Let’s get physical music

If the digitization of music has rendered the perception of the album as defunct, I would still argue that vision of at least some artists are broader than the hit single.


I’m listening to the pre-show of the only musical podcast I listen to regularly, that being Coverville. Brian is setting up the show, realizes that some song is “protected,” so that we wouldn’t hear it if he played it, and decides to download a replacement song. He’s in Amazon when he discovers he can download the album but only if he also gets the physical album.

Getting the actual CD may have been a hassle for him; he goes through a couple of dozen songs a week, after all. Having moved a few times, I know that owning the tangible LP or CD is some work. Yet I still do.

I was at work, and we were talking about the death of the album in music. A pundit I read had suggested that the album, as a piece of musical expression, only existed for about a decade, from 1967 and Sgt. Pepper to the beginning of the punk era. I SO disagree; there were plenty of albums before ’67, and not just in soundtracks and jazz.

I know Frank Sinatra was creating something other than a group of tunes to support the single back in the 1950s. British bands such as The Beatles and Rolling Stones didn’t even put singles on the albums; that was an American affectation to put the single on the album and pad it with a bunch of presumably throwaway tunes.

In any case, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the Butterfield Blues Band’s East-West, and the Beatles’ Revolver, all from 1966, all feel like albums, as opposed to a bunch of songs thrown together, to me.

If the digitization of music has rendered the perception of the album defunct, I would still argue that the vision of at least some artists is broader than the hit single. I suggested to my colleagues that the album may have died with Green Day’s 2004 American Idiot, but I was being too glib. Paul Simon put out an album, So Beautiful or so what, in 2011. Springsteen puts out albums. I’m sure there are others.

While talking at work, a couple of us are remembering a Linda Ronstadt collection. Neither of us could remember the album title – it turned out to be Simple Dreams – but we remember the album cover; our favorite song was I Never Will Marry, with Dolly Parton, BTW. The physical recollection of the artwork helped us to remember the music better, something often lost these days; one CAN download the art, but it seems that it doesn’t happen that often, percentage-wise.

My colleague’s daughter had gotten into the group the Shins. I went home and put away the physical music I had played over the last couple of months, and while refiling in the S section came across the Shins myself. I had forgotten that I had owned it! For me, it was a rediscovery, like randomly looking at the shelves in the library and picking a book to read. Could I have found it electronically? Of course. But the overwhelming number of songs on my iTunes makes me oddly less adventurous; maybe it’s just my affectation.

In any case, I’m also rather suspicious of all the music on the cloud or in iTunes, for reasons Dustbury touches on.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

5 thoughts on “Let’s get physical music”

  1. Mention of Linda Ronstadt reminds me of one of my favoutite albums by her, Canciones de Mi Padre. All sung in Spanish, of course, but I enjoyed the theme of her version of the songs of her childhood.

    I do like albums that adopt a consistent style. Another that springs to mind is Rei Momo by David Byrne.

  2. There are still lots of albums, in the sense that you’re talking about. The latest Grace Potter and the Nocturnals album (released 2012) is almost a concept album, for instance. So is fun.’s album “Some Nights” (also released 2012). I agree that digital has made the album an odd animal, but they’re still out there.

  3. I now buy all my music from iTunes, and haven’t bought an actual CD in years—and that was what used to be called a “cut out”. Oddly enough, that CD was “Simple Dreams” (which I used to own on vinyl).

    Talking about current music, I often buy only songs I like, not entire albums. But if I’m replacing an album I used to have on vinyl years ago (or always wanted), I buy the whole thing. In those cases, I set iTunes so I listen to the entire “album”, just as it was when I listed to vinyl records.

  4. I rememeber that Linda R. album, think I had it too…I like how you remind us all of some of the great times of that generation…I loved album covers and the inserts. That was art and poetry. Darn I remember having to move suddenly and putting tons of albums in the garbage and all my Beatle stuff, too long ago. Sigh.

  5. Then again, both Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra — not just the Brits — viewed singles and LPs as separate entities, and occasionally they’d issue a batch of singles on an album. See, for instance, Elvis’ Golden Records or This Is Sinatra!

    Or, for that matter, see the UK-only A Collection of Beatles Oldies, a collection of non-LP singles. The American reshuffling of tracks made it unnecessary over here, though once Allen Klein took over the Fab Four’s management there magically appeared an album of non-LP American singles, which was called either Hey Jude or The Beatles Again.

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