FEATURE: National Album Day 2019: Which Is Your ‘Don’t Skip’ Album?




National Album Day 2019


PHOTO CREDIT: @priscilladupreez/Unsplash 

Which Is Your ‘Don’t Skip’ Album?


ALTHOUGH it is about six weeks away…

I am thinking about National Album Day and the question being posed this year: Which album is the one you listen to from top to bottom? The day is designed to celebrate the album and its importance – much like National Record Store Day did earlier in the year – and highlight the benefits of records. Before I go on, here is some information regarding this year’s events:

Details of National Album Day 2019 have been announced, which takes place on Saturday, October 12.

The initiative launched in 2018 to champion the album format and was celebrated through a series of special events, including artist album playbacks and Q&As and an artwork exhibition in key train stations across the UK.

Lewis Capaldi, Mark Ronson, Elbow and Mahalia have been announced as 'album champions' for this year's big day. Lewis said: "Absolutely buzzing to be part of National Album Day! Unreal to have finally released my debut album this year & find out that not everyone hates it! 🎉 On the whole I’m very proud of it, although I won’t lie there’s probably a few stinkers on there, but I’m only human. Hope you don’t hate it but if you do don’t worry, it’s only my life’s work."

"The album has brought me pure joy since I was old enough to remember," Mark added. "I don’t think it will ever stop doing that."

The album is proving resilient in the ever-shifting music landscape. 143 million albums or their equivalent were either streamed, purchased or downloaded in the UK in 2018 – worth approximately £1.3 billion and representing a near 6% rise on the year before.

4.2 million of that figure were vinyl purchases a 2000% rise since their low point in 2007”.

Whilst the C.D. is dying out and cassette sales are fluctuating, it seems young and older listeners alike still hold a special place for vinyl. The benefit of vinyl is that it is harder to skip tracks: one is more prone to listen to a side the whole way through and not raise the needle! Of course, on National Album Day, we are marking all types of albums and why they bring us joy. It is a moment we can all come together and discuss the records that matter the most to us. At a time when we can easily stream albums, I wonder how many of us listen the entire way through without skipping. It has been a while since I listened to an album on Spotify without skipping; I usually listen to the best tracks and then listen to a bit of the lesser numbers; skipping here and there. It is a lot more tempting handpicking tracks but I find, when it comes to physical purchases, I tend to listen the whole way through. I have a large collection of C.D.s and vinyl and, when I put an album on, I usually make it through from start to finish – maybe the odd tracks gets skipped.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @joanna_nix/Unsplash

Maybe it has something to do with the tactile nature of a record: you sit there and have this experienced that you do not really get when listening on a phone or laptop. Even when it comes to these albums I grew up with and have listened to a lot, I might pass a few tracks by. In terms of newly-released albums, it has been a long time since I listened to the whole thing and did not pass a song by. Of course, an album has to be good and compelling for one to stay invested and attentive. If there are filler tracks, it makes it difficult to remain patient and give those songs focus. Each of us has those albums that we listen to without skipping any tracks. Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside is my favourite album; it is one I listen to a lot and adore beyond words. Whilst it will always be my favourite album, I think the one that I feel obliged to listen to every note of is Paul Simon’s Graceland. If someone asked me to recommend an album that anyone could listen to without having to know the artist’s catalogue, that genre or any history then it would be Graceland. I know National Album Day asks us to listen to all albums without skipping but each of us will have that one example of an album where we digest every track every time.

It tells us a lot about that person and what they look for in music. There are a few reasons why I cannot bear to skip any tracks on Graceland. As I said, it is an album that you do not have to be familiar with; one does not need to know how Paul Simon progressed and why Graceland was such an unexpected revelation. You do not even need to be aware of Apartheid and why Graceland was so provocative and brave. The album is so eclectic, deep and compelling. From the first notes of The Boy in the Bubble to the perfect Graceland; the haunting Homeless right through to its dying notes, Graceland is a masterpiece. Whether you are listening to it through headphones or lying on the floor and experiencing it on vinyl – as one should -, Graceland is a wonder to behold. Paul Simon caused controversy when the album came out: during Apartheid, artists were asked to boycott South Africa and, as Simon worked with South African artists and worked there, it was a very divisive move. Here, in this Pitchfork review, they discuss the political circumstances and why Graceland is pioneering:  

So we get songs where the groove came first, and the lyrics long after. Simon considered writing political songs about apartheid but quickly concluded that he wasn't very good at it and owed it to the other musicians involved to stick to his strengths. Still, the album's opening song, "The Boy in the Bubble", is a thriller that ties together threads of technological progress, medicine, terrorism, surveillance, pop music, inequality, and superstition with little more than a series of sentence fragments, all tossed off in the same deadpan delivery. The song sets a monumental stage on which the small dramas and comedies of the other songs can play out, and it also establishes the record's unsettled tone-- out of all these songs, only "That Was Your Mother" is sung from a settled place, and even that one is a reminiscence about itinerant life.

Graceland was the first many of Simon's fans had heard of South Africa's black music. When I saw that this set included a two-hour documentary on the album, I wondered whether it would shy away from the issue of Simon's violation of the cultural boycott on South Africa, but to its credit, it doesn't. In fact, director Joe Berlinger uses a one-on-one conversation between Simon and Dali Tambo, the founder of Artists Against Apartheid and a one-time vocal critic of Simon, as a framing device for his story.

But more than Simon's single-minded devotion to his art and Tambo's ideological politics, the experience surrounding this album is best conveyed by the musicians who made it. They were violating the boycott, too, just by participating in a dialogue with non-South African musicians, and there's a moment where Ray Phiri describes a meeting he was called to in London with African National Congress officials while touring to support the album that speaks volumes. The ANC officials told Phiri that he was violating the boycott and had to go home, and his response was that he was already a victim of apartheid, and to force him to go home would make him a victim twice. In the end, Simon's assertion that Graceland helped put an emotional, human face on black South Africans for millions of people around the world doesn't seem off the mark”.

Here is an album that extends way beyond the songs themselves. It is such a fascinating, charged yet free album where Paul Simon reaches a new peak. This legendary songwriter was looking for a revival and new lease and, on Graceland, that is what he found. There are other albums I can listen to without skipping but Graceland is the one I always listen to from beginning to end every time. When National Album Day rolls around, I will have my copy of Graceland on vinyl and I will be spinning it without skipping a track. I am listening to the album now and, even though I have heard it countless times, I am still moved by the music and completely blown away! Maybe it is the fact I first heard the album when I was a child – I remember trips from the airport after family holidays; we’d listen to Graceland in the car -, but something seems embedded in me; a feeling that this album will be in my head until the day I die. I cannot get enough of it and, on 12th October, I will be listening to it again and re-appreciating it. Have a think about the albums that you love and have to hear in their entirety. I think National Album Day is important because, at a time when we stream songs and rarely spend time with whole albums, it is important to reconnect and remember why albums are so important. Not only are albums a complete story – singles and individual songs only tell part of the tale – but an artist wants the listener to hear all the music. The aim of this year’s National Album Day is to promote good mental-health and promote the benefits of albums. There are many albums that make me feel better but Graceland is an album that definitely…


PHOTO CREDIT: @nadineshaabana/Unsplash

LIFTS my spirits.