OnlineRock Blog

30 March 2012

Free Music Friday - March 30, 2012

Here's this month's selections of Free Music Friday musical picks!

1. Autechre - Tri Repetae
(free download from Noise Trade) 

For this week's free music selection, I've found something from last century to tickle your ears. Autechre has made their third album, 1995's Tri Repetae, available for free via NoiseTrade. The album is, overall, a rather mellow affair that finds ambient synths propelled along by whirrs, clicks, pops and bleeps. With the ubiquitous influence of dubstep on the modern techno scene, a long dose of mid-90s IDM is a refreshing change of pace.  

-Andrew McNair

2. Such Hounds - Self-titled EP
(free download from Bandcamp)

Need some solid, steady indie rock? New York's Such Hounds are here to help. With thick guitars, they lay down three solid songs on their new EP that give you indie powerpop with a rootsy undercurrent. Such Hounds is offering their self-titled EP for absolutely free on Bandcamp (you don't even need to give them an email address to be subjected to occasional emails -- this is as free as free gets).

-Andrew McNair

3. Niteflights - I'm Glad You're Here 
(free download from Soundcloud) 
In the mood for something a bit lighter and synthier? Niteflights can fulfill your yearning for retro-sounding synthesizers and drum machines with an EP full of plucky synthpop love songs. The EP sounds so good that you'd never guess it was done from a home studio. I'm Glad You're Here is available for free from the link above. 

-Andrew McNair

4. Retribution Gospel Choir - The Revolution
(free download from artist website)

Alan Sparhawk, best known for his band Low, has put out a new EP for his side project, Retribution Gospel Choir. The Revolution showcases Sparhawk's poppier sensibilities (which don't get much airtime in Low's slower, heavier music) with a set of four driving, catchy and straightforward indie rock songs. There's even—heavens!—cowbell. Download the entire thing for free from the RGC website.

-Andrew McNair

5. East of Underground - "Hell Below"
(click to stream or right click to save as)

The always reliable Now-Again Records brings us this awesome, skittering Curtis Mayfield cover from a group of Vietnam vets in the early 1970s known as East of Underground. Apparently, some of their songs were used in U.S. Military recruitment centers as an example of the diversity and "coolness" of the soldiers overseas. "Hell Below" was probably left out of such demonstrations, considering its challenging lyrical content, which addresses racial and political issues. Filled to the brim with nervous energy, it's driven by a funky bassline, an infectiously propulsive drumbeat and soulful falsetto vocal stylings. A compilation of East of Underground and two other Vietnam soldier bands is available here. Check out the original Curtis Mayfield version below! 

-Tomi Mendel

01 March 2012

Public Image Ltd. Returns This Recrod Store Day

By Tomi Mendel

Pioneering post-punk band Public Image Ltd. has announced they will release a new E.P. and album, their first new music since 1992. April 21, this year’s Record Store Day, will see the release of the four-song One Drop E.P., with the new record This is PiL following on May 28. Frontman John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten, claims he funded the recordings out of pocket with money earned from working on an advertising campaign for Country Life butter in the U.K. In early February, the group premiered the title song, from the new E.P. on BBC radio, bringing their trademark dark, warbling, post-punk to a new generation.
“One Drop,” recorded from the BBC 6 radio premiere on Feb. 13, 2012.

Unfortunately, Public Image Ltd. has long lived in the pop culture shadow of Lydon’s other band, The Sex Pistols. While the Pistols may be the quintessential punk rock band, PiL was, musically speaking, a great deal more innovative and perhaps more influential, as well. They were one of the first bands of the punk era to start playing around with strange sounds and experimental ideas, paving the way for countless groups that followed and helping to lay the foundation for what would become alternative music and indie rock. Their unique combination of krautrock, punk, dub reggae, and art rock, proved to have quite a far reach. From an ideological perspective, their proclaimed rejection of rock ‘n’ roll was a powerful message, as well, and the symbolic significance of the ex-Johnny Rotten denouncing the music he had just created with the Sex Pistols cannot be overlooked. 

Some confused dancers listening to “Poptones” and “Careering.”

