Us & them
Pink Floyd signed with EMI in 1967 and their contract “contained a clause to ‘preserve the artistic integrity of the albums.’” What does this mean forty years later? That you won’t be able to buy their concept albums a song at a time, which EMI wanted to offer via iTunes, Amazon and other music-buying sites.
As the BBC says: “The band largely avoided releasing singles during their career, instead preferring fans to listen to entire albums such as Dark Side of the Moon, which has sold more than 35 million copies around the world.”
The issue of selling individual tracks online has been a thorny one for many artists, who want their albums to be seen as complete works. Bands also receive less money if fans pick and choose tracks instead of buying a full suite of songs.
When I think of certain albums, I think of them as whole pieces, not as individual songs (Tommy, Abbey Road, Dark Side of The Moon, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Nebraska, American Idiot, etc.). For these, when I put them on, I play them straight through. Putting these albums on shuffle illustrates how essential song order and coherence are to the concept album (as well as the concept of “album”).
Of course I like buying songs a la carte and we own a lot of songs that we would never have purchased an album to get b/c the rest of the album is crap. I used to call it “single-filler” in the 80s when I judged whether it was worth my $8 to buy a whole album by whether it had at least three songs I liked on it or it was a Duran Duran album (talk about single-filler; yes Mr. LeBon, I’m looking at you).
In the case of concept albums though, if you spend the money to buy all of a concept album, you’re going to get your money’s worth in my experience. So as much as I enjoy freedom of choice and buying my music as I chose, I have zero problem with Pink Floyd’s concept here. And the choice remains to be able to purchase the music or not. It’s not as though the songs are unavailable for legal purchase. You just need to buy the album. Or don’t. Simple.
It makes me think of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (a remix work if ever there was one; would Campbell’s sue for trademark infringement today? In the 60s, they commissioned a canvas from Warhol). The work itself is 32 individual canvases. Each canvas is its own piece of art yet the concept calls for all of the canvases to be shown together. High art meets pop culture via concept. Mmm mmm good.
Somewhat OT: I’ve heard people ask who buys hard copy CDs anymore. I gave my husband Sweetheart of the Rodeo for Christmas, a kinda-sorta concept album in terms of genre/tone.
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