33 vs. 45

So I’m torn here. I’ve always been an album guy. Raised on AOR Classic Rock. Among my favorite records are concept albums like Quadraphenia and The Wall. Never bought too many “singles,” even when they were disguised as 12″ records. Still use the term “LP” on occasion. Yet I’ve always loved that one great song from the one hit wonder. And due to a rather serious habit of making mixes for friends in college, I even got hooked on the idea of a single: One great piece of music that can be taken totally out of context of the artist’s larger body of work.

All this leaves me pondering the future. Now that we’ve got CD burners and MP3s, what’s going to happen to the album? We’re left trading, ripping, uploading, and burning singles; will there be any room for anything else? Increasingly, I find myself not even using my album or CD collection anymore—it’s easier to fire up the MP3 player and listen to an endless random selection of my music. But this does not come without a price.

As I continue to rip everything I own, the dilemma becomes how do I categorize it? Do I keep the album information intact on my hard drive? Do I just lump every Wilco song together in the same directory? Do I even remember the track order for Summerteeth anymore?

The answer to that last rhetorical question is, unfortunately, “No.” The other day I realized that I had accidentally deleted one of the tracks from that album from my hard drive, probably over a year ago. Or maybe I just never finished ripping the disc. I don’t really know, but amidst the other dozens of Wilco tunes, the song got overlooked.

This is a serious issue, and not just because the new way we collect music runs the risk of omitting odious album filler, reducing all of music listening to the lowest common denominator that is (was?) Top 40 radio. Content and form are more than just casual bedmates; if we leave out the less than stellar, we’re left with little context for evaluation, thereby forgoing much of the joy of listening.

There’s a reason we’re music lovers and collectors, rather than just casual radio listeners, and a lot of it has to do with albums. Albums breed a comprehensive approach to listening, not just to artists, but to entire genres of music. How can one appreciate “The End” if they haven’t listened to the first 15 songs on Abbey Road? How can you see the greatness of early 70s Stones without having heard Hank Williams Sr. and John Lee Hooker?

What would Tommy be without “Tommy’s Holiday Camp?”

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