Listening to Albums

13 Aug

This summer, I’ve had the unique, fun and nostalgic experience of hearing two of my favorite artists, play two of my all-time favorite albums end-to-end in concert.   First was Peter Frampton playing Frampton Comes Alive straight through on July 5th (great way to celebrate the night of our 25th reunion, by the way) and the second was last night with Steely Dan playing Aja all the way through.  Both were treats.  And trips.

Back in the day (and friends around my age will get this), that’s how we listened to music.  You slapped on an LP, or later, a CD and played it from start to finish – all the tracks.  Flip it when needed, change records if it were a multi-disc set, etc.  But you got to know the album and the artist through the rhythm of the album.

There were plenty of occasions where you wondered a bit, “now why did they put that track there?”, “how come they buried this uptempo hit song on side two in the middle”, etc. etc.  I’m sure there are people that are far more knowledgeable about the music business than I am, that understand the idea and rhythm of figuring out what order to put the tracks in.  But at the end of the day, that’s how you knew your music.  After a few listens through, you knew which track was next.

A good friend of mine, Jason, is a music aficionado, and we will frequently get together with his wife, Andrea and Robin and me and sit and listen to old favorite albums straight through.  It is a rare treat.  Some of my all time favorite albums – Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, Boston’s first album “Boston”, Styx’s Pieces of Eight, Aerosmith’s Toys in The Attic, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Led Zepplin 4, The Eagles’  Hotel California, The Beatles’ White Album and Abbey Road, Steve Miller Band’s Book of Dreams, and of course the aforementioned Frampton Comes Alive, and Steely Dan’s Aja are just great works.  Yes, I love the songs individually, but there is an entirely different listening experience that comes from hearing the entire artist’s work, in the way that the artist intended it to be heard.

I guess this is a nostalgic post – in these days of iTunes downloads, YouTube videos, media sharing sites, Pandora, iPods, etc., this style of listening is entirely foreign to our kids in general. My kids, thankfully have gotten in the habit of buying CDs, not just tracks from iTunes (although with iTunes gift cards being a popular currency, there’s plenty of single-track buying being done), but I don’t think that they are in the habit of hearing the work striaght through.  The tracks get ripped to the computer, dropped into playlists, etc.  Thank goodness iTunes and iPods support album listening – because I’d be lost without that.

Overall, this has been a fantastic music spring/summer for us so far – in addition to seeing/hearing Steely Dan and Peter Frampton, we also have seen Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, as well as Steve Miller Band and in a few weeks, we’ll be seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd (also at Ravinia).

As we were listening to Steely Dan – Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, play through Aja, Robin and I were talking about how we doubt our kids will ever have the experience of hearing the artists of their youth, touring in their 60s, while they are in their 40s or whatever, and enjoying the trip back to their youthful days.  Who of today’s artists have music that has that staying power?  Damn few!  Perhaps Kid Rock, Nickleback, Jason Mraz and a few others, but certainly not Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and all the other autotuned acts.  That’s a bummer.

Anyway, my advice to you my dear friends, is put on an album.  Sit down with a beverage of your choice, put on an album from your favorite artist (in whatever format you have – vinyl, CD, iPod tracks, whatever) and with perhaps a loved one or two, and just listen.  Think about the rhythm of the tracks and how they work together.  If it’s an old favorite, try to remember what comes next.  And immerse  yourself in the music.  You’ll be glad you did.