One downside to the Public Image Ltd. reunion is that most of the original members are not returning, having already left the band well before 1992’s That What Is Not. In particular, bassist Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene are missed, crucial as they were to the band’s sound on their first, most influential albums. In those early days for the group, they were just about unclassifiable, and clearly no one knew quite what to make of them. How else can we explain them earning a surprise disco hit with the pounding “Fodderstompf” and even making an appearance (possibly the weirdest one ever) on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1980. An album like Metal Box is definitely some of the most experimental music ever released on a major label, and Wobble and Levene were major elements of that. For his part, Keith Levene’s characteristic guitar work on songs like “Public Image” clearly laid the groundwork for acts like U2. Meanwhile, Wobble’s unmistakable bass lines have made him a hot commodity in the post-PiL years, including collaborations with Bjork, Massive Attack, Primal Scream, and Brian Eno.

Sounds a lot like U2’s the Edge playing guitar on this song, don’t ya think? 

Although PiL’s later albums were not nearly as groundbreaking, Lydon and his assorted band-mates still managed a number of winning songs. “This Is Not A Love Song” is a brilliantly postmodern tune from 1984’s This is What You Want...This is What You Get that received a recent coffee-house update by French group Nouvelle Vague. 1986’s Album featured surprising appearances by Steve Vai, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Ginger Baker, leading to catchy songs like “Rise.” John Lydon also managed to stay on the cutting edge with some strong solo collaborations, including an early rap-rock song with Afrika Bambaata and a characteristically warbly lead vocal on U.K. electronica act Leftfield’s “Open Up.” Even though Public Image Ltd. petered off in their last few years, the new song, “One Drop” is decent and should give hope to fans. With any luck, the glut of recent indie and electronic acts that owe a debt to PiL’s music will inspire the group to do some good work. If not, we’ll all just have to give Metal Box or The Flowers of Romance another spin. 

John Lydon singing with Leftfield in 1993.

24 February 2012

Free Music Friday - February 24, 2012

Welcome, lovely children of the world, to a nice warm bath of soothing music with a little rock and roll thrown into the middle. This first artist Baobab combines elements of world music with familiar folk melodies to the delight of all; 50 Foot Wave has been doused with the spirit of generosity and is giving away their entire discography of rough/math rock for free; and you can sample the beautifully concise notes of the piano from Perfume Genius.
1. Baobab - Baobab
(free download from Bandcamp)
Baobab is giving their (well, his, since, apart from some backing vocals on one track, the effort is solely that of one Phil Torres) self-titled album away for free, and it's well worth the download. The music is a blend of modern folk and African musical idea. Gentle and pulsing, the songs are a mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation and the album finds itself at the intersection of Devendra Banhart, Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend.

-Andrew McNair

(free download from artist website)

Aside from Throwing Muses (whose demos for their upcoming album Film may be downloaded for free here: -- their first album of new material since their self-titled 2003 release), Kristin Hersh also records music with her band 50 Foot Wave (who've been a bit more active in the past 9 years). A bit rougher around the edges than the poppier Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave is straightforward rock with a slight math-rock tendency. And you can now download their entire discography for free (in both MP3 and FLAC) from their website.
-Andrew McNair

3. Perfume Genius - "Hood"
(click to stream or right click to save as) 

From LP: Put Your Back N 2 It

From his new album Put Your Back N 2 It, Seattle-based Perfume Genius gives us "Hood," an enthralling, but frustratingly short, piano ballad. Driven by tender, reverb-laden vocals, the song builds from a sparse, vulnerable sound to a brief climax of epic power. The song is little more than piano and vocals, but it's refreshing in its simplicity and leaves you wanting more. Find out all about Perfume Genius here!

-Tomi Mendel

17 February 2012

Free Music Friday - February 17, 2012

Hello Valentines, hope you had a candy-coated Tuesday. And back to the real world, we know offer a double double of great tunes. This first one is a perfect mellow number to soothe that aching heart, and the second brings you back into the daylight with a pumped up jam full of good old rock and roll.

