I’ve read that the Beatles were instrumental (no pun intended) in popularizing the long play (LP) album format. Prior to the Beatles, singles (45s) vastly outsold long-playing albums, which typically consisted of either (a) one or two hits and eight or nine “fillers”, (b) songs by different artists on the same record label, or (c) collections of previously released singles. Maybe it was the fact that even the Beatles’ weakest material was often better than the best efforts by other artists, but for whatever reason, once people acclimated to the idea of buying albums, that format quickly became the norm.
Not that that made singles obsolete, of course. I was born in 1973; by the time I was old enough to receive an allowance, I was spending it regularly at Walmart on 45s. I still have a pile of them (probably twenty or so) left over from those days, more for sentimental value than anything. I had most of Queen’s big hits from that era (We Will Rock You/We are the Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites The Dust), a couple from the J. Geils Band, and lots of, well, singles. Off the top of my head I can remember having Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”, Weird Al’s “Eat It”, Juice Newton’s “Queen of Hearts”, and Asia’s “Heat of the Moment”, to name a few.
But, once I could financially afford it, I became an album guy. As a youngster I listened to a lot of my parents’ albums, and by the time I was in third or fourth grade I owned several of my own, including the Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits, Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., and the soundtrack to Smokey and the Bandit. In fifth and sixth grade (83-85) I acquired several breakdancing and early rap albums on vinyl, and by seventh grade I had definitely made the transition to cassettes, which were all albums. I had a few cassette singles, but very few; most of the ones I bought were in the late 80s, and were purchased to acquire unreleased b-sides.
Despite owning a few singles here and there, by and large (99.9%?) my music collection consists of albums — this includes vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs, and of course mp3s. In the early days of mp3s, particularly at dial-up speeds, people traded single songs. Within just a couple of years Internet speeds went up and the cost of cavernous hard drives went down and people quit trading individual songs and began trading entire albums (and sometimes, entire discographies).
After dealing with inferior (and small) competitors, I broke down a couple of years ago and bought a 32GB iPod Touch. Six months after that, I bought a 16GB iPhone 3GS. And that’s where the trouble began.
I didn’t use my previous cell phone as an mp3 player; that’s in part why I bought the iPod Touch, which I subsequently filled with … albums. Because that’s how I view music — as albums. Copying all but a few tracks from an album, or half an album, or only one song from an album felt somehow incomplete. After purchasing an iPhone I found that I had my iPod Touch with me a lot, but my iPhone with me always. It also didn’t help things that my iPhone has half the storage that my iPod has. That was, unfortunately, an intentional decision. Based on my previous phone, I never imagined that I would use my phone as an mp3 player. But it turns out I do, and that makes it a pain in the ass to remember which device houses which album.
And with that, comes a change.
Last weekend I deleted all the albums off my iPhone. Since then, I’ve been going through my mp3 collection and adding only the songs I like to my phone. Sounds logical, I know, but it’s a mentality I’m not accustomed to. I’m used to putting a CD on and listening to it from beginning to end. “Random” playlists even feel a little weird to me, so a big pile of single songs definitely feels “jumbly”.
For now I’ll keep storing albums (especially new ones) on the iPod, while individual songs I enjoy will go to the phone.
So, what say ye? Are you an album person, or a singles guy (or gal)?
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