Tag Archives: Amazon

The chase is over!

If you read Sunday’s article ‘The thrill of the chase’, (if not, go and read it now, then come back) you’ll know that there was still one record that has eluded me for the best part of 20 years.

‘Earthly powers’ by A Man Called Adam.

The one that got away - or did it?

The one that got away - or did it?

Well, inspired by a comment posted by ‘Don Pash’ this evening, I decided to pick up the trail that had gone cold for more than one of us for a considerably long time.

This time I decided to unleash all the powers of the Internet on my quarry and conduct the search in cyberspace.

Thrillingly, a Google search bore fruit instantly, with a link to this clip on Youtube, which enabled me to listen to this classic slab of Acid Jazz for the first time in 18 years.

For nine and a half minutes I was transported back to the very late eighties, and the last time I’d heard this song, travelling in a car with my parents and my little brother, who introduced me to the awesome tune in the first place.

Appetite duly whetted, I ploughed on through the many search results, some promising a tantalising download, but failing to produce the goods. However, I did finally manage to track down a retailer willing to supply the 12″ vinyl version, the aptly titled ‘Hard to find Records’. The only snag is of course, that I don’t own a record player.

Further diligence paid off though, and I tracked down the only CD in existence on which the track is included, Totally Wired & Illicit Grooves: Acid Jazz – The Birth of a Scene 1987-1990 which I have now ordered from Amazon and should be with me very soon.

That elusive, now deleted, track will be on my ipod within the week.

Not only am I delighted to be reunited with this great song after all this time, but it seems somehow fitting that I located it using the power of technology. The ‘search’ argument that started with Spotify, via independent record stores has come full circle and ended with Google. As another wise correspondent suggested earlier this week “vinyl, CD, mp3, itunes, Spotify, they all have their merits, why can’t we all get along?”.

I believe we can, and just to prove it, Don Pash, I bought the 12″ version from Hard To Find Records for you. After all, that’s what big brothers are for.

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The thrill of the chase

Amidst all the debates about how Spotify is changing music, and what the long term effects of this might be for the industry and consumers, one thing remains clear – it’s a brilliant way of discovering new music and re-discovering tunes you’ve loved and lost.

I’ve benefitted from this greatly in the last few weeks and have a stock of playlists that are providing new delights on a daily basis. For example, only yesterday my birthday was made all the more enjoyable by discovering Great Lake Swimmers, a band from Toronto I’d never previously heard of, whose album ‘Ongiara’ provided a great soundtrack to a relaxing afternoon thanks to my fabulous new Sony laptop speakers.

The only downside though, is that it’s all really easy. Type in the name of the artist or song, and a split-second later you either have what you’re looking for, or you don’t, because it’s not in the library yet. Despite the ludicrous convenience of being able to do this so quickly and for free it is somehow less satisfying than spending ages tracking down an obscure album yourself by trawling through the CD racks of whatever independent record stores you can find still in business.

I’m sure I’m not alone in revelling in the thrill of the chase, and the immense sense of satisfaction you feel when you finally corner your quarry and bring back the spoils. Here are three of my most pleasing ‘old school’ searches for albums/songs that would probably be filed under ‘obscure’:

What treasures lurk within the racks?

What treasures lurk within the racks?

‘Century Flower’ by Shelleyan Orphan

Tracked down in Toronto

Tracked down in Toronto

Many moons ago, during the early days of The Tube, Channel 4’s first and probably best music show, I saw a performance of a song by Shelleyan Orphan which transfixed me. An impressionable teenager with artistic tendencies, seeing a band named after a Romantic Poet and featuring a pre-Raphelite beauty playing a cello, on a song that sounded like nothing I’d previously encountered, it was bound to leave a significant mark.

I can’t even remember which song it was now, but I distinctly remember the many occasions over the following decade when I’d scan the shelves in any record store I happened to be in, hoping to find their album ‘Century Flower’. Once or twice I found it, but in those days the lack of a disposable income and any opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ resulted in me leaving my treasure unclaimed, just in case I’d end up blowing my meagre funds on a duffer.

So, the years passed, and the urgency faded. Then, on holiday in Toronto in December 1996, approximately nine years after the original search began I found myself in a small independent store in the downtown area and out of habit I did a quick flick through under ‘F’ for Felt (another occasional obsession) to no avail, and then on to ‘S’, where I found one copy of ‘Century Flower’. I remember being shocked, then excitement took over and I pounced to secure the purchase, all the caution of yesteryear cast to the winds.

