The 10 best albums on Apple Music that aren’t on Spotify
No, Taylor Swift didn’t make the cut
Yesterday, the long-anticipated heir to Beats Music and prospective Spotify-killer, Apple Music, finally debuted on iOS devices.
Like with every Apple product, there’s no shortage of reviews dissecting the streaming service’s features and user interface, the consensus being that it’s pretty good – not as good as Spotify, but better perhaps than what we’ve come to expect from Apple’s software offerings.
Whatever the verdict, there’s no need for another “Everything You Need to Know About Apple Music” article. Moreover, I’ve already discussed at lengths the reasons why Apple Music has some enormous advantages over Spotify – all of which are due to various realities about the music industry, and none of which have anything to do with this or that feature or the comparative qualities of the services' playlists.
No, what interests me is the catalog. What’s Apple Music got that Spotify doesn’t?
Going into yesterday, we knew that Apple had scored at least a couple major releases that fans won’t find on Spotify: Taylor Swift’s latest hit record, 1989, and Dr. Dre’s indispensable hip hop classic, The Chronic. For Swift, her decision was driven by the fact that, because Apple doesn’t offer a permanent free version, it can and will pay far higher royalties than Spotify in aggregate, as long as it convinces more than 20 million people --the number of paid subscribers that belong to Spotify -- to sign up and pay.
For Dr. Dre, the most obvious reason he would go with Apple Music is because Apple owns Beats, which Dre cofounded. Surprisingly enough, however, the reason this album hadn’t appeared on Spotify all these years because of a dispute over ownership of the record's digital rights.
But what else is there beyond 1989 and The Chronic? Is that it? As former Rdio exec Marc Ruxin explained at Pandoland, It’s not even a guarantee that the promise of exclusive content will be enough for Apple Music to poach users away from free services. And therefore it’s not likely that Swift and Dre alone are enough to justify making the move for most users. Are there any other major albums that Apple Music can boast that Spotify cannot?
As it turns out, yes there are. Lots of them. Enough for this listener to make the switch – though, to be fair I already pay for Spotify too so the choice is simple.
I wasn’t going to make this list if I couldn’t find ten legitimately classic albums that qualified for inclusion. In the end, the bigger challenge wasn’t finding enough worthy albums but paring the list down to only ten of them.
And so, here are ten phenomenal albums -- and ten huge advantages over Spotify -- that are more-or-less exclusive to Apple Music.
Note: There are still a few hugely disappointing exclusions from both Apple Music and Spotify, including Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King, and everything from the impossibly great Chicago record label Drag City: that means no Joanna Newsom, no Jim O’Rourke, no Bill Callahan, and – for the most part – no Will Oldham.
And, as always when it comes to streaming services, no Beatles.
On the other hand, I’ve yet to identify any masterpiece albums that are available on Spotify, but not on Apple Music. Let me know on Twitter if you find any.
- Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980)
Jello Biafra is one of San Francisco’s last original weirdos, and so it’s fitting that his punk band’s best and most-acclaimed album never appeared on Spotify, which with its $8 billion valuation -- and negative profits -- is one of the tech industry’s biggest symbols of excess. So I’m not entirely sure then what it means that the Dead Kennedys’ frenzied, darkly sarcastic, poor-killing, landlord-lynching 1980 debut is available on a service run by Apple, the kings of capitalism in the 21st century, but here we are.
(Note: On Twitter, Jeff Larson of ProPublica tells me that Biafra was sued by his former bandmates over a "failure to promote" the Dead Kennedys catalog. I'm not sure how exactly this rights dispute may or may not have impacted its availability on streaming platforms, but we've reached out to Biafra and will report back if we hear anything.)
Biafra once said, “Punk is not dead. Punk will only die when corporations can exploit and mass produce it.” I suppose that’s what’s happened here. But which is the preferable outcome: Letting this record slowly enter senescence and finally die once the last of the physical copies are thrown into the garbage by the sons and daughters of deceased punks? Or giving it a second life on a streaming platform where it can reach a new generation of establishment-fighters – assuming those still exist -- with its noisy yet playful performances and political messages that are at turns brutal and hilarious?
On “California Uber Alles,” Biafra imagines Governor Jerry Brown sending his secret Nazi police to take away “your uncool niece.” Biafra’s nightmare vision of California rising “above all” didn’t play out quite like he’d expected -- even though he does technically mention “Uber.” But the only major difference is that the agents of influence today aren’t fascist political leaders, but billionaire coders in hoodies.
In any case, hide that niece.
- Dr.Dre – The Chronic (1992)
The thick bass. The classic soul samples. The high, screaming, drawn-out synths. The sound – at once visceral and laid-back, on in other words, "weed personified" – that would rule hip-hop for the next ten years. The rap record that proved forever that an ace-in-the-hole studio producer is at least as important as the MC on the mic. And the eternal reminder that Dr. Dre used to be something much more than a dude in a suit selling crappy headphones.
23 years later, The Chronic is still a perfect album. Young listeners might hear it and call it “dated.” But in reality it simply captures so perfectly the time and place of its conception – Los Angeles in the early 90s – that it’s as important a historical document as any work of journalism or literature from that period.
The simple flawlessness of the album is perhaps best encapsulated by Snoop and Dre’s refrain to the classic, “Ain’t Nuthin But a G’ Thang.”
