Who listens to entire music albums anymore?
The other day I was playing Katy Perry’s Prism from start to finish, and my kids asked me what those “non-radio songs” were. I told them it was the whole album and they looked at me like I had two heads.
I remember waiting all day so I could go to the record store and buy Janet’s janet. album, when I would camp out all night so I could be the first one to get the new Sheryl Crow CD. I recall the first album I listened to from start to finish like it was yesterday, and while I sometimes listen to a song here and there I’m largely still about entire albums.
There’s just something about listening to the music in the way the artist intended, and when an entire album flows from song to song, creating an entire masterpiece, it’s simply transformative. Complete albums like Michael Jackson’s Bad, Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, Babyface’s For the Cool in You, and Pearl Jam’s Vs. have been there for me in difficult times of my life.
Because music isn’t just about one throwaway song, one radio hit that will fade from the public consciousness in less than two weeks anymore. It’s about forming relationships with those songs, with those albums, with those lyrics, relationships that just can’t be short-term.
One thing I hate is when I hear a song that amazes me, then I listen to the rest of the album and it’s nothing like that song. Or when the song is just released as a single and there is no album in sight. In those moments I mourn for the “music that could have been.” I am saddened that an artist put all their creativity into one song instead of trying to expand it.
Listening to an entire album, for me, is an experience. I remember when I first got STP’s Purple. I plugged in my headphones, amped up the volume, and shut out the rest of the world. I still do that when I get a new record and I want to just experience it. Because there is only one “first time,” only once when you can listen to the whole thing with no preconceived notions, with just open ears.
A few weeks before Taylor Swift’s Reputation was released, a friend of mine asked me if I had heard her new single. I said no, I hadn’t, because as I’ve gotten older I find it’s become even more important to me to hear the album in its entirety before I hear any of the individual songs. And I’m glad I did it with T. Swift because I really love the way it flows.
I know that entire LP’s may become a real thing of the past sooner rather than later. For some artists that has already happened, but I hope they don’t go away completely. There’s something to be said for an artist chronicling a time in their life, a creative compilation, as it were. There’s something special in the connections that an album can have for its listeners, something amazing in the distribution.
So I still listen to entire albums, and I hope there are others like me out there, who appreciate the pieces, but who understand that an album is way more than simply the sum of its parts.