Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Albums versus Singles

One of the stories making the rounds today is the news that iTunes is now the #2 retailer of music. Not just online downloads mind you, but of music sales in general. Ars Technica's story frames it pretty much how I think of it, Kids Don't Like CDs. (Yes, you can buy full CDs on iTunes, but you're kidding yourself if you think that's how most music there is sold.)

I think about that and suddenly all I can hear in my head is the voice of Randal Graves in Clerks 2 saying, "Jesus. What the fuck happened to this country?" It's odd, but in a time where single song downloads are taking over music sales, all I really want to do is fill in my collection with the numerous great albums I don't own.

Between my wife and I, we own a lot of CDs. Check that. We own a lot of bad CDs. At least, relative to the number of classics we don't own. For example, in our house you will not find an album by The Who, nor Led Zeppelin, nor The Beatles. Granted, you'll find a sh#@load of Tom Petty, so I feel like that mitigates those omissions somewhat.

The point is, after a few years of really not buying any music at all, my addiction to Rock Band and Guitar Hero has made me want to fill in those gaps. Last week, for example, I went out and picked up Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins, a two-disc set that nobody who went to college in the mid 90s has an excuse not to own. The thought of downloading single tracks from iTunes or Amazon is heretical to me. I don't want single tracks. I want the albums. That's where you typically discover the best an artist has to offer.

Back to the Tom Petty example, sure, I love his radio classics like Learning to Fly or Don't Come Around Here No More, but I'm a huge fan of his for love of all the tracks that I've never once heard on the radio, whether it's Square One from Highway Companion or The Dark of the Sun off of Into the Great Wide Open. Hell, just about everything on Full Moon Fever is great stuff. And that's true for pretty much every artist of which I'm a fan.

Sure the radio play of an artist might catch my interest, but the real magic is on the albums and it grieves me every time I see references to the death of the album/CD.