More than Meets the Eye . . . or Ear.

People who are close to me have probably figured out by now that when we have a conversation, it often continues in my head and then eventually ends up here once I've chewed on it a bit and organized my thoughts.

Such is the case today -- so to the person who said the trigger sentence:

"Why buy albums when individual songs will do ? . . . "  

I say let's finish that conversation now.

iTunes is splendid and just the place to get a particular song I want for my running mix.  When I'm looking for running songs, I'm looking for the right beat, a memorable line or two I can belt without passing out from lack of breath, something that makes me feel young so I forget how my knees don't work anymore . . . the world is teeming with great songs that have a danceable beat.  Dick Clark built an empire on it.

But when I want "capital M" Music . . . when I want art . . . I want an ALBUM.

Some of that bias derives from the fact that, being a very tactile person, I like holding things in my hands while I look them over.  But mostly it has to do with this:

To consider context is to recognize 
that a work of art takes its place 
in a vast and complicated network.

See also:  

Gestalt makes it possible to hint rather than state.  
Which leaves some welcome work for the listener.

While it can be said that songs give glimpses into albums, albums give glimpses into artists because they place songs in a context, revealing patterns and directions and possibilities that are not readily apparent in a top 40 hit.

You get the particular mix of songs in the particular grouping the artist wanted to give you.  Because, like all artists, they were trying to communicate something.

You get the lyrics, if you're lucky . . . which are hopefully poetry in their own right and, even when they're not, are useful for singing along and helping you feel like you can be part of the magic.  And I can't tell you how many times I've realized I've been singing a line completely wrong since 1974 and had no idea -- aha!  So that's what it says . . . (usually followed by "duh.")

You get images.  You get pictures of the artist, and sometimes even artwork that the artist picked to punctuate their offering to you.  As if they hoped the image would add just that little extra something that could communicate what the music is trying to say in yet another way . . . music for visual learners, so to speak.

I'm not a purist to the point of still playing LP's -- although I had a personally meaningful collection that I regret having gotten rid of (drat you, short-sighted garage sale!)

Cds were a welcome technological leap forward. And I dread their demise.  Taking away music in its hands-on form is somehow removing a bit of our ownership of it -- it becomes yet another noise in the overwhelming world of electronic clutter -- the vast swirl of information in bits and bytes so small and complex it's impossible for me to understand how they even exist at all.

So I sure hope SOMEONE besides me continues to buy albums.  
As a maker myself, I just have a gut feeling that artists 
want to keep making them.



Moonsilk Stitches said...

I was just thinking about this last week--about how albums often used to flow, be themed, organized, a gestalt! I want my albums, too--and we have both records and cds still (although the belt on our turntable has given up the ghost recently). I know my songs by the songs on either side on the album. I don't even have an ipod (or an iphone, ipad or ereader). I haven't decided if we're old-fashioned or just cheap. And I do like holding the cd notes in my hands while my album is playing, reading them over, looking at the photos--which doesn't work well when the cd player is in the car!

Karen M said...

Well said. I love it when an album tells a story, and yes, the artwork is an important part. Somehow a video on a tiny MP3 screen isn't the same. As for mistaken words, there is a song out with words that are something like "Hey, oh. Gotta let go". Until my daughter put me right, I was singing "Hey, oh. Galileo!". Now she sings it my way!

susan m hinckley said...

Once Chelsea asked me why there was a radio song about "tacky glue" . . . ummm -- that would be "Jackie Blue" :)

Leenie said...

Great post. I totally agree with all you've said. It really cheezes me off when I buy a CD and finally manage to open the open-proof packaging to discover there is NOTHING but a cover picture and a list of titles and composers in the liner. I feel entitled to the story of the album and lyrics if I'm going to buy the disk.

As for misunderstood lyrics--there is fodder for a great post. How about "The girl with colitis goes by" in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Allie said...

I used to have quite the collection of albums - over 800, and my 2yo brother ruined them all. Blast him. Not that I'd have anything to play them on anymore. I don't like how music has gone internal - everyone with headphones on - it's hard to sing like that, I feel too self-conscious. I like the music to cover up my singing, lol!

I can't tell you how many times I've gotten the lyrics wrong, sometimes for decades...

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