Spotify is wonderful. Yeah, I know, there’s all the controversy about how little the artists get paid—though I notice Taylor Swift and Adele are back on the platform again. Really, it’s the way people listen to music now, along with some other platforms.
What I like most about Spotify is the ability to make playlists and share them with others. Over the past two years I’ve enjoyed building and maintaining The Pop Music Anthology, a website that serves as a portal to hundreds of Spotify playlists organized by year and by season.
But some music just isn’t there. Not much, mind you, but if you go looking, you’ll discover some really significant hits and artists not represented on Spotify for your streaming pleasure. Usually this is due to some legal matter, so don't blame Spotify. They're trying ... believe me. They probably work from a list that includes every song I'm about to blog about, and many more.
In the process of the Pop Music Anthology project I’ve learned the following:
Older music is less well represented on Spotify than newer music. This isn’t all that surprising: most of the oldest preserved recordings from wax cylinders aren’t up on the platform, but then, most people aren’t looking for these. (You are more likely to find such things on YouTube, where collectors share freely with each other.)
Certain eras are better preserved than others, and the distinction isn’t strictly chronological. For instance, the late 1940s were a far less interesting time for music than the World War II era, so there’s less demand and therefore less available product in the latter part of the decade. This also makes sense.
Nearly all of today’s hit music is there. Really, Jay-Z and Beyonce are nearly the only holdouts anymore.
OK, now are you ready for some statistics? For this part we’re only looking at music recorded from 1958 to the present, because that’s what I’ve collected the most data about.
In the Pop Music Anthology from these years, as of today, I’ve tried to collect 16,924 songs—not just every U.S. top 40 hit (even the stiffs), but also every song that mattered in the major genres popular in the U.S. in that time period.
Of those 16,924 songs, only 704 are not on Spotify. That’s a mere 4.16%. And that includes songs that nobody really cares about anymore anyway (except collectors, and there again, you’ll probably find a low-quality recording on YouTube).
OK, but what about the ones that really matter? Conceding that many songs that really matter weren’t ever big hits, let’s just look at the big hits. When we isolate the 2000 biggest hits of the past 61 years, only 25 are missing! That’s a mere 1.25%. That’s an amazingly good rate.
But let's go a little deeper than that. Here’s a special countdown of the 40 biggest hits that you WON’T find on Spotify, as of the end of May 2019. I’ve even provided YouTube links so you can actually listen to them, even if you spend most of your time on Spotify.
#40 – The Royal Teens – “Short Shorts” (1958) – But apparently not short enough to clear all the legal hurdles.
#39 – Paul Nicholas – “Heaven on the 7th Floor” (1977) – One of the most delightful odes to sexual harassment you’ll ever hear.
#38 – Jennifer Lopez featuring Nas – “I’m Gonna Be Alright [Trackmasters Remix]” (2002)—The original album version is available, but the unavailable remix was definitely the hit.
#37 – Bill Parsons – “The All-American Boy” (1959) – Who was this guy anyway? Presumably not a foreigner.
#36 – Seduction – “Two to Make It Right [7” Remix]” (1990) – The one you find on Spotify is a cheap knock-off.
#35 – Robin Luke – “Susie Darlin’” (1958) – I guess I’m just too young to know or care about this one.
#34 – *NSync featuring Nelly – “Girlfriend [Neptunes Remix]” (2002) – As with J. Lo at #38, you can find the original album version, but not the remix that made it a hit.
#33 – Shirley Ellis – “The Name Game” (1965) – Ah yes, the song into which we must never insert the names Bart, Mitch, or Chuck.
#32 – Dave Clark Five – “Over and Over” (1966) – As a matter of fact, the Dave Clark Five is nowhere to be found. And I’ve looked over and over.
#31 – David Naughton – “Makin’ It” (1979) – Maybe David’s makin’ it somewhere, but not on Spotify.
#30 – Enya – “Only Time [Remix]” (2001) – In the wake of 9/11, the dance remix became a popular source of comfort for many. But on Spotify, you’ll only find the super-mellow version without a beat.
#29 – Az Yet featuring Peter Cetera – “Hard to Say I’m Sorry [David Foster Remix]” (1997) – OK, I’m not hallucinating. From my days in radio, I have a recording of this song that actually features Peter Cetera singing on the final chorus. I can no longer find that version streaming anywhere … even on YouTube! It seems to be a real rarity, probably thanks to a bunch of lawyers’ hard, overpaid work.
