Monday, April 19, 2010

all the way through albums

I once had a chat with another WFMU DJ during which I remarked that the number of rock & pop albums I enjoyed hearing all the way through from first to last cut was very small. He was surprised. Not only small, but technically impossible for me before the invention of CDs, since I never owned a cassette player with an auto-reverse function, so I at least had to turn the record or tape over. CDs made it possible to hear albums straight through, also program around songs I didn't want to hear, & change the order of the other songs. CDs also added "bonus" or "alternate take" cuts, but when these weren't added at the end of the CD they threw thoughtfully programmed vinyl albums out of balance. It occurred most on jazz LPs. Records provided a two-act structure, most often a strong song starting each side, weaker songs at the ends, or occasionally the long or jam cut. If you had LPs by the Doors, you usually skipped "The End" & "When the Music's Over," conveniently placed last on side two.

It's never been easy to make an album with 10 or 12 good songs, much less a CD with 60+ minutes of music.

Sgt. Pepper has two songs I never want to hear, & who needs "A Day In the Life" every listen? Interesting & successful as "concept albums" may be, they are intended to be complete experiences when one may just want to listen to music. If you're into The Beatles, would you rather hear Sgt. Pepper or Rubber Soul in either the British or American versions? Forever Changes by Love is an LP I listen to all the way through. For me, it's a strangely beautiful, disturbing soundtrack to a movie never filmed, but it's supposedly an accurate picture of Los Angeles in 1967. The album includes some lovely parts for a small string ensemble. It never gone out of fashion or favor, & still doesn't sound especially dated, in part because L.A. never stops being weird. Every generation picks up on it. "The Daily Planet" was reputedly arranged by Neil Young, & the necessity for session musicians on this & couple of other songs so embarrassed the band that the guys went into intensive rehearsals & became practiced enough to record the remainder of the LP themselves.

I used to patronize a peculiar South Amboy NJ bar - it was more like an artsy Hoboken or Brooklyn bar in a town better known for meat racks & dives. The owner would load up the multi-disk CD player with some good music, put it on shuffle mode, & turn down the sound on the TV. The TV might be showing anything from a baseball game to a Fellini movie. I liked the music played that way.

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