You probably have a pretentious friend who always listens to albums in their entirety and avoids singles like the plague. Hell, maybe you ARE that pretentious friend – I know I am. But on behalf of music-addled dorks the world over I thought I’d do an article listing five reasons why it’s better to listen to albums in their entirety rather than just a playlist of singles from artists you like. Sure, it may not give you the sense of immediate gratification but in the long run you will learn to appreciate albums.
1. You discover deep cuts
This is the most obvious reason to listen to full albums – and yet one that is often severely underrated. For the uninitiated a “deep cut” is a track that appears deep within the record. In the days when vinyl was king, the singles would often fall at the beginning of a side and thus as the needle moved closer towards the center of the vinyl, you’d find yourself listening to deeper tracks. The point being – a lot of these tracks would end up getting ignored by the general public, and yet sometimes they were the best songs on the record.
For me the love of deep cuts began early, when I was 12 years old and listening to Black Sabbath constantly. I was enamored with songs like Hand of Doom and Killing Yourself to Live, both tracks that fell right in the middle of their respective records. These tracks have become some of my favorite of all time and are a huge part of what makes those records so gosh darned enjoyable, even now, seven years into my Black Sabbath worship. These tracks are a key part of the listening experience and allow you to truly immerse yourself in an artist you love – which leads nicely to our next point.
2. You get a broader sense of the artists intention
This has always been a big one for me – and it might just be the result of years as a music writer. The point being – few things are as exciting to me as really digging into the mind of one of my favorite musicians. While interviewing a band is a great way to do that – it’s sometimes just as effective to go in and simply listen. There is a lost art of spending time with the music and reveling in the art. There is a very real poetry to the flow of an album like Pet Sounds, it’s just a matter of giving yourself the time to dig into it.
As you find yourself more deeply immersed ino the music you start to get a feel for what the artist was really trying to say with a specific record. For example – if you only know the two big songs from Led Zeppelin III, that is to say Immigrant Song and Tangerine you probably would never be able to get a better grasp of the folk side of Led Zeppelin – which in turn detracts from your appreciation of other Led Zeppelin mega-hits like Over the Hills and Far Away, or of course Stairway to Heaven. I’m not saying a deeper understanding of those songs is not possible just by treating them as confined entities – but I will say it is a damn sight harder.
3.It leads to a deeper connection with the artist
As someone who makes their living as “that guy who loves music” I always find it frustrating when somebody says “Oh I really like that band” and then admit to having never have listened to a full record by the artist. We touched on this in the previous point – but getting a sense for the artists intention is only the beginning. Getting a deeper connection with the artist is for many the true goal of listening to full albums.
For most of us, becoming friends with our favorite artists is an impossibility – and yet we desperately want to have a connection with them. And after all – interviews can only take you so far into the artist’s head. The point I’m trying to make is that by listening to whole albums you start to get a sense for what makes an artist tick, their passions, their lost loves, and their forgotten dreams – and this is where you get into a true love for the music, a love that might even rival that of your pretentious friend.
4. Music makes more sense as an entity
This one might be hard for some people to believe, but I assure you, even for non-musicians, listening to records from front to back helps to unveil the true power of the art form. It allows you to get a better sense for how a lot of artists construct their records. Mike Scheidt from Yob, Rolling Stone Magazine’s favorite metal band of 2014 once said to me, “I write albums in movements”. This was of course referring to classical period musicians, but here’s the thing – a lot of musicians do that, and the way albums flow hasn’t changed much from Beethoven’s 200 year-old symphonies.
As you start to get a sense for this, and some of the other moments of ebb and flow that help to make entire albums so attractive you start to get a better sensibility for what’s rad and what isn’t. As your taste for music develops, so does your overall understanding of the art form and that makes the entire experience more rewarding. If that isn’t enough of a motivation to listen to full albums, then I don’t know what is.
5. Your own music gets better
If you got this far into the article you’re probably a musician of some sort, which is awesome! I mentioned earlier in this article that a lot of musicians tend to listen to full albums rather than just the singles and the reason for that is simple. The thing is – when music starts to make more sense as a creation in and of itself it gives you a stronger idea of how to compose and set up music in a meaningful way. As your knowledge and the depth of your understanding of your heroes grows, your ability to create work that truly matters to people will only expand with it.
Becoming a talented musician is one of the greatest things you can do simply for your own personal development, and engaging with that on a high level, as one does by listening to full albums only allows you to grow more. The deeper your understanding of the purifying artistry of music becomes the easier it becomes to honor the inherent magic of the art form. If you just listen to singles it’s a lot harder to come to these sorts of conclusions. As Frank Zappa once said “Music is the best” and I feel the deeper you delve the more this truth becomes self evident.