National Album Day
ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash
Why We Should Celebrate It Rather Than Attack and Doubt Its Aim
EVERY music-specific day will draw some form of criticism…
and scepticism. Every day of the year, in fact, seems to be reserved for some hopeless and ridiculous cause – from pirates and emojis to God-knows-what! If you need to know what National Album Day is about and why it has been created; here is a little bit of an overview:
“A ‘National Album Day’ has been announced to take to place for the first time ever to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the album format.
The event, which will be held on October 13, will mark the culmination of a week-long series of events and activity around the country.
Planned activity will include retail events and artist personal appearances, classic album Sundays LP playbacks and artist interviews/fan Q and As and online listening parties.
A social media campaign (@AlbumDayUK / #NationalAlbumDay) will invite people to nominate and share the album that has most inspired them and at 3.33pm on 13th October – National Album Day – fans, stores, radio stations and public spaces will be invited to play their favourite album in full”.
Some might look at that summary and think it is a ploy to gain revenue and flog a dead horse – more on that later! It has been estimated that 135 million albums – more, in fact – were purchased or downloaded (or streamed) in 2017. This is a 9.5% rise on 2016 and vinyl sales continue to rise – 4.1 million in 2017 (the highest level since the 1990s).
More than five billion albums have been sold since the concept was invented and it seems we have not lost the appetite for the L.P. There are cynical and harsh voices that see the day, which will happen on 13th October, as a cash-in and chance for people to sell their old albums and crap nobody wants. I will bring in the argument against the day first of all. I am writing this piece as a reaction a feature that appeared in The Guardian today. Michael Hann, when reacting to the news of National Album Day, gave his impressions and felt, as the album is a bit of a bygone treasure, nobody would care too much about it. He began the piece but comparing albums to strawberries: people will buy strawberries throughout the year but the greengrocer, once a year, will sell ‘special’ punnets that are packed, branded and marked to look tasty and inviting. People, as he says, buy individual strawberries every year – why would they want a punnet when they are only going to squander most of it?! I find the comparisons to be fatuous and specious. For a start, people only buy strawberries at a very select time of year and never buy individual ones – people love a good punnet and, if you want a better fruit analogy, it is better to go with apples – selling a bag of apples rather than individual ones.
There is a problem with people/journalists thinking the album is dead or we are all so familiar with it there is no need for a specific day to celebrate it. Nobody is asking you and me to go to a record shop and part with your cash. Nobody is sticking a gun to your head and screaming at you to pick up Ed Sheeran’s % and playing it in full – if you do not listen to every track (turn Galway Girl up as loud as you can!) then you will get your brains shot out. The day is designed to show appreciation for a format that has touched us all and pushed the music industry forward! It is, in fact, a chance to showcase what richness and brilliance you can discover when listening to a complete record. One of the reasons why I disagree with what Hann says is we should not be proud of our picky selections and ignoring albums – having short attention spans and preferring singles are nothing to shout about and we should, in fact, question why we do that. We are all becoming less patient and not digesting music in the same way. Many claims the quality of music has been declining since we moved from physical forms and started embracing streaming – if people are not willing to listen to an entire album then why put the effort it?!
That is unfair on the artists...so many musicians are putting their all into records and have campaigns so they can get people invested in every single moment of the album – not just the singles we hear on the radio and the first things we encounter! Hann, in his piece, questioned the validity of the album and whether it has been a popular or worthy construct. National Album Day begins at 3:33 P.M. (see what they did there...?!) on 13th October and will be a chance to celebrate our love of the album and play our most-treasured record in its entirety. Hann turned his nose up at this suggestion:
“In truth, the real damage to the album was done by MSM anyway. It was done by labels seeing the CD as a chance to ravage fans’ wallets and purses by selling the physical product for massively more than it cost to produce. It was done by artists, given 80 minutes of time on a disc, packing them out with self-indulgent filler. And, of course – as Stephen Witt’s brilliant book How Music Got Free explained – it was done by MSM not being aware of the consequences of its actions: by concentrating on the CD, MSM converted music into a series of digital packages that were easily shareable across the internet”.
MSM, in this schematic, is ‘mainstream music’: the corporate octopus that has picked the album as a format up and ravaged listeners and fans by stripping their wallets clean. There is this rationale that C.D.s are a con because they have a few great songs and the rest of filler – far too expensive for what they are...
