Denying for years to join the 21st Century, I indulged as recently as last summer in purchasing CDs, pulling the trigger on albums by Esperanza Spaulding, William Shatner, Bright Eyes, Paul McCartney and Field Music. But last November I took the plunge and joined a streaming service – first Napster, whom I was told paid artists more but whose service I determined was inadequate, and then Spotify, a company vilified by some and praised by others. Since then I’ve delved into scores of albums I’d never taken the time to investigate before, and for this reason alone, music streaming has a new fan. I still love having physical CDs in the car, where I can immerse myself into an album and listen the way I used to, but for hanging out at home and investigating unexplored musical territory, streaming services can’t be beat.
I’m not much into playlists and haven’t utilized this aspect of Spotify more than a handful of times. Instead, I’ve listened to albums and bands I hadn’t given attention to in the past. Since November, I’ve fallen in love with the following albums:
- Manifesto, a brilliant release by Roxy Music, surpassing what some claim to be their crowning achievement, Avalon.
- Underneath the Colours, the debut album by an almost unrecognizable INXS. Angry, edgy, melodic. Fantastic.
- Sit Down Young Stranger (or, alternatively titled, If You Could Read My Mind) by Gordon Lightfoot, heartfelt folk-rock from start to finish.
- Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies, an amazing album recorded around the same time as St. Pepper, but – in my mind – surpassing it in some ways.
- Grand Hotel by Procol Harum, a collection of wonderful melodies with gravitas
I've delved into so much more that I never would have done without the aid of a streaming service. I checked out releases by Cat Stevens, Van Morrison and James Taylor. I finally listened to the Rolling Stones of the 1960s, and concluded that aside from Beggar’s Banquet, much of it falls flat for me (and that Their Satanic Majesties Request may be among the worst albums ever recorded). I learned that I’m not as fond of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions as I am of Lloyd Cole’s solo work, and that I'm not as fond of Jethro Tull and King Crimson as I am of other prog rock bands. I discovered that early Chicago albums are padded with really bad, lengthy tracks, and that each of Esperanza Spaulding's releases are worth my attention. I gave the last half-dozen releases by Elton John a chance, concluded that Aimee Mann continues to put out quality material, but without the punch of her first three releases, and that the J Geils Band is a great party band with some standout tracks, but ultimately doesn’t grab me.
I also listened to classical guitar by Ryan Walsh, Latin music by Natalia Lafourcade, Mansieur Perine, and Vicente Garcia, fusion by Snarky Puppy, jazz by Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and newer releases by Empty Pockets, Young the Giant and Lake Street Dive.
And on and on.
Now, the question remains: can artists make a living making music when people only use streaming services? That remains to be seen, but for a guy in his 50s who sometimes has difficulty keeping up on music, streaming can’t be beat.
Of course, of the five albums I highlighted above, I’ve purchased four of them on vinyl.
So yeah, I’ve still got the disease.