Great programme on BBC4 tonight. It was about albums and was presented by Danny Baker, whose enthusiasm and passion is matched only by his knowledge. It was an unusual format, being essentially a four way discussion with Baker and three guests, one of which was Jeremy Clarkson, interspersed with film segments about various aspects of the 12″ vinyl LP.
Critics could accuse the premise of being overly nosatalgic, but Baker was having none of it … and rightly so. The years that spanned the back end of the sixties and the closing screams of the seventies were indeed a golden age for the album, in terms of musical inventiveness, artwork, technological experimentation, social impact, political comment and sheer bonkersness. It was also a period that I closely associate with, because it was at this time, as a teenager, that I really began to get into music in a serious way.
I bought Tubular Bells, but only ever played side one. I had the brilliantly designed Led Zeppelin albums, III and Physical Graffiti – you just can’t do that with CDs. I also had Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, which was a school desk complete with lifting lid. The album also came with a pair of paper knickers, which was strangely thrilling for a 13 year-old suburban schoolboy.
Later I bought King Crimson’s Court of the Crimson King, also referred to as a classic by Baker. The cover was a giant pink open mouth. This album was stolen not once, but twice at house parties and so I no longer have a copy. For months there was only one album in our school common room – Crime of the Century by Supertramp. This turned out to be Jeremy Clarkson’s favourite album of all time (albeit in rotation with Dark Side of the Moon and Rumours).
Baker was absolutely right. The digital revolution that brought us first the CD, then iTunes and Spotify, killed off something that was truly wonderful on many different levels. The album determined the way we related to bands and their music. The time restriction caused by the limitations of vinyl happened to coincide with a natural attention span for music and when you have to physically pick up a needle up and move it forward, you tend not to surf as you do on an iPod. The concept of random shuffle is like going to the theatre and wanting to see this soliloquy from Hamlet, followed by that scene from The Cherry Orchard, then the overture from Cats.
Yes, I too lament the demise of the album, but at least I still have my collection of vinyl LPs and fortunately also a fully functioning Thorens deck on which to play them.