some of the fairly mainstream stuff that was so hard to find the first time is still hard to find online now. For instance, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and Bob Seger seem to have had licensing problems or objections back then that continue even now.
There are probably even more songs from the list that aren’t in Google Music – I had already uploaded my personal collection of MP3s when I started.
Not on Google Music, but on Amazon (amazon.de) as MP3s
- The Young Rascals: Good Lovin’
Google has the album that’s meant to have it, but the track is missing.
amazon.de has the MP3 from that album. amazon.com has the MP3 too.
It’s also on iTunes, which has the full version of the album.
- John Lennon: Instant Karma (We All Shine On)
amazon.de has it (remastered) as an MP3. amazon.com has the MP3 too.
- Big Youth: Streets in Africa
It’s on Google Music, but with the artist listed as The Heptones, and with a burst of distortion at the start.
It’s on amazon.de as MP3 for instance on the “The Chanting Dread Inna Fine Style” compilation album, or amazon.com also as MP3.
Not on Google Music, not on Amazon (amazon.de), but on iTunes.
- The Beatles: “Ticket to Ride”, “She Loves You”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Twist and Shout”, “Help”, “Day Tripper”, “I’m Down”, “Get Back”, “Revolution”, “We Can Work it Out”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “I Feel Fine”.
Of course, it’s well known that iTunes has a Beatles exclusive. That’s just annoying.
- Lenny O’Henry: Across the Street
Not on Google, not on Amazon, not on Spotify. iTunes has it.
- The Manhattans: Follow your heart
It’s on amazon.com as MP3, but amazon.de has it only on a CD. iTunes has it.
On CD Only
These were on CDs, but not on Google, Amazon.de, or ITunes as MP3s. I bought the CDs mostly from Amazon 3rd-party sellers and ebay.
- Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels: Devil with a Blue Dress On / Good Golly Miss Molly (Medley) and Little Latin Lupe Lu.
amazon.de has the Rev Up compilation CD. amazon.com has a different compilation album of the same name on MP3.
Google Music had the album at first but then silently refused to actually play its songs (see below). Google Music also has some later lame re-recordings by Mitch Ryder.
I used to have a similar compilation on cassette in the car. I’ve missed it.
- Van Morrison: Wavelength
amazon.com has the Wavelength Album on CD:
amazon.de has the Wavelength album on CD from third-parties.
This song felt worth the twenty year wait.
- Van Morrison: it’s all in the game
amazon.com has it as MP3 on the Into The Music album.
amazon.de has it only on the Into The Music album CD.
- Bob Seger: Roll Me Away, Night Moves, 2 + 2 = ?, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man
Google Play’s regular search takes me to his “Ultimate Hits” compilation listing a price even though I’m paying for All Access. Strangely, Google Music’s search doesn’t show it. Maybe that’s because it’s not part of All Access for some reason.
Amazon and iTunes have everything but “2 + 2 = ?” on “Ultimate Hits”, only available on CD on amazon.de but available in MP3 on amazon.com.
- Johnny Rivers: Secret Agent Man
amazon.com only has a re-recording as MP3.
Amazon.de and iTunes don’t have it as MP3 either, though they have an album (compilation?) of that name, without the title song.
Amazon.de has Bear Family’s Summer Rains compilation on CD. Amazon.com has the CD too.
- The Parliaments: (I Wanna) Testify
Google Music only has later (longer, looser) versions, by Parliament instead of The Parliaments.
iTunes has the single version, correctly listed under The Parliaments.
amazon.de has it on CD from third-party sellers. amazon.com has it on CD too for crazy prices.
- David & David: Welcome to the Boomtown
It’s on amazon.com as an MP3 but amazon.de has it only on the album CD.
- Planet Patrol: I Didn’t Know I Loved You (‘Til I Saw You Rock and Roll)
It’s on iTunes, on “The Tommy Boy Story volume 1”, which is also on Google Music, but with only 1 track.
Amzon.com has it as MP3 from that album and amazon.de has it as MP3 too.
- Larry Williams and Johnny Watson: Mercy Mercy Mercy
It’s on amazon.de, on the Two For the Price of One album CD.
It’s on amazon.com, also as MP3.
It’s not on iTunes either.
- Jerry Lee Lewis: One Has My Name
It’s not on Google and not on iTunes.
It’s on amazon.com as MP3.
It’s on amazon.de, but only as a CD.
- Wallace Brothers: Precious words
Not on Google, not on iTunes.
On amazon.com on a compilation, but only as a CD.
On amazon.de, as a CD.
- Donna Fargo: A Sign of the Times
Not on Google Music, not on iTunes.
On amazon.com as an MP3.
On amazon.de, but only on a CD from third-parties.
When I finally heard it, it didn’t seem worth all the effort.
- War, Slippin’ Into Darkness
Not on Google Music (though a live version is there.)
amazon.com has it as an MP3.
amazon.de has it only on a compilation CD.
The last few songs that I can’t find anywhere (not Google Music, not Amazon MP3s, not iTunes, not Spotify) are:
- Charity songs such as Artists Against Apartheid’s “Sun City” or USA For Africa’s “We Are The World”. I guess the licensing for so many artists on one track is just too complicated.
- Early sample-based dance tracks, such as Bonzo Goes To Washington’s “Five Minutes (C-C-C Club Mix)”. It’s not on Google or Amazon. iTunes only has the R-R-R Radio Mix and the B-B-B Bombing Mix. Again, licensing is probably too complicated.
- Donna Summer’s “Cold Love”.
It’s on her The Wanderer album, but that’s hard to find on CD at reasonable prices.
- Clarence Carter’s “Sixty Minute Man”.
It’s not on Google, not on Amazon, even as a CD, and not on iTunes.
- Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” (Live, B-Side to single).
Google Music, Amazon, and iTunes have album version, but not this B-Side.
- Elvis Costello’s “Psycho”.
It’s not on Google, Amazon, iTunes, or Spotify. It (and a live version) was on the Bonus Disk from the 2004 Almost Blue album reissue but that version is no longer available. A third party has it on Amazon.com for 1010 USD.
- Richard “Dimples” Fields: “If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another”
I can’t find the single edit, without the ending sermon, though the album version is on Google, Amazon, and iTunes.
- Skipworth & Turner’s “Can’t Give Her Up”.
It’s not on amazon.com, not on amazon.de, not on iTunes, not on Spotify.
- Timex Social Club’s “Rumors”.
- Noel’s “Silent Morning”.
Google, Amazon and iTunes have varous “Dance Mix”es but not the 12 inch mentioned in the book or the 7 inch. I can live without this.
I have a second version of the playlist that removes some stuff that I’d rather not hear too often, such as Billy Ocean’s creepy (and not that good) “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car”, talky stuff like the Special AKA’s The Boiler, Donna Fargo’s Sign of the Times, Isaac Hayes’ By The Time I Get To Phoenix, and the Christmas songs.