Digital music files, streaming content and high-speed internet connections have done incredible things for music lovers. Now, in an instant, you can find and play just about any song you can imagine. Voice commands and buttons on your headphones allow you to skip tracks with ease and create personalized playlists on the fly. But, is this all a good thing? What ever happened to listening to an album, start to finish? Has digital killed the record star?
Prior to this digital music revolution, it used to be that recording an album was an event. A process. Artists booked huge blocks of time and recorded at elaborate studios with rooms full of specialty equipment with teams of people trained how to use it all. Musicians agonized over the order of the tracks, the theme and flow of the album, and the meaning of the collection of songs as a whole. Meanwhile, graphics folks poured over ideas to create impactful cover designs, liner notes and custom packaging.
As the recording process neared its end, an Album Release Date was established. This is when the anticipation really began to build. First, a single would be released on the radio sometimes accompanied by a music video. Then, you’d see posters plastered all over the walls of your favorite record stores (yes, remember when we had to put pants on to go buy a record?) Then, you’d begin to see ads and articles previewing the new album in your favorite music magazines. Finally, if it was really a highly anticipated release, a Record Release Party would be organized, where a store would sometimes open at midnight just so us lunatics could be among to first to see, hold and listen to this latest masterpiece.
Maybe I’m old school, but I sort of miss all this. Now, it seems that unless you open every single email from iTunes, or scour rather than scan your Facebook feed, you can miss the release of an album by one of your favorite artists entirely (happened to me with Beck’s latest). I also miss the actual physical sensation of holding the CD jacket and leafing through the liner notes. To me, with downloading an album and looking at a tiny thumbnail of the cover, a certain connection with the artist is lost. So, now that I’ve come across looking like a complete curmudgeon, let me get to the point…
I’ve moved three times in the last five years, and each time while packing my belongs I get to my CDs and think, “do I really want to move these again?” I, like most of you, have either re-purchased or ripped (do people still say, “ripped?”) my favorite CDs to my digital music library. But what about those albums that you never got to? Or, those discs that you listened to a few times and were not that impressed with at the time? For those reasons, I’m really glad that I saved my CDs, and now that I finally have a neat and organized place to store my discs and a nice stereo system to listen to them, I’ve slowly been rediscovering some of my own music. Here are a few of my favorite rediscoveries.
Released shortly before Hutch’s untimely end, I found this record tough to listen at the time given the tragic circumstances surrounding his death and, unfortunately, it got shelved. As I began to celebrate their music again, I largely forgot about it, which is unfortunate because it’s quite good. In addition to the title track, this jangly little number has all the elements of a classic INXS tune.
By the time this record was released in the early 2000s, I had all but Bowied myself out. Searching for and purchasing all of Bowie’s studio releases, I had finally secured them all (including the out-of-print Buddha Of Suburbia which was a major let down). As a huge Bowie fan, I’ll be the first to admit that while I loved Earthling and Outside, the material was not for everyone, and I think it was time for Bowie to get back to something his old fan’s could appreciate – Heathen was just that. Somehow I purchased but never really listened to this record a whole lot, but it delivers some very classic Bowie-esque tracks. Here’s a great example.
My friend, Dave, turned me on to the Pixies sometime around 1991. We were both huge Nirvana fans, and at some point he duped me a cassette copy of Trompe le Monde. I instantly loved it, and that was the Pixies I came to know. So, when I started exploring their back catalog, I loved Surfa Rosa but found Doolittle a little too noisy and weird. Which, ironically, is why I love it now. In retrospect, it is probably the most Pixie-ish Pixie record. Let Frank Black assault your ear holes and you’ll know precisely what I mean.
So, if you’re lucky enough to have kept your CDs, I encourage you to dig through those crates and boxes and see what’s in there. Listen to the whole album, pull out and read the liner notes and think about where you were and what you were doing when you bought this disc… You never know what you might rediscover.