1. Eric Chenaux - "Amazing Backgrounds"
(free download from Soundcloud)

LP: Guitar and Voice

Eric Chenaux is a Canadian dude who does some pretty neat things with just singing and a guitar. His upcoming album, aptly named Guitar & Voice, features "Amazing Backgrounds," a plaintive ballad stripped down to its core. Chenaux's guitar is extremely atmospheric, ranging from quiet plucking to fuzzed-out soloing. With its tenderly sung, gentle lyrics and warmly meandering melody, "Amazing Backgrounds" makes for a highly gripping listen. Learn more about Guitar & Voice, out March 6, here!

-Tomi Mendel

2. The Black Box Revelation - "High on a Wire"
(click to stream or right click to save as)

LP: My Perception

Tight pants, motorcycle boots, and leather jackets are not things I usually associate with Belgium but this duo from Brussels has just changed all that. These 20-something years olds have already released three albums of gritty, fuzzy, and awesome rock'n'roll tunes. So, everybody dust off those distortion pedals from your high-school garage band days and jam along to the some good ol' rock. For more on The Black Box Revelation check out their webpage

-Ana Diaz

16 February 2012

Where Would We Be Without Alan Lomax? Opening The Vaults

By Tomi Mendel

On Monday, January 30, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress announced that the entire, enormous archive of music, film and photographs compiled by the late folklorist/archivist Alan Lomax will be made freely available online by the end of February. This exciting project is the spiritual completion of Lomax’s vision for a “global jukebox” of all his field recordings, an idea which he promoted until his death in 2002. Now, for the first time, his archive, which includes a whopping 17,000 music tracks, will be easily accessible for music and history fans everywhere.

I hope Lomax’s record collection is better organized than mine.

Alan Lomax is unquestionably one of the most important figures in 20th century music. It certainly is not difficult to find effusive praise of the man. Brian Eno said that without Lomax, “It’s possible that there would have been no blues explosion, no R&B movement, no Beatles and no Stones and no Velvet Underground.” According to Studs Terkel, “What Caruso was to singing, Alan Lomax is to musicology.” 

Lomax is also a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, as well as a National Book Critics Circle Award, for The Land Where the Blues Began, an account of his experiences recording in the Mississipi Delta in the 1930s and 1940s. Beginning as an assistant to his father John Lomax in the ‘30s, Alan helped record music performed by the forgotten members of society: prisoners, cowboys, fishermen and many others. In doing so, he brought to light a rich history of traditional music and culture, often hiding in plain sight right here in the United States. Notable artists first recorded by Lomax include Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie, two giants of the music world with legacies of incalculable influence. 

Lomax was a musical performer, as well.

These efforts to give voice to the marginalized were no easy task. With the horrible, ugly race relations of the era, the white Lomax would sometimes get his (often black) artists and himself in trouble for their social interactions. In The Land Where the Blues Began he tells of the need to converse with performers’ in the dark and hidden from view, for fear of being seen “fraternizing” or even shaking hands. Later, he recalls getting himself in hot water with a local sheriff by respectfully addressing blues legend Son House as “Mister.” Luckily, both the performers and Lomax were able to overcome these difficulties and create a vast treasure trove of traditional music not only in the United States, but in the Caribbean and Europe.

The Land Where the Blues Began, Lomax’s award-winning book.

It should be noted that Lomax was not entirely a heroic, benevolent figure, controversial in some circles where people feel that he exploited performers for his own gain. Still, wherever you stand on the question of Lomax’s ethics, one cannot deny that his archive of recordings helped provide the spark for the American and British folk revivals, as well as the world music craze, leading to artists like Bob Dylan, clearly one of the most influential figures in popular music history. 

In England, the new-found national obsession with classic American folk songs led to the creation of Skiffle, a pre-rock genre where artists like Jimmy Page, Roger Daltrey, and John Lennon got their starts. Obviously, Lomax was not the only field recorder and archivist working in those times, but he was certainly a significant and, more importantly, prolific figure. Much more than a mere recording technician, Alan also contributed to public knowledge of these works with his writings, as well as a series of radio shows and television programs throughout his lifetime.

