For the last couple of years, Radiohead has refused to allow its music on iTunes on the principal that it allows its listeners to purchase both individual tracks as well as whole albums.
Radiohead backflipped last week and agreed to release its back catalog on iTunes, which means users can now purchase individual Radiohead tracks.
It makes me a bit sad because it confirms what I’ve thinking for some time: it’s the end of the album. The reason I’m sad is that there are so many good albums that aren’t good as a collection of individual songs, but as good albums in their own right.
Many of my favourite albums have some really good songs, but also some not so good songs. The not so good songs only make the really good songs better: if they weren’t there, the really good songs wouldn’t be so good. And this is essentially what happens when you get rid of the concept of an album.
It sounds a bit random but so I’ll try to explain this concept with two different stories.
I recently read a great book called Fat, Forty & Fired and one of the stories was about going camping and buying jubes. Apparently, for ages, jubes were only sold in a big bag of all different colours: red, green, orange etc. I think the red ones were the best, and no one really liked the green ones so they were the last to go. Anyway, recently the author went camping and was joyous to discover they now sell a bag of just red jubes, the best ones! Towards the end of the camping trip he realised the bag of jubes was hardly eaten, when normally the mixed bag would have been chewed up at the start of the trip. There weren’t any not so good jubes, you see, to make the good jubes good!
When I first started digitizing my music collection I thought it was great as I could make playlists of all my favourite tracks from all my favourite albums. I made a few based upon genres (dance, chillout etc.) but after some listening I realised somehow the playlists weren’t that good: the tracks didn’t feel right out of the album context. I’ve since reverted to predominently listening to complete albums. Occasionally I even rip a whole album as one large mp3, so that I can’t ever play it in the wrong order or listen to it in the wrong context.
This theory applies to life as well. The not so good bits make the good bits good. How good is a holiday when you’ve been working really hard, or when you don’t really like your job!
So, even though you can now download individual radiohead tracks on iTunes, it doesn’t mean that you have to. The choice to listen to whole albums is up to you.
Image from Wikipedia by Kollision (Creative Commons)