Albums go out of print all the time, and it's usually damn well justified. Humanity has produced a lot of terrible music over the years, and we just don't have enough room to keep it all lying around.
It's not all bad, though. Music goes extinct for many reasons, and it's a phenomenon that has claimed the shelf-lives of plenty of excellent albums. Music we'd like to see disappear forever is the topic of this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by Cracked art snob Randall Maynard and J.F. Sargent, whoever that is.
Far be it from me to write a column full of bullshit opinions, though. Instead, let's talk about a few out-of-print albums (and a few that refuse to be sold any way other than "in print") that need to make themselves available to us immediately. For example ...
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I talk about Neil Young in this column like it's still the 1970s, which is his fault for still being alive and doing things at such an advanced age. At any rate, let's talk about him some more! If you don't know any other Neil Young songs, there's a good chance you're at least familiar with stuff like "Old Man" and "Heart of Gold" ...
... which were both huge singles from his most successful and beloved album ever, Harvest. That "classic" is also responsible for spawning what has come to be known as "The Ditch Trilogy," a series of sloppy-but-completely-incredible albums that earned Neil Young a lifetime of reminders that, no matter how many times he's been asked, not once has he cranked out another album even remotely similar to Harvest.
Unless you count all of these.
The albums earned their group nickname by way of this Neil Young quote, taken from the liner notes of the greatest-hits collection Decade.
"['Heart of Gold'] put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch."
I've talked about one of those three albums previously. It's called On the Beach, and it's fantastic, but I almost wrote about another of the "Ditch" albums, Tonight's the Night, in that article instead.
If you've never heard it before, rectify that by picking up a copy anywhere fine music is sold. Also, be grateful that you can, because that isn't the case with all of the albums in this series.
Following the success of Harvest, Neil Young's record label wanted another album just like it and his fans wanted him to go on tour and play every song from it. He gave all of those people none of those things. Instead, his official follow-up to the expert craftsmanship of Harvest was a circus of an album called Time Fades Away, which consisted of completely new songs recorded while on a stadium tour of the United States. By that, I don't mean he used his downtime to hit the studio. No, he literally recorded the songs live onstage in front of scores of fans who'd never heard them before.
It's a mess, but the songs are still mostly in the same vein as the material on Harvest, except with louder guitars and less practice. In that way, it's a natural link between the studio perfectness of its predecessor and the complete and total chaos of Tonight's the Night. Also, it's completely unavailable in stores.
Well, if you're the Record Store Day type, you could have picked up a copy of the album on vinyl, provided you were willing to shell out for a boxed set that also included three other albums. He eventually scrapped that plan, though, in the name of "focusing on other projects." There have been several reasons given for the album's continued absence from store shelves, chief among them being that Neil Young just plain doesn't like it. He calls Time Fades Away his least favorite among everything he's recorded, like he doesn't even realize he was still making music in the '80s.
That's probably just a convenient excuse meant to mask the true and far more hilarious reason why you'll never get to buy a pristine copy of Time Fades Away in your lifetime. To put it plainly, the album doesn't exist anymore. Specifically, the master tapes are missing because, as is stated right on the back cover, the songs were recorded directly to a computer that, as it turned out, made music that kind of sounds like ass. No two-track master tapes were ever made. That makes remastering the album in the traditional sense completely impossible, meaning any new release will sound like the same shit it did back when it first came out. So, if you've ever wondered how Neil Young developed his healthy mistrust for digital music, this album is probably your answer. It's also, all things considered, pretty damn great.
Too bad you can't buy it anymore!
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If you've never done so up to this point, do yourself a favor and track down a copy of Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince and read it immediately. It is some truly entertaining shit. Are the stories about pop music's most reclusive star ever completely and totally accurate? I don't know. I also don't care. If Prince wants me to know the truth, he should tell it to me, just like a good Jehovah's Witness is supposed to do.
Free download of "Darling Nikki" with every copy!