You can say the same about the vinyl – why do we pay so much for one?! I agree I always found it hard to rationalise why a C.D. cost about thirteen quid and what value there is in it! I always buy C.D.s knowing I want it and will not be disappointed – I do my research and, when purchasing, make sure I am not wasting money. Many might find it exorbitant paying, essentially, a quid a song and why they cannot find more onto a C.D. The restricted running time, in truth, means artists have to confine and compress themselves – Hann suggests artists are trying to justify charging that much by cramming any old rubbish on it! Artists do not set the price and control that; record labels get more of the pie and, if anything, the musician has always got far less than labels when it comes to albums. That has not really changed when it comes to streaming: the fact many of us do not pay for services like Spotify and YouTube means we are stealing music and unwilling to pay for albums! It is not the fault of the artist for our thrifty attitudes and how we want to get around paying. Music has not got to the point where artists are capable of a good song here and there and the rest is poor – we are provided options to stream for free and taking advantage; we are affording (ourselves) less time to digest music and far less patience as a species.
Hann ends his piece by making this point:
“And in a world where you no longer need to buy albums, why would anyone except the fetishist do so? The album is no longer the product, it’s the shop: the display from which the best things are plucked, and the worst things left behind”.
I argue against the point we do not ‘need’ to buy albums. By that, he means we can get stuff for free so we just pick the odd song here and there and leave the rest. Going back to his strawberry analogy and the streaming service is a sweet shop with an ageing and less-than-vigilant proprietor. Rather than ask him to decant sweets from the jars stacked on the shelf; children are picking odd sweets from the pick ‘n’ mix and unwilling to spend their pocket money if they can get away with that. This might be cruel but it is not the fault of the artist we are less reliant on the album: they are putting more effort in than ever and struggling to battle our streaming mindset and rather tight-fisted spending habits. If streaming services and the Internet did not make it possible to buy individual songs (or have them for free) then we would still buy C.D.s like we always did and explore the album fully.
The only reason albums can be seen as old-aged and irrelevant is we have let that happen – we are a poorer people and society for cherry-picking and missing out on a world of music. I agree with the point there are albums where there are fillers and not all tracks are perfect. You read reviews and, before you buy, can make the decision whether it is worth spending your money on an album with maybe four or five good songs. I often find that and, in the case of a few albums, I will buy the single/singles from Spotify and leave the rest. That has not changed: few of us go out and deliberately spend money on something we will be disappointed with. All the albums I have ever bought have been done so after reading reviews and taking a chance. If I find the odd song that doesn’t float my boat then I am not angry – paying a tenner or more for, say, nine or ten great songs I can listen to over and over seems like a pretty good deal! We want everything for free and are used to having luxury and convenience at our fingers. We stream T.V. shows and films at an absurd rate and have become so spoiled and pampered-to that we have forgotten the value of music and culture in general.
Launching the argument ‘for’ the album - I will look at another article that looks at why we need to preserve the album. In my view; music would not be where it is – so many artists out there and so much choice and innovation – were it not for the album. I grew up buying cassettes and listening to vinyl around the house. I would buy singles, on C.D., and then go out and buy an album – keen to explore that artist’s current mindset and share it with friends. All of the artists we listen to today have been raised on those formats and revelled in the album and all it holds. We do not love Joni Mitchell because there are a few good tracks on Blue – the rest is pretty crap but there are some pretty lyrics on one or two songs, I guess! NO! We marvel at every song and, for those who know what they’re doing, we buy the vinyl/C.D. and listen to every track. An album is a complete story and the full assessment of what the artist is trying to convey. If we cheapened their work by listening to one or two songs then it makes recording music and trying to connect with people completely pointless.
None of us would love or know about music were it not for the album; we all have our favourite and know, regardless of the quality of the artist, the album is a beautiful (if flawed) technology. We can quibble over the hardware and technology of an album – the C.D. seems a little old compared to the sleek streaming alternative – but the argument you see above does not attack hardware and state we listen to full albums on streaming sites – it implies we have abandoned the album completely and handpick the odd song. Hann, too, made a point (that) C.D.s are available all year at record shops so why do we need reminding they are available – is it a chance for shops to see their old tat and make extra money from nostalgia and faded memories?! Artists write albums because they want to paint a vivid picture and give a full documentation of where they are and what they are trying to say. If we pick a few tracks and ignore the hard work they have done, then that is cheapening music and encouraging artists to rush off singles and not put too much effort into making albums. If we promote that then we are saying, effectively, don’t waste your breath because we want to hear a song or two and move on to the next artist! The BBC published an article and spoke with record shop owners:
“For Phil Barton, the owner of London record shop Sister Ray, there's one very obvious reason why albums are a big part of his life.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sister Ray, London/PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest
"Without the album, we wouldn't exist," he says.
