Wednesday 6 April 2016

As Children We Fall In Love With Music

On each Saturday of the early to middling Eighties I used to climb the steepest high street I can remember to the late Woolworths.

I'd inch past the pick-and-mix from which I was sorely tempted to steal to the records, racked and ordered and glorious.

Occasionally I had amassed enough pocket money to take one home, and when got there I absorbed every last undulation of the spiralling groove. A collection that builds at a pace of a single song every several weeks is one that is known and cherished.. When saving weekly 50p pieces, albums were a distant dream.

Then came the CD as destroyer. The Wonder of the Digital! Spread jam on it and it will still play, said Tommorow's World! After that, singles got really expensive too. So, my love fell upon the album. 

What is an album? A musical form defined by technology. A twelve inch vinyl record played it at 33 1/3 rpm on each side. Not the natural bed-fellow of the Sonata. 

Although, if you say you want a revolution, well, you know, you got thirty three and a third a minute, right there. 

A single, the pop song form, has great heritage and culture, a myriad of rich variations.  To make an article of real artistic integrity when squeezing ten or fifteen songs together on an LP simply to fit the arbitrary length is a huge challenge. So far I given blood, sweat and tears in attempting this twice on my own, and once as part of a band, and it is a tricky business. As difficult as it is for an artist, there is also a challenge for the listener. To absorb an album requires dedication, it demands close attention, it requires commitment. Physical LPs, whether vinyl, cassette or CD were - are, if anyone actually still buys them - expensive. It is a commitment that is becoming harder and harder to sustain as we become enveloped in a digital environment where the play and stop buttons for every record in existence is available to each of us constantly on all-you-can eat streaming services. 

Despite how this piece seems to be going, I am not a man mired in nostalgia. The environment of popular music constantly evolves, and always has; indeed, the desire for the new is its driving force. But, does the album form have enough traction to survive continue on into this digital age? Artists do seem to keep making them. Will they continue? Will new forms arise, perhaps more natural forms for the popular the song, such as perhaps to borrow from drama, to see a single as an act, and to form those acts into three, four, five act pieces?

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