It would seem since the invention of iTunes, we have become a song generation. With us being such an A.D.D. society and our time being spare, people tend to like a song or two from a band or just buy the couple songs they know by an artist from iTunes for $.99 each rather than paying $9.99 or so for a bunch of songs they don’t know or necessarily care about. This makes a lot of sense no doubt, but I believe by just listening to a song here or a song there by a given artist, we are missing out on the point of what a lot of bands are trying to do, and missing out on the greater reward of what an album is.
So here are five reasons I think we should invest our time in albums rather than individual songs.
Some music takes time to grow– A lot of times I will get an album, and on first glimpse, I could care less for a song or two on an album. But when listening to the song repeatedly by going through an album front-to-back (without skipping past it every time), I often gain a new appreciation of the song, and sometimes it may even become my new favorite on the album. A lot of times, slow songs fit this mold with a good example being The Beatles White Album, with coming in at 30 tracks, you may feel like just jumping around to songs like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, “Helter Skelter”, and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, but you may miss out on more sweet beautiful growers like “Dear Prudence” and “I Will”. Although there are admittedly plenty of throwaways on White Album.
It requires patience– Patience is no doubt something we could all use more of in our society which is go, go, go all the time and we carry little to no attention spans. Some of my friends and family hate driving on road trips with me, because when it comes to listening to music, unless the plan is to hop around with a playlist, I make sure to listen to every album front-to-back and every song from start-to-finish. I am also driven crazy by people who listen to 30 seconds of a song and then flip to a new one. When I make an album decision I try to stick to it, for better or for worse.
It will make you a better listener in general– This goes hand in hand with patience, but when you listen to an album all together, you began to listen a little closer to things; looking a little deeper into things. This can cause you outside of music to do the same, being more attentive in conversation, listening intently rather than waiting for your time to speak.
You miss out on the greater themes– When it comes to albums, especially in the late 60’s, and 70s when everyone was listening to albums on vinyl and skipping songs was extremely inconvenient, albums were made more as one larger concept, with the songs being just smaller pieces in a larger theme. Concept albums like The Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon admittedly come to mind, but there are also plenty of excellent non-concept albums that you would be missing the point if you didn’t listen to start-to-finish. An album like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would simply be incomplete without its ups and downs, its soars and swells, from the troubled songs like “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” and “Radio Cure”, to the quiet and candid moments like “Reservations” and “Ashes of American Flags”, to the more carefree moments like “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You”. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot stands as a statement to life itself.
You will gain a deeper love and appreciation of challenging music– Like most things in life, the more you invest into something, the more benefits you will reap. Having almost always been an album listener since I began to truly love music in Middle School, years of listening to albums front to back has caused me to like more and more challenging music. Musicians like Animal Collective, Radiohead, and Captain Beefheart may sound unlistenable upon first blush, but with repeated album listens, the intricacies and complexities of the rhythm and melodies reveal themselves, making for a deeply rewarding experience.
So heed my advice or not, just know that there is value that remains in listening to the album front-to-back especially in our frenzied culture.