Video killed the radio star (appropriately the first video shown on MTV) but will iTunes kill albums?
I was driving today listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, which I ripped in its entirety to my mini iPod. I noticed the iPod staggered a little bit on the song transitions, which are seamless on the CD.
And oddly, this got me thinking about the revolution in digital music and what effect it might have on albums. Back in the 50's and early 60's, the rock/pop music marketplace was dominated by singles. A great visual demonstration of that era is the "what's on the flip side" scene in Diner between Kevin Bacon and Daniel Stern, a scene that makes no sense to later generations. Albums, to the extent they were purchased, were merely collections of singles.
A revolution, at least in the world of rock & roll, began to occur in the mid-1960's. Many folks point to Sgt Pepper by the Beatles as the first concept album, where the songs hang together in a way that the album was greater than the sum of the parts (note that this had always been true in jazz, and of course classical -- but it was new to the rock/pop world). Over time, many rock albums were produced that were true albums. Even when the songs don't follow a theme (as in the Moody Blues Days of Future Passed) or tell as story (as in the Who's Quadrophenia), there are many albums I think of as albums, where I can't seem to enjoy the single when it is taken out of context of the other songs (including Fleetwood Mac's Rumors and Genesis's Trick of the Tail)
Pink Floyd, however, probably pursued the album more than any other band. Few songs from Pink Floyd albums like Wish You Were Here or Dark Side of the Moon or of course the Wall even make sense on their own, any more than a single chapter ripped from a book will be viable on its own.
Today, we may be on the front end of a trend where the market moves back to singles, as market models like iTunes gain traction and put emphasis back on individual songs that have to stand alone. My son, for example, does not buy albums - he buys individual songs off iTunes. The only difference from the 50's is that there are no flip sides.
Or, it may be that we are on the brink of still yet another medium, maybe of third parties mixing together tracks from multiple artists into custom collections, much like people have been doing for their friends for years, but with wide open new distribution channels.