Music Mondays: David Gilmour on Chopping up Albums

Yes, that David Gilmour.

Anyways, there was a post on Gilmour's blog a few months ago that provoked quite a little storm: Chopping up albums.

Basically, the point Gilmour makes is that many albums are really meant to be listened to as a whole and shouldn't be split into individual tracks at record companies' whims. Read the whole thing to get the full sense of his argument, but I think the excerpt below gives a good sense:

I'll go first: Blood on the Tracks' frenetic 'Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts' by Bob Dylan. There, I said it. (Forgive me, Bob.) More often than not, it gives me an instant headache. As does Don Henley's 'Man With a Mission' (from Building the Perfect Beast). But I can skip these songs when my head is feeling particularly delicate and they remain part of two of my favourite albums regardless. Granted, when purchased, there was no option to pick and choose each song, nor to preview them freely at leisure. However, I still feel that today's wider choice is mostly irrelevant to me when it comes to downloading music, and surely this should be all the more true when it comes to concept albums.

In fact, of Pink Floyd's more obvious concept albums, you'd be hard pressed to find a track that does not segue at either its beginning or end.

Can you imagine 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' not turning into 'With a Little Help from My Friends'? Or 'Overture' from The Who's Tommy not concluding with the joyous announcement that 'It's a Boy'?

I'd enjoy sharing your examples of the perfect song segue, if you care to.

So, lots of questions to end the week with and perhaps to aggravate you well into the weekend, but I have (almost) managed to refrain from asking whether we should condone public flogging as the only punishment befitting the heinous crime of savagely butchering Dark Side of the Moon.

Now, there's a thought... Dare I suggest that maybe EMI got off lightly?

On the other side, is Cory Doctorow:

No one thinks about albums today. Music is now divisible to the single, as represented by an individual MP3, and then subdivisible into snippets like ringtones and samples. When recording artists demand that their works be considered as a whole -- like when Radiohead insisted that the iTunes Music Store sell their whole album as a single, indivisible file that you would have to listen to all the way through -- they sound like cranky throwbacks.

The idea of a 60-minute album is as weird in the Internet era as the idea of sitting through 15 hours of Der Ring des Nibelungen was 20 years ago. There are some anachronisms who love their long-form opera, but the real action is in the more fluid stuff that can slither around on hot wax -- and now the superfluid droplets of MP3s and samples. Opera survives, but it is a tiny sliver of a much bigger, looser music market. The future composts the past: old operas get mounted for living anachronisms; Andrew Lloyd Webber picks up the rest of the business.

Personally, I still buy CDs, I still like albums that have a unified sound.'d have to pry my iPhone/iTunes out of my cold dead hands.

How about you? Gilmour or Doctorow or can they somehow coexist?

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David Gilmour has a blog and no one tells me about it? And to think, last night I replaced the batteries in my Pulse CD for the third time in 14 years.

I personally listen to most albums, not just Pink Floyd (but they were my starting point) the whole way, or most of the way, through. I've found it actually causes me to like more songs that way.

If someone really wants "Another Brick in the Wall part II" they (Gilmour/Waters/Mason) are lucky if the consumer chooses to try and buy it on iTunes in the first place. When the individual sees that his or her only option is to buy the digital download of the entire album for TWENTY DOLLARS chances are that he or she will probably try and go download it for free somewhere.

If David Gilmour, or any musician, doesn't want their music commercially available outside of the whole album format, and are willing to absorb the financial hit, more power to them.

There are concept albums, and there are albums of songs. Most of Pink Floyd's albums had a conceptual theme, so it makes sense for them to be considered a unit. I have, in fact, thought about re-ripping Dark Side of the Moon as one long continuous track for just that reason.

But really, if you look at most albums, there's no concept behind them. Sgt Pepper might be a concept album that should be sold as a unit, but the White Album is a bunch of tracks.

And the concept albums isn't dead, it's just not as common. Corb Lund's recent album Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! is an example.

Some stories are too big to tell in a single 4 +/- minute song. I fear that today's sound-bite culture may prove to be the death-knell for the rock opera format, and those stories as yet untold will remain forever so.

iTunes will preserve the order on import from my CD. But it then most frustratingly shuffles them on transfer to my iPhone. I find it so annoying I cannot listen to any of the Pink Floyd albums I intended to listen to at work. There is is sequence, a proper order, and since each part is telling only a part of the story, the individual songs do not stand nearly so well alone as when buttressed by their intended neighbors. Plus the cross-fade remnants really annoy.

There are only a relatively few of these full story albums. Most albums are collections of independent compositions that stand each on their own merit regardless of how they are compiled. But these few stand head and shoulders above the rest for their power and accomplishments. PF (pretty nearly everything since Dark Side incl.), The Who (Tommy and Quadraphenia), some lesser-knowns like Aamon Duul II and The Incredible String Band - this artform flowered for only a few years but produced enduring master-works. And this current impatience threatens their survival. I really hope not, but I see it happening.

