The Album Experience
A few weeks ago I was perusing iTunes looking for songs to buy on a gift card I received. I chose a few Foo Fighters songs from their most recent album (I didn’t really care for the previews I had heard of the whole thing) and the Bon Jovi anthem “It’s My Life”. I’m not even sure which record that track was on. My guess is it’s probably on several of them but I just wanted the song for when I do cardio at the gym so it didn’t really matter.
I mean, you can’t play Eye of The Tiger consecutively for thirty minutes straight while on the treadmill. Well, I suppose you can but I like to mix it up a bit.
Speaking of Bon Jovi, I read an article not too long ago from Jon Bon Jovi himself. He made the outrageous claim that Steve Jobs and iTunes had single-handedly ruined the music business. This coming from a guy whose band has made millions of dollars off of it. Including quite a bit of it from me over the years I might add and more than enough money for him to one day become part owner of a billion dollar NFL team. A guy who still continues to sell his music on iTunes and profit off of it. Just who is he trying to kid anyway?
But the more I thought about it and looked at the receipt for my downloaded songs the more I realized….he’s right. The entire “experience” of getting and listening to new music is gone.
Back in “the day” if you heard a cool song on the radio from a band you loved you had three choices…
One: Call the radio station 24/7 and beg them to play it.
Two: Try and find the 45″ single of it somewhere.
Three: Buy the album, which was always readily available.
In my case, the choice was easy. I would always buy the album because I LOVED the experience (ok, and also because I didn’t want to sound like a sissy calling the request line).
When you first heard the new “hit” from the band on the radio and the brouhaha that followed you knew the countdown to the new album was officially on. It was almost like Christmas was coming.
There was nothing quite like getting that new album (or CD) and taking it home for the first time. Especially if you’ve waited the habitual two years since your favorite group’s last record. A literal lifetime when you are growing up.
My ritual was this: I would get the album, lock myself in my bedroom, tear open the shrink-wrap and put new vinyl on the turntable. Always first song, first side (or first track on a CD – I’m not THAT OLD). I knew the “hit” was always about the third song in and I didn’t want to just skip to it. I wanted the build up.
As the first notes of the record started I knew ‘the boys were back’ and I’d begin to immerse myself in the liner notes. The smell of new ink would invade my senses and the troubles of the day would soon fade away.
Even though the guys in the band had absolutely no idea who I was (at best just a little dot in the 23rd row at their last concert) it felt like a reunion with old friends. Friends that had inspired me, comforted me and consoled me with their music.
“Boys, where have you been? What’s new?”
I’d read all about the musicians and where the album was recorded and who any “special guest” musicians that had played on the album were. The thank-you notes would always include references to God and family and as a musician myself I’d always think that maybe some day I’d have the opportunity to make these same decisions for my own album.
But most important of all, I read the lyrics.
I loved reading about the pain, heartache and reckless abandon the band felt when creating this record. I tried to relate what I was going through in my own life with what I read and listened to. By the time the “hit” started playing I was already in some distant utopia. (which coincidentally, was the name of the store in downtown Easton where I bought a lot of my records).
When the record was over it was almost like you had just gotten off an amusement park ride. Sure, some of the songs weren’t as good as I had hoped but there were always some gems on there. I liked to guess which song would be the next one released to radio and I’d start wondering just how long it would be before these guys came to town and I could go see them again. The whole thing was indeed an experience.
Now, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I had the whole music experience. I too find myself falling into the same routine that everyone else does. Getting the quick-fix by downloading the one “hit” song. Quite frankly, I even believe most artists these days are perfectly happy with just getting the 99 cents for that one song and ignoring the “album”. But taking Jon’s advice, I decided to pass the digital quick fix and try the album experience again. I chose to buy a physical album from a favorite band whose records spent many months on my turn table growing up and one who coincidentally had just released a brand new album: Night Ranger’s “Somewhere in California”.
I sat there in my office, put the CD into the computer, fired up the media player and started playback on the first track. It was so easy to fall back into the groove, read the liner notes and get lost in thought. And although there were some really great songs on there I know that in today’s music business not a single track on this album will ever get airplay. But the experience of listening to an album from start to finish was as wonderful as I had remembered it to be.
So Mr. Bon Jovi was right in a way. I guess iTunes has changed the game. And sure, I’ll probably take the Night Ranger album and throw it on my mp3 player to take with me. Will I listen to it day and night? Probably not. But favorite songs aren’t meant to be just some digital file on an iPod.
They’re meant to stay with you for a lifetime.
Extra: Be sure to check out my other Night Ranger blog article here