Sunday, January 23, 2005

What ever happened to the Album

This evening I was listening to KCRW and Elvis Costello was the in studio guest. He was talking about how his new album "The Delivery man" did have a concept behind it, but because of the way that people buy and listen to music now that it is kind of an open ended. So I was thinking about this and it is completely true. 10 years ago, how an album was put together meant something. Songs were components of the Album, but for the piece to be whole, you listened to the entire album to experience how the artist intended.

However now in the iPod generation, with just an internet connection, and a credit card, you can get just about any song you want within minutes. I remember when you would hear something on the radio, and there was an investment in time to go and get the album. You would listen to it for the first time all the way through. You understand the connections between each song, and you could get a sense of the concept behind the album. I think back to listen to Clebanoff "Strings Afire in Spain" in Grandpa K's livingroom. Of course we listened to the album in it's entirety. It was a vinyl album, there was no fast forward or next track on the remote, there was no remote. It was really fantastic. There is something about listening to the album in order, where, you know and expect the next song, so that even when you hear it on the song on the radio you expect to hear the next song on the album after the song is finished.

So fast forward to earlier this week. I had a song stuck in my head, from an album I use to listen to with my Dad, Pancho and Lefty, by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. Well within in 30 seconds I had the song found, paid for and downloaded. But I downloaded just the song, not the whole album. I thought at the time that I would go back and get the rest of the album later and I probably will, but the single song does prove the point. It is really easy to find the music you want and play it in the way and order you want to, not how the artist intended. Playlist make it so easy, to just throw a "mix" together. I have ones for all kinds of things. From relaxing to high energy for work. Infact the latest iPod is the "Shuffle". The slogan is "Life is Random". I have to admit, kind of want one of these.

So in this customer centric music purchasing and listening era, how can or will an album, or concept album survive? The kind of albums that you just had to listen to whole. What will keep albums from turning in to just a collection of songs? (Greatest Hits Albums, are of course excluded from this questions.) So I guess as a music fan it is up to us to make sure we put aside the time to listen to the entire album.

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