Was in the car the other day listening to the radio when an old Radiohead song comes on. I listen hard, enjoying the sheer clever musicality of it amid the general musical pap we get served up these days. As I’m listening I’m thinking how they had some great albums – The Bends, Ok Computer – and how the concept of albums, or LP’s, has fallen by the wayside. It seemed sad, on so many levels.
I’m old enough to remember going to the local record shop, as it was then, and spending my pocket money on some LP or another for $6.99. I spent hours flipping through the records week after week plotting my next purchase in between watching Countdown on the weekend. Every chance I had I did myself the favour Molly urged on me, and got the latest hit album. It felt special to be carrying home in a Brashs bag the umistakable shape of an LP: there goes that kid with a record. Home I would pull it out of it’s sleeve, the inner plastic sticking to the black vinyl with static, the vinyl dark like Darth Vader’s helmet, and beautifully pristine. You flip it between your fingers, searching for side one, before putting it on the turntable. In our case it was a JVC Quadraphonic, big stuff then. A few crackly notes as the needle rotates through the grooves before the first crisp notes emerge from the speakers. And you listen, track after track, lying on the floor, reading the back of the LP cover, checking out the words if you have them, as the album emerges into your world.
See, back then an album unfolded. One track led to another, before at some point you had to change sides and recommence the journey. I know artists spent a lot of time plotting the order of songs on the LP. There was meant to be a progression, lost today in readily downloadable electronic files that exist in isolation, disconnected from any concept of album.
And then there’s ‘concept’ albums, now almost a thing of the past. You’d have artists like The Alan Parsons Project, Jethro Tull, David Bowie (in different guises), and so on, who would put out albums built around a central theme or character. The album as a whole told a story, through different chapters and voices. That hardly happens now. Instead society digests music as singles, ignorant of the ceremony associated with buying an album, or even a CD, used to the convenience of consuming the latest hit with a few clicks of a mouse button. All of those other things I write of seem lost, like so many things of past eras that become outmoded with time.
You understand why, to a large degree. Over the last few decades technology and society have merged, spiralling away into a stratosphere never imagined when I was a 10 year old kid. It’s simple to download a song, and necessary really if you want to listen on your iPod. I do it myself. But things get lost. The grand, very human idea of an album. The humble pleasure of going out to make that purchase. And, of course, the audio quality. Over the years we have sacrificed these things, almost without thought, for the sake of convenience. To me that sums up a lot of things about society today: convenience rules.
And yes, I’m thinking some variation of this as I’m driving along when an old Elvis Costello song comes up (Pump It Up), and not only does it just confirm what I’ve been thinking, but then I think again, for the umpteenth time, they just don’t make music like that anymore…