Mon, Jan 07, 2008 - Page 13 News List

Free and easy

Here's a guide to the best music you can find — for free — on the Internet

By Chris Salmon  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

File: p13-080107-a1.jpg (Size: 46283 bytes)Best for covers

Cover Freak

US blogger Steve McIntyre is, by his own admission, “obsessed” with cover versions. “I’ve been giving covers CDs to my friends as Christmas presents for years,” he says. “The site is an outgrowth of that.” Every Sunday since October, 2006, McIntyre has posted five cover versions on a particular theme, be it war, ukuleles, Johnny Cash, drinking or California. One post a week may seem sparse compared to many blogs, but for McIntyre it’s about quality, not quantity. “A good cover is different from the original, for better or worse,” he says. “The artist needs to put something of him/her self into the song and give new meaning to it. Otherwise it is a waste of time.”

Luckily, McIntyre has a seemingly never-ending collection of genre-straddling covers to fit both his manifesto and his weekly themes. “It’s great fun to foist your musical tastes on an unsuspecting world,” he says.

Download: Tricky: The Love Cats (posted 30/12/07)

File: p13-080107-a2.jpg (Size: 44942 bytes)Best for tomorrow’s big names

iTunes Store

Having sold 3 billion downloads since opening for business in 2003, Apple’s iTunes Store is more famous for making millions from music than for giving it away. However, the site still offers its Single of the Week as a free download. In fact, because iTunes has such an enormous share of the global digital music market (around 80 percent) the slot has become a much sought after way for labels to break new acts. But insiders insist that iTunes still decides each week’s track purely on the music’s merit. If that’s the case, their taste appears to be improving; after providing valuable early exposure for dreary mainstreamers like James Blunt, Paolo Nutini and Scott Matthews, recent free downloads have tended towards the credible (Simian Mobile Disco, Battles, Yoav). But whatever the quality, it’s always nice to get something for nothing from an organization that makes a fortune out of you.

Download: Palladium Happy Hour

File: p13-080107-a3.jpg (Size: 36947 bytes)Best for old gramophone records

Turtle’s 78rpm Jukebox

As a rule, the older the music, the less well-represented it is online. Which is why Turtle’s 78rpm Jukebox is a rare treat. Although it isn’t updated often, the site now contains more than 120 MP3s, which have been lovingly converted from dusty old phonographs dating from 1909 to 1928. The scratches and hisses that remain on the recordings add to the evocative experience, as do the song’s excitable titles — Yes! We Have No Bananas and Oh, Gee! Say, Gee! You Ought to See My Gee Gee from the Fiji Isle being two particular highlights. The tracks are divided between sentimental slowies and breezy comedic numbers, all with the tinny Dixieland trumpets and syrupy vocal harmonies you’d expect to hear on a vintage cartoon. The site also provides a telling lesson in US social history, with a small handful of songs labeled as being potentially offensive because of their less than enlightened portrayal of black characters by white minstrel performers.

Download: Yerkes Novelty Five with Arthur Hall Yes! We Have No Bananas

File: p13-080107-a4.jpg (Size: 45335 bytes)Best for discarded vinyl

Vinyl Orphanage

“I’m a huge fan of things like self-produced recordings, school band albums and records by cruise ship and cocktail lounge performers,” says Pastor McPurvis, the Florida resident behind the terrifically off-kilter Our Lady of Perpetual Obsolescence Vinyl Rescue Mission and Orphanage blog. Describing his site a “safe haven for forgotten and downtrodden record albums,” McPurvis shares the fruits of 20 years scouring thrift shops by offering a full album for download each month. Last month, it was Sing for Lovers by husband and wife duo Kathy and Tony Rich, who apparently entertained holidayers in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains in the late 1960s. The record is typical of McPurvis’s ability to unearth obscure, but extremely worthwhile music. Elsewhere in the Pastor’s archive, the three early-1970s albums by the Bellport High School Jazz-Rock Ensemble posted in April 2007 are particularly worthy of your hard-drive space.

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