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Songs Are the Artform

February 4, 2009

This whole singles vs. album thing keeps coming up in conversations, blogs, articles, etc…

Heavy and I were having a heated Sunday-pint-and-brunch debate on the concept of the album. His argument was that an Album is work of art all on its own. It’s a statement of where the artist is at during a given state of time.  It should be listened to front-to-back.

I thought about it and couldn’t name more than a few entire albums which I really loved. At first I thought, “maybe, I’m not a big enough music fan.” Then I realized the obvious. Most albums are full of filler.

The songs that make-up the album are what matter.  You love an album because most, if not all the songs are great.

I’m going through an old music discovery revolution and absorbing  music from all these older artists through YouTube. I don’t even know what albums a lot of these songs belong to. Frankly, I don’t care, because it’s the songs that matter to me, not the album.

I put together my own Beatles playlist (yes I know I’m a little late to the party, but I’m here now) on YouTube for work. I have “And I love her”, “Day Tripper”, “Norwegian Wood”, “A Day in The Life”, “You’ve gotta hide your love away”,  “Your Mother Should Know, “For No One”, “Blackbird”, “We Can Work It Out”, “Magical Mystery Tour’, “Nowhere Man”, “It’s too much”, and a bunch more. Those all come from different albums, but to me, they work perfect together.

I can maybe understand Pink Floyd and the idea of the concept album.  Then there’s a reason to listen to the album front-to-back. There’s a story that is connected by the songs or at least trips you out when you watch Wizard of Oz while listening to it. Even with a concept album, the songs still have to be good to have impact.

It’s all about the songs. Not the album.

Take Control of Your Music,


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7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2009 2:43 am

    I’m not sure which side to take on this debate. Most of my favorite artists approached the album as collection of songs, all of which were to have some value or quality beyond filling space. My suspicion is that most bands, even today, shoot for making a great 10-13 song album as opposed to hoping for 2-3 good songs and enough left over to fill disk space. In reality, though, most bands probably don’t succeed in making strong albums, so in effect we get 2-3 good songs and loads of filler.

    In the 50’s and early 60’s, albums were INTENTIONALLY filled with crapola. Paul McCartney, in a book or magazine interview, talked about, as a kid, buying a record with like big band music on it to get 3 Little Richard songs. I don’t think we’ll ever return to that. It’s starting to look like the album will simply become irrelevant entirely. With the ability to cherry pick songs from downloading sites, we’ll spend $3.96 to get the songs we like instead of $13.99 plus tax to buy 9 songs we don’t want along with the 3 or 4 that we do.

    I think that’s too bad. I like the album as a work of art, as a collection.

  2. February 4, 2009 6:54 am

    Hey man,

    I think if you become a fan of an act based on songs, then you look forward to whatever they put out. If that’s an album, cool. I just think making those fans as a new band today is all about singles.

  3. February 4, 2009 7:04 am

    IMO most Beatles albums are somewhat concept, but that’s beside the point. I get what your saying and it is true a song is a song and an album is just something to put them on.. well said. But I think what your saying works with the times now because most artists these days are looking for that one single and then when you listen to the rest of the album it’s a total letdown. But back in the good days of music an album I think actually meant a lot, but in a philosophical sense yes, a song is JUST a song and that’s all that really matters.

  4. February 5, 2009 3:46 pm

    As much as it got to be about the singles, in the indie scene, and some others, it’s becoming more about the album again. What do you guys think of The Mars Volta? They focus heavily on albums over songs.

  5. February 7, 2009 5:07 pm

    I’m really tossed about this whole debate myself. On one hand, in a well-crafted album, the artist creates an emotional trajectory that I could not replicate by making my own playlist. On the other hand, most albums are full of filler these days, and the “album as art form” is a nearly mythical creature, as far as I can tell. If people actually made good albums, maybe we would have a reason to like them again.

    I wonder how much of the watering down of albums has to do with technology and the democratization of creativity. We have this situation now where cultural consumers are being trained to value their own creative and editorial opinions. It wasn’t always possible to create one’s own playlist (or an alternate youtube music video for one’s favourite song or whatever). Now people are used to making those decisions, and they don’t like those decisions being taken away from them. Maybe musicians need to get creative about how they can work that to their advantage

    That being said, having kickass songs is still more important than anything else.

  6. February 10, 2009 6:44 pm

    I’m old school, admittedly. I don’t see side 2 of Abbey Road, for instance, as a collection of songs. I have that album on my mp3 player and, even if I play the album straight through (not on shuffle) there are breaks between the songs. It breaks up the flow and, frankly, sucks.

    Although it is a collection of songs, it has a flow. You cannot listen to those songs individually in the same way you could when albums were the format.

    I know things are different these days. But I think a good album still could be made and that should be the goal of artists.


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