Lonnie Donegan, Skiffle’s biggest star, covering a Woodie Guthrie song in awesome fashion. Check the drum solo.

These types of folk recordings have been a major influence on music artists for generations. Their visceral rawness and authenticity leaves an unshakable mark on any listener. Traditional music has touched not only Americana artists like the Grateful Dead or Bruce Springsteen, but also rootsy indie folksters like Bonnie “Prince” Billy. In addition, the efforts of Lomax and others to preserve and distribute folk songs from outside of the U.S. and Europe touched artists ranging from Van Dyke Parks to Paul Simon to Talking Heads. Covers of songs recorded by Lomax and his father show up in truly unexpected places, like Ram Jam’s goofy rock anthem “Black Betty,” or Moby’s dance hit “Honey.” 

Blam-a-lam! James “Iron Head” Baker with the original recording of Black Betty. You can find Lomax himself performing it on Spotify.

While the musical artists deserve the greatest credit for actually performing the songs, Lomax and his archivist peers provided an endlessly important service in preserving them and making them available for public education and enjoyment. Despite the mass of immeasurable lasting influence on modern artists, Lomax’s greater achievement is physical rather than abstract: the actual archive of music, films and photographs that preserve forever the unique voices of our world. To record is the quintessential act of modern existence, and there are few recordings more significant than those which illuminate the rich history and incredible talent of marginalized or forgotten cultures and traditions. In short, the approaching availability of Lomax’s entire archive of recorded material is an occasion worth celebrating whole-heartedly. 

Bessie Jones’ “Sometimes,” recorded by Lomax in 1960, is the basis of Moby’s “Honey.”

13 February 2012

When Beloved Musicians Die Too Soon... Some May Rise?

By Tomi Mendel

In what must be one of the strangest music-related stories in a long time, a South-African man is claiming to be Khulekani Mgqumeni "Kwakhe" Khumalo, a popular singer who died in late 2009. Bizarrely, he says he did not die at all, but is actually a victim of witchcraft, held captive by zombies for two years. This mystery man boasts some pretty legitimate corroborating sources, including Khumalo’s daughter, two common-law wives and his grandmother, who claims, “It really is him.” Thousands of people have flocked to Khumalo’s hometown in response, with local police even needing to resort to riot control tactics to keep the crowds contained. Authorities are continuing to investigate the situation, although they say the man’s fingerprints do not match Khumalo’s and he lacks the late singer’s identifying facial scars.

Khulekani Mgqumeni "Kwakhe" Khumalo while he was still alive.

Khumalo, also known as “Mgqumeni,” was a well-loved performer of Maskandi, a traditional folk music of the region. He was thought to have died back in 2009 at the young age of twenty-seven, after allegedly consuming a poisonous concoction given to him by a traditional healer. Since this odd resurrection controversy began, his music, unsurprisingly, has been selling extremely well, along with a pirated DVD copy of footage from his funeral. While the particulars of this episode might seem quite out of the ordinary to our Western ears, it’s important to take a look in the mirror before we judge too harshly. 

Incredible crowd scenes from South Africa.

Musicians seem to have a peculiar habit of rising from the dead all over the world, and in America as often as anywhere else. Post-mortem “sightings” of Elvis Presley, who died in 1977, are an especially prevalent cultural phenomenon, providing material for movies like Bubba Ho-Tep and Mystery Train. In the age of the Internet, there are countless websites claiming to have proof that Mr. Presley is still alive. One theory got some major news coverage ten years ago, when a Kansas City doctor, Donald Hinton, claimed to be treating Elvis, now living under the name of Jesse (taken from Presley’s still-born twin brother) after having faked his own death. Supporters of this theory claim that Jesse has taken DNA tests which connect him to both sides of Presley’s family, proving that he is in fact the real Elvis. 

A 2002 news report about Dr. Hinton and Jesse.

