Life is full of journeys through family and friends, through your career, and through different life experiences. Everyday we wake up to embark on a new excursion, yet we are losing a subtle and contributive art form that has long been a companion through these journeys…the album.
The music album is being lost in-between gigabytes and a microwave society. In today’s time we want things quick and perfect. We don’t have time to sit and wait. We need it now and if it’s not supplied, we move on. This is clearly seen in the evolution of music and how it is now being produced. No longer do we buy full albums of artists, but instead we purchase the individually well-produced singles. The rest of the album has turned into perceivable waste.
Oddly, this evolution finds its root in the once archaic distribution of music. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, music began to be widely distributed by 10” vinyl records often called 78’s. These 78 RPMs (rounds per minute) often contained one song on each side of the vinyl disc. Although due to movie soundtracks and artists who recorded more than two songs at a time, these discs began to be provided in a book with individual sleeves for each vinyl.They would range from 10-20 pages, essentially creating an “album” of vinyl records.
Artists began to embrace this concept and the 33 RPMs, 12” record was born. It could
now contain anywhere from 8-13 songs or more depending on the manufacturing of the disc. Artists were now given a larger canvas to paint their recordings on. One or two songs per release was not any longer a restriction. As time kept rolling and thousands of albums were being made, a new art form started to appear on these 12” discs, the concept album.
Concept albums began with the great American songbook musicians, including Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. They would record an album with one general theme. Each song was a new stroke of the paintbrush and by the end you had a full picture.
Towards the mid 1960’s into the 1970’s, concept albums took another turn. Instead of creating an over all theme, they began to create a story. Picture a pure audio movie. This is seen distinctively in The Beach Boys Pet Sounds and The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band and later in albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane.
Similarly, this trend then carried on to the idea of recording concerts live and releasing them on vinyl discs. In this regard, people who were unable to attend a concert of a particular artist were able to experience the sensation and aura of a live performance. Each recording was “one of a kind”, providing listeners with a more candor approach to artists. Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive and Aretha Franklin’s Aretha in Paris are perfect examples of this impression.
Today, this art form is being lost in the array of music distribution and format. This began with the creation of file sharing sites Napster and Limewire. Once those were deemed illegal, the creation of the iTunes store and the purchase of individual tracks on sites like Amazon now provided this service. No longer did you have to buy an album for a particular song. One was not automatically forced to listen to the rest of the artist’s picture, but one could now create their own image of artists by downloading songs fitting their prerogative. This movement has forced record companies and artists to focus all their energies in a select few tracks of an album. These tracks are the singles and the others just become mediocre fillers that barely see the light of day.
Incidentally, this has resulted in the degradation of the album, which has also resulted in the simplification of individual artists. It is not often we find the overall performer who can sing and touch on every kind of song to create any concept.
Now there are still artists and albums that champion this idea, such as Adele’s 21 and Eminem’s Relapse, but these are few and far between. Yet, the music industry is going to continue to follow down the path of dumbed down albums at the price of genius singles.
Although artists are beginning to take back this art form with the resurgence of the 12 “,
33 RPM, vinyl record. Nevertheless, the sales of these records are not enough to save the album. In the larger picture, these are appreciated by a few, while the majority are simply satisfied with the iTunes top songs chart or Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” play list.
In the end, the concept album evolved to take listeners on journeys essential to life. Music is the one intangible object that occupies nearly every part of your brain. This gives music the power to channel emotion like no other medium, providing every set of feelings imaginable. This is the essence of what is being lost through an ever-evolving negligent and impatient society. We want quick music to give us a quick high, yet we are robbing artists of their full potential and our own solace in the art of the full, concept album.
Most importantly, we are erasing creativity for the sake of time. We now lose ourselves in data and work, while neglecting how we can take part in art and its many forms. The album and its concepts provide the escape, relaxation, and comfort desperately needed in today’s society. Albums and their concepts provide journeys and escapes that everyone needs, but we just simply don’t have the time. Society no longer gives the artist the brush to paint the full picture. We barely get finger paintings.