The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

3 February 2006

Not a speck of cereal

Warner Bros. once sold a $2 sampler album called All Meat, implying a distinct lack of filler among the tracks therein, which, given the content of most pop albums — "singles separated by varying amounts of filler," said Dave Marsh in one of his lucid moments — should be considered a strong selling point.

Not to Ann Althouse, though:

[W]hen did "best of" collections become respectable? I remember when it was considered embarrassing to purchase your music in that form. If you haven't been following an artist, you were supposed to pick an album. You were supposed to try to figure out which is the best one, and start there, with a set of tracks in the form the artist wanted. Who cares if "best of" marketing dies?

And how many albums are actually "in the form the artist wanted," and of those, how many of them are worth a second listen? How many albums have 100% prime cuts? (How many have even 40 percent?)

In the 1940s, we had format wars: the CBS LP (then styled "Lp") and the RCA 45. The thinking behind the LP was simple enough: no more changing records every four minutes or so. A wonderful idea if you're recording Das Lied von der Erde; not quite such a great deal if you're putting out pop hits. And the Top 40 radio format, which ascended to the top of the ratings books in the 1950s, had no use for albums of any size or speed, and not much use for "genre" tags; even as late as 1967, acts as divergent as Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin made the Top 40 charts, and therefore made Top 40 radio. Pop music is all about the single, the hit; I don't think I play any pop album of the last 20 years all the way through anymore, with the possible exception of Jagged Little Pill.

Posted at 4:20 PM to Tongue and Groove


Albums with 100% prime cuts: Start with any of Frank Sinatra's Capitol "concept albums" of the 50's, such as Only the Lonely and Songs for Swingin' Lovers. (Sinatra invented the idea of the album as a collection of realted songs, rather than just accumulated singles.) All Grade A material. Go to various Beatles' albums done after their style(-s) had matured, such as Sgt. Peppers' and Revolver. Proceed to a wide variety of Steely Dan's output, such as Royal Scam and Aja. There are others.

Posted by: John Salmon at 5:37 PM on 3 February 2006

Sinatra's Capitol LPs hold up extremely well indeed. (The Reprise stuff suffers by comparison, though a lot of it is worthy.)

Aja drives me in two directions at once: some days I can't get enough of it, and sometimes I put it aside for months. I always, always, sing along with the chorus of "Deacon Blues," though.

And I think I've mentioned before that I prefer Revolver to Sgt. Pepper's.

Posted by: CGHill at 5:51 PM on 3 February 2006

True-can't beat Revolver and Rubber Soul for pure songwriting.

Posted by: John Salmon at 9:09 PM on 3 February 2006