"That's what we do, we sell records."
Although admitting "it's a good time for us" in terms of physical album sales, Phil suggests changes in the way people listen to through things like streaming platforms has had an impact on how some artists approach making albums.
"If you deconstructed certain albums coming out now - I'm pretty sure you'd just get a collection of songs that happen to be on an album.
"But take it back a little bit and I think artists were specifically making albums to be a body of work".
Bloosoms’ frontman Tom Ogden says bands want the full package out there and are concerned with every stage of the process. They love the artwork of the cover and involved with every song to ensure it hangs together. Artists go into the studio hoping the public hear all the songs and buy what they put out there. If we are propping bands up with a single or two and then discarding the rest then we are not going to appreciate the artist and, in essence, will not remember them. Albums are the mark of every artist and what we remember them by. We do not love The Beatles because of Hey Jude and celebrate Aretha Franklin because of Respect. I still love albums because every track tells a different story and gets into the head. If a track is not too good at first, I will listen a few more times and find something good – if I have given it proper time then I cannot quibble.
IN THIS PHOTO: National Album Day's ambassador (2018) Paloma Faith/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Artists want us to listen to an entire album and give it a chance; it gives a much more rounded viewpoint and can stun and surprise us. This year alone, I have found treasures that rank alongside the best albums I have heard this decade! If I had not listened to them, in full, then I would have missed out on so much. The fact we are consuming fewer albums and hold them in lower esteem is our fault and not that of the artist. We are becoming too hurried and uneducated; we are becoming snobs and petulant with our tastes. We want to pay as little as we can and are unwilling to give new music a chance – ironically, we drool over classic albums and rave about those vinyl records we bought when we were younger. We cannot say the album should not be celebrated and revived when we all grew up surrounded by them! Paloma Faith is the ambassador of the first National Album Day and, when talking about the event, said the following:
“I vividly remember being excited by so many classic albums as I was growing up, like Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’, Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’’, and Erykah Badu’s ‘Mama’s Gun’, although, if I had to pick one, the album that most inspired me was Tracy Chapman’s self-titled debut”.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
We all talk about those classic albums and how, even if there was one or two duff tracks, great they were. Look at the history of albums, as laid out by the article I just quoted, and you can see:
“In 1948, Columbia Records unveiled 12″ 33/3 rpm “microgroove” discs, which could house 22 mins minutes of music per side. Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto was the first release. In The Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra’s 1955 suite of songs for the heartbroken and lonely, was the first “concept” album, sustaining its melancholy mood over 16 songs. With Rubber Soul (1965), The Beatles delivered a sophisticated, experimental body of work, proving albums could be more than a collection of singles and b-sides, paving the way for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982) is the world’s best-selling album ever, selling 66m copies, with seven of its nine tracks released as singles. Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms (1985) exploited the smooth sonic possibilities of the new CD format, which allows for 74 minutes of music, selling 30m copies. Drake’s new album Scorpion, featuring 25 tracks, broke records by racking up 1bn global streams inside a week. It was only released as a physical album two weeks after its digital debut”.
There are augments that claim modern songwriters have multiple writers for an album and they are less singular (albums). There are, some state, more filler on modern records and we are less likely to find anything to rival the best-selling albums ever – including Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Albums are the soundtracks of our lives and can make the bleakest moments hopeful and okay. If we existed and remembered songs – rather than an album – then we would have such a fragmented and threadbare outlook. Albums, even if they contain some less-than-great songs, are how we all experienced music and what we talk about when fondly recalling. We are not giving modern artists the chance to have their work explored and fully appreciated – assuming there is filler and it is not worth our trouble. All of our bad habits need to be quashed and we need to remember why we all fell in love with music and how important to artists it is we buy albums and keep them going. Maybe C.D.s are less popular than years past but we still consume vinyl and have a big appetite for artwork and something physical. It has been shown that a higher number of younger listeners are buying albums – not only those past the age of fifty – and there are few better experiences than listening to an album in full and getting a vivid, fulsome and explicit sound of an artist’s statement. Rather than turn noses up at National Album Day why don’t we, at 3:33 P.M. on 13th October, play the albums that mean the most to us and show why the whole album, not just one or two songs, matters?! We are celebrating artistic expression and keeping alive music in its purest and most important form. Start questioning that and criticising a day that brings us together – not a chance to gauge wallets but highlight the brilliance of the album – why not get behind it and make it a permanent fixture! I don’t know about anyone else but I would not be a journalist, passionate about music and who I am today…
WERE it not for the album!