Until then, all we have are interviews from people who may or may not have had intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Prince universe to base our opinions on, and those are available in abundance in that book. One of my favorite involves the reason behind his decision to pull the fabled Black Album off shelves before it sold a single copy.
It certainly wasn't because he spent too much time worrying about the album cover.
The album was completely finished, promotional copies had been sent around, the whole bit. Then, at the very last moment, Prince just changed his mind. What gives? Well, like anything else music-myth related, the culprit is drugs. According to legend, in the days prior to the release of The Black Album, which would have been the official follow-up to the mega-successful Sign o' the Times, Prince tried ecstasy for the first time. Apparently, it didn't go well. As the story goes, he was so freaked out by the experience he became convinced that The Black Album was evil and needed to be withdrawn immediately. He promptly replaced it with Lovesexy. If you've ever wondered what Prince looks like while in the throes of ecstasy, that album cover is probably a decent representation.
Exactly the same way he looks any other time, of course.
For his part, Prince blamed the decision on "a religious experience," which I'm assuming means the ecstasy story is true. Anyway, his plan to keep the public from hearing "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton" and other classics wasn't a complete success. Bootleg versions of the album flooded the market, a situation Prince himself subliminally complained about in the "Alphabet St." video.
How did you miss this?
In time, his fears of demonic possession through '80s pop music must have subsided, because Prince quietly released The Black Album in November 1994 ... and then promptly deleted it again in January 1995. It's rumored that he allowed its release only to fulfill a seven-album contract with Warner Bros., which wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. Whatever the case, aside from those few months, The Black Album never has been and probably never will be available.
I'd say you could just download it from a torrenting site or something, but considering this is Prince we're talking about, that would probably end in you getting your home firebombed by the RIAA. Best to just cut your losses on this one.
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Quick! Name the best-selling albums artist of the SoundScan era! If you said anything other than Garth Brooks, your deduction skills are fucking terrible. Everyone else, great job. The answer is, indeed, Garth Brooks. Also, who cares, right? Certainly not me; there are few things in this world I enjoy less than the music of Garth Brooks.
That said, there is one aspect of this accomplishment that makes him stand out among his peers. Unlike Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Metallica, and pretty much any other name you'll see regularly in contention for the title of best-selling artist of all-time, Garth Brooks has never once made his music available digitally.
Stolen from the Internet
You know what I mean.
It's not for business reasons, either. He believes that albums should be enjoyed in their entirety and not divided up into singles and sold for less than a dollar each. You might recognize that as the exact same stance Radiohead used to take on their music. Who would've put their money on Garth Brooks being the last holdout among those two?
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Everyone in Radiohead, probably.
It's true, though ... for now. He's actually making plans to release his catalog in digital formats literally any day, and when he does he'll probably become the best-selling solo artist of all-time. Not just the best-selling solo artist of the SoundScan era. All-time. Ever. As in, "fuck you, Elvis."
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The original Garth Brooks.
And that's just if he sells 1 million copies of his back catalog, which he totally will. He put out a bullshit four-disc set of covers as a Walmart exclusive recently and sold a million copies of that. Because he's offering these downloads exclusively through his website, he can charge as little as $3.49 per album and still have it count toward his album sales, and he's promised that people who buy the entire catalog will get it for "a stupid price" and that what he's doing will be mistaken for "giving it away." Also, and as always, they won't be available as individual songs. He'll sell a million albums. He might sell two million. If he does that, he'll be the best-selling music act ever, surpassing The Beatles.
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Sounds about right.
Still, until that happens and up until this point, throughout the entirety of the digital music era, Garth Brooks' catalog has been completely unavailable for download online. I mean, it's available, obviously. No one can stop a person from ripping a CD to a hard drive and uploading it to the Internet. That's exactly why almost every other act in existence (excluding Tool) has relented and allowed their music to be sold or otherwise distributed online in some form or another. People will just take it if they don't.
So, hate his actual music all you want, but at least give Garth Brooks some credit for being the only major artist who never stopped telling Apple to completely and totally fuck off.