The mysterious MP3 that’s not so mysterious any more (or how I found out what some music was with a little help from people on the internet)

Published on 22 July 2019 in , ,

Chuck Berry performing at the Edmonton Gardens, Alberta
Chuck Berry. He has absolutely nothing to do with this article.

Not so long ago, I found an MP3 on my hard drive and had no idea what it was. And I couldn’t find out. If you haven’t read it, you can go off now and discover more about the mystery. Don’t worry, we’ll wait…

Want to know the history of Besses o’ the’ Barn station on Manchester’s Metrolink? Wikipedia will tell you. Continuity errors in first Naked Gun film? IMDb has you covered. Whether there were guide books published by Alka-Seltzer? Google Books can help.

You can find out the entire cast of films, upload a photograph to see where it came from, or identify music simply by pointing your phone near a speaker.

With so much information at our fingertips, it’s easy to believe that the internet has everything on it. Well almost everything. You won’t find out how many pairs of socks are in my drawer. But near enough everything you’d want to know.

So when you discover a gap in the collective knowledge of the internet, it feels rather strange.

I didn’t like the fact that I had an MP3 of some music and I had no idea what it was. It was a little unnerving.

I decided I needed to get to the bottom of this mystery. But how?

Well I did all I could think of. I uploaded the MP3 to YouTube, wrote a blog post about it, and composed several tweets on Twitter.

Although it was someone closer to home that first started to narrow it down.

Sitting in our living room, before I’d done any of the above, I’d been playing the MP3 and looking puzzled. My partner Catherine heard it too and remarked that it sounded like a Polyphonic Spree song.

Err, no, I thought. That’s not the Polyphonic Spree. I know my Polyphonic Spree collection. It consists of one album, The Beginning Stages of, and no singles. I knew that album inside out. From the whimsical delights of “Section 1 (Have a Day/Celebratory)”, the beautiful “Section 3 (Days Like This Keep Me Warm)”, and the 36 minute epic of awfulness of “Section 10 (A Long Day)” that I never bothered having on my iPod cos (frankly) I don’t like it.

There were other ideas put forward. One person agreed with me that it sounded like The Go! Team. They went as far as pointing out similarities with other Go! Team tracks, and even where certain instrumentation had previously been used. Another correspondent on Twitter suggested it sounded like something an AI music generator would create. Which I could kind of understand, although if it was, I had no idea where I would have got it from.

But Catherine dug down on the Polyphonic Spree.

“It sounds like Soldier Girl,” she declared, also going on to tell me that she remembered me raving about the Polyphonic Spree at the time they burst onto the music scene. (Yet I never got their second album. Why was that? Anyway…)

This led to a slightly strange 15 minutes where I sat with my laptop playing snippets of Soldier Girl and then the mystery MP3, pausing one then playing the other, all in an attempt to see if there was any similarity.

I wasn’t completely convinced, but there was enough in there that I started hunting down remixes of Soldier Girl to see if it was one. But none of the ones in YouTube were anywhere near close. Spotify didn’t have any.

Hunting through Discogs, I found reference to a “strings version” of the song. Could that be it? I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t find any playable version online, but a little hunting and I found a CD single containing it, and ordered it post haste.

At the same time, I spent some time hunting through the Go! Team’s back catalogue. The Go! Team have done instrumentals before. Could it be one of theirs? I spent some time going through the albums and singles I had of theirs, seeing if any were the correct duration. No joy.

But in my searches of Discogs, I had missed something that could pull the whole thing together. The original Polyphonic Spree release of Solider Girl as a single was in 2002, but the following year it was re-released. The 2003 version included several remixes on the CD that I’d found on YouTube. What I’d missed was that it was also released as a 7” single, and that had a completely different remix.

And this remix was by The Go! Team.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find this remix online, but someone else was a better sleuth than me. Over on Twitter, Sven Latham had done some digging and found an October 2006 edition of internet radio station Dandelion Radio, presented by the late Mark Rosney. The whole show was online.

I was on the tram to the office at the time, but as soon as I could, I loaded up my computer and skipped through to the 1 hour 16 mark where I would find something rather familiar.

I’d like to say I shouted “YES!”, punched the air in celebration, and did a merry dance. But I was sat outside the You and Yours studio at the time, and it didn’t feel particularly appropriate. So I quietly rejoiced instead. This was a real piece of music, and someone else had heard of it.

It also gave a source. “Free Track on website” was given as the place they’d got it from. Now this made sense for me as well. I was (and still am) a member of the Go! Team’s email mailing list. They’d presumably made it available as a free download to their subscribers. And I’d downloaded it, and stored it away. Then one day, some errant software trying to fill in gaps in my metadata, had decided it was from a Dracula audiobook, overwriting what other metadata was there.

Polyphonic Spree 7" single of Soldier Girl from 2002

The show’s track listing left just one small final question. Was this the remix from the 7” single, or a cover version? The track listing gave the artist as being the “The Go! Team” rather than the Polyphonic Spree. But that would be answered the following week when a copy of the 7” turned up at my house. I turned it to side B, put it on the turntable, and that was that.

The mystery had been solved.

This time I was fortunate. The answers were – after a lot of effort by myself and some great people also interested in solving a mystery, on and about £12 spent on eBay – there to find. Others facing a similar journey may not be as lucky. Spotify etal like to make you think they’ve got everything, but the reality is that there’s an unknown number of gaps in their catalogues.

Lots of recorded music has never had a digital release. In some cases, that’s very deliberate. You’ll struggle to find the KLF on Spotify because the band deliberately deleted all their music. The only way to get hold of it legally is to purchase expensive second hand copies. But other bands have simply been forgotten, or were barely known in the first place. Somewhere in my house is a cassette from a band called The December Gardens, that the band gave me around 1996-1998 after a dismally attended gig at Durham’s student union. As far as I know, they never made it famous. And elsewhere on my hard drive is a very poor quality MP3 of a track I heard on Mary Anne Hobbs’s Breezeblock show on Radio 1. It features samples of Getta Bloomin’ Move On! (The Self Preservation Society), the theme tune of the Italian Job. Who knows who made it or what it’s called. I’ve long been resigned to not knowing. And that there will never be a way to find out.

Or will there?

This piece was updated on 12 August 2019. In the original I stated I may still be a member of the Go! Team mailing list. The revised version states that I am still a member of the mailing list.