“15 songs, 23 minutes. Perfect.”
Samuel posted very briefly about The Descendents’ album Milo Goes To College. It got me thinking a little bit about album length and attention spans. It’s a rare skill to nail album length, and they have usually been dictated by the capacity of the format available.
The classic twelve-inch LP at 33 1/3 rpm tended to result in albums between forty-five and sixty minutes in length. The punk movement — driven by the desire to put out fast, cheap seven inch singles — resulted in albums between fifteen and twenty-five minutes long.
In notably rare excursions from this, The Clash pissed a load of punks off by demanding too much attention on the triple LP ¡Sandinista!. They were annoyed partially because it was more than just a little bit shit. A couple of bands on the SST label challenged each other — and the hardcore community — by releasing increasingly long albums in the mid-’80s. Hüsker Dü’s seventy-minute ‘punk opera’ Zen Arcade was bested by The Minutemen’s eighty-minute Double Nickels on The Dime in July ’84.
During the magnetic tape period, album lengths tended to stick to the LP duration as it had become as much an industry standard as the ninety-minute movie. They may have edged slightly over the forty-five minute mark to make copying to C90s a bit more annoying. The CD-era, however, brought in a lot of self-indulgent albums, clocking in at the available seventy-four minutes. This was usually aided by twenty minutes of silence followed by the usually woeful hidden track.
As digital marketplaces like iTunes, We7, Amazon have enabled the purchase of individual tracks, consumers are no longer obliged to buy albums. Obviously, the twin-cultures of punk and dance music have helped this — not being about the album, but about that short EP or single seven-inch. Dance music has always seemed reticent to deliver a consistent album anyway.
All of this asks: what is the musical attention span in the post-album, song-shuffle age?
Anyway, I’ve meandered.
A brief list of albums that aren’t too short to be unfulfilling, but refuse to outstay their welcome:
The Crimson Curse, Greatest Hits (1998; Three.One.G)
11 songs, 14 minutes
Le Shok, We Are Electrocution (2000; Gold Standard Labs)
13 songs, 15 minutes
Ink & Dagger, Drive This Seven-Inch Wooden Stake Through My Philadelphia Heart (1997; Initial)
10 songs, 23 minutes
Lemonheads, It’s a Shame About Ray (1992; Atlantic)
13 songs, 29 minutes
Slayer, Reign In Blood (1986; American)
11 songs, 31 minutes
Pixies, Surfer Rosa (1988; 4AD)
13 songs, 33 minutes
Weezer, Pinkerton (1996; Geffen)
10 songs, 34 minutes
Kiss, Destroyer (1976; Island)
10 songs, 34 minutes
The Beatles, Revolver (1966; Parlophone)
14 songs, 35 minutes