I have a sort of love-hate relationship with the streaming universe… Conceptually I like streaming because it potentially opens up a lot of music to people, putting vast quantities of the stuff conveniently at your fingertips. It is kind of like getting that entire leg of Prosciutto Ham or a 50-pound wheel of Pecorino Cheese or several months worth of toilet paper at Costco. I get the underlying appeal. Especially since I have bought a lot of music over the years and have 8 – 10,000 vinyl LPs, thousands of 45s, hundreds of 78s, Blu-rays and DVD and many thousands of CDs.
Some of my grumps: I still have some problems with the sound quality on certain platform super popular platforms… and the general lack of compelling liner notes and album artwork resulting in a weak interactive experience which can leave listeners disengaged and not particularly connected to the music they are checking out…
In some ways it’s the equivalent of flipping through those rather generic music channels on your cable TV service, where everything becomes so much background fodder… I also have problems with the terrible royalty based on streaming audio and how little they are ultimately returning to the artists… But those are all all discussions for another time and place.
That said, I recently found a semi-gaping hole in the universe of streaming services. You see, I was trying to put together a playlist for a friend based on an old mix-tape I’d made 25 years ago featuring nothing but rare-ish, less common and even some choice versions of songs by Neil Young, The Grateful Dead and Elvis Costello. Many of those tracks turn out to be unavailable on the streaming services.
More on that in a moment…
So with that in mind, I thought it would be good to discuss this, highlighting that perhaps there is good reason for people to hold onto their CDs a little bit longer if you still have them. In the 1980s and 90s, compilation albums became a popular phenomenon, many with unique performances by a diverse roster of artists paying tribute to legendary composers, performers and even theatrical shows. Often times these collections cross pollinated music across labels performing versions of songs that were typically unique to those CDs.
Some of these albums are quite fantastic and I have found relatively few of them on the streaming services. Before I get to the obscure gems that are on the streaming services (in Part II) let me point out a handful of very common ones that I thought would’ve been everywhere in the streaming universe:
This all star tribute featues John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Eddie Money, Elvis Costello, Roberta Flack and even a young Sean Ono Lennon all performing songs written by Yoko Ono. Elvis’ version of “Walking On Thin Ice” is on Qobuz from his UK only Out of Our Idiot compilation (click here). Other than that, this album is MIA. Fortunately you can find the CD and LP versions pretty easily via Discogs (click here)
This is a fantastic Hal Wilner production featuring no less than Van Dyke Parks, Sting, John Zorn, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Carla Bley, Charlie Haden and many others. It is not on Tidal but it is on Qobuz (click here) and Spotify (click here). It is going for silly money on Amazon however as you can find it fairly easily on used vinyl in stores or on Discogs (click here) but if you want the digital version, CDs are also fairly common (click here) although I think those are somewhat over priced — I still see this one in bargain bins and thrift shops a lot.
Yes, the music of Karen and Richard Carpenter as performed by Sonic Youth, Sheryl Crow, Redd Kross, 4 Non Blondes, Matthew Sweet, The Cranberries and even Shonen Knife.
I did find The Cure’s version of “Purple Haze” up on Tidal but otherwise these performances of Hendrix covers by Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Body Count, Pretenders, P.M. Dawn and even Pat Metheny seem to be unavailable. But you can find this fine Jimi Hendrix tribute album on Discogs quite reasonably (click here). And while there was a Music On Vinyl reissue in 2015 you can also find original Reprise copies around these days with not too much trouble (click here)
This fabulous CD from 2003 is commanding (apparently) some hefty fees these days even on Amazon. Perhaps it is because these are unique performances by an almost who’s who of indie rock: The Polyphonic Spree, Frank Black (Pixies), Yoko Ono, Spoon, The Breeders, Bob Mould, Sleater-Kinney with Fred Schneider (B-52s) and more. It is not on Tidal, Qobuz or Spotify but is going for stupid high price on Amazon. You can find it much more reasonably via Discogs (click here)
In case you are wondering what happened to that Playlist I made, I ended up doing a 21st Century approximation and you can find “Young Dead Elvis” on Tidal (click here) and a slightly different version on Spotify (click here) due to some tracks being unavailable on each service. Eventually I’ll make a Qobuz version but for now I hope some of you enjoy it.