Another similar conspiracy concerns rapper Tupac Shakur, with TMZ getting in on the fun as recently as 2009, when they released a series of photographs showing a man bearing a strong resemblance to the late hip-hop icon. Just last year, a group of comedic hackers added fuel to the fire when they broke into the PBS website and posted a story about Tupac being found alive and well, living in New Zealand. The legitimacy of the news source led to quite the uproar- at least for a few hours. Michael Jackson, another worldwide icon, is the latest superstar whose sudden and mysterious death have contributed to the belief that he might still be alive. Even before the Internet, in the mid 1960s, an equal-but-opposite conspiracy arose, which claimed that Paul McCartney had died in a car crash and been replaced by a lookalike. There are still many fans today who could present an incredibly thorough, detailed case for this belief based on photographic comparison and other clues. 

“Paul Is Dead” conspirators believe McCartney’s appearance suspiciously changed considerably over time.

Of course, we would all like to believe that our favorite musicians are still with us. Each one of these instances is a testament to the powerful ability of music to touch listeners on a personal level. Lyrics sung by someone you have never met can often feel like they were written just for you. We develop a relationship with our favorite artists, our lives rising and falling with each new song or album. We read the books they reference, style our hair like them and sometimes even try to adopt their worldview. In short, we treat them like they’re our friends. Especially when such an icon is taken from the world at a young age, as in all of these examples, that personal connection is an extremely difficult one to let go. It means we can never meet them, never laugh with them and learn from them. For anyone who saw their words and songs as a guiding light, the glow is extinguished suddenly and without explanation. 

Elvis Lives Lane in Ottawa, Canada, home of the Elvis Sightings Society.

It is no coincidence that most of these cases revolve around supposed clues left behind for fans, like the word “ALIVE” allegedly inscribed on Michael Jackson’s lower lip on the cover of Michael, or the muffled lyrics “I buried Paul” many claim to hear during the fadeout of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” As fans, we want to believe that these artists left behind clues that only the truly dedicated would be able to uncover. Within these intensely personal experiences, we see the best and worst of music fandom. Ultimately, whether this South African man’s seemingly false identity claims prove to be just that, I think we can all understand the desire for our most beloved musical icons to rise from the grave. If by some improbable miracle, his story turns out to be true, at least it will bring solace to thousands of fans who were robbed of Khumalo’s talents far too soon.

10 February 2012

Free Music Friday - February 10, 2012

Three hell-raisingly stupendous artists for you on this beautiful Friday:

1. Diehard - Old Habits EP
(free download from Bandcamp)

This week, I've found Old Habits, an EP full of covers by Diehard. Taking a cue from Yo La Tengo's perennial covers-for-pledges marathons on WFMU, Diehard recorded covers requested by those fans of theirs who donated at a high enough level on their Kickstarter campaign (for their album The Times We Didn't Have Fun, available on a pay-what-you'd-like basis here). The covers are home-recorded fun, and Diehard tackle Fugazi, The Promise Ring and The New Pornographers with ease. The highlight, though -- what really grabbed my attention -- was a hybrid of The Beatles and Pavement: Penny/Shady Lane. The promise of that combination alone should be enough to get you to click the link above.

-Andrew McNair

2. Butterknife - Do The Needful EP
(free download from Bandcamp)

This week, I've also found a new EP by Boston band Butterknife. This is simply five tracks of straightforward powerpop that does everything that powerpop should: snappy songs with catchy guitar riffs, punchy drums and good vocal harmonies. Highlights are the final two tracks: "Restless" and the epic "This Was a Romance."

-Andrew McNair

3.  East of Underground - "Hell Below (cover)"
(click to stream or right click to save as)

The always reliable Now-Again Records brings us this awesome, skittering Curtis Mayfield cover from a group of Vietnam vets in the early 1970s known as East of Underground. Apparently, some of their songs were used in U.S. Military recruitment centers as an example of the diversity and "coolness" of the soldiers overseas. "Hell Below" was probably left out of such demonstrations, considering its challenging lyrical content, which addresses racial and political issues. Filled to the brim with nervous energy, it's driven by a funky bassline, an infectiously propulsive drumbeat and soulful falsetto vocal stylings. A compilation of East of Underground and two other Vietnam soldier bands is available here. Check out the original Curtis Mayfield version below! 

