The Big Hurt: The week in digital mishaps

Internets threaten Kid Rock, Steven Tyler, and sexy bits
By DAVID THORPE  |  October 15, 2008

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Say what you will about KID ROCK — go ahead, say it, I’ll even pause the column for a second while you dig up some quips from your well-thumbed Jeff Foxworthy joke book — but I will not allow you to deny that the man is a fucking artiste. Like so many rock greats before him, he sees his albums as cohesive musical experiences that can’t be chopped apart into singles. This view puts him at odds with the likes of STEVE JOBS, the soulless Apple fat cat who believes that all albums must be butchered of context and sold in chunks to the slavering digital masses. Their disagreement, along with the famously artist-unfriendly iTunes royalty rates, has made the stringy-haired cowboy rebel one of the last holdouts against the digital juggernaut.

Kid Rock’s refusal to put his major-label material on iTunes has coincided with a period of great commercial success. Even without digital sales, his ridiculous single “All Summer Long” has been a solid hit on the strength of heavy touring and steady airplay — which is surprising, since the track seems custom-designed to be patently offensive to rock fans. (And that’s “rock” without the capital R; its overbearing Puffy-style sampling swipes the riffs from the revered “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Werewolves of London,” tying them together with a flimsy melody and a distinct lack of original hooks.)

The digital demand for the track has been so great that a ridiculous iTunes cottage industry has sprung up to fill the Kid vacuum, with virtually identical karaoke versions recorded by gener-aoke acts like “Hit Masters,” “The Rock Heroes,” “Guitar Band,” and “The Southern All Stars” selling in the hundreds of thousands — it’s eerily reminiscent of those old “Liverpool Lads” and “English Beetles” records from the ’60s. The Hit Masters version, considered by fake-Kid-Rock connoisseurs to be the finest of the knockoffs, actually pulled a few spots ahead of Kid’s original in the pop charts a couple of months ago. Seriously.

Perhaps it was the humiliation of this injustice that persuaded Kid to relent: his material is at long last available for download (in full-album-only format, natch). Rhapsody — owned by RealNetworks, the company that years ago brought the word “buffering” into the lexicon of digital annoyance — seems like a perfect choice for Kid, since it’s willing to go along with his full albums-only policy and this works as a symbolic slap in the face to Apple. The service even has a feud going with iTunes; Rhapsody wants its proprietary, DRM-crippled file format to be playable on iPods, but Apple does not. Rhapsody created a converter program that would allow its files to be put on the ubiquitous machines; Apple responded with an iPod update that broke the files. That produced a nerdy little slapfight of software patches: Apple would break Rhapsody’s files with iPod software, Rhapsody would issue a patch to fix them, Apple would break them again, and so on. Finally, Apple hinted at a lawsuit and Rhapsody ran whimpering to the tree line.

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