The biggest change in music in the 1990s came from the Internet. This is not a secret. We flocked online when the first graphical user interface browser was introduced in 1993, and by 1999 you could listen to your favorite radio station by visiting their website. In fact, you didn’t need a real radio station at all. I found this out in 1999 when I went to work at Visio and met a graphic designer named David. Following the tradition of all people younger than me whom I trick into becoming my friends, he gave me a tip about music: Spinner.com. My life changed.

Spinner was an Internet radio station. Its only physical presence in my life (if this counts as physical) was the gorgeous red Deco-styled boom box that appeared on my computer screen once I downloaded their software. (There were no corporate firewalls in 1999. Or if there were, there wasn’t one at Visio Corp.) Spinner gave me, as I remember it, approximately three dozen channels divided by genre. Classic Rock, New Wave, indie, soul, neo-soul, baroque, romantic, West Coast jazz, big band, bebop, etc. While I worked I gobbled music like free donuts in the break room.

Whichever channel I was listening to, Spinner told me in a sort of CNN crawl on the boom box the song and the artist. This was particularly important to me because by 1999 mainstream radio djs had stopped giving this information so as to increase the time for commercials. The crawl also told me what the next song and artist on that channel would be and what was playing on some of my other channels.

There was no charge for Spinner, and there were few commercials.

Spinner introduced me to music I never knew existed. Country blues, for instance. This was blues from the 1920s through the ’40s made by poor whites from the South. I learned about trance, a form of electronica that Special D will not allow in the house. Trance, house, and acid jazz are genres you’d hear at a rave. Or so I am told. I’ve only been to one rave and that was in 1981, and we didn’t have the word “rave” yet. Or glowsticks. Or electricity. I suppose raves have changed a bit since then.

I became reacquainted with surf music, which was going through a renaissance, and met The Baronics. I learned much more jazz, immersed myself in Mozart, Telemann, and various other frilly-laced troublemakers, heard plenty of ’80s alternative and ’90s alternative (’80s wins) (assuming anyone can define “alternative”), and surprised myself with the Oldies channel. There were many songs from the ’60s that I didn’t know, and I was there! Chief among them was The Walker Brothers’ “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” which had completely escaped me. That song’s pretty good, I thought. My experience just shows you how oceanic is our culture. No matter how hip you are, you can never hope to swim in it all.

Spinner had its quirks. Playlists were limited. Erasure was in heavy rotation on the New Wave channel; they’re Tears for Fears on nitrous oxide. Peter & Gordon and Chad & Jeremy were fixtures among the Oldies, though I still can’t tell any of them apart. Spinner loved new albums, so I heard a lot of freshly minted music. Certain novelty numbers turned up frequently; one was Jonathan King’s “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” from 1965. (Though Spinner never spun it, “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” can’t compare to King’s cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” as done in the style of The Kinks from their Muswell Hillbillies album.)

But these barely qualify as flaws. I was in love.

Naturally, this situation couldn’t last. Spinner was assimilated into Napster and Napster into Netscape. They turned the cool boom box into a gray rectangle! Suddenly, the music was available to subscribers only, except for a free 90-minute block each day. I can’t blame Netscape for trying to make money from this venture. Eventually they locked out cheapskates like me, but by then (about 2004) I had discovered Rhapsody. Rhapsody has its problems but overall it’s worked for me for eight years. It’s an old friend now. An interesting, enlightening, cranky old friend.

Special D urged me to launch this blog, but David is the one who gave me the key to the highway. I have no idea what happened to him, but he probably went on to invent Pandora or Spotify. I should’ve stayed in touch – he could’ve given me a job!

Random ’90s Pick of the Day
Hole, Live Through This (1994)
If there’s a grunge formula, Hole follows it closely, but that doesn’t take away from this record’s cumulative power. There’s more anguish in Live Through This and in Courtney Love’s deceased husband, Kurt Cobain’s, Nevermind, than in all the rest of grunge. Nevermind (1991) was epic, but Live Through This is what I listen to. The line “I get what I want/and I never want it again” (“Violet”) is the flipside of U2’s “I gave you everything you ever wanted/it wasn’t what you wanted” (“So Cruel,” Achtung Baby, 1991).

Random ’90s Pan of the Day
Soundgarden, Superunknown (1994)
I can’t remember the last time I played this. I went looking for the CD last night and couldn’t find it. Oh well.

Tomorrow on ’90s Week: The road goes ever on? Not according to Rand-McNally!

Comments
  1. mikener says:

    Being a evolving Luddite, I envy your Internet chops. I only just bought my first computer six months ago. It has 25 Internet radio genres built in, each with hundreds of it own streams. I am so lazy/spoiled/stupid.

    By the way, is Special D related to Tenacious D?

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Thanks, but I confess that my Internet chops (what chops there are), come from being thrown into one office after another with software engineers these past 15 years. It rubs off. Like lint. I’m astounded that you only bought your first computer six months ago! Think of all the viruses, headches, lost files, and planned obsolesence you’ve missed!

      Special D has to be tenacious to stay married to me.

  2. MisterSeaside says:

    Steve-Thank you for your admission that you completely missed The Walker Brothers “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” during the ’60s. It explains a lot about you and my understanding of you has grown. Keep striving to experience all of the music….and reaching down to the bottom. Unfortunately, as in the case of Mr. Walker (the only actual Walker in the group; He who died last year), someday it ain’t gonna shine for us, either.
    “Have a Good Day!”

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      I’ve completely missed a lot over the decades! Scott Walker is just one of the more prominent members of this group. But I’ll keep reaching for the stars with my feet on the ground.

  3. Laura says:

    OMG I miss Spinner radio! They had an aerobics music station and then they removed that channel. It was THE BEST. I love the early internet days, with Netscape Communicator as my browser!

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