Having yet to join the iPod revolution -- the closest I've come is letting Mom and Dad borrow stacks of my CDs so they could make digital copies and add those songs to their iPod rotations -- I find myself clinging to the idea of albums. To their flow, their build, if they're well put-together. Plenty of albums aren't. Filler songs happen. Bad songs happen. But when it's a fully-rounded experience -- when you have Abbey Road where the second half practically builds like a symphony -- it can be magic.
Earlier tonight I listened to the whole of The White Album. Including "Revolution No. 9" ("Number 9... Number 9... Number 9... Number 9..."), which I love for its "HUH?"-causing audacity. I've had that album on CD since 2004. A few years before that, I heard some of the album in a different way: KINK FM 101.9 had a "random play" weekend where the DJs stuck CDs into players and hit "Random," and for one set the station stuck in The White Album. And individually, to my ears at least, the songs were just...there. I liked the Beatles already, that wasn't the issue, but I didn't feel grabbed by the songs.
Hearing the album as an album come 2004: that's when it clicked. I immediately liked "Glass Onion," a good song that's also the Beatles being self-referential and tweaking their reputations as a band supposedly putting hidden messages in their songs. Listening to that album straight through highlights how it gets weirder and more bi-polar as it goes on, "Birthday" followed by "Yer Blues" being an obvious example. (Side 3 on the original LP, Tracks 1 and 2 of the second CD.) And then that "Number 9... Number 9... Number 9... Number 9..." happens, and there's all that discordance and dissonance for the next 8-plus minutes, wrapped up by Ringo's simple and lovely "Good Night." A complicated, at-times off-putting aural journey, eased to an end.
It's an experience. One I can still have, via CD if not by LP.
This is why I prefer Pink Floyd's The Final Cut straight through than as single tracks. That album -- as does Wish You Were Here, maybe my oher favorite Floyd album so far -- also gets into my head the way The White Album does. (Truth: Several years ago when I borrowed Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon from the library and finally listened to it straight through, I was so familiar with so many songs from that album as singles and radio tracks that I had trouble hearing Moon as an album: it seemed like songs following other songs. I had trouble, shall we say, "hearing the shape." Pink Floyd sequenced that album carefully back in 1972, but I could not longer easily experience the album as just an album.
I'm glad I can still experience albums as albums.