Sadly, this is one example where the delicious anticipation of the chase proved more enjoyable and rewarding than the prize. It wasn’t exactly a duffer, but the fact that only one track, ‘The Silent Day’ appears on my ipod today tells its own story. As a footnote to this tale I should advise you that the four or five seconds it takes to type ‘Shelleyan Orphan’ and press enter, yields 34 tracks on Spotify – it may be time to give them another try.

‘The bushes scream while my daddy prunes’ by The Very Things

Best song title ever?

Best song title ever?

This was another classic Tube moment that gripped me around the same time. If you remember it, or have ever seen the video you will understand why. Being a words man from an early age, the song title itself struck me as a work of genius, and the cod horror film style delivery of the quite baffling lyric (reminiscent of ‘Monster Mash’ or ‘The Munsters’) amused me and my little brother no end. Incessant impersonations of the song ensued around the Cook household for weeks after, much to the bafflement and dismay of our parents.

This was a hard one to track down, because The Very Things did not really become a household name, as you might imagine – probably quite rightly if we’re honest. I don’t recall ever being able to find it in a record store, though I always checked the ‘V’ rack just in case an album containing the track was lying in wait.

Then early last year, 24 years after the song originally appeared, I decided to give the itunes store what I considered to be its ultimate test. To my utter amazement, there it was, and for the princely sum of £0.79 I had captured a song that had eluded me for the best part of a quarter of a century. This time there was no disappointment – I was instantly transported back to 1984 and recaptured my initial excitement at the slightly unhinged ‘singing’ and occasionally discordant accompaniment.

I just checked Spotify and although it took about seven seconds to type in the song title, that track and the whole album of the same name are available – I might be brave enough to check out ‘Shearing machine’ tomorrow!

‘The Forest is Crying’ by the Trio Bulgarka

If only they knew how much I'd cared ...

If only they knew how much I'd cared ...

This one is my favourite search story because it’s a real saga. I first heard the Trio Bulgarka on Kate Bush’s album ‘The Sensual World’ and fell in love with their magical, mystical vocals which were obviously complete gibberish to me, yet sounded strangely compelling. I bought their album ‘The Forest is Crying’ when it came out in 1988, and played it very often, especially the track ‘Mari Tudoro’ which was just hauntingly beautiful and became a firm favourite.

‘So where’s the search in that?’ you may ask. Well, let’s cut to the chase. Just over a decade later, someone borrowed some of my CDs to take to work, including that one. When they were returned, the case for this album was empty and the person concerned made no attempt to find it or even apologise. One might even conclude that they’d done it on purpose. Bulgarian folk music may not be everyone’s bag, but that’s just rude.

So, as it was a treasured album, the search for its replacement was fervent and relentless. And seemingly doomed. After putting in the usual legwork in record stores proved fruitless, I took advantage of access to the new internet technology and extended the search online. It was then that I discovered that the album had been deleted by the record label Hannibal, and was subsequently unavailable for purchase. Refusing to accept defeat I tried various other routes, including registering a reservation request on Amazon, which again, eventually proved to be a frustrating dead end. By this time (about four or five years later!) I was feeling like the online equivalent of J R Hartley from the old Yellow Pages ad, hapless and defeated.

So I gave up. Forgot all about it, and moved on.

Until this time last year, when on a week’s holiday to New York I was pottering around the Virgin Megastore in Union Square after a fabulous breakfast burrito. On a whim, I ventured into the World Music section which I hadn’t done for several years, and had a quick look under T. And there it was, in all its glory, with the same CD cover. Just one copy.

I instinctively grabbed it, to ensure no-one else beat me to it, before laughing out loud at how ridiculous the gesture was. I was so surprised by my find I had a job explaining the significance of it to Nic (my wonderful wife) when I found her in the Pop section. To her immense credit she didn’t look at me as if I was insane, and seemed to understand my joy, even if it would have been hard for her to share my enthusiasm for the album.

There was one further slight twist, when we got to the checkout and my credit card was originally refused (due to the over-enthusiastic fraud protection measures practised by certain British banks that fail to consider you might be legitimately buying things on holiday abroad). I was not about to let that prevent me from claiming my prize, and although I was prepared to get as dramatic as circumstances required, the cash machine in the shop had less scruples and paved the way to purchase.

Twenty years after I originally owned it, and ten years after it had been cast asunder, I finally had it back in my possession. As soon as we got back to the UK it was transferred to my ipod and I was enjoying the delights of those strange ethereal warblings once again.

Satisfyingly, you can’t get this album on Spotify …. yet.

The one that got away

There’s still one song that has eluded me over the past two decades, and I haven’t even got very close. That’s partly due to the fact that I can’t remember if it was called ‘Heavenly powers’ or ‘Earthly powers’ but it was by A Man Called Adam (that’s the real group name, not further proof of my dodgy memory skills).

