Stephen Baker

The Boost
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Why I still buy albums, even on iTunes

April 25, 2013General

Very weird. I read an article in the paper version of today's Star-Ledger. I decide to blog about it and cannot find the link anywhere on the paper's site or on Google or, for that matter, Bing. Maybe if I take out my scissors and send a copy to one of you, we can start a chain. 

Anyway... The article was a feature by Tris McCall on why 10 years after the emergence of iTunes (and almost 15 since Napster burst on the scene), people still buy albums. It seemed for a while that the single would prevail. Fans could pick and choose, put them into their own song lists, and skip the boring and tedious tracks on an album (Think the Beatles' Revolution #9). But McCall argues that albums remain the organizing principal for many bands, and listeners. If I were editing his story, I would have asked for some data to back this up. Still, he interviews musicians about it, and notes that albums are the "backbone" of the Spotify service. (I tried Spotify for about 10 minutes, until I saw that the music I clicked was showing up on Facebook...)

I find that after the celebration of playing favorites a decade ago, I'm returning to albums. I buy complete digital LPs, and I listen to them that way. Working out at the Y the other day, I listened to the NJ band Thomas Wesley Stern, non-stop. My last purchases on iTunes are the naked version of the Beatles Let it Be and one of my favorite Brazilian records, which I had on tape in the '80s, Milton Nascimento's live album, Ao Vivo.

Buying an album makes the most sense when you don't know it. If you know and like one song on an album,  it probably won't be your favorite for long. And if it's the only song you have from the album, you'll probably get sick of it. There are others that might take longer to like. If you don't buy the album, you skip that process. Looking at it another way, singles are like a constant diet of desserts. Sometimes you want some broccoli rabe, and you might even grow to love it (especially in pasta al dente, mixed with hot peppers and parmesan...)

Which brings me back to the Nascimento album. I hadn't heard it in 20 years. I remembered the big hits, like Dos Bailes da Vida. But there was one song I barely remembered, which I now cannot get out of my head. It's called Cuitelinho, a secondary name for hummingbird. The first is beijaflor, or kissflower.) Here's a vinyl version of it on YouTube. I love its languor, its slow, disjointed melody, and the nostalgia it evokes, both as a song and a memory of my own from hearing it on my Walkman in Caracas (with tiny speakers) in the '80s. But it might take you a few dozen, or hundred, listens to learn to love it. 


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