Brevity.

“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

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6 thoughts on “Brevity.

  1. There’s a highly amusing hidden track on a Nirvana CD. I think it might be IN UTERO, but damn and blast my old brain, I can’t remember. All I DO remember is that it was unwise to fall asleep on a train with the CD on your portable CD player.

    Those were the days.

  2. Since using Spotify ever more, I’ve started to notice how anachronistic “hidden songs” are – every once in a while I’ll stumble upon an 11-minute track, wonder what sort of proggy goodness I’m in for, and then feel sold short on realising that the central 6 minutes is silence. It’s made me hate hidden tracks. Still, I remember excitedly loving listening to the first Ooberman album, on the edge of my seat, trying to predict the exact second when the hidden track would kick in. Not all that long ago either.

    Aside from that, my musical attention span is now… I’ll get back to you.

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