#28 – Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West – “Run This Town” (2009) – But they don’t run Spotify Town.
#27 – Thomas Dolby – “She Blinded Me with Science” (1983) – It has come and gone from Spotify more than once for some reason.
#26 – P.M. Dawn – “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” (1991) – Again, the one you’ll find is a bad re-recording.
#25 – Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg – “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” (1993) – Dre’s classic album The Chronic is not there at all. (This link is NSFW.)
#24 – Jay-Z featuring Beyonce Knowles – “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” (2003) – Shame, too, because it was Beyonce’s first appearance as a solo artist.
#23 – The Four Seasons – “Dawn (Go Away)” (1964) – Most of the classic Four Seasons catalog is currently missing but inexplicably comes back from time to time.
#22 – Wayne Newton – “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” (1972) – It’s not there, but do you care?
#21 – The Essex – “Easier Said than Done” (1963) – This is another that is sometimes there, sometimes not.
#20 – JoJo – “Leave (Get Out)” (2004) – If JoJo was ever there, she apparently left. She got out.
#19 – Aaliyah – “Miss You” (2003) – Other than her first album, Aaliyah cannot be found on Spotify at all. Something about a lawsuit and family ownership of her material, I think.
#18 – Jay-Z featuring Justin Timberlake – “Holy Grail” (2013) – This is one of the most recent missing smashes, thanks to Jay-Z’s decision to keep his and Beyonce’s catalog primarily on Tidal and no other streaming service.
#17 – um, that graphic to the left – “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” (1994) – Most of Prince’s catalog is now available, but for some reason, not this oddball hit, his first top 10 hit under his new, unpronounceable name.
#16 – Ray Charles – “Hit the Road Jack” (1961) – Most of Ray’s 1960s classics are unavailable.
#15 – Aaliyah – “Are You That Somebody?” (1998) – I really wish this delectable piece of pop could be streamed there.
#14 – Alan O’Day – “Undercover Angel” (1977) – Sometimes it’s the one-hit wonders who get the short end of the streaming stick.
#13 – Eddy Grant – “Electric Avenue” (1983) – Yeah, I know. It’s a crime that it’s not there.
#12 – B.J. Thomas – “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” (1975) – Some artists live long enough to keep re-recording their own hits with ever cheesier production. I wish they’d stop.
#11 – The Four Seasons – “Rag Doll” (1964) – Just watch. It’ll be back eventually.
#10 – Frankie Valli – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (1967) – Presumably, some of Frankie’s stuff also gets caught up in whatever legal wrangles keep the other three Seasons away.
#9 – Merril Bainbridge – “Mouth” (1996) – Treat yourself to a YouTube listen. This one’s always worth hearing and delighting in.
#8 – Toni Basil – “Mickey” (1982) – This is one heck of a classic to be absent.
#7 – Morris Albert – “Feelings” (1975) – We’re all still trying to forget Morris’s feelings of love, so it’s just as well.
#6 – Janet Jackson – “Runaway” (1995) – You probably don’t even remember this song unless you’re a real Janet fan. And if this is the sixth biggest hit ever that doesn’t appear on Spotify, you know, they’re doing pretty well.
#5 – Player – “Baby Come Back” (1978) – I always think of the time Maggie Simpson went missing and Homer called the missing child hotline. And got placed on hold. Where this song was playing.
#4 – Jay-Z & Alicia Keys – "Empire State of Mind" (2009) – Jay-Z's biggest hit, like all his others, is reserved for Tidal.
#3 – Aaliyah – “Try Again” (2000) – It’s been a long time. She shouldn’t’a left us with a dope stream to step to.
#2 – Rick Dees & His Cast of Idiots – “Disco Duck” (1976) – Um, yeah, that’s OK.
#1 – The Four Seasons – “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” (1976) – You just might find this one occasionally, especially when it makes it onto a movie soundtrack or something. But some guy in a suit gets paid the big bucks to keep it off Spotify for some legal reason. And it’s worth noting that the dance remix, which was a pretty big hit in 1994, has never been on the platform.
So there you have it. Check out www.popmusicanthology.com for the 96% of hits that are on Spotify … and enjoy.