A Brief History Of The Album
The Guardian reports the trio, who took a couple of years off after releasing 2007’s Twilight of the Innocents, will begin releasing the 26 songs – each representing a different letter of the alphabet – next month.
Ash’s A-Z singles series marks the group’s first new work since announcing in 2007 that Twilight of the Innocents would be their “last album.”
“The way people listen to music has changed,” frontman Tim Wheeler said at the time. “With the advent of the download the emphasis has reverted to single tracks.”
The singles will be available every two weeks as downloads, CDs and limited-edition vinyl in retail outlets and as part of a subscription on Ash’s Web site beginning June 9.
Wheeler’s statement, along with similar remarks made by George Michael and Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan about the death of the traditional “album,” got me thinking: When did people start making “albums” anyway?
It turns out they’re called albums because at one time that’s what they actually were. Back in Victrola days, 78 RPM discs were often sold in collections that looked a lot like a photo album. The first such set was a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite released in 1909.
What we think of as the album (well, those of us of a certain age that is) was born when Columbia Records released a 12 inch, 33 1/3 RPM microgroove record in 1948. And because the new format could hold as much music as the 78 sets, about 22 minutes per side, the old name was applied to it.
Musicians began experimenting with the format and soon began thinking in terms of releasing multiple tracks at once instead of dribbling out singles. The jazz community was the first to jump on the wagon in the mid-’50s, with rock ‘n’ roll coming along for the ride in the early ’60s.
It’s probably safe to say the golden age of the album began in the late 60s, with works like The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Even though the format has been mortally wounded by the digital age, where people have gone back to buying singles instead of complete albums, there will probably always be artists who’ll think in terms of an “album” when they’re writing and recording material.
What comes next is anybody’s guess. Maybe some trailblazer like Trent Reznor, David Byrne or Brian Eno will come up with a totally new format to replace the album.
Finally, here’s a question for you: We continued to call them “albums” and “records” even though they’ve been CDs for almost 25 years. Now that we’re moving away from a physical product all together, what should a collection of songs released by an artist be called?
Read The Guardian’s complete coverage of Ash’s A-Z project here.