It seems as though we are having ‘days’ or ‘weeks’ for everything lately and this Saturday, 12th October is National Album Day. As this is a subject close to my heart I thought that I would see what is happening locally to celebrate the occasion.
I must confess that I still can’t come to terms with the word ‘album’ they are LPs CDs cassettes, or downloads. Albums are for photographs or stamp collections. Grumpy old man moment over. Album is an American term which only used to be heard in this country when used by wannabe DJs on Radio Luxemburg who spoke with faux US accents or on AFN (American Forces Network) if you were lucky enough to have a radio capable of picking it up and lived in a good reception area. It hit the mainstream in 1966 when Peter, Paul and Mary had a hit LP with The Peter, Paul and Mary Album which was followed a year later with their Album 1700.
The first LP I ever bought was The Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel in 1966. It was really annoying as I didn’t have anything to play it on. My mum had ordered a record player from a friend who was a Littlewood’s catalogue agent and unlike today when stuff is delivered before you have clicked Send, it took ten days to arrive, so I had to stare at the cover for over a week before I could listen to it. I knew the sleeve notes by heart. Actually, on thinking back, that wasn’t the first – all right, you win – album I had because I had been given a reel-to-reel tape recorder a couple of years before for Christmas as my dad thought it would be cheaper to do that and let me record tunes from the radio than put up with me nagging him for the dosh to buy them all. I was such a big Beatles fan that he bought me A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack on pre-recorded tape. If you don’t remember pre-recorded tapes then 10 inch LPs will definitely be before your time which I seem to remember were mainly for spoken word recordings rather than music.
Over the years the way in which we listen to albums has changed which I blame on the CD which enabled you to sit with your remote control and hit the Skip button thus not getting the full effect. This continued with the MP3 player and now have the situation of being able to download, thus only pay for, individual songs so that some album tracks are never heard at all.
It is great that the theme for this, the second National Album Day is Don’t Skip to encourage us to listen to an album in its entirety as the artist meant it to be done. I admit that the majority of albums, especially the Greatest Hits are a collection of random tracks although even here there are exceptions. On The Radio, which is Donna Summer’s Greatest Hits collection, fuses together a few of the tracks which turns them into a cogent piece of music gradually increasing in tempo and is a DJ set in its own right.
It was suggested to me that I put together a Top 20 of albums which are best listened to from start to finish but I won’t bore you with that, I will just pick a couple which make the point. Like the Donna Summer album, Abbey Road has a structure which works as a whole piece especially the segue on side two. Tommy by The Who is a ‘Rock Opera’ which obviously needs to be taken as a whole piece.
I have nothing against downloads but there are some albums when you really need sleeve notes or you lose out. My surprising example here is Poems, Prayers and Promises, the 1969 offering by John Denver. Before he went mainstream he was pretty political in his material and on this particular record there are two tracks listed; the first is The Ballad of Spiro Agnew (the US Vice-President of the time) which goes ‘I’ll sing you a song about Spiro Agnew and all the things he’s done.’ And that is it, a couple of tracks later is The Ballad of Richard Nixon (The President) which is a couple of seconds of pure silence. A great joke as well as social comment but you couldn’t download them and have it make sense.
Enough of my ramblings, let’s get on with finding out what is going on in our region.
I was in Leeds for Light Night so I took the opportunity to pop into a few music shops to see what was shaking. The smaller second hand record stores had nothing special planned but Jumbo in the Merrion Centre has been running a competition which asked entrants to produce a sleeve design imagining that Jumbo was an album rather than a store. I was also told that on Saturday they will be playing classic albums a lot of which will be chosen by local celebs who will be popping in.
Matthew at HMV told me that they were having a live music event with three local acts celebrating albums with performances by Thomas Lilywhite, Dead Freedom and at 2.00 Apollo Junction. He did say that if anyone wants to perform at HMV in the future they could contact him via twitter Matthew @HMVLeeds. He said that artists with a CD or LP would be considered as would anyone else deemed suitable.
Finally, going off at a tangent, this is one area where Marshall McLuhan was correct when he said ’The medium is the message’. I think that everyone who has used the various methods of listening to music would agree that vinyl has the richest tone but it is a pain having to turn the disc over half way through now that we are used to CD and streaming. Well, Leeds company Sound Leisure, the world’s only producer of vinyl jukeboxes and who are also promoting National Album Day, have developed the Vinyl LP jukebox which means that you can select the record and hear both sides one after the other. It also has a remote control and, should you wish to play your other tunes it is equipped with bluetooth. These machines are custom made so are not cheap, but what a brilliant way to have everything you could need in one ubercool retro cabinet.
Whatever else you do on Saturday, why not take time out to sit in a comfy chair, turn on your music playing system of choice, switch off the mobile phone and really listen to an album from start to finish. You will hear it in a whole new dimension and feel much better for it.