“It’s like this and like that and like this and uh…”
- Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)
When Radiohead’s seventh album, In Rainbows, descended to Earth with little-to-no warning in 2007, the chief narrative surrounding it was all about the record’s innovative distribution model, not its music. Years before Taylor Swift made controlling your music fashionable, Radiohead ensured that it retained the rights to In Rainbows, which allowed the band to release the album as an instant “pay-what-you-want” download. This self-ownership of the rights also enabled the band to keep this album – but none of its other releases – off of Spotify.
In retrospect, the “pay-what-you-want” element was much less revolutionary than the notion of releasing an album with virtually no marketing lead-up, no embargoed copies sent to journalists, and practically no announcement until the album was almost ready for fans to download. This strategy still pays dividends for artists like Beyonce, who released her most recent album with a similar absence of overture, helping to foster a sense of rabid excitement the world rarely experiences around new albums anymore.
But the most enduring thing about In Rainbows has nothing to do with technology or culture or “disruption.” It’s the songs.
No album in Radiohead’s catalog has aged better, from the uncomfortable urgency of opener “15 Step” to the simple, repetitive, and beautiful album-closing piano chords of “Videotape” which linger quietly as an Armageddon of sound slowly builds around them. In between, a heart beats awkwardly in three-time on “Nude”; a swirling and ceaseless percussion backbeat propels “Reckoner” along “like ripples on a black shore”; and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” piles climax upon climax to conjure the band’s most anxious anthem to date.
What In Rainbows perhaps lacked most when compared to the band’s other releases was a sense of bombast which grabs listeners by the throat and demands that they pay attention. In its orginal review, the now-defunct magazine The Wire wrote of “a sense here of a group magisterially marking time, shying away ... from any grand, rhetorical, countercultural purpose.”
But what’s become clear in the years since its release is that In Rainbows is so flawlessly conceived and executed that Radiohead simply had no need to wear its greatness on its sleeve – a quality the band exhibited on other records, but did not always live up to.
In Rainbows may or may not be Radiohead’s greatest album. But it is the band’s most assured and enjoyable effort at what Radiohead does better than most any other band on the planet: combing the contours of a mind and a world gone bad, and unearthing hidden, fleeting echoes of beauty.
- This Heat – Deceit (1981)
This Heat is one of those obscure, experimental bands that uber-hipsters cite when hipsplaining to friends why, no, that new album by Battles -- or whatever off-kilter, progressive post-punk band that Pitchfork’s raving about this week – isn’t that original; and that bands like This Heat were rocking this vibe as early as the 70s.
But This Heat – and its second and final 1981 studio album Deceit in particular – is worth much more than the hipster credibility that comes with mentioning it as a favorite band. Unpredictable, boldly experimental, unashamedly musically-accomplished, and full of Reagan-era paranoia and anxiety, Deceit is one of those rare, indelible records that is as enjoyable as it is important.
- Bikini Kill – Pussy Whipped (1993)
Before Pussy Riot, there was Pussy Whipped.
Of course, such comparisons are unfairly reductive to both bands, but the comparison is telling as Bikini Kill were the progenitors of the “riot grrrl” movement, which frontwoman Kathleen Hanna created in response to the fact that punk rock in the early 90s was still a total boys’ club. And when placed into this context, Pussy Riot shows how far feminism has come – and how much catching up the rest of the world still has to do.
- El-P – Fantastic Damage (2002)
Today, the world knows El-P as one half of the furious rap duo Run the Jewels, which have spent the last year blowing away the competition at every festival on the planet and topping one critics’ list after another. But back in 2002, the man born Jaime Meline was already at the vanguard of independent, experimental, and angry post-9/11 hip-hop. And somehow it took over a decade after the attack on the Twin Towers for the world to be ready for El-P’s frenzied and infuriated political hip-hop.
As an aside, where’s El-P’s sensational 2007 release, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead? In what's a great disservice to ears everywhere, the album doesn’t seem to appear on a single legal streaming service.
- Dead Kennedys – Plastic Surgery Disasters (1982)
Plastic Surgery Disasters follows the template of almost every sophomore follow-up to an iconic, legendary punk rock debut, from the Clash to the Ramones: more of the same. Which isn’t at all a bad thing. And while nothing here quite captures the heights of “California Uber Alles” or “Holiday in Cambodia” off of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, Plastic Surgery Disasters is still an astoundingly entertaining and often enlightening hardcore political punk album that’s a classic in its own right.
- M.O.P. – Warriorz (2000)
Now let's move from hardcore punk to hardcore rap. M.O.P. are among both the pioneers and most-accomplished performers in the genre, the missing link between 90s gangsta rap and the angry stylings of DMX which all too often brink on self-parody. M.O.P. get close to that, but never quite come that far.
As for what sets Warriorz apart from the rest of M.O.P.’s discography? Two words: “Ante Up.”
9. / 10. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (2012) and Faith in Strangers (2014)
Over the past four years, the Brtish dub producer Andy Stott has made two albums of some of the darkest and dreariest electronic music around. It basically takes everything cheesy or pop-inflected out of the goth electronic bands of the 80s, like New Order and Depeche Mode, until all that’s left is cold and solitude and alien emotion. This is some of the boldest and most unique music that’s come out in the past decade.