I’ve scoured record stores, drawn a blank with Amazon and itunes, and Spotify has also failed me to date.

If anyone out there can point me in the right direction I will be ridiculously grateful.

The chase is on …….

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Is Spotify really killing music … already?

Spotify - ooh isn't it evil!

Spotify - oooh isn't it evil!

I’ve been using Spotify for nearly three weeks now, and have managed to convince a lot of other people to give it a try. Everyone who has done so has been very impressed, from techie expert work colleagues who have quoted my blog article on Twitter (thanks Patrick!), via old friends I’ve caught up with online who confess to being addicted (cheers Martine!) through to my dear old dad (a sprightly 66 year-old ‘silver surfer’) who’s quite besotted with his new toy.

However, as media coverage of Spotify increases and more and more people are discovering its benefits (40,000 new subscribers per day in the UK and counting) I’ve noticed several articles and opinion pieces that suggest its widespread popularity is not such good news after all.

It is perhaps unsurprising that some scaremongers and professional pessimists are trying to suggest that Spotify is evil, arguing that it is the noughties equivalent of home taping (which did kill music, obviously!) in the early eighties. This is the UK after all, and we never miss an opportunity to respond to something innovative and useful by shooting it down with a barrage of cynicism.

Apparently many people have reacted to the concept of Spotify’s huge music library being available for free by claiming that they (and by extension everyone they know) will never buy another CD or pay for a download as long as they live.

Utter nonsense.

Why that argument is rubbish

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the opposite is true, and that Spotify is a catalyst for music lovers buying more CDs than ever. In the online forum debates I’ve monitored (including an interesting one on the Word magazine website) Spotify enthusiasts are openly confessing to having bought a plethora of new CDs because they have discovered new bands or as a direct result of having so many more opportunities to ‘try before you buy’.

I’m sure it’s true for a lot of us that the more we listen to good music (and new music especially), the more we want. I call it the expanding appetite argument, and it’s holding as true for me as I search for more and more new bands on Spotify as it did on holiday in Brittany with regard to fine cheese, fresh baguettes and good wine! I haven’t yet converted my newly researched albums into actual purchases, but it’s only a matter of time, especially with a birthday coming up on Saturday……

I also think people will use Spotify to track down music they’ve lost touch with and then seek to purchase elsewhere. My dad and his best mate have already done this with a couple of obscure 60’s tracks that they couldn’t locate on itunes, and then realised via Spotify that they’d been looking for the right song titles but the wrong artists. The ‘correct’ tracks are now duly downloaded from itunes as required.

Another reason the ‘killing music’ argument is bunk is that a lot of people will always prefer the physical product to a download, even more so to a track they just ‘stream’ whilst online and never actually ‘own’. For the same reason Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader will never replace actual books in the hearts and hands of the world’s readers. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling oddly dissatisfied when I can’t check the lyrics of an intriguing song because I’ve downloaded the album rather than having a CD booklet.

It’s equally true that it’s far too early to expect Spotify to achieve domination over the music industry, despite its impressive impact so far. For a start, there are still way too many holes in the library at the moment for it to pose a serious threat. Although there are millions of songs available to stream in an instant, that’s not always such a big deal if it doesn’t include the ones you’re looking for. Whilst I have been very impressed to find many new albums available on the day of release, there are still several offerings by fairly high profile artists missing. I’ve been seeking one or two albums I expected to find for well over a week, and eventually my impatience may get the better of me and send me to itunes or Amazon. I’ll then offset such a purchase by settling for keeping another couple of albums on Spotify playlists for the time being.

Having a huge selection of songs to stream to your laptop is brilliant, but it’s actually quite irritating when you’re away from your computer, or without wireless broadband access and the only songs you want to listen to are of course on Spotify rather than your ipod. That happened to me several times whilst on holiday the other week, and it proved to me that I’ll never stop buying music in favour of the streaming alternative.

For all these reasons (and the simple fact that even though many of us have got excited about Spotify, the majority of the British public if asked would still probably think it was an acne treatment) I’m sure that the doom merchants predicting the death of music (again) at the hands of this latest Internet phenomenon are a little premature.

But, watch this space ….

However, this state of affairs may depend on what the creators of Spotify have up their sleeves in terms of new developments and changes to the business model. With rumours that they are developing a Spotify app for the iphone gaining more credence, and Daniel Eck’s assertion that “people will pay for music if packaged correctly and it offers them something special” we may be seeing major changes to this product that will make it considerably more of a threat.

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Genius or idiot savant?

itunes genius - is it?

itunes genius: is it?

When I got my new ipod classic 120GB just before Christmas (to replace the much lamented 80GB that succumbed to ‘sad face’ syndrome in mysterious circumstances in early December) I was intrigued and alarmed in equal measure by the new ‘genius’ feature.

