Albums, vinyls and musical experience
Albums have long been the beating heart of the music industry. While non-album material, such as singles, also played an undeniable role, albums remained the most significant and artistically identifiable aspects of artists’ repertoires. Just think of albums like David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars (1972), or Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), to see the iconic power of the album as a medium for music.
While albums certainly remain an important part of music today, their place as the primary means of listening to music has somewhat lost its place. With the digitization of music, and in particular the rise of streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, it has become much easier and more common to listen to songs individually, or in new compilations and playlists, separated from the “context” of the studio. albums they originally belonged to.
“There is something particularly special about listening to albums as a whole”
Certainly, there have undoubtedly been benefits to these changes in the way we consume music. As I explained in my first article for Universitythe use of individual songs in soundtracks has proven invaluable in introducing older music to new audiences (as seen recently, for example, in Kate Bush’s resurgence in popularity following the use of Run up that hill (1985) in the fourth season of stranger things), in addition to serving as an ingenious framing device for establishing program time periods. Nevertheless, I think there is something particularly special about listening to albums as a whole; something that erodes when the songs are taken out of the “context” of their respective original albums.
Listening to albums is how an artist’s creative statement can be fully appreciated. They can be viewed as symphonies, rather than just collections, as each track is an integral part of the work, helping to convey an overall story or idea. Some albums, like The Dark Side of the Moonarguably can’t really be split into different tracks since each segment of the album flows from one to the next (except for the break between the sides of the record), despite their strong thematic connections.
“Visual art can greatly enhance the depth of character of an album”
Even in less extreme cases than this, the composition of albums often matters a lot, where separating songs from their context doesn’t tell “the whole story”. Together the tracks of Queen’s world news (1977), for example, paint a picture of the growth process and the emotions associated with it. The choices in the composition of the album help convey certain aspects of it: pure heart attackThe ode to youthful energy of is suddenly interrupted, mid-measure, by the lamentations of “All Dead, All Dead”. As is the case with collections of poetry, the character and sequence of the constituent elements help to construct and give meaning to the entire artistic work. Indeed, Led Zeppelin released very few singles (none of which were in their homeland), partly to bolster their credentials as a live act but also to preserve the integrity of their albums so that in many many cases, their songs needed to be heard. as part of an album.
Visual art is also an integral part of the albums. As I explained in my recent article returning to David Bowie Ziggy Stardust album, fifty years after its release, visual art can significantly deepen the character of an album, especially through thematic connections to the music itself. It also serves as a way to deepen the harmony between individual tracks on the album; it’s a label that helps the listener visualize and understand the album and its “story” as a whole. The iconic cover of world news, both disturbing and melancholic, reinforces the ideas and emotions conveyed by the music itself, while remaining visually very pleasant to observe, which makes it immediately identifiable. In this way, the illustrations merge with general concepts to take the artistic expression of albums to new levels.
Looking at music this way makes me appreciate vinyl even more. Its physical limitations can often work as an artistic advantage: the need to flip records halfway through listening can provide a pause to further absorb what just happened. It is also the occasion to mark a musical turning point in the albums. Queen’s second album, Queen II (1973) is divided into “white side” and “dark side”, adding an intriguing duality to the overall concept. On the other hand, David Bowie “Hero” (1977) on its second side leans towards a much more ambient and experimental style than its first half. Among musical media, vinyl also has the best scope for the visual arts. Its size and the lack of a hard plastic casing (looking at you, the cassettes) provide enough space to create visually appealing covers. Even the physical experience of handling an album can enhance the sense of connection between the listener and the music. Another physical limitation, the annoyance of fast-forwarding and skipping tracks on vinyl, as well as its relative impracticality, makes vinyl particularly conducive to listening to albums in the ways I’ve discussed. Vinyl makes listening to entire albums more natural and encourages the listener to engage more deeply in the listening experience.
It’s part of the idea that music should be an experience, something to be enjoyed on its own, not just something in the background. Listening to music in album form can be a way to slow down and engage with the art in a deep and meaningful way, and vinyl as a musical medium encourages this kind of musical experience. in a very unique way. Albums and the experience of listening to music through vinyl therefore hold a very special place in my heart.
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