From: David Royko
Date: Tue, 11 May, 2010
Subject: "Only one good song" -- really?
> KL wrote:
> companies have trained consumers: if you repeatedly put only one good song on
> an album, you teach people that albums aren't worth buying.
This is an argument I've seen since the advent of mp3 -- but does it really make sense? The whole idea of sales suffering because there's just one or two "good" songs on an album otherwise filled with junk doesn't do it for me. Replace "good" with "catchy" and that gets more at what I think really happens, but the catchiest song (or piece) isn't necessarily the best, just the one you might like most on first hearing and thus might be downloaded.
If classical music were marketed more like pop, I'd guess that Beethoven's 5th would get many more downloads for the 1st movement than for the rest. Does that make the rest less "good"? I’d guess only a small fraction of casual listeners who like and recognize the first movement might recognize (and download) the third movement and the finale, and even fewer would go for the second movement.
I can't even count the number of good rock albums that have a hit on them, but after repeated listenings, the hit doesn't stand out as better (or even as good) than the other cuts -- maybe just catchier. In fact, most of my favorite tracks on many albums weren't the ones I liked at first. For example, The Yes Album was a big favorite of mine in High School, and on first hearing I liked the one track I knew from the radio (All Good People) and the short acoustic guitar piece, The Clap. The rest of it I found boring and uninvolving -- at first. After a few weeks, the album became a favorite from first note to last, but I might never have gotten to know them had downloads been available and I stopped with the two cuts I liked at first, but this doesn't mean the rest of the album was filled with "crap." It's an old and familiar story for most music fans. Same with classical, actually -- it took a while for me to warm up to the Eroica way back when, but when it finally sunk in, it gave me years of pleasure. Fur Elise doesn’t have the same appeal, but it is catchier, and might be more popular, download-wise.
But has the scene changed because of downloads? Not really. There have always been bands that put out a few great singles while their albums are weak overall, while other artists put out strong albums. We remember the great songs and the great albums while the lousy ones drift into obscurity. The great albums stick around – and the past always seems better than the present because of it. But most albums made 35 years ago are rightfully forgotten, as most of what’s being produced today will be nothing but trivia questions, at best, in 2045, when the mp3 itself is a quaint memory. But the good stuff keeps getting made because there are always a few brilliant people at any given time who are still driven by the desire to make good music, as singles and as albums.
It’s really more about marketing than the quality of what’s being marketed. It is far easier to push one or two catchy 3-minute cuts -- airplay, ads, 30-second samples -- than it is an entire worthy album, but just because the publicity department has decided tracks 1 and 7 are the most hit-worthy and sale-able doesn’t mean the remaining cuts aren’t as good or better. In the long run, for me, the “best” music usually sinks in later, while the hit only becomes annoying.