artistic unknowns by Chris Matarazzomusic

Ditch the Shuffle: Albums in the iPod age

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I’ve been going back in time. As I have said before, I’m a real believer in the potential of pop music, though I’m a lover of modern orchestral music and classical. I think pop is the music with the most creative potential, even if it is the area in which the least creative potential is realized, as things stand. Anyway, I have been going back in time to check out the the particular tunes of the pop greats that we don’t usually hear.

My latest purchase is Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection. (It’s really, really good. But this isn’t a music review. I hate music reviews.) The album got me thinking about something that has floated through my head ever since the iPod era began: the advent of the MP3 has some great effects, especially on young people whose diversity of musical experience is surprisingly broader than it was ten years ago. (I have seen kids with Metallica, Abba, Wu Tang Clan, The Beatles, Eminem and Sinatra on their playlists. Of course, this could indicate either a total lack of musical discernment or a delightfully broad musical view, depending on your perspective.) 

Yes, by the way, I called it an “album”. It is an album of songs. A “CD” is a data storage medium. An album, in music, is a collection of songs.

The problem? The album is getting forgotten about as a work of art. 

Of course, it is not as if everyone in the pop music biz has cranked out St. Pepper and Pet Sounds (I got your back, Brian.) and Dark Side of the Moon on a regular basis. But, albums, at the least, have a reasoned-out song-order and they were created during a certain period of the artist’s life, with certain musicians at a certain period in their lives, in a certain studio, in a certain political climate, etc. Albums have connections between the tunes, even if the writers didn’t purposefully create a thematically connected album. That makes them undeniably cool as artistic phenomena. tearhing them apart into MP3’s kills this natural connection and progression between tracks.

Worse, the great ones, like Elton, get reduced to just their “hits” under the iPod mentality. The problem is, these hits can be great, or they can simply be the most popularly palatable of their canon; the icing on the cake that is the genius. We’ve all heard “Rocket Man” — but what about “Son of You Father”? — or “Come Down in Time”? — or “Where to Now St. Peter?” 

A student of mine once said he plays new downloaded albums on “shuffle” so he never gets tired of them. But, what he is doing to support his (a phenomenon that is no fault of his own) stunted attention span is undercutting months that Elton and Bernie Taupin poured into an album like Tumbleweed Connection

Have an iPod, my friends — I do, and it is always with me. But download albums in their entirety and turn off shuffle once in awhile. There are lots of pearls to be found between the hit tracks. 

Funny how the whole world seems to be like that, too.

Chris Matarazzo’s ARTISTIC UNKNOWNS appears every Tuesday.

Chris Matarazzo is a writer, composer, musician and teacher of literature and writing on the college and high school levels. His music can be heard on his recent release, Hats and Rabbits, which is currently available. Chris is also the composer of the score to the off-beat independent film Surrender Dorothy and he performs in the Philadelphia area with the King Richard Band. He's also a relatively prolific novelist, even if no one seems to care yet. His blog, also called Hats and Rabbits, is nice, too, if you get a chance...
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3 Responses to “Ditch the Shuffle: Albums in the iPod age”

  1. Amen, brother! Favorite artists of mine whose extended works (IMHO) did not get adequate airplay included Harry Chapin, Bruce Springsteen and Kansas.

    But you’re absolutely right about the ‘liberating’ effect of the iPod … it’s one of the more frequently-used app’s on my iPhone.

    Good post, thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks, Jeff. Those artists you mentioned were clearly thinking of their albums as “extended works,” as you say. I wonder if bands and writers are even thinking that way anymore, since the advent of the iPod . . .

  3. Documentary on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town:

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