By Gray Gaffer (not verified) on 21 Jun 2010 #permalink

It's funny, I don't recall Pink Floyd always playing their albums all the way through when they did live concerts back in the day. I can still remember the floating pig ballon over County Stadium area in Milwaukee in the 1970's. So they must not be totally indivisible. Does Radiohead do that? Even Beethoven Symphonies get broken into movements and played separately. This is a phony artistic issue. I know musicians might feel irritated but how the audience listens is up to the audience, performances and recordings the same - it is a two way street.

Every PF concert I went to focussed on the latest album which was played as published plus popular bits from earlier albums plus (sometimes) teasers from the future. At least, this was true from Dark Side on. Interestingly, many of the sound effects used they already had in the can long before the albums that popularized them came out. I heard several (including the "Hey You!" from a helicopter) at the Crystal Palace concert in 1969 (?). Animals in 1976 at Annaheim was played fully, but also we got other bits like Money. The Wall in 1979 was very precisely just the album with no extras. And the recent Dark Side tour (missing David, unfortunately, but interestingly it took three guitarists to replace him, also three female vocalists for the Great Gig) was again Dark Side complete plus extras.

Not phony. Like I said, these works are telling a story. Do you read novel chapters in random order? Of course, in the case of Pink Floyd, there is a cultural part to the story most Americans may be missing, and that is what it was like growing up in the UK immediately post-WWII. I actually had "how can you eat your pudding if you don't eat your meat" yelled at me by a teacher one lunch-time. He sounded exactly like the clip in the song. To this day I cannot leave anything un-eaten on my plate, which is a problem at all-you-can-eat buffets.

By Gray Gaffer (not verified) on 21 Jun 2010 #permalink

Cory Doctorow is plain wrong. There are still people who have longer attention span than three minutes. There is a reason why concerts last over an hour, and are tied together by a theme. The tours even have names. Gilmour knows what he is talking about - he's one of the pioneers.

And then there is the classical music scene...

But Doctorow being wrong doesn't mean Gilmour is right. People have the right to listen to their favourite parts. Playing them has been common in classical music for centuries, and even Pink Floyd has done it in concerts (see previous comments).

The tradition started in the days when no recording medium was available, and people played their music themselves. All civilized persons could play at least one instrument, and guests were selected so that an orchestra could be formed.

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 21 Jun 2010 #permalink

Anybody who tries to define what music should be or how it should be enjoyed is wrong.

Some of my favorite segues...Happiest Days of our Lives into Another brick in the wall pt. II, Space Intro into Fly Like an Eagle, and whatever the first track is on Van Halen's 1984 into Jump.

Cory Doctorow is wrong, but why is that surprising? He's overfond of overgeneralization, which is probably one reason he's so quotable. Of course, most any time someone begins a statement with "No one..." they have an extremely high probability of being wrong, unless they're talking about physical issues. ("No one in recent history has lived to be 150 years old" might be a valid generalization.)

The tradition started in the days when no recording medium was available, and people played their music themselves. All civilized persons could play at least one instrument, and guests were selected so that an orchestra could be formed.

Cory Doctorow is wrong, some people do still care about albums, though many do not and certainly many albums really are simply a disjoint collection of songs. But I think Glimore makes to much of the album concept.

But there are albums I prefer to look at as more as a whole. Joel Plaskett's Ashtray Rock is one that I find hangs together very well, I found the last half of the album to works and I usually listen to those tracks together in order. I also thought he did an intersting series of concerts related to this issue a few years ago to mark the 60th anniversary of the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. He played 6 nights at the tavern, each night playing one of his albums in its entirety.

Once you've sold your "art" as Pink Floyd did to EMI they're really free to do with it as they will. For instance, I might not have grown to despise "Dark Side of the Moon" if all the rock stations had played something other than the "cash register song". If the stations had just played the whole album each time it might have been okay. But David Gilmour owes ME money for all the times I've been in a place where the cash register song comes on and I can't turn it off.

Classic rock. Another reason to hate the baby boomers.

This makes me wonder if something I have been noticing is real or just my imagination.

Music from the sixties and seventies frequently had very long tracks on them. It was not uncommon for a song to be over ten minutes long.

However, now that we have music downloads through the likes of i-tunes and bought usually on a single basis; I've been noticing longer songs again. It's like the artist knows that he/she may only have your attention for four maybe five minutes and so now they are looking to longer tracks.

I buy CD's too; but mostly just because I want to store full bandwidth uncompressed music on my hard drive. I don't want the compressed crappy downloads that i-tunes has available. So Albums matter more to me but only because that is what I'm accustomed to. I become used to the whole effect of the different songs and how they may tell a story (or not).

Has anyone else noticed the length of tracks increasing or is it just my imagination? I would bet that this data is available but I have no idea where to look.