As you were,

(and other album covers for nostalgia purposes …)


4 Responses to “Listening to Albums”

  1. Linda Covert Campbell August 13, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    Interesting thoughts…..
    In my generation all popular music was on singles..or if it was on an album we didn’t know about it nor spend the money to buy it. I mean…ever hear of The Chordettes making an album with Mr. Sandman? Or Jo Stafford or Johnny Ray, Or Bing Crosby with Now is the Hour?…The Shirelles?
    Any albums I remember were Christmas songs or Broadway shows. I mean everyone knows that Adeste Fideles comes after Hark the Herald Angels…and that while Bushel and a Peck was issued as a single, if you had the Guys and Dolls Original Broadway cast album it was in the 2nd act.
    Oh, sure there were the instrumentals….with hits like Blue Tango with Hugo Winterhalter and Quando Lagusta with Xavier Cugat, but mostly kids bought singles. There’s a whole generation out there who lacked that experience as kids, and I think don’t think of albums in terms of pop music now.
    Your feelings about listening to bits and pieces must be similar to the feeling I get when listening to “elevator music” where the first movement of Mendlessohn’s 4th is juxtaposed with Chopin’s Grande Valse Brilliante and the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni.” not the way is’ supposed to be”.

    • davidjdeal August 14, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

      Indeed, listening to record albums is a distinctly Baby Boomer experience. Until the Beatles and Bob Dylan came along, people experienced music the way we do today: largely via singles.

      Frank Sinatra gave us a glimpse at what a concept album could sound like when he collaborated with Nelson Riddle on “Songs for Only the Lonely.” But it was the Beatles and Dylan who made it acceptable to record albums the way authors write novels: as bodies of work designed to be experienced straight through, with each song acting as a chapter contributing to a story.

      Notice how Stew mentions listening to albums with friends. Stew hits upon the social aspect of album listening. Like Stew, I also grew up listening to albums all the way through with friends and family. How well I remember my older brother Dan and I exploring Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut” together in his apartment during the summer of 1983 or, years earlier, my friend Phil Gorski and I opening up our minds to the gritty sounds of urban R&B through the “Superfly” soundtrack. I can cite many similar experiences in which albums were the focus of important moments of bonding.

      (And then, of course, there was all-important choice of a record album to go along with dating and making out — worthy of another blog post. If you’ve seen the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” you’ll remember this memorable line of dialogue when Mike Damone preps his friend Rat for an important date with Stacy: “now this is the most important, Rat. When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.” And, of course, Rat fumbles the ball by playing Side 2 of “Physical Graffiti” on his date. If you don’t understand record albums, you won’t get the joke.)

      Record albums (especially those of the 1970s) also gave us something else: packaging. The aforementioned “Physical Graffiti” created a dramatic first impression with its striking cover image of an apartment building in New York (which is something of a tourist destination now) and its elaborate die-cut design. Similarly, Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” was a double album stored in a set of sleeve folds (actually double sleeve folds) that you had to patiently open before enjoying the music. When you listened to albums like “Tusk” and “Physical Graffiti,” your musical journey began before you actually heard the music.

      I have also been blogging about some memorable record albums. Earlier this summer I blogged about “Hotel “California” ( And just a few days ago, I commented on “Some Girls” (

      More to come. Thanks for a great post, Stew.

  2. carpetbagger August 18, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Wow. Great times. Don’t forget staring intently at the album art while listening to the music. I had many of those albums. I’d also add some of the early Chicago albums, REO Speedwagon (I was a big fan of their pianist), Rush (Hemispheres), Fleetwood Mac (Rumors), Heart, and Genesis. Also remember playing the hell out of Elton John’s Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road . My friends liked Kansas but I wasn’t a big fan.

    Seventies was such a great time for music. You can play any artist from that decade and know immediately who it was. Such a great range from Zeppelin to Foreigner to Doobie Brothers to Earth, WInd, and Fire to Elton John to David Bowie and on and on and on. Music business was run by musicians, not lawyers and hit makers. Bands were free to develop their own sounds and styles. I’m glad to see that kids today seem to be eager to explore it.

    I’m just starting a book called Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970. A little before my time, but it has great stories about music’s transition from the 60s to the 70s. Book starts with the breakup of The Beatles.

  3. carpetbagger August 18, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    Have to add the fact that we didn’t have music videos. In many cases, we didn’t really know what the bands looked like. Many bands like Boston and Chicago and others never had pictures of the band on their albums. You really had to use your imagination as you listened to it.

    Gotta go. Have to use a cane to chase kids off of my lawn.

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