Nick Carr takes on the notion that digital has liberated music fans from the enslavement of the LP record.
Writing about a passage in a new book by Dave Weinberger in which Weinberger trumpets the virtues of the unbundled song, Carr responds:
Weinberger does do a good job, though, of condensing into a few sentences what might be called the liberation mythology of the internet. This mythology is founded on a sweeping historical revisionism that conjures up an imaginary predigital world – a world of profound physical and economic constraints – from which the web is now liberating us. We were enslaved, and now we are saved.
Carr offers up some meaty history on how LP records were developed and concludes that the LP was an autistic boon and a great advancement for consumers of music.
I love LPs. I own several hundred of them. LPs have great cover art and great audio quality. On an artistic level, as Carr notes, an LP is a better canvas for a great long playing composition than even a compact disc. The whole package — think Sgt. Pepper or Dark Side of the Moon — becomes the artistic expression. CDs, with their small jewel cases and lack of the tactile joy that goes with cardboard, ink, paper and vinyl can’t match the LP.
But there is something to be said for the notion that some times, even in the hey day of LPs, you just wanted the one song. Rock and roll is a very expressive and expansive art form. It allows for every thing from Tommy to “Sugar, Sugar.” The three-minute pop song has a value all its own, and some bands didn’t make very good LPs, but they recorded great songs. Their LPs (Elvis Presley comes to mind) were moments of bliss punctuated with fillers of boredom.
One of the main ideas behind my now neglected MP3Caravan.com project was to celebrate the three minute song.
I found a lot of great songs in that project — a lot more than I’ve found wading through “albums” of music on iTunes or eMusic. I think there is an explosion of great song writing going on now, thanks to the liberating values of the digital age.
That doesn’t make today’s formats better. They’re just different. I love songs. I love LPs. No contradiction there.
In the era of the LP, there was an outlet for the 3-minute song. It was called the “45” or the “single.” There was a single song on each side of the miniature record, which played back at 45rpm.
(An exception: “American Pie” was split in two, half the song on Side A and the other half on Side B.)
Some teenagers had stacks of 45s, along with tall, plastic carrying cases for hauling ’em around.
My favorite single from that era: “Beach Baby” by The First Class (England, 1974).
When I was a kid, I used to go to garage sales and swap meets and buy boxes of 45s (this would have been in the ’60s). That’s how I acquired “Sugar, Sugar” and how I first heard Elvis Presley (my first LP was Elvis Presley’s Gold, bought on sale at K-Mart, and my second was The Beatles’ Second Album, bought at a swap meet in San Francisco.). It was through 45s that I heard all the great old novelty songs like “Alley Oop” and “Little Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”
Carr’s post has a great piece on the history of the introduction of the 33 and the 45 and the initial rivalry between Columbia and RCA on these formats.