-Tomi Mendel

03 February 2012

Free Music Friday - February 2, 2012

Thank Greatmusic It's Friday! Enclosed below are 5 handpicked free downloads of some of the most interesting new music hitting digital libraries everywhere. With such a diverse array of awe and wonder, you're sure to find something good. All you need to do is dive in.

The first three songs exist on the fringes of electronic experimental pop: Antn Hrkwk produces as unpronounceable but as intriguing tunes as his name, Absofacto debuts a new little heartfelt synth number and Zambri pumps up the energy with some ethereal girl zinging. Moving in a different direction to seamlessly crafted melodic rock, Onward, Soldiers gives us a lovely hammock-ready ditty, and finally, R&B/dance pop/indie genre-crosser Leonard Friend (of The XYZ Affair) showers us with 7 songs from his first solo EP.

-Your Loving Editor, Nancy Woo
Twitter: @woobuggy

1. Antn Hrkwk - "It's So Not Like That"
(click to stream or right click to save as)

LP: Mutually Assured

Woven together from a series of unrecognizably short samples of existing songs, Antn Hrkwk's "It's So Not Like That" is a quite unusual tune. Hrkwk is a musician who specializes in these re-assembled tracks, which he allegedly creates using film editing software Final Cut Pro. "It's So Not Like That" comes from his 2008 album Mutually Assured, which is available for free in its entirety via Recycling Records. In this song, Hrkwk builds abstract vocalizations and a jaunty acoustic guitar vamp into a slowly churning melody that is rather catchy in a weird, hypnotizing kind of way. No lyrics or deeper meaning here, just a loopy little lollipop that you're bound to either find grating or entrancing. If you like it, check out Antn Hrkwk's new album Thoroughbred, available here

-Tomi Mendel

2. Absofacto - "Lies"
(name your price from Bandcamp)

EP: [Loners]

I've been quietly obsessed with Absofacto since I first heard his music in early 2011. He just released a new single so I figured I the timing was right for sharing. Absofacto is the side project of Jonathan Visger, a member of the band Mason Proper. Through Absofacto, Visger releases, as he puts it, "experimental pop music." After relishing in the little synth number that is "Lies," make you check out the rest of his music at
-Ana Diaz 
3. Zambri - "ICBYS" (Pronounced Ick-Bees)
(free download from Stereogum)
LP: House of Bassa 
The uncanny musical magic that sometimes erupts from siblings (whether because of shared genes, shared tastes, similar vocal cords, or growing up together) has manifested in the duo of sisters, Zambri. They went from sharing toys and dreams as children to sharing ethereal electronic pop as adults, and this song, "ICBYS" is the first official release from their soon-to-be-released debut LP, House of Bassa.  I imagine neon hair and geometrically patterned dresses from this punchy, girl rock song. If you dig it, watch for their upcoming album, out April 10th, from their Facebook page or website.
-Nancy Woo
4. Onward, Soldiers - "Telling Nobody"
(free download from Soundcloud)
LP: Monsters
Veering away now from the electronic music, I'd like to share a lovely little melodic pop gem by a group you'll love if you're a fan of Dr. Dog, Wilco or Built To Spill. Strummed and sung as if lazing on a hammock in the early afternoon, the song is crafted with precision and mastery. The piano melody introduces you immediately to the easy tempo, gliding smoothly into the subdued drums and bass keeping a lolling rhythm, with the seamless overlapping of harmonizing vocals and a relaxing guitar shining at the right times. If, like me, you're instantly impressed by the pleasant and unfolding songwriting from these North Carolina bandmates, you're going to want to seek out their upcoming album Monsters, available February 21st off of Winoca Records. In the meantime, listen to some previously released tracks from their website
-Nancy Woo

5. Leonard Friend - Lynyrd Frynd EP
(free download emailed from Bandcamp)
7-song EP: Lynyrd Frynd
Lana Del Ray isn't the only one with a confusing stage name/album title. Leonard Friend (born Alex Feder), who used to be in the indie band The XYZ Affair, is now issuing solo releases as Leonard Friend, with his first EP titled Lynyrd Frynd. It may not be as controversial as Lizzy Grant's release of Lana Del Ray (which was retracted after she became Lana Del Ray herself), but still worth doing a double take. And once you listen to the music, you might want to do a double listen. 

