Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Nowhere to Be Spotified

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 for the 96% of hits that are on Spotify … and enjoy.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Where Are Josh's Sermons?

My sermons have migrated lately from this blog to the blog for the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Federal Way, WA.

Rather than continue to post them in two places, I will redirect you to go there for them.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Power, Love, and Dignity

sermon preached at Church of the Good Shepherd, Federal Way, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler, Rector
The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, February 24, 2019

Roman soldiers
(from Wikimedia Commons)
First, may I have a volunteer from the congregation? Specifically, I’m looking for someone who wouldn’t mind getting into a pretend fight with me.

Let’s pretend that we live in the Ancient Middle East. I am a Roman, and you are a Jew. Who has more power? Why? [clearly the Roman]

Now, let’s say that I’m having a bad day, and I pass you on the street. I decide that I don’t like the way you looked at me. How am I going to reprimand you? [A backhand slap]

Is this illegal? No. Because I’m a Roman, and you are a Jew. I’m within my rights as a Roman citizen. Also, note that I used my right hand. This is because we assume, in our society, that everybody is right-handed, and that we only use our left hands for tasks that are seen as “unclean.” I’ll let you imagine what such tasks might be—but suffice it to say that I would never consider using my left hand to strike you.

Now, if you were a Roman like me, and if we were of equal social status, I wouldn’t hit you like that. I’d punch you in the face, like in a bar fight. That’s not humiliating—that’s a fight between equals. It’s just boys being boys, right? Notice the difference. If I slap you with the back of my hand, which cheek am I striking? If I punch you with my fist, which cheek now?

OK, so let’s play this again. You are a Jew who is just coming home from hearing Jesus speak the words we just heard from the gospel. I see you and decide to mess with you: I smack you on the right cheek with the back of my hand. Now … “turn the other cheek.” What’s happening here?

Theologian Walter Wink[1] analyzes this situation in great detail in his book Engaging the Powers. When you do not cringe and cower, but remain standing and turn the other cheek, you are saying, “Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status does not alter that fact. You cannot demean me.”

OK, one more. I’m a Roman soldier and you’re a Jew. I’m carrying my pack in the hot sun, and I’m tired. I see you and say, “Hey! Carry my pack!” The law says I’m allowed to do this, provided I don’t make you walk more than one mile. Some Romans, especially soldiers, had abused their right to conscript inferiors to carry their stuff, so this law was meant to curb the practice, as sort of a mercy rule. I have the right to treat you like my personal slave without notice. But if I make you carry my pack for more than one mile, I could be in serious trouble. I might only receive a reprimand, but I could be beaten or demoted—as a soldier, the punishment is up to the discretion of my commanding officer.

Now, you could be all grumpy and carry the pack for exactly one mile, then drop it and walk away. But instead, let’s say you cheerfully shoulder the burden and do your best to chat me up about my day and my family. One mile goes by, and I try to take back my pack. But you say, “Oh, no, it’s OK. I wasn’t doing anything else today anyway, and I’m enjoying our conversation.” And you keep walking. What has just happened? What should I do now? Furthermore, what if all the Jews started doing this?

We start to see what Jesus is up to here, and I’m grateful to Walter Wink for his book. The Jews couldn’t succeed at throwing out the Romans with an armed rebellion. But they could start a social revolution. By knowing the limits of the laws of the land, and by refusing to sacrifice their dignity, the long-oppressed Jews could rise above their station and begin living in the Kingdom of God.

Nothing speaks to this possibility more clearly than Jesus’ command, “Love your enemies.” There are four words for love in Greek, and Jesus chooses the most extreme one, agape. That’s not just general regard, or doing nice things. It means loving our enemies unconditionally and with abandon, the way God does.

In 2006, then-Senator Obama commented that Jesus’ teaching here is “so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application.” True enough. As individuals and as a country, we must continue to be in relationship and conversation about how we live out our faith, and how our faith applies when engaging our enemies.

