I have been thinking a lot lately about what itunes has done to us as listeners of music. The most obvious benefit of being part of the itunes generation is that we have immediate access to seemingly any music you want, anywhere, anytime. Furthermore, you can even sample the music, and buy individual cuts off of any album (lower case a). Side note: Before the digital age, these were called singles and cost almost the same as the actual album.
However, I see a downside to the itunes effect that nobody seems to be talking about. What has become of the Album (with a capitol A)? Artists are no longer structuring albums to convey a whole concept; that is to say a complete musical, emotional, and physical journey across the course of the Album. In particular I think about Abbey Road.
Abbey Road was released in 1969. A contemporary listener would have purchasedthis record, gone home (as there was no portable record players) sat down, andlistened to the Album for the first time. I am made to feel upset that this series of events did not happen for me. Side one of begins with "Come Together"and weaves through collection of classics before culminating in "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" This culmination is expressed as a collective crescendo across the song, and through a moog synthesizer which created a sort of blustery, windy effect that abruptly stops and marks the end of Side 1.
This is where it gets good.
At this point the listener is compelled by sound (or rather the now lack of sound) tostand up, flip the record, and drop the needle. At which point, the previous blustery ending of Side 1 is completed by Side 2 track 1 "Here Comes the Sun"! This is incredible for any number of reasons. First, is that this concretely demonstrates that The Beatles were thinking in terms of a complete Album (with a capital A), andSecond, that the listener is now an active participant in the music making when they physically turn the record, drop the needle, and complete the intended musical effect.
I, or rather, We did not get this experience, and I am upset.
Although I have much more to say about the second half of Abbey Road I will make only one further point.
A pivotal characteristic of the second half of this Album is that each song cadences directly into the next track, and even draws upon previous themes and material to sew together a complete structure which again culminates in the final track, (aptly named) "The End". Furthermore, the final line in the song, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" is made to feel even more significant because of the cumulative emotional, musical, and psychical weight of the Album.
However, this is not the remarkable part. Again, at this point the contemporary listener would have stood up, moved to the record player, and saw that the needle was still down and the record was still turning. After a moment of hesitation and empty space the punch line is finally delivered with the cute little hidden track, "Her Majesty".
Although I cannot conclusively say, I believe this may have been the very first occurance of a hidden track; a not insignificant piece of music history! Before recorded music there were no hidden tracks at live concerts or in printed sheet music. Simply put, that would have been dumb. The hidden track is a recent phenomenon which we take for granted and perhaps owe completely to The Beatles and Abbey Road. Nevertheless, this phenomenon is also made mute for most listeners by itunes and the one track at a time purchasing option
I miss the Album. I miss popular music made with long range thinking and structure. I believe in the integrity, worth, and power of Pop music, and I want it back.