Existing somewhere between R&B, dance pop and electronic indie, there's a smooth and savvy soul vibe running through the sometimes flashy dance-floor tunes. With bedroom lines referring to the 1990s in the same breath as something like "it was a thrift store party," Leonard Friend gracefully merges multiple trendy worlds - it's nearly a half hour of good and surprising stuff. Get a hold on this before the clubs (or vinyl producers) do. And Facebook him up here.

-Nancy Woo

29 January 2012

Etta James Album Sales Off The Charts Since Her Passing

By Tomi Mendel

According to Billboard, sales of Etta James’ music have increased by 378% since the singer’s recent death on January 20th. Her greatest hits compilation The Best of Etta James - 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection has just become her highest charting album ever, rising to number forty-six. Meanwhile, her download numbers received an even greater boost, as fans purchased 118,000 songs for an astounding 1,091% increase from the previous week’s sales. This is not the first time a musician has found success after their passing. In fact, it seems to be almost a tradition for music buyers to honor fallen heroes in this manner, especially in our social-media driven music world, when having music at our fingertips means we are ready to start downloading whenever there is a scandal, death, or other breaking news. It’s the same reason Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” had a huge week in downloads after a video of President Obama’s performing it at a fundraiser went viral. 

Etta James is finding success in the afterlife.

Actually, this kind of trend occurred before the download era as well. When former Beatle George Harrison passed away in 2002, his solo hit “My Sweet Lord” topped the U.K. charts and re-entered the Hot 100 here in the U.S at number ninety-four. Interestingly, a re-recording of the same song was released just one year prior to commemorate the reissue of Harrison’s solo debut All Things Must Pass. That year, however, the song failed to chart. Unfortunately, it seems that it sometimes takes a death to make people interested, and it’s sad that fans were not able to show their appreciation for Harrison while he was still alive.

George was the first ex-Beatle to have a solo chart-topper.

The phenomenon is especially strong for those artists who have died tragically and suddenly while they were still in their prime. Another ex-Beatle, John Lennon, had his biggest American solo hit with “(Just Like) Starting Over” in late 1980, immediately following his horrific murder in December of that year. What had been a middling single prior to his death flew to the top of the charts as the world mourned, followed by “Woman” and, in the U.K., a re-release of “Imagine.” Otis Redding was the first artist to have a posthumous number one in the U.S., earning his only career chart-topper with “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay” in 1968, only a month after the soul singer tragically lost his life in a plane crash. Other artists who saw a big sales bump after their deaths were Jim Croce, Johnny Cash, Tupac Shakur, and recently, Amy Winehouse.

Otis’s final televized performance before his death.

Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 led to a sales increase so strong that it forced Billboard to make a change to the rules of their album charts. After his passing, in the first month alone, Jackson sold close to ten million albums worldwide. By year’s end, he was by far the top selling artist of the year both worldwide and domestically. Jackson’s greatest hits compilation, Number Ones, was the biggest seller for him that year. However, because it had been originally released in 2003, Billboard rules deemed it a “catalog album,” and as a result, it did not appear on the regular Billboard 200 album chart. Due to the incredible posthumous sales of Number Ones and other albums, Billboard announced that they were amending their rules to include both current and catalog albums on their weekly top 200 chart.

Number Ones sold big in 2009.

Clearly, the posthumous sales bump remains a significant force in popular music. In many ways, it’s a bit nonsensical. It may indicate that a song’s ability to “stand the test of time” has less to do with musical quality and more to do with pop culture relevance. While the state of affairs seems to reflect poorly on music fans, all too eager to throw an artist to the trash heap before suddenly relenting upon his or her death, it probably has more to do with the human instinct we all share to honor the dead. Sometimes a death or scandal, just like a song being featured in an advertisement or movie, can serve as a reminder of a tune or an artist many people had loved but forgotten. Still, it is always better to try and appreciate an artist to the fullest while they are still alive.