CD series offers compilations chosen by famous artists

— The music industry may not like it, but most fans have shared music with friends by making compilations -- to expose them to something new, to provide a party soundtrack or even to seduce.

Now imagine getting a CD mix compiled by Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams or even the Rolling Stones -- and you don't even have to know them.

Hear Music, a company bankrolled by the Starbucks coffee chain, has introduced a line of Artist's Choice CDs. Participating musicians are asked to pick music that matters to them, then explain their choices in the liner notes.

Crow's set was hit-heavy, with popular choices from the likes of Carole King, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Squeeze and Crowded House. Williams, who kept editing her choices up to the last minute, was big on country weepers. Tony Bennett and Ray Charles chose mostly classics.

Each Stones member had four choices, which were heavy on vintage soul and blues. The process, predictably, brought forth internal rivalries, said Don MacKinnon, Hear Music founder and now vice president of music and entertainment for Starbucks.

"Charlie Watts said, 'I can't believe there's no Chuck Berry track on it. Where would Mick (Jagger) and Keith (Richards) be without Chuck Berry?"' MacKinnon recalled.

Jagger, who chose Sade's "By Your Side," sniffed to MacKinnon: "I did notice that I was the only one who picked anything remotely new."

Hear Music began in 1990 as a mail-order catalogue and then a chain of three retail stores on the West Coast. MacKinnon and colleagues compiled their CD mixes that recalled the way they were turned on to new music as youngsters.

"It needs to feel like the way you feel when you're sitting in a living room and a friend says, 'I know you like Billie Holiday, but you have to listen to this,"' he said.

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File Photo

Mick Jagger, left, and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones are shown performing at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao, Spain last month in this file photo. Hear Music, a company bankrolled by the Starbucks coffee chain, has introduced a line of Artist's Choice CDs. Participating musicians, including the Rolling Stones, are asked to pick music that matters to them, then explain their choices in the liner notes.

With the Artist's Choice series, Hear Music is looking to expand its reach. The discs first go on sale at Starbucks, and after a few days are made available to other retail outlets.

The series was launched last year with what would seem an unlikely commercial choice: cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Discs programmed by Charles and Williams soon followed.

The CDs are smartly packaged with details about the songs, and colorful artist quotes about why the songs connected with them.

"When I'm warming up for a show, I do a little bit of this," Jagger said about James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag (Part 1)."

Crow, in choosing Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," said: "I always listen to music and enjoy it for what it is, but I also listen to it for what I can learn, to better my game."

Bennett said he took advantage of the project to keep alive the work of American masters like Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and George and Ira Gershwin.

While 50 Cent might not be threatened, the Stones disc has sold a respectable 56,000 copies, and Crow's CD has moved 49,000. The sales champ so far? Yo-Yo Ma, with 78,000 copies.

Future discs will be programmed by blues legend B.B. King and country icon Johnny Cash.

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