Best Music of the 1950s

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, June 22, 2017

If you use a subscription music service like Spotify you have access to tens of millions of songs, but there’s a Catch-22 to that wealth of music. You need to know what to try. I have tracked down a number of sites that use different methodologies to recognize the best music from each year, and below is a grid for the 1950s.

1950s-600px

To use this table effectively, pick a year, right-click on it, select “Open in new window.” That way you won’t lose this page, and you can have multiple windows open to compare each site. Those sites have their own methods of ranking the top album and songs for each year. Each site has different extras and unique values. For example, Discogs is best for record collectors. I like Best Albums for just finding albums to try. Tsort is great for its massive collection of hit music charts.

If you have a subscription music service start playing some of these albums. It’s like traveling back in time. When I was young, 1950s music was my parent’s music, the music I rebelled against. Now that I’ve gotten older, I’m starting to like what they liked, and like well beyond their limited musical tastes.

If you don’t have a subscription music service, click on Play Now which will take you to the Tropical Glen site. It’s a radio station based on years.

Discogs 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59
Best Albums 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59
Top Songs 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59
Challenges 50 51 52 53
Rate Music 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59
Play Now 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59
Tsort 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59
Wikipedia 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59

This is the second version of this post. I worked on it for days and the WordPress system swallowed it without a burp. I’ve done a quick recreation without all my extra commentary. I’m going to publish it out in stages because I fear losing it again.

For those of your with Spotify, here are some albums I’ve been trying. Leave a comment about whether or not you can play them. I’ve yet to determine if providing these links are worthwhile. It takes a fair amount of work to create them, but if no one is using them I’ll stop providing them when I write about music.

1950

1951

1952

1953

1954

1955

1956

1957

1958

1959

JWH

Spotify vs. Amazon Music

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, February 12, 2017

Update: June 29, 2017. I now consider Spotify/Fire TV/iPhone combo the best way to play music through my main stereo system using my iPhone as the remote control.

I love music. I love technology. And I love music technology.

Decades ago I daydreamed the perfect music delivery technology would be one where I could say out loud the name of the song I wanted to hear and it would instantly play. I even pictured myself taking walks with a cloud of music following me like the dirt cloud following Pigpen, the Peanuts character. The iPhone and ear buds almost creates such magic. Now that I have an Amazon Echo, I feel like a Jetson when I declare to the air I want to hear a song and Alexa plays it. However, I’ve since revised my dream music delivery system. I no longer can remember all my favorite songs or their titles, so the “open sesame” bit isn’t as fantastic as I once imagined. Now I dream about having instant access to all music using a savvy streaming music database that knows everything about the history of music.

I’ve subscribed to many subscription music services over the years, starting with Rhapsody. I’ve hopped from one to the next trying to find the perfect blend of technology, user interface, and music catalog. Spotify is my current favorite. It has 98% of the music I want. It’s very close to a perfect streaming music service. However, in recent months it crashes on my Roku 3, my primary device for listening to music through big speakers. Before Spotify I used Rdio and loved it. But then I tried Spotify on the Roku and it’s user interface blew away Rdio’s. Plus, Spotify would play songs nearly instantaneously, which wasn’t true of Rdio. So I switched. I’ve been mostly content with Spotify, until it started loading slower on the Roku, even freezing up quite often. Spotify is still instant on my computer, tablet and phone, so I assume the problem is with the Roku.

I love my Roku 3, and thought maybe buying the latest Roku model could fix this problem. But what if it didn’t? Since I’m an Amazon Prime customer, I thought of giving the Fire TV a try. But spending $89 to fix the problem via hardware might not be the only solution. I wondered if subscribing to Amazon Music would allow me to keep my Roku 3. So I signed up.

In every way I prefer Spotify except one – but that one feature might make me switch. However, Amazon’s user interface is so clunky that I don’t know if I can. Oh, that one feature? Well it’s going to be hard to explain if you don’t use streaming music. But I will try.

Streaming music services have vast catalogs of music – not everything ever recorded, but it almost feels that way. Once you start using streaming music it’s just too inconvenient playing LPs, CDs or MP3s. They’ve become a damn bother. I stopped listening to The Beatles for years even though I bought their remastered CDs. I was just too lazy to play them. Spotify is that convenient. (The Beatles are now on Spotify.) But every once in a while I really want to hear songs not on Spotify. I have to get out my CDs or play the MP3 from my Amazon cloud player. Not a lot of work, but not my idea of my perfect music system.

