I’m not sure when we stopped listening to albums.
I suspect it was somewhere between the emergence of Napster and the legitimising of music downloads on iTunes. I started thinking about this recently when I complimented someone on their playlist. I thought about it a little further and considered that it might have been a kind of dumb thing to say because since when should someone get credit for arbitrarily selecting some songs to play? I think what I really meant to say was ‘I’m into this band and I love that you have at least one of their songs’. Chances are it was probably on shuffle anyway and there wasn’t even any ‘craft’ in creating the playlist.
I am equally as guilty of this as the next person. Spotify is one of my favourite things and I have created a playlist that I’ve named ‘infinite playlist’ because I just add all the random songs of bands and artists I like but obviously don’t like enough to look a lot further than one or two tracks. I like it because I’ve been adding to it over the past couple of years and it serves at a bit of a journey of what has pressed my musical buttons in that time, outside of the artists I love and bother to listen to more than one song of.
Once upon a time kids, if you wanted to make a ‘mix’ it was very time consuming, and had the potential to be relatively costly unless you friends were kind enough (and had decent enough taste in music) to lend you their CDs or records. You then needed to sit there actually listen to the songs you were going to add to the ‘mixed tape’, consider their order, length etc. Mixed tapes took effort and held meaning.
Time moved on a little and we could then make mixed CDs by ripping music from our existing CDs to our very slow Windows 98-2000 based PCs and then burn them onto a blank disc. And whilst this was a slightly simpler process, it was still pretty time consuming and could be passed off as thoughtful.
There is nothing remotely thoughtful or romantic about a Spotify or similar playlist. “Babe, I told Pandora that you like Dance With Me by 112, and it gave me 50 other songs from that decade you forgot you pashed your first boyfriend to at party. Hope you love it”. Said no one ever.
The other part of this of course, is the artistry that goes into creating an album. Even albums you hate by bands you think are awful were lovingly put together by the people that wrote and produced the music. They carefully selected tracks, and cut others that might have been just as good but didn’t flow, they put them in an order that they intended you to listen to them in. And then we go in there and vandalise their hard work by creating a fucking playlist.
It’s no secret that streaming services do pretty much nothing for an artists back pocket, but I’d rather pay Spotify, who at least give a tenth of a cent, than acquire an album through illegal means. That’s not to say I haven’t done that, of course I have, but having the ability to pay for it now means I don’t really need to steal. But I hate buying albums on iTunes. I have nothing against iTunes. Aside from the fact that their software is less than awesome. I just think if I’m going to fork out $20 for something I’d like to be able to touch if it does exist in a physical form. I don’t necessarily feel this way about TV/movie streaming, although I still buy my favourites on blu-ray. I like cover art. I like liner notes. I care about that stuff. And you can be sure if it’s available on vinyl and I love it, I’m going to buy it, I’m that much of a tragic hipster tosser.
So my resolution moving forward is not to stop making playlists, and enjoying the freedom of being able to satisfy that urge that says ‘I JUST NEED TO LISTEN TO THIS ONE SONG AND MY LIFE WILL BE OK AGAIN’ without rifling through a CD wallet as I would have in days gone by. But it is to listen to more albums beginning to end, side one to side two, as it were.
The next part of this is to start recommending albums, not songs, no just artists. Nope, I’m going to tell you the album that I am loving. And I want you to do the same – I want album recommendations! I always struggle with the ‘High Fidelity’ list thing of top fives etc – I’m not very a good at it, but I do enjoy the challenge of creating them so I’m going to have a crack at giving you my top 5 favourite albums of all time, and then my top 3 albums of the last year or so that I have, and continue to listen to start to finish.
Top 5 Albums of All Time
1. Love is Hell pt 1 & 2 – Ryan Adams (2004)
Technically a two part EP, but later released as one full length album once Lost Highway realised it was the best work he’d ever done. This album is going to take you a full roller coaster of emotions. It sounds like it should be pretty one dimensional but trust me, you’re going to feel it all.
Stand out track: English Girls Approx.
2. August and Everything After – Counting Crows (1993)
The album that launched the career of this incredible band. 22 years later ‘Mr Jones’ is still on regular rotation on commercial radio, and deservedly so. This album tells a really powerful story, something that Counting Crows have been masters of for many years.
Stand out track: Anna Begins
3. Black Market Music – Placebo (2000)
During my teenage years, I lived for this band. I was in love with Brian Molko (still am kind of) and I wailed and sobbed my eyes out the year they toured Sleeping With Ghosts and they played an over 18s venue in Melbourne and I couldn’t go. My consolation prize was my parents let me take the day off school to go to their signing at HMV Bourke Street. Eventually I did get to see them perform live, and the songs from this album were my favourite to scream my teenage heart out to (and still are).
Stand out track: Days Before You Came
4. Destroyer – KISS (1976)
Get the Destroyer Remixed version if you can. Bob Ezrin is a master producer but when this album received the 2012 treatment, it was like polishing up a beautiful diamond that age had taken some shine off of. It’s very hard for me to select just one KISS album; this band have soundtracked my entire life, but when it comes down to it, Destroyer is the masterwork.
Stand out track: Shout It Out Loud
5. Born and Raised – John Mayer (2012)
I don’t want to call this a come back album, because he never really went away, but it definitely has that feeling to it. It’s an album that documents that maturation of John Mayer, that place that (hopefully) we all get to one day where we can make peace with some of the stupid things we’ve done, and move on with our lives, knowing we’re all just people doing out best to be good at this thing called being human. It was something of a musical departure for John, but one that makes perfect sense if you have ever followed his music journey.
Stand out track: Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967
The top 3 albums I loved the most this year:
1. Something More Than Free – Jason Isbell (2015)
I can’t say enough things about how incredible this album is. Jason Isbell is a master song writer, and the 2 Grammy nominations the album received this week are incredibly well deserved. Jason Isbell has a way with lyrical specificity that no one else can touch. I can’t wait to see him live again next April.
Stand out track: Palmetto Rose (a beautiful song about civil rights in America, so very appropriate right now, not to mention it’s killer tempo change.)
2. Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me! (2014)
I was a little late to the party on this one, but if you don’t know Against Me! or the story of their incredible singer Laura Jane Grace then I thoroughly recommend a little research. This album was obviously incredibly personal for Laura, and the raw emotion throughout this record goes to show. From a sweet ballad for her daughter, to the angriest thrashing punk track directed squarely at the hypocrites within our society, it’s a killer ten tracks start to finish. I wish that more people knew the story of Laura Jane Grace and her life. I think she has just as much to offer (probably more) than Caitlin Jenner.
Stand Out Track – Two Coffins
3. Jeckyll + Hyde – Zac Brown Band (2015)
I was lucky enough to see this wonderful group of musicians play live for the first time this year, and it was one the greatest live shows I have ever seen. This album was about to be released and at the show Zac noted that there would be something for everyone on it. And he wasn’t wrong! From a catchy little swing tune with Sarah Bareilles to an alt rock radio-friendly single featuring Chris Cornell, this was by far their most diverse offering to date.
Stand out track: Dress Blues (incidentally, written and originally performed by the aforementioned Jason Isbell)
So there it is. There’s so many more albums that hold a special place in my heart, honourable mentions to The Living End’s self titled album, Enema of The State – Blink 182, Americana – The Offspring, Tea For The Tillerman – Cat Stevens, East – Cold Chisel…as I said, the list goes on! But I want to hear your recommendations, hit me with albums that have spoken to you over the years, I’m keen to hear some new stories.