A friend had described it as ‘brilliant’, and then when she proceeded to explain that you activated it by sending Apple all the data from your itunes library and then it suggested music you might like to buy from the itunes store I was less convinced.

This reminded me of all the highly irritating prompts and suggestions that my Amazon account has become riddled with over the past couple of years. When I buy a Richard Scarry illustrated book for my godson or a Tales of the Night Garden toy for my two-year-old niece I am not making a statement about my purchasing choices from here on in. It is not a logical step to assume that every time I log on to Amazon from now on that I wish to purchase associated childrens’ toys, DVDs or CDs, and to find my recommendations page plastered with these alongside the latest Guillemots album is bizarre and frankly quite disturbing.

The Fear

I was fearful of enabling Genius and causing a similar effect to my ‘splash’ page on the itunes store. As you may have guessed by now (and if not you’ll soon realise) I am quite picky about the music I listen to and I don’t wish those high standards to be compromised. If, for instance, I love my wife so much that I’m prepared to download a Girls Aloud album for her from my itunes account (making darned sure it goes straight into her ring-fenced library only of course) I don’t want the whole world to know about it. What? Oh. Bother.

So, anyway, I was rather sceptical about the whole enterprise and although after Christmas my finger was poised over the genius logo button a couple of times, and I did click the ‘find out more’ section, I was still nervous about letting Apple have my library data. I have to admit, this was less to do with data protection and more to do with saving face. I would have been mortified if some data analyst geek somewhere assumed that the person who liked very cool bands like Interpol, Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire and Midlake was also a fan of Kelly Clarkson, Leona Lewis and (it pains me to even type this) Steps.

The Plunge

Eventually though, some time towards the end of January my curiosity got the better of me and I took the plunge. As I saw the library data chugging away into the ether I was sweaty-palmed and quite anxious, regretting what I had done, and anticipating a long list of recommended pop pap next time I hit the itunes store.

What happened next though was very interesting. The reason I had decided to bite the bullet was the intriguing prospect of genius concocting ‘instant’ playlists for me from a single song. So, I picked a song at random from my library, clicked the genius icon and waited. For about 3-5 seconds. And then there it was, so quick I almost missed it. A fully formed playlist of 25 songs, based on the one I’d chosen. The cynic in me insisted on trawling through each one of the 25 to find a quirk, a clear misfit that would make the application a dunce. I couldn’t find one. It was a really good playlist, and the ‘feel’ or ‘flavour’ of the songs were all a good match.

The Fluke

Obviously that was a fluke, so I had another go, choosing a favourite folk song ‘The Blooming Heather’ by Kate Rusby. ‘This’ll fox it’ I thought, but if anything, this playlist was even better: ranging from the traditional English folk of Kate Rusby and Seth Lakeman, to more modern quirky alt-folk artists such as Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, via the latest singer/songwriter sensations such as Laura Marling and Emmy the Great with some classics such as John Martyn, Loudon Wainwright III and Fairport Convention thrown in for good measure. I listened to it regularly for the best part of a week, and it had taken genius around 6 seconds to compile!

Cutting a long story short (never a strong point of mine) I spent a delirious 5 minutes selecting songs from very different genres and being amazed and delighted by the results. I ended up with 15 really excellent playlists that would have taken me several days to put together myself.

The speed!

The best thing about genius for me is the speed, and the fact that it isn’t a perfectionist application: it doesn’t mind throwing things together. If I make a playlist I agonise for ages and invariably only pick the very best songs from a handful of groups I couldn’t be without. Genius is prepared to mix it up a little, and as a result I am suddenly hearing tracks for the first time that I might not have otherwise discovered in my collection.

I have well over 5000 songs in my library, and there are probably many hundreds of them I have not yet listened to: genius is helping me make my way through them, with a lot of delightful discoveries along the way.

On the downside, one or two songs did crop up a couple of times on different playlists, which is disappointing when I have only set my lists to contain 25 songs (you can also have 50, 75 or 100). I also discovered that, like all geniuses, it can be a little petulant at times. When trying to use ‘Le Toi Du Moi’ by Carla Bruni as the catalyst for a World Music playlist (as you do), genius was having none of it, insisting it couldn’t produce a list until I ‘updated’ my library data with Apple. It was the digital equivalent of “I don’t do foreign” accompanied by a sulky shrug.

However, I have to say that overall I am delighted with the feature and it puts a smile on my face every time it delivers a new list – I have only waded through about 5 of them so far. Perhaps best of all, you can actually refresh the playlist while it’s playing and it will choose another similar selection based on the original song. Now that’s clever, or some might say …….

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