Two bubblegum pink jewel cases sit before me on a plastic shelf in Woolworth’s (UK, not Australia – less groceries, more pick and mix). Both feature the same tantalising artwork, an obviously iconic image of the world’s greatest girl band lounging upon a luridly-coloured sofa, adorned in dazzlingly white attire. It’s 1997, the Spice Girls have just released Stop, and I’m overwhelmed.
It’s slap-bang in the compact disc Golden Age, and life isn’t simple. One can’t just purchase the newest single release from the world’s greatest girl band without first choosing between CD 1, or… CD 2? Two similar artworks, very different track lists, identical prices. Do I go for the collection of live recordings from their recent Istanbul concert on CD 1, or commit to the three Stop remixes, featuring new and bewildering names like David Morales? Which version of Girl Power will spark the most joy?
There’s no happy ending to be found here, dear reader: Stop would halt the record-breaking Spice streak of six consecutive UK number ones (and would indeed be their only single to not reach the top – mind-boggling, really), and, upon finally choosing the bonus live performances of CD 1, got home to find Margaret behind the till had ‘accidentally’ given me CD 2, and a scratched disc at that. As I sat cross-legged and distressed in front of my Argos CD player, I couldn’t help but wonder – what if, one day, we could access every song ever produced, at the tap of a button? And that, well, that’s how I positively manifested Spotify.
Last month, Janet Jackson thought it would be a smashing idea to mark her groundbreaking Rhythm Nation album’s 30th birthday by releasing 90 remixes on streaming services for the first time since their initial vinyl and CD pressings. As one of the fifteen people in the world overcome with excitement at this news (being overwhelmed by pop music is a running theme), I spent the morning gorging through this archive of dancescapes, revelling in the sheer gluttony of it all – like myself at a seafood buffet, if you imagine the oysters and prawns have titles like Miss You Much (That Bass You Much Mix).
Twenty years ago, record labels, I suppose quite rightly, saw fit to monetise this realm of bonus ‘content’ as the demand was completely there. If I could’ve purchased both Spice Girls singles, I would’ve and I’d have found a way to justify it to an exasperated mother too, but that just isn’t a reality in 2019. Yes, vinyl is selling more units than CDs for the first time since 1986, but these still reach a slim slice of the music aficionado pie, and the mainstream won’t jump ship from streaming until something better comes along (a brain chip pre-loaded with every song ever? I’ll positively manifest that one too).
Janet isn’t the first legacy artist to use the ease and egalitarianism of streaming to flood digital dancefloors with positively ancient material now that the model has shifted. These Rhythm Nation remixes in particular, mostly mounted by one of the most innovative producers of the day, Shep Pettibone. What good were they gathering digital debris on some tape, waiting for an intern to get stuck in (my resume is still available!), give them a dust off and connect them to the world? Sure, the audience is limited, but my point is: the material has already been made, there are no big costs involved to reproduce it, then flood the market. When music industry pillars like greatest hits compilations, Japan-only bonus tracks, and remix EPs are streaming-redundant, there’s no excuse in 2019 not to have previously out-of-reach material kept from music fans.
Check out this Guardian article on previous and on-going campaigns to fill streaming libraries with criminally-ignored music gems from the 80s and 90s (my sexuality is now Pop Music Activist), and enjoy the glorious tale of a London lawyer literally calling record label music switchboards and asking them why UK soap star one-hit wonders aren’t on Spotify. What a time to be alive.
Janet Jackson is performing in Australia this November, headlining the RnB Fridays 2019 Tour with a Rhythm Nation 30th anniversary special performance. You’ll catch me in the crowd, and for more me being overwhelmed by pop music, check out the Janet episode of the podcast I co-produce, Aural Fixation.