For background listening I use playlists, especially one playlist, the “Top 1000” list I’m building. I HATE that I own songs I can’t put on Spotify playlists. Well, that’s the great feature of Amazon. It allows Amazon Music subscribers to play songs from their personal cloud collection. I have 1700 ripped CDs, and some LPs converted to MP3 on my Amazon cloud storage. Making playlists using songs from both pools of music is a snap.

Once in a very blue moon - Nanci GriffithThis means I can create playlists that contain 100% of the songs I want to hear. 98% from streaming and 2% from my personal collection. Now, that’s an over-the-top feature! Maybe it’s a time to switch feature. Of course I’ll have to recreate my Spotify playlists on Amazon. That’s will take some work. Mainly because looking up songs on Amazon Music isn’t as quick and easy as Spotify. Not that Amazon doesn’t have some nifty UI tricks that Spotify doesn’t, but Spotify is what I know, and it’s much more refined.

I could switch to Amazon Music with the hopes that Amazon will perfect its user interface over time. I’ve written a number of essays begging music services for features I want. Being able to upload my music was the major wish. There are many features I want that could get me to switch services again, though. The next biggest feature I want, is for streaming music to incorporate more song/album metadata information. That way I could search for “Jazz albums of the 1950s” or play songs that came out in July, 1965. I want streaming music to have the kind of information that record collectors use. There’s no reason why streaming music couldn’t catalog every album/single ever recorded. But that’s for the far future, maybe 2019 or 2021. Here’s some of the sites I use for music information:

GypsyThere are many different companies offering streaming music. Competition isn’t about price, since $9.99/month is standard, so user features will be everything. For years I’ve been jumping from service to service looking for my music streaming utopia. But as I build longer playlists switching services is getting harder. I thought I was committed to Spotify, but Amazon’s feature of mixing their collection with mine is tempting. However, if a streaming service offered the data services from the above sites, it would make me want to switch again.

To be honest, since streaming music is about convenience, Spotify is more convenient than Amazon Music right now, so I’m sticking with Spotify. What I might use is Amazon Music’s $3.99 a month subscription for Echo owners, and create playlists for Alexa to play me when I want to hear missing music from my collection. However, if Amazon improves their software I would switch. If you’re an Amazon Prime user and are a casual music listener, it’s $7.99 Unlimited plan might be the best deal.

Another feature that would be handy, is a universal file standard for playlists, so we could easily import and export them.

Update: I’ve since discovered that the Amazon Music app on the Roku does not play or show music from Amazon Music – just my music in the cloud. I hope they fix this. I can play music from the blended libraries on my iPhone and send it to my receiver via AirPlay, and that works much better than the Roku App.

[By the way, the album covers I’ve added here are albums not available on streaming.]

JWH

TOP 100 Songs—A Spotify Experiment in Personality

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, May 3, 2016

If you selected your Top 100 all-time favorite songs, the ones that define your soul, how many of those songs would you think you shared with your friends? I’ve always loved seeing what albums my friends owned, and if they’d let me, what songs are on their playlists. People are surprisingly unique. I’ve yet to find anyone that shares even five favorite songs with me. Don’t get me wrong, me and my friends often enjoy the same kinds of music, but when it comes to absolute favorites, the songs we choose to form a life-long love affair, those tunes are quite distinctive. Maybe as identifying as fingerprints.

fingerprintmusic

This is where Spotify comes in. It would be fantastic if Spotify created a permanent playlist in everyone’s account called TOP 100, and encouraged their subscribers to fill it in with the songs that define the music they loved best in their lifetime. Then after a time, start showing us big data statistics. What is the percentage of overlap based on various demographic standards. Am I more likely to overlap with other people born in 1951? Does gender matter? Could Spotify predict where I grew up or my ethnic background? Would it be possible for Spotify to discern my Myers-Briggs type? And if there are incidences of high overlap, would listening to the playlists of those subscribers help me find songs I would love that I’ve never heard?

Conversely, could Spotify fill in our TOP 100 lists automatically from studying our current patterns of play? Or predict our second 100 favorite songs?

