Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Like A Broken Record

iTunes has taken over the world.

I can't remember the last CD I bought in a store. Thanks to iTunes, I am able to purchase entire albums for just $9.99! Usually, I wouldn't be able to find a deal that great unless I was searching through the value bins at Best Buy. Even better is the ability to purchase just a song or two from an album. The days of the single have returned. I am brought back to my younger days, purchasing cassette singles at Musicland and Sam Goody (specific purchases included UB40's cover of "Can't Help Falling in Love" and Elton John's remake of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Rupaul).

But I can't help but think of how sad it is for future generations to not buy actual albums. There's something to be said for the cohesiveness of an album, the way each track fits within the others - isn't this what the artist intended when putting it together? If he or she just wanted to release a bunch of songs, they would. And the album as an object is made up of so many things: cover art, liner notes, photos. As we started turning away from vinyl, it seemed less important to create covers that said something more than just the band's name. Cassette cases were too small to properly display cover art, but CDs provide a somewhat better space. Now we have the option of purchasing an album on Itunes and downloading a PDF of the album artwork. But what am I going to do with photos of Kanye West with a bear head standing around a library?

I can't help but think that some music was just meant to be heard on vinyl and that it gets changed somehow (diluted, perhaps?) when accessed digitally. When artists made albums during the days of vinyl, they meant for each song to be heard on a record. There were two sides. There was that extra effect I call the "scratchy sound". And the opening track on either side (especially side 1 or A) was an introduction to the rest of the album. I imagine that recording artists or record company execs thought a lot about which song needed to be first.

Nowadays, we hit shuffle on our CD players or iPods. Track placement no longer means anything. The first song probably has little effect on most listeners, while the artists might still consider it an important aspect of the album-making process. Do today's artists think the same way as those of the past? And I wonder what older artists, those who were around in the vinyl days, think of the digital revolution? Does it change how they write or record songs? Or are they thinking still of their old methods?

This all came to mind a few months ago when I purchased The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers on iTunes. It opens with "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", a deliciously sexy song which, thankfully, extends past the six minute mark (and would have taken up a good chunk of Side 1). And every time I listen to that song, I think about how much better it would be to hear it on vinyl. I imagine buying the record and placing it on my turntable, needle hovering over the very outer edge. Then, at the precisely right moment, dropping the needle and hearing the guitar intro jump out of my speakers.

So what do you all of think of the iTunes explosion? And if you had to name a favorite album or two, what would they be? (I mean "album" as the cohesive mix of songs, not just an 11-track recording by an artist).

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