The Missing Songs

Have you ever tried to listen a favorite song in a streaming service only to find out it is no longer available? The first time I faced this “problem” was a few years ago, when I looked for songs from “Avonmore” – Bryan Ferry’s 2014 album, and did not found any. Since I recall listening to it on Spotify upon its release at the end of 2014, I was very surprised not finding it a couple of years later. Actually all I could find available was a related album: Avonmore – The Remixes, from 2016.

As far as I know, this disappearance was geographically limited: music streaming users in US for instance never saw the non-remixed Avonmore disappear. Fortunately the problem is no more, and I can stream “Loop de Li” and “Driving Me Wild” as many times as I wish. The most remarkable thing from the episode is the total “opacity” of the issue: there was no way to know why it happened, whether or when they would return, which “regions” were affected besides Brazil.

It just happened. And  a relevant album by a well know artist on a major label (“Avonmore peaked at number 19 on the UK Albums Chart and number 72 on the US Billboard 200” says Wikipedia) simply disappeared from streaming services. A related, less relevant remix album stayed there. And just as suddenly, the album reappeared years later. Is this normal?

I really appreciate that Spotify provides us the option to at least “see” unavailable songs, in a greyer text. (For what its worth, the Avonmore songs were completely absent, not present as grey ghosts).

This playlist by Shannon Liao is a clever idea: missing songs only! (For the record, 4 of the 42 songs appear to me as available. Progress!)

Thinking about missing songs always makes me remember this fantastic essay by Stephen Thomas Erlewine from 2016, “Why the Death of Greatest Hits Albums and Reissues Is Worth Mourning”:

Undoubtedly, modern listeners gain much from the history that’s just sitting on streaming services, waiting to be accessed. Amateur curators and music journalists are taking the time to trawl through the past to assemble shareable playlists that serve the same needs as old reissues. In some respects, this is an improvement over the old way of doing things—after all, it’s now possible to augment a collection of big ’70s hits with cuts by Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, or Paul McCartney and Wings, all artists who were unavailable for previous comps due to licensing restrictions—but the digital past is notoriously mutable.

Take “The Bomb in the Heart of the Century,” a terrific Spotify playlist of music from the year 1950 assembled by Michael Daddino a few years ago. Celebrated among music critics, this playlist is strikingly similar in breadth and ambition to a classic Rhino compilation. But within months of its debut, some of its featured songs were dropped from the service. Why bother with an archival project through a streaming service if it can all disappear without notice?

The myth of the Celestial Jukebox—that idyllic stereo in the sky that provides instant access to all recordings ever made—lies upon the assumption that because music is theoretically available for all to hear, the past is preserved and easy to access. Reality isn’t quite so simple. Since the dawn of recording, our musical history has always been inherently tied to the existence of physical, sellable product: The initial release created the history, and the reissue facilitated the writing of history, whether it was through carefully constructed archival projects or the existence of re-pressings of popular titles. Pink Floyd saw its catalog jump from EMI to Columbia back to Capitol/EMI, each getting somewhat ballyhooed and publicized reissues each time, the ad campaigns and endcap placements keeping the titles prominent; now they are just there, waiting to be called up by the user, if they care. When Van Morrison chooses to revive his catalog at this point, stories are shared on social media, then the music fades back into the vast digital chasm.

Finally, if I were to pick one unavailable song now, my choice would be Body Next to Body, the Falco/Brigitte Nielsen duet produced by Giorgio Moroder in 1987. It is nice to see it as song #3 of disc #2 of the FALCO 60 compilation and somewhere in the world someone might be streaming this towering achievement of 80s excess right now.


The music video is mesmerising (and streamable where I live):


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