Tuesday, July 18, 2006

My Tunes Pre iTunes

In my last entry, I talked about the unforgettable summer of 1970—and of course, much of that entry revolved around music. That's to be expected; music has been a vital part of my life, and I tend to measure my most memorable events by the music that I was enjoying at the time.

Before you dismiss the remainder of this post as the ramblings of a Luddite, let me mention that I have iPods. I have an iPod from every generation, in fact. I like iPods.

Now, back to the subject at hand.

Back in the 1960s, when I began buying albums (I made my first purchase in 1964--and it was, as you might have expected, Meet the Beatles), it was common for me to immerse myself in a new album. I played it over and over, learning the order of the songs, the transitions between tunes, the feel of each side of the album (usually, each side tended to convey a different mood, at least for me--and that determined which side became the A side as far as I was concerned). There was no shuffle, no random mixing; an album was a vital unit, and that's the way music was heard.

It didn't occur to me in those days that there were bad songs. I'd never dream of eliminating a song from an album; first off, it would be difficult to do so, since I'd have to get up, move the tone arm, and then reposition it for the next cut. But more importantly, it broke the organic flow of the album. Removing a song from an album would be like removing a note or a series of notes from an individual song because I didn't particularly like A-minor.

I hadn't realized just how important the flow of an album was until we recently acquired a 2006 Acura RL. It has a DVD-Audio player, so I transitioned much of my musical listening from my ever-present iPod to the DVD-Audio player. And then I rediscovered the allure of the album as opposed to the randomization of songs. Works were allowed to build on each other; moods were juxtaposed; I was once again hearing the unified work the way the artist envisioned it.

And as much as I enjoy my iPod, I realize that it's not the ultimate format for music. There's something to be said for the unified format of an album (even though they're not really albums at all any more), and I'm going to try giving more of my old favorites a new listen in an old-fashioned way.

Pardon me while I once again pull out a copy of Abbey Road and re-experience the Beatles' finale the way it was meant to be heard...

4 comments:

DustyMac said...

Don't forget that you can always go into your iPod's settings menu and change the Shuffle setting to Albums and hear them in their original glory sequence-wise.

sven said...

I've never been a big fan of the "iPod" (for reasons I won't get into) though I do like the portability of MP3 players. The number one function I like is the ability to create your own play list, on the flip side, who really needs to carry 20,000 songs around with them (I'm not just pointing at the iPod with that statement). But running on shuffle mode would make for a great game of name that song and artist.
I have to agree that some artists released albums that could and should be listened as a whole (at least occasionally). Your example of "Abbey Road" is a good one (as well as many other Beatle albums). My example would be Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", in general you'll hear a few of the most popular tracks, and you'll lose out because you haven't listened to the remaining music in ages, unless you seek it out.
But, beware there are some albums that can be hazardous if listened to all at once. An example James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James", nice album, some great songs that bring back wonderful memories. Please, don't operate heavy machinery, because drowsiness may occur (just sit back in the old recliner and enjoy).

Anonymous said...

The problem isn't the iPod, it's the music industry as a whole.

Things have changed, massively, in the music business, both the album format and the radio format, since the days of the 60's and the 70's. FM radio stations that were once based on the album format (and would play entire albums) have all but disappeared. And these days, few, if any pop albums are written and recorded with a unifying album concept in mind. The name of the game now is hits. Even the term "single" is now as archaic as the 45 rpm record that the term was once derived from. The record companies no longer view CDs as "albums," there are simply hosts for a few songs pegged by the record company as potential hits.

The unifying theme today is money, lots of it, and the shortest, quickest, risk-free route to attain it. Record companies are more about reporting consistent quarterly profits back to their corporate owners than developing artists and albums, and today's CDs are made (and have been made for some time now) to do just that.

Radio stations (also corporately owned) are no longer programmed by radio station managers sitting down and listening to albums submitted by record companies, picking what they think will most appeal to their listeners. Radio is 100% about selling ad time at a premium, and songs are tested against demographic groups that closely match the advertiser's target. So they can go to a potential advertiser and say, "95% of listeners from our tests who rated this song from our playlist highly also have a favorable view of your product.

If the Beatles arrived on the music scene today instead of the 60's, you would never know of them. They wouldn't survive in the music business today. Even if they were able to produce a few successful CD's, (unlikely) they would never, ever be allowed to release an album like Rubber Soul. Or Sgt. Pepper. Or the White Album.

And that's not the iPod's fault.

icedog said...

Anonymous,
I feel you need to keep this in perspective; the iPod or any personal "MP3" player is nothing but a tool for you to access the music and for some video. It is the choice of the individual (consumer), on it's use.

As for your assessment of the current state of the music industry, you are close to the mark. The music industry has always been about big money, and packaging the product for the consumer (like any industry). If you look back to the 50's and early 60's they packaged every artist. Then rock'n'roll came around and changed the demographics of the consumer and they didn't understand them or for that matter the artist. The artists started to take control of the process and learned how to package themselves. Though the industry always had its fingers in it.
The early FM stations were a key channel in getting new and non-commercial performers airplay. But, remember, even back in the 60's there were few independent FM stations in the major markets, and those that were, were soon bought up.
Today we have access to music that could far out weighs the early FM stations, it's called Internet radio (you just have to have the patience to search). The radio industry has pick-up on this and doing simulcasts and even archives some show for later downloading. Corporations are having to deal with the problem bandwidth when the staff starts using their company desktop or laptop as a radio. That’s progress. Anyway, I think we’ll soon see an upswing of new artists that are savvy to web marketing and the whole playing field will change. That scares the Music industry, no control over promotion and distribution.

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