An L.A. DJ on talk radio was moderating a discussion on whether albums were nevertheless a viable commodity in this age of digital downloads. His point of view was that the majority of a CD is made up of material of second rate filler that only exists to force the music buying public to pay ten dollars for a ninety-nine cent song. As this DJ was on talk radio I can assume he’s not a hardcore music fan.
Albums, that is a collection of songs not necessarily vinyl twelve inch phonograph records, only became considered an art form alone in 1967 with the release of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which did not have a single released from it. Bands like Cream followed suit and refused to release singles insisting their new album was a long form work to be appreciated in its entirety.
Certainly, it is difficult to keep a high level of quality up on a dozen songs, getting already one ‘hit single’ is hard enough and a lot, if not most albums are made up of songs that clearly haven’t had the time, energy and money spent on the arrangement and production as the one or two designated as the singles. But the singles are the commercials for the album and many times do not precisely mirror the true artistic character of the act. It is the album cut where the artist gets to express him or herself and it is there that the most creative, artistic, experimental and personal of the songs are to be found.
A world of singles without album cuts would be like a world of movie trailers without the actual movies. Some of the all time biggest radio hits would never have been recorded if only singles were produced. Some of these classics include:
Yesterday by The Beatles which was considered too unBeatles-like since only Paul McCartney truly performed on the recording to be considered a Beatles single. In England it was only released on the Help! album. Only after being discovered as a side cut did it get released in America as a single. It held the record for the song most played on the radio.
Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin is simply much too long to have been pressed on a seven inch 45 RPM record. It was originally written as a live show centerpiece to replace Zep’s Dazed And Confused in concert.
Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd was originally released in 1973 on the band’s debut album and wasn’t released as a single until late 1974 (November). A single is traditionally released prior to the release of an album so clearly this track only got the singles treatment due to popular need.
These are three of the most requested songs in radio history and none would have already been chosen to be recorded if singles were all musicians had to release music. Albums are interesting because except for eggs, we don’t generally buy things by the dozen but unlike eggs, all the songs in an album are significantly different.