Bring Back Album-Oriented Rock (and Rap and Pop and Country and…)

Bring Back Album-Oriented Rock (and Rap and Pop and Country and…)

Mr. Egan

Not so long ago (at least in my mind), music wasn’t ordered a la carte.  Fans could get a full musical meal from an artist instead of the cafeteria-line snacks they get now from the download services. Sure, it’s convenient and economical to pick and choose what you want – pay your 99 cents for the fries you want, and don’t pay for the burger, chicken sandwich, fish sandwich, salad, onion rings, soda, shake, apple pie, and sundae that you don’t.  You save almost nine bucks by paying for only what you really wanted, which is the single you heard on the radio or saw as a YouTube video.

The problem is that albums now have about two good songs that get airplay, and the rest is often filler.  Consumers only want the singles because they don’t think the whole album is even worth it. Look at the song popularity graphic in iTunes after doing an album search – the bulk of sales from an album are tied up in one or two songs.  Fans listen to play lists full of shuffled, cherry-picked tracks from dozens of albums rather than listening to full albums from the first to last track in the order the tracks were presented and intended.  Again, it’s convenient and personalized to the consumer, and the technology is so much more portable and user-friendly than juggling turntables, needles, vinyl 33’s and 45’s, eight-tracks and cassettes. My iPod full of playlists is the best friend I can have while I’m working out.  It has variety, and it suits my mood, and it fits right in my pocket, and I can just work out without stopping.  It’s efficient and convenient, and it rocks.

There are some days, however, that we should give up the easy, casual consumerism.  Some things are that much greater because they take the extra effort, because they are cumbersome, and because they represent something we might not even realize we have lost.

That’s the beauty of album-oriented music that dominated the 1970’s and soldiered on even into the 1980’s.  Most albums had eight to ten songs – four or five to a side of a record – and ran for around forty minutes.  We listened to side one straight through, flipped it over, and listened to side two.  We didn’t skip around or shuffle the order.  We didn’t get extra outtakes or cover songs or remixes or demos.  We got a lot of good songs in a row.  If a song wasn’t good enough, it didn’t make the album. Disc jockeys played more than just the released singles; they delighted in playing “deeper cuts.” The next album didn’t take three years and millions of dollars in studio costs and rock star excess to hit the stores, either.  We got another album later this year.  John Fogerty recorded the first three Creedence Clearwater Revival albums in 1969 for about five grand.  Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic?  Four months, start to finish after Get Your WingsVan Halen to Van Halen II? 13 months between release dates.

When we mentioned Pink Floyd, we didn’t say, “Have you heard ‘Money’ or ‘Great Gig in the Sky’?” We said, “Check out Dark Side of the Moon. Start side one when the MGM lion roars for the third time at the start of Wizard of Oz.” Back in Black and Paranoid meant whole albums, not just track names. And nobody even mentioned song names for Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, much less the fact that the album itself doesn’t even have a name – just some symbols representing each band member.  But we all spoke of it as Led Zeppelin 4, and we all knew what we were talking about.

To honor the old days, check out the best examples of album-oriented rock below.  They’re in no particular order; the only order that matters is the songs being played in the order they are listed on the album sleeve. (Not cover or case or digital booklet.  Sleeve.  S-L-E-E-V-E.  Again, look it up.) Listen to it straight through from track one to the end on a big stereo in the living room.  No shuffling or skipping.  No earbuds either; if you need headphones, they should block out the world and make your head sweat.

AC/DC – Back in Black, For Those About to Rock

Aerosmith – Get Your Wings, Toys in the Attic

Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies, From the Inside

Alice in Chains — Dirt

Beatles – Revolver, Abbey Road, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Black Crowes – Shake Your Moneymaker, By Your Side

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – Night Moves, Live Bullet, Nine Tonight

Boston – Boston, Third Stage

Cheap Trick – At Budokan, Heaven Tonight

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River, Willy and the Poor Boys, Cosmo’s Factory

Eagles — Desperado

Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape, There is Nothing Left to Lose, Echoes Silence Patience Grace, Wasting Light, Sonic Highways

Green Day – American Idiot

Guns n Roses – Welcome to the Jungle, Use Your Illusion I and II

Johnny Cash – At San Quentin, At Folsom Prison

Kiss – Alive, Alive II

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin IV, Physical Graffiti

Metallica – Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets

Nirvana – Nevermind, Unplugged

Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Ozz, Diary of a Madman

Pearl Jam – Ten, Vitalogy

Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall

Queen – Sheer Heart Attack, News of the World, Night at the Opera, The Game

Rush – 2112, Moving Pictures

Van Halen – Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, 1984, 5150

Who – Tommy, Live at Leeds, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia, Live at the Royal Albert Hall