Thursday, August 13, 2009

The death of the (record) album

If you are of a certain age and music mattered to you, then you remember the days of buying albums at your favorite record store (mine were DeOrsey's and Manassas, Ltd.).

Radiohead's Thomas Yorke recently issued a pronouncement that the band may never make a full-length record/album again, citing that "'s become a real drag," from a creative standpoint. Sasha Frere-Jones, on her blog at The New Yorker offers this and then, this.

Her take as a musician is that albums are a mere "widget" that is produced to keep record companies happy. She adds,

Only a crazybones would deny the magic of “London Calling” hitting the Earth. But that kind of perfect chain comes along only once in a while, and even when it does, how often do you listen to it in the original order, without interruption? Unless you’ve got lots of free afternoons or long rides, you probably don’t. And most people with more than a few albums like to mix those public documents into private orders that reflect preferences and personal associations.

I would respectfully disagree with her opinion that great albums are an aberation. Well, let me back up a minute. There was a time when bands/artists regularly made great records, and in fact, there is a genius to the sequencing of songs that contributed to the magic of a great album, like London Calling.

Most of the music I listen to regularly, I know the track order and often listen in that order (although, not always). Is that the experience of others? Is this limited to age, as in older music fans prefer order and sequencing and younger listeners are happy with their iPod shuffle play music experience?

It's apparent that the day is coming, I think, when albums and blocks of songs won't matter, and Yorke and Frere-Jones comments indicate that it's not that far away.

I'm curious if readers have a particular record/album that they couldn't imagine life without?


pia said...

First thanks for that wonderful comment :)

I couldn't live without (and I tried so I know) anything that has Levon Helm doing "Ophelia" Warren Zevon "The Wind" and Clapton--early late middle.
I like my music in order though have been thinking of getting several cheapish Ipods--each having just a few artists on them--and having music for each mood

Jim said...


I'm thrilled you stopped by and chimed in with some great choices of your own. Some classic stuff.

I have several CDs (versus records, although I do own vinyl) that regularly, or semi-regularly get played, usually one track after another.

I have Neil Young's Decade on vinyl, as well as CD. The vinyl (my original copy from high school) has been played to death and still sounds great, pops, scratches, and all. I do have the CD for "cleaner" listening.

Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend never gets old for me, and neither does Semisonic's Feeling Strangely Fine.

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue is mood music of the hightest order and can improve the ambience of any evening for me.

Oh, and just about any Johnny Cash would be essential listening for me.

Delfina said...

It seems vinyls have been making a bit of a comeback lately. Even if it is only a marketing ploy by music companies to offer an actual product that people have to buy and can't simply download, it's a welcome trend. With vinyls, it isn't practical to skip around, so the whole album, or at least one side of it, is what one listens to. My bf has lots of old vinyls (mostly old punk rock) that we listen to fairly often. (I find that I also miss the bigger sound of music pumped out by a stereo when I listen to music on the computer.)

Green Day's entire catalog has recently been re-released on vinyl, but I'm too cheap to buy it. :) (And I'll spare you my pick of my "essential" album... ;))

Jim said...


My collection of vinyl is an adequate one, mostly picked up about 10 years back. I've padded it with a few additions since, mainly at garage sales, which seems to be a great place to find some good condition country, ala George Jones, Johnny Cash, and the occasional Ferlin Husky LP.

My catalog would be much more extensive if I hadn't unloaded it all when I "got Jesus," or something approximating being "born again," and dumping some really sweet music.

I occasionally add some of it back, like the three Hot Tuna records I picked up at a used record store in Portland.