On one of the anniversaries of 9/11 a few years ago, I read something on Facebook that made my blood boil. A college acquaintance of mine, a man who spoke frequently of both his patriotism and his love for Jesus, suggested that every year on 9/11, we should use fighter jets to drop raw pork on all the mosques in the U.S. His ignorance and stupidity overwhelmed me, but I did my best to remain dignified. I wrote in response: “Love your enemies. – Jesus.” The conversation didn’t go smoothly after that. And while I don’t remember exactly what my old acquaintance said, I do remember feeling relieved to discover that he had un-friended me. I was relieved, but I was also a little sad. I had not sought to end that relationship. But letting his words stand would not have been “turning the other cheek.” It would have been failing to stand up for the dignity of the vulnerable.

Dignity is power. Walter Wink tells the story of a time when Archbishop Desmond Tutu “was walking by a construction site on a temporary sidewalk the width of one person. A white man appeared at the other end, recognized Tutu, and said, ‘I don’t give way to gorillas.’ At which Tutu stepped aside, made a deep sweeping gesture, and said, ‘Ah yes, but I do.’” Dignity!

Gandhi once said, “The first principle of nonviolent action is that of noncooperation with everything humiliating.” Dignity does everything it can to equalize the relationship. Violence has power, but dignity brings with it a fundamentally better kind of power.

Jesus showed the powerless what power they had. No matter our economic or social status, the power of love is available to everyone. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. But when the tables were turned and Joseph had his brothers in his power, he did not seek revenge, but reconciliation. Joseph saw that God had not brought hardship on anyone, but that God was working toward the graceful solution and enabling a broken family to begin to repair itself.

When Jesus returned from the grave, he didn’t seek revenge against the Romans who killed him, or the authorities who colluded with them. He appeared to his friends, and more—Paul tells us he appeared to hundreds of people all at once! These people became the Body of Christ in the world. Who could have guessed it would work out that way?

This is what resurrection is. A seed disappears into the ground, and we don’t know yet what it will look like when it sprouts. But we know for sure that it won’t look anything like the seed. The death of the seed makes possible the new life of the sprouting plant. “Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green”—that just might be my favorite hymn of all. Paul applies this plant metaphor to humanity, casting Adam as the dead seed and Christ as the sprouting plant, the new, reborn Adam. And like Christ, says Paul, we, too, will be raised to new life.

We undergo many deaths in our lives, but few are as difficult as the death of our ego, especially when we find ourselves in a position of power. True dignity is built on humility. If I see myself as powerful, and then someone comes along to challenge that power, I have the opportunity to become an abuser. But if I recognize myself as both powerless and dignified, especially relative to God’s eternal wisdom and power, I take the perspective of a student eager to learn, even if it means learning from my mistakes. Because I am God’s beloved child, loss of power does not mean I must lose my dignity. The same goes for every one of us.

And this is why Jesus commands us to love our enemies: because we are all in the same boat. Jesus wants us to want only the best for our enemies—life to the fullest, lived in joy and wonder. And that’s because every one of us, no matter what evil we may have done, is eternally a beloved child of God.

To love our enemies is the heart of dignity. And to be direct with those who would abuse us, rather than giving in to them, is a crucial component. It is virtuous to stay in relationship with those who despise us, rather than writing them off. But this can only happen with the understanding that it is our dignified choice to do so. Reconciliation cannot be forced. It does not happen under duress.
If we believe the soul is eternal, then we are never done with anyone; we may not be able to stay in relationship, but we can pray for justice to be done as God goes to work in the souls of sinners. We might not be able to imagine a good outcome for the evil ones of the world. But Jesus instructs us to live into what we will ultimately become—a sprout from a dead seed—and, as we pray, to wish the same surprising rebirth for everybody else on earth. Amen.

[1] Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 175–182. These pages are referenced throughout this sermon.