Even with millions of users, would they ever find two people with the same songs in their TOP 100 playlist? What would be the statistical odds? (I don’t know, I can’t do that kind of math.) How often would 50% agreement show up? What if the list was based on order? If they applied statistical analysis to the data, would it reveal anything about personality? Would it tell us anything about generational shifts? Are people predictable by their tastes? If they could connect to other databases, would our musical tastes also reveal what we love in books, movies, television shows and other art forms?

My bet, which is only a hunch, would be for age cohorts, the average overlap would be less than 5%.

JWH

The Beatles and Other Forgotten Bands

By James Wallace Harris, June 30, 2015

Now that Apple has entered the streaming music business it’s obvious that streaming is the future. After more than a century of wax cylinders, 78s, LPs, 45s, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, DATs, SACDs, MP3s, music will arrive by subscribing to bits and bytes. We’re now in a transition phase. Some people will listen to music they own, and others will listen to music they rent. As the advantages of subscription music become apparent to all, most listeners will forget about owning. If songs aren’t instantly available on their smartphones, they will be forgotten.

The_Beatles_-_Rubber_Soul

Because I listen to ninety-nine percent of my music through Spotify, The Beatles are becoming a forgotten band. I’m sure Apple hopes to make an exclusive deal to stream The Beatles like they did for selling their songs and albums by digital downloads. If The Beatles make such an agreement, I might forget them completely. I bought twelve of their thirteen re-mastered CDs when they came out a couple years ago, but I don’t play them. Some are still in the shrink wrap. Listening to music on Spotify is just too damn convenient.

Gypsy

Most of the famous bands that held out against the subscription music tide have given in – AC/DC is the latest example. I have to admire that group for not making an exclusive deal. During the transition phase to a complete subscription music age, we will have to find ways to deal with forgotten bands. There are several reasons why music from the past isn’t offered today.

Once In a Very Blue Moon - Nanci Griffith

First, a band will refuse to allow their music to be streamed. That’s becoming less likely as people quit buying music. Second, music is often tied up in legal battles. Again, that will be resolved. There is a lot of music from the past that is forgotten because there’s no demand or its creators aren’t around to promote it. I assume this will change over time as those who still remember will complain. Finally, what we can hear will be limited by exclusive deals. There’s over a dozen subscription music services out there now with more coming on line all the time. The best way to capture subscribers is to promise the biggest catalog, especially catalogs with artists and albums that other services don’t contain. I find this mercenary practice a heinous aspect of the music business.

Willis Alan Ramsey

Right now the standard price for subscribing to a music library is $10 a month. If some services seek to dominate with exclusive deals, there will be a tendency towards monopolies and squeezing out the smaller services, or for people to subscribe to more than one music site. One solution to make subscribing to multiple libraries possible is to change the fee structure. For example, if Spotify and Apple charged $2.99 to be a subscriber, and then one penny a play, then fans could easily enjoy two sites and pay artists fairly.

quicksilver_what_about_me_lg

One reason why artists have avoided subscription services is the low royalty payments. Between the music publishers and subscription services, they seem to make the best deals for themselves. Apple almost got away with giving people three months of music to new subscribers without paying the artists. I think the artists would get a better deal if their payments were separated from subscription fees.

Rainbow Down the Road by B. W. Stevenson

One cent a play is the perfect payment. That cent should be divvied fairly between the composers, performers and record companies. The one cent fee should only be for specific playing of songs. For random background listening, artists should get a lesser fee paid out of the subscription service fee. That way, unless a fan plays specific songs all day long, most listeners will still stay close to the $10 a month bill.

Never Goin Back to Georgia by Blue Magoos

With better royalties I believe most music from the past will be unearthed and put online. Forgotten bands and their albums will show up in libraries, making subscription music nearly perfect. Right now there are many favorite songs from the past that I can’t add to my playlists. In the future, when everything I want to hear is in my subscription, I can’t imagine another system of music delivery ever replacing it.

Sailer by The Steve Miller Band

Pictured are just some of the albums I can’t play on Spotify today. I hope they will all be available within a year.

JWH

Do You Feel Guilty That Spotify Pays Artists So Little?

