Burning Silver Discs for Gold

    In which I make a CD compilation, and blow whatever vestiges of my credibility remained

    I’ve been a bit invisible on here for a while. First I had two weeks camping in France, during which (among much else) I managed to grow a beard (not that I was particularly trying to: it just kind of happened). In the first couple of weeks after getting back I spent much of my free time on preparing a CD for a special occasion.

    The occasion was the golden wedding anniversary of my beloved’s parents. They had asked me to provide some music for after the dinner. The brief was to get the grandkids dancing. The theme we chose was to cover all the decades from 1956 to 2006.

    Now, strange as it may seem, I’ve never actually made a compilation CD before, despite having had the technology to do so for several years. I was never really very big on making compilation tapes, either. So the first thing to do was to check that the technology worked.

    Our CD writer hasn’t written under Windows since we got Dell to replace the whole drive when it broke down. It’s doubtless some kind of driver problem, but I haven’t bothered to try to fix it. I know what you’re thinking: CD writers are as cheap as potatoes these days; but never buy a new one when there’s a way to get the old one working, I say. The logical solution, then, was to use Linux, where the same drive does work; and which is my preferred working environment anyway.

    I’m currently using the Kubuntu distribution, and as it is KDE based, the logical CD creation tool seems to be K3B. This is essentially a graphical front end to various command-line tools, which is a fine approach. Unfortunately the GUI is a bit clunky. Still, nothing I couldn’t live with (once I had dowloaded and installed the plugin that allows it to recognise MP3s, at least).

    So the next thing was to consider how to get the tracks we wanted. We already had quite a lot, of course, but inevitably there were plenty that we wanted that we didn’t have. I briefly considered the iTunes Music Store, but rejected it because a) I was using Linux, so couldn’t use iTunes; b) my MP3 player is not an iPod, so it (ITMS) would have been little use to me after this project; and c) most importantly of all, I didn’t want to have to struggle with DRM(Digital Restrictions Management, thought they’d like you to believe it’s “Rights”.).

    I already use eMusic, which is good for relatively recent, independent stuff, but is not really a source of classic tracks. I did get ‘Rock Around the Clock’ from there, though. As well as that, Frances bought a couple of new CDs: a Paul Simon collection and a disco compilation.

    But for the rest, and for the maximum flexibility, there was only one solution: I would have to enter the murky grey-area waters of

    If you haven’t come across this site, it’s based in Russia and a legal grey area. The people who run it claim to be following the copyright laws of Russia; and presumably that is true, because the site continues to operate. However, they are able to offer a vast collection of albums for mere pennies per track. And all in a selection of formats, and without DRM.

    The grey area is that we may be breaking the law by using their services in other countries, such as the UK.

    It’s still running, though, so let’s work on the assumption that it’s OK to use it.

    I set up an AllOfMP3 account, and by a daft number of steps of indirection, got some money into it, and downloaded a few tracks.

    It’s good stuff: they have a huge selection of tracks, and the prices are so cheap. I think it has something to teach iTunes and the other legal download sites: the less you charge (and the less encumbered the files) the more people will buy.

    I don’t think there was a track, or at least an artist, that I couldn’t find on it.

    Oh, OK, there were two, but they’re both a tad embarassing. We got a late request for the following tracks: ‘Summer Holiday’; ‘Y Viva España’; and ‘Remember You’re A Womble’.

    Yes, I know. But since novelty hits (and songs from kids' TV shows) were by no means outwith the scope of the project (and since we aleady had both ‘Crazy Frog’ and the Bratz TV theme), I attempted to comply.

    Which was harder than you might have expected. AllOfMP3 had the first, but the second was slightly harder. I did find it, though, squirreled away on somebody’s MP3 blog (which seems to mainly consist of tracks ripped from old tapes found in the Dalston branch of Oxfam: the ripper/blogger is practically a neighbour).

    Those Wombles, though: they’re hard to find.

    There is a strange class of sites out there that list the contents of albums, and appear to allow you to click through and buy the the tracks; but when you do, you get a screen saying, “That track is not available”, or “This album is not available”. Which makes me wonder why they bother to list it on their sites; or at least, why they list it with live links that make it look as if you can buy it.

    Anyway, somewhere on the deeper, darker recesses of the net, on the very last page of sites that, as far as Google knew, contained the string, “remember you’re a Womble”, I found it. Or at least part of it: it ends very abruptly. But in the context of the compilation, that didn’t actually seem to matter too much.

    The party was a great success. The music went down very well, with only one slight problem: we overran our time in the hotel’s function suite, and never got to play the second disk. Too much eating, not enough dancing, I suppose.

    Still, now that I’ve done one, making other compilation CDs should be a doddle.

    Oh, and the beard (I mentioned it earlier, you weren’t paying attention) came off before the party. The kids complained, but some things just have to go.

    The track listing? Oh all right then:

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