"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Sounds
May 16, 2007

CDs, Albums And Value

Planet Telex is a great blog, but I couldn’t agree less with Darren’s post on the relative value of CDs “Money‚Äôs Worth.” CDs, in real-dollar terms are cheaper today, especially with heavy discounting, than old 33rpm vinyl albums were in my teen years. Moreover, most CDs today contain over an hour of music – something […]

Planet Telex is a great blog, but I couldn’t agree less with Darren’s post on the relative value of CDs “Money‚Äôs Worth.” CDs, in real-dollar terms are cheaper today, especially with heavy discounting, than old 33rpm vinyl albums were in my teen years. Moreover, most CDs today contain over an hour of music – something that was unheard of in the black platter days.

Vinyl had an absolute time limit of 50 minutes, but most albums ran closer to 40-45 minutes. Let’s not forget that 90 minute cassettes were deisgned to hold two albums worth of material.

In fact, some really great albums ran even shorter than that. Van Halen’s blockbuster album, 1984, ran under 33 minutes. In fact, it is a very revealing exercise to grab the best pre-CD albums in your collection and look at the total running times.

With the advent of CD, the available recording time increased (past 70 minutes). Not all artists or labels took advantage of this, but it soon became popular and expected for labels to add more tracks, alternate or live versions and even past hits. You got more songs for your money, but it has always been questionable if this increase in playing time was really good value in an aesthetic or musical sense. Editing and self-censorship are sometimes a good thing.

Consider the double album, which had always been the domain of the over-indulged big-name artist. Double albums are sometimes great, but often nothing more than bloated examples of hubris. For example, I really like some of Christina Aguilera’s latest album, Back To Basics, but my goodness, I wish she had only chosen to release the best 8-9 tracks and left the rest in the vault. Fact is, very few albums in my collection (single or double) are great anyway. Most only ever have a few good songs (yes, I’m still a compilation/mix kinda guy).

Personally, I would always rather the artist, or producer or label do some editing. I’m more than happy to pay for fewer, better produced songs on an album, more than happy not to have to skip through the ill-concived or poorly executed “filler” tracks more than happy to get better value in terms of quality – regardless of the running time.

Responses
darren 16 years ago

true true, but as i said i could be just spoilt by magazines like WORD and PASTE putting out 80 minute cds. John Butler’s 60 minute epic is sensational, I’ve got it on good word that Tori Amos’ cd is also a cracker and long as is Bjork’s cd which breaks the 50 minute barrier.

There’s something to be said about seeing a cd as a piece of art that flows, but then again theres so many bsides out there (for example check out the long list of bsides for the latest Bloc Party cd that makes me wish they’d just have released them all in one pack, then again it was fun tracking them all down online.

It really depends on the artist i guess as to if you want to hear any more of them, in missy’s case I think she’d have put me to sleep, but In the Beautiful Girl’s case I could have put up with more music.

I guess with itunes out there nowdays one could get away with only purchasing 3 songs off of a cd if you’d prefer buying the songs electronically so you could have in a sense shortened Back to Basics had you wanted…

I just get grumpy that from Wagga the Missy cd only lasts not even 1/2 the distance to any other town around me…

Toni 16 years ago

You’re right Fern, it’s easy to forget how short LPs were, and how you’d have to flip them after just 15 minutes quite often. As technology is moving forwards it’s becoming natural for people to pull their 4 or 5 fave tracks from an album onto the MP3 player. Music is becoming much more a pick’n’mix on the move experience than one where you immerse yourself in the intentional atmosphere the band has tried to create.

Personally I quite like having a few live tracks bundled ‘free’, although it can be very educational for a player too. I have ZZTop’s Tres Hombres on CD, and the live tracks are ‘interesting’ considering Billy Gibbons reputation for tone.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Darren, you’ve made me think/rethink this issue a little bit in terms of context. Here in Hong Kong, I often struggle to hear two songs back to back without interuption – that’s how short some of the cab and bus trips can be. Also, I’ve never really gotten into buying mp3s, since the internet connection was so slow in India and the iTunes store is not available in Hong Kong.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Toni, after your comment I did a quick and dirty poll around friends my age and it turns out almost none of the non-musicians ever listen to a full album in one sitting. It’s all pick and mix, compilations and stuff on shuffle from iPods or mutli-disc players.

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