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Since a generation of young people had no ethical qualms over stealing music, asking if artists are paid too little under the new streaming model might be a moot point. We live in a society where we want everything free or very cheap, but we’ll also pay $7 for a cup a coffee, or $200 to see a Broadway roadshow. For many people, music is a peak experience, more important than coffee or plays, often providing the emotional soundtrack to their memories. Shouldn’t we worry that people who create the songs we love get paid properly?

spotify

What we’re seeing here in America is a economic paradigm shift that’s effecting all aspects of society. The middle class is being deflated while its wealth is being shifted to the ultra rich. More and more people work for minimum wage. Even once well-to-do professions are under attack. And people who were once rich rock stars are now making far less. The super-stars are always well-rewarded, but making it big isn’t as easy as it used to be. Streaming music is great for tens of thousands of would-be stars to get a start, but it’s now much harder to make a living from even a moderately successful album. The middle-class artist is disappearing too.

So, I’m asking, are you fine with that or not? I love Spotify, but it bothers me that artists who once made much more money from the CD sales model are now making much less renting their music. Listening to music over the internet is far more convenient than playing CDs or LPs. Having access to nearly all music with the tap of a few keys is fantastic. Paying $10 a month is an incredible bargain. And knowing it’s legal is righteous. But, is it fair compensation for the artists?

PBS News Hour has been running a series on this issue. Their coverage is probably all you need, but this discussion is all over the web, especially since Taylor Swift pulled her catalog from Spotify. Here are some recent articles:

If you read enough of these articles you’ll realize this is a vastly complicated issue. Part of the problem is most of the streaming royalties goes to the record companies, and song writers, singers, and musicians get the tail end of the payment stream. But that was also true back in the LP/CD days. How the record companies divvies up its money with its artists is between those parties, but as fans we pay for the music, and set a standard. At least streaming is a major step up from stealing. Personally, I’d like to see more profits go to the artists themselves, and I’d like to see royalties paid to musicians. I think it stinks that all classic songs I love, the musicians were only paid a one-time fee.

The solution I would suggest is streaming services should charge a subscription fee for their service only, and then we pay 1 cent per stream to be divvied up by the record company, composer, singers and musicians. So Spotify might charge $2.99 a month for me to use their service, and that would go to them. And I would be billed 1 cent per stream, so my monthly bill would vary. If I listened to no music that month, it would be $2.99. If I listened to a 1,000 streams, it would be $12.99. Most people pay $9.99 now, so that would be equal to 700 streams.  That’s about 25 streams a day, or about 1.5-2.0 hours of music a day. Which is probably more than what most people listen to. If you want constant background music you should use radio or Pandora type services.

Such a payment system would also allow me to subscribe to more than one music service, because they do offer different content and different features.

CD and digital song purchase sales are down. At one cent a stream, it would take 129 listens by a fan to equal the purchase of a song. I think this is a decent equivalent. But if you watch the PBS Newshour shows you’ll see how artists lament the passing of albums. Fans really prefer hits. Spotify could encourage albums listens by charging 5 cents to stream an entire album.

Streams should not count unless we listen to more than sixty seconds of a song. Any song we give the hook in less than a minute should be considered a free trial.

If artists wanted to sooth listeners who hate the thought of constantly renting, they could let streaming services count the plays and after 129 mark the song as owned, and free from then on out. This would also encourage subscribers to stick with the service.

I bought thousands of albums in the last fifty years, and many of them were duds. I’d only listen to them once or twice. Most often I’d buy an album and listen to one or two songs many times. Album sales were not always fair to listeners, even though artists made the most money from them. The streaming model of pay per play is actually more fair to listeners and artists. It’s fair to artists because they’re paid each time a fan plays a song. It was always depressing to spend $15 for an album that turned out to be a turkey.

I hear the complaints by my favorite songwriters that Spotify cheats them. I feel bad. But I also think one cent a stream is a fair price. It’s more than what they get now, and if their songs are actually popular, they’d earn about the same, or even more in the long run over CD or digital sales. Songs that people really love will get played 129 times, and if an album has enough good songs, it will eventually earn about the same amount of money.

I’ve bought many albums by Bob Dylan three times, first as LP, then CD, then as SACD. I still play his songs so much, I’m sure at one cent a play, I will eventually pay more than what I did buying those albums three times.

JWH