Newsletter October 2000

We have some T shirts to give away, very high-class and fancy numbers featuring a breast pocket, heavy-quality black cotton, and witty, inspired printing and logos on both front and back. This being almost Halloween, you have to endure a competition for your sartorial score. There are two related music questions on the Contest page, whose answers are not too deeply buried in the Stereo Society site. The clue to one answer is in front of you now. E mail us from the contest page until the closing at midnight on October 31st.

Back on the subject of music, we are starting to build more substantial streaming options on our site. Obviously, we cannot offer for download any music for which we don’t own the copyright, but we can present it so that you can hear it when we talk about it. First examples were the various Sarah Jane Morris and Communards tracks earlier this month. Now we add three Sex Pistols tracks to the essay on the making of Anarchy In The UK, so that you can see what all the fuss was about. One of these is the classic Pretty Vacant, recorded by Thorne on his Sprawl album and sung by the most unexpected voice (whose owner, by small-world coincidence, was signed to EMI about the same time as the Pistols). The new version is rather different, but has main writer Glen Matlock’s seal of approval.

We’re also improving our audio quality in Real, with tracks streamed (in mono) at up to 112Kbps quality. We will remain in mono, since going to stereo will dramatically lower the basic quality. As you may notice, there are some differences, particularly in balance (like the snare drum blowing your head off in dance tracks). Next month, we’ll give a sonic guide to what happens and why, and some suggestions for pseudo-stereo. Nothing beats the CD, though, and it’s a pity that many of these classic tracks are unavailable.

And we offer a rousing Bronx cheer this month to New York University, who will be pulling down Edgar Allan Poe’s Greenwich Village house in the next few weeks to make way for a law school building. As Lou Reed comments in a letter to the New York Times, ‘Destroying the Poe house….is a particularly reprehensible lesson for NYU to pass on to its students. What we need are lawyers educated at schools with respect for the work of legendary writers.’

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Sarah Jane Morris’ larger-than-life voice helped front the enormous Communards hit Don’t Leave Me This Way 14 years ago. Before and since then she has pursued an idiosyncratic solo career ranging from Greek #1 disco hits to jazz, from singing Brecht/Weill with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to winning the San Remo Song Festival and having her trophy swiped by Grace Jones. Diversions include barbed wire scrapes and broken bones on a Greek island. We have a raucous interview with her from last summer in London, also provided in streaming audio so that you can hear the laughs.

The Communards’ album went platinum in several territories, an extraordinary achievement for an unusual collection of people. The story of its production is new on the site this month, in all its gory detail. It’s startling to recall how nasty the Thatcher years and the miners’ strike were in the UK in the mid-eighties. For its brief-but-colorful existence, the group was among the most militant in its social activism.

Starting this month, we are substantially increasing the music on the site available for listening, adding eleven tracks totaling about 80 minutes. Since most of it is other people’s copyright, we do not offer downloads of mp3 or anything else, but the quality of streaming audio is more then sufficient to enjoy these musical rarities and deleted dance extravaganzas.

Sarah Jane went on to record several CDs, and we include streaming versions of selected tracks. One rarity offered for exclusive mp3 download (as well as streaming audition) is a mighty, horn-driven version of her Cry, a timeless 1991 version with her standout solo vocal, the Uptown Horns and Mike Thorne. With two other tracks, it was recorded in an intense week which started with a cootie attack at the Chelsea Hotel (‘we’ve never had any complaints before’). If we were bugs, we wouldn’t bite Sid or Nancy either. This cut fell between the cracks and was never included in any CD collection.

Privacy seems to be getting the overheated popular press treatment at the moment. We thought we should add our two-cents’ worth. Most security lapses, like last month’s by a company closely associated with Wired magazine, seem to result from sloppy carelessness and some very lax site security. We tested this thesis by temporarily storing a ten dollar bill on the back seat of a New York taxi. It was removed, so we’ve continued to store our data in a bank.

Credit card details are stored on Amazon’s secure server if you purchase, not on ours. It’s difficult and not cost-effective for a hacker to intercept a single transmission, and hacks into carefully-tended data banks are extremely rare. Far more security lapses happen through careless litter, and hackers are more successful at ‘dumpster diving’ to pick up details of passwords. Such messy pursuits have been the start of several grand trespassing schemes.

We don’t give our electronic mailing list to anyone. We were concerned by press reports that Amazon were selling lists, and contacted them. We reprint their personal response, linked from our shopping page, since we thought it very clear and reassuring. In our business dealings with them, we have been very impressed with their integrity and attention to big pictures and small details.

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