Apple has sold 5 billion songs in 5 years via iTunes — without selling a single track from The Beatles, AC/DC or Garth Brooks. These famous holdouts, and a few others, still won’t sell their work at the world’s biggest digital music store, generally for financial reasons.
But there are plenty of other artists who do sell their stuff on iTunes — but not their best stuff. Why? It’s often not clear. Music licensing is a byzantine world to begin with, and it only got more complicated in the digital age, when many existing contracts had to get updated to accomodate iTunes and its competitors. The short answer: Some stuff seems to have been dropped through some dark and mysterious legal cracks, and no one’s been able to dig them out yet.
Below, we present five examples of much-loved (or at least well-known) songs you can’t buy on iTunes — at least if you live in the U.S. But just because you can’t pay for them doesn’t mean you can’t hear them. So we’ve embedded streaming audio of each track, courtesy of Seeqpod. We’re pretty sure neither the artist nor the labels get paid whenever you listen to a Seeqpod song. But we’ll be happy to fork over cash for these tunes just as soon as Apple (AAPL) tells us we can.
Jay-Z “99 Problems,” The Black Album
Search for Jay’s Rick Rubin-produced hit on Apple’s U.S. music store and you’re forced to choose between the “clean” version, which removes “bitch” from the chorus, and an “a cappella” recording. Even more infuriating: The “explicit,” original version is available for download on other countries’ iTunes stores, like Canada’s. It’s also available at American iTunes competitors Amazon (AMZN) and Napster (NAPS).
Def Leppard, “Photograph,” Pyromania
None of the ’80s rock band’s pre-1996 work is available on iTunes, including hits like “Rock of Ages,” “Armageddon It,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Photograph,” arguably their best single, despite what drunk karaoke singers would have you believe. You can’t find Def Leppard’s seminal singles on any other digital outlets, but Guitar Hero III players can download live versions of “Photograph” and “Rock of Ages” in their games.
Aaliyah “Are You That Somebody?” The Dr. Dolittle Soundtrack
R&B singer Aaliyah’s life was tragically cut short when she died in a plane crash in 2001. But as far as iTunes is concerned, her career ended after her first album, released in 1994, because that’s the only one available for digital download. There are a handful of later singles on iTunes, including “Try Again” from the Romeo Must Die soundtrack and “More Than a Woman,” which is included in a hip-hop compilation. But most of her catalogue is missing, including the Timbaland-produced 1998 hit single, “Are You That Somebody?” off of The Dr. Dolittle Soundtrack, released as a CD by Warner Music Group. But look around a bit, and you can find them elsewhere — most of her catalogue is available on Napster, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody and in iTunes stores abroad.
Elton John “Candle in the Wind 1997,” Something About the Way You Look Tonight/Candle in the Wind 1997
When Elton John re-recorded his eulogy for Marilyn Monroe as a tribute to Princess Diana shortly after her death in 1997, the song quickly shot to the top of the U.S. singles chart, selling three million copies in its first week. But not a single copy has been downloaded from the U.S. iTunes Music Store. While you can easily get the Marilyn-Monroe version, the Princess Diana-inspired remake is, much like “99 Problems,” only available on iTunes across the border or overseas.
Ice-T and Body Count “Cop Killer,” Body Count
The song was originally included on Ice-T’s heavy-metal band Body Count’s self-titled debut album, released by Sire Records in 1992. But after a PR campaign directed against Sire Records’ parent company Time Warner (TWX), Ice-T removed it from subsequent pressings of the album. So you can’t buy this track from iTunes or any other outlet, period.