I’ll tell you one thing I just rediscovered, and it really surprised me. Long ago, way before music was digital and streamable, I used to listen to albums; entire records… as they were intended by the artist. I listened to many of them so frequently that as one song was finishing the final notes I would know, and be anticipating, the very next song. They went together as a package.
I appreciated this tapestry of music intuitively and never considered skipping certain tracks to race ahead to others because I liked them more. The practicality of picking up the needle and moving forward would have interrupted my enjoyment. Slowly, the tracks that I would have skipped became some of my favorites.
With the onset of digital music and now streaming we can easily collate our favorite tracks and create entire playlists of a collection of our favorite songs. I have created a number of these myself. One of which is called “Fun Time Too” and is as eclectic as you can imagine (Johnny Cash, Al Jarreau, and Gloria Estefan to Nirvana, Violent Femmes, and Red Hot Chili Peppers). Although this is a playlist where Nat King Cole can reside right next to Amy Winehouse each song has been added for some meaning to me at some point in my life. I listen to this on shuffle to intentionally mix it up. It is like a grab bag of my musical life.
A song from my youth will immediately transport me to the backseat of my parent’s car, while another from college takes me back to our old apartment where we hosted legendary parties. Earl Klugh’s album Soda Fountain Shuffle and George Benson’s Breezin were two I would regularly play in the dining room of the Leland Lodge the summer that Joan and I met working together, which of course evokes still other memories.
I have created a playlist just for entertaining called “Cocktail Hour.” Another for work called “IWA soundtrack.” The streaming service I use has also curated a playlist called “My Soundtrack” from the music I play periodically. This exposes me to music I wouldn’t have already known about. This revelation has produced songs that have made it onto my ever growing “Fun Time Too” collection.
All of this has been amazing and would have taken hours to create as a mix tape back in the 80’s. Now it is as easy as a few clicks of the mouse, drag and drop tracks into any playlist and boom, you have hours of entertainment.
But what is missing is the artistry of the collection of an album. I first become aware of this idea when reading an interview of Loreena McKennitt as she initially refused to offer her songs to streaming. She gave the example of one of her albums (the Book of Secrets) which explores the Middle Eastern origins and influences of Celtic music. I found this to be crazy, but true. This album expressed this transition as each track led to the next to tell a story. Book of Secrets has become a favorite of mine.
This is what made me think of the iconic and universally understood painting of the Mona Lisa. I thought of the masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci in its entirety as the musical album. One would never consider cropping just their favorite portion of this to appreciate (like taking just a song from an album). It must be taken in its entirety.
If you don’t like my Mona Lisa analogy, how about using a meal like Thanksgiving Dinner as the album and each varied component as the track. A whole meal of bites of cranberry would be disgusting, and as tempting as it would be so would a whole meal of Pumpkin Pie. It’s the turkey that gives balance and context to the cranberries, and it is the sated feeling post meal that makes the sliver of pumpkin pie both decadent and rewarding. It is the company around the table that makes the food taste so good, and it is the memory of all the times you have gathered around that table that makes all of it more meaningful.
Lately I have gone back to listening to entire albums in order, just the way the artist or composer had originally crafted it. When I say album, I don’t mean vinyl. I got rid of all of those just like everybody else and anything that could play them. Since I am not a millennial, I have not gone “retro” and bought a turntable in an attempt to recreate my vinyl collection.
This return to the album has brought new appreciation for what I listen to and once again the tracks that I would have otherwise skipped have sometimes become new favorites. I hear new things each time because I am paying attention and really listening. I have gone back to some of the classical music that I listened to on vinyl decades ago, like Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony or Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. After listening I find a certain sense of peace that is missing from the playlist sort of listening.
Please indulge me and go back to an album from your past and listen to it from beginning to end. I believe that it will serve to transport you back in time and you probably hear new things that were never there before.