ufo1He’s back and this week Self Made Man bemoans the demise of the album as we know it…

…and states a pretty strong case for getting back to the days when choosing music was more than just cherry picking the odd song.

Read our resident classic rocker’s views exclusively right here every week. 


What’s an album, Grandpa? It’s a question we may well be asked three or four decades from now.
For this week another report came out claiming the music album will be extinct very soon.
Music fans are no longer buying music in an album format, preferrring to go online and cherry-pick their tracks.
Of course, we already knew the trends were going this way with digital sales now CD sales and all statistics pointing to the next generation preferring to choose their music track by track rather than be restricted by an all-or-nothing album purchase.
I’m not here to counter an argument heavily backed by hard evidence nor even to provide a convincing case for music in its tradtional format.
All I can offer is a personal experience and a few observations.
Back in the seventies when both sales of albums and singles were at their highest, I preferred the latter from a very early age.
Between the ages of nine and 13, I probably bought around 20 singles, none of which I kept.
In contrast, I still have my first LPs, lovingly stored away in the loft.
Why did I keep them and not the 45s? Value is one obvious explanation. Back then, an album would have cost between £3.49 and £3.99 while singles could be bought for a quid or less.
But it wasn’t just a monetary attachment to the larger disc. They felt more substantial and invariably looked better, whether due to the artwork, gatefold sleeve or simply the fact the inner sleeve printed lyrics, which, in those pre-internet days, couldn’t be found elsewhere.
(I remember when I was eight or nine buying the Scaffold’s Lily The Pink and asking my Auntie to print out the words – which you eventually managed after painstakingly listening to the record countless times trying to fathom out the words).
Of course, albums, almost inevitably, were inconsistent with highlights and lowlights, classics and duffers.
Take Pink Floyd’s Meddle for example. One side of the LP included the classic Echoes, coming in at 23 minutes and 31 seconds.
On side one, however, is quite possibly the worst track they ever record. It’s called Seamus and is effectively the sound of a dog barking. Would the omission of this “song” improve the album? Quite probably though the counter-argument says that albums not only allow the music to breathe but for the band to experiment – and boy did Floyd experiment with dirge?
There are albums of great songs and then there are great albums. In the first category, I would include Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the best-selling album of all time, spawning hit after hit after hit.
Similarly, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA contains many of his best (or more accurately, best known) songs but most fans would agree that Born To Run or Darkness On The Edge Of Town were better albums.
Going back to Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon, second to Thriller in the all-time album sales chart, is successful and feted for its very “albumness” to coin a new word. Quite simply, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, whether that’s because of the track-listing, the segueing or just the whole experience.
The album has been accused as a vehicle for self-indulgence and its critics may have a point.In the 70s, as progressive rock wallowed it muscianship at the expense of accessibility, bands such as Yes and Genesis would unashamedly exploit the air-time  an album side offered them to write huge expanses of music.
In the cases of Supper’s Ready or Close To The Edge, it worked though when Yes, with Topographic Oceans and Pink Floyd, with Umagumma released double albums allowing their members an entire side to showpiece their individual talents, clearly indulgence had gone too far.
As an experiment, I quickly wrote down my all-time Top ten albums (they change on a weekly basis) and without listing them in full on this occasion, I discovered that in most of them, there is a track I don’t like particularly much.
Led Zeppelin II includes Moby Dick, which is effectively a John Bonham drum solo, hardly the most listenable track, Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold has Industrial Disease and Neil Young’s On The Beach opens with Walk On.
I don’t particularly like any of those tracks but they are surrounded by some of the most inspiring music I’ve ever heard.
A great album is a little bit like a great football team. It may not include the best songs from one to 11 but whenever played, it’s a surefire winner.
The whole greater than the sum of the parts – that’s the magic of an album in essence.
Ian Murtagh