Change has always been a part of life and it is certainly evident in the music industry. I recently read about a study that says your adult taste in music is based on what you liked when you 11-15 years old. That explains a lot about me and gives some reasoning behind why we have such a hard time liking new music. I could offer some other reasons, but that logic will do for this post. Regardless of what I think of newer music, the experience of listening has changed dramatically over the years, first with the virtual elimination of the record album or LP and now again with the death spiral of the CD.
Last week a big retail chain announced they were phasing out CDs this year. While CDs will still be available through other channels for a limited population of listeners, the majority of music is streamed through various services like Spotify, Pandora, and the like. Without considering sound quality, the end of CDs effectively transforms the listening experience in many ways. The demise of the vinyl LP started this process and now with most music streamed, the process is pretty much complete. As a result it seems that both the recording process and listening process has gone from an analogue hands-on experience to a more remote, fully digital experience where both the artist and listener are quite often removed from the creative process. Both artist and listener never even have to leave their bedrooms.
I grew up in the prime of the LP era when album art was a big part of new releases. In addition to the artwork of Roger Dean, Storm Thorgerson and others, records often came with printed lyrics, a variety of posters and stickers, and in one case, a pair of paper panties perhaps inspired by the working zipper on the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album. Hours could be spent dissecting the lyrics and album art for meaning and hidden messages or you could simply follow along with with the lyrics as you listened. In addition, many albums contained information about the band and instruments although his information was often deceptively incomplete given what we now know about the Wrecking Crew and other session musicians. All in all, listening could be very immersive and at its best would be a true mindfulness experience. Not to say this isn’t possible today, in fact today you can learn an overwhelming amount of information about most any song or artist you listen to–simply open your devices and swirl into what the web has to say. It seems quite the opposite of mindful listening though.
Another missing element is the sharing of good music. Many hours of my youth were spent with friends sharing and listening to records. This typically involved getting together at someone’s house to talk and listen together. Now virtually any song is available anytime in any place. While it would be a stretch to say music doesn’t foster community, it is again very different sort of community than was found in the LP days.
A few memorable albums covers from back in the day:
Space Ritual by Hawkwind featuring Lemmy shortly before he went on to form Motorhead. Of course there was plenty of good music on this double LP but the real highlight was the cover which folded out a couple of times to reach a remarkable 2’x3′, meaning there was 12 square feet of artwork to go with the music. And that doesn’t include four more square feet of the inner sleeves.
Roger Dean’s surreal paintings were featured on many Yes and Uriah Heep albums and it’s only recently that I learned that one of my favorite albums, Demons and Wizards, has erotica hidden right on the front cover. Dean described the advent of CDs as a tacky decline in combining art and music.
Storm Thorgerson (aka Hipgnosis) was responsible for most of Pink Floyd’s album designs including the iconic Dark Side of the Moon which also came with two posters and some stickers. In addition to Pink Floyd Hipgnosis also designed covers for Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Wings, Yes, and many others.
Chicago at Carnegie Hall has to take the prize for excessive album inserts. While the cover art itself was just the simple Chicago logo, the package included four records, a booklet of photos and miscellanea, two posters–one opening up to six foot wide, and a sheet on voter registration information.
And in case you were wondering, the panties came in Alice Cooper’s School’s Out LP which opened like an old fashioned school desk. The panties served as the inner sleeve for the record.
Changing times–not that it was necessarily better back in the day, but it was certainly a very different experience. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this along with some of your memorable albums covers.
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