I know this has been discussed before, but I think it bears being discussed again.  The subject of an album containing more than nine or ten tracks (if even that many) has long been a train on my mind.  It runs around in circles, blowing its horn, and ALWAYS making me feel like ‘what if this album were filled less tracks, how much more might I have appreciated it?’

There are two sides to this thought.  The first is the easy one with blame shifted squarely on the artist.  I have no problem with them recording a multitude of songs, but if more concentration was paid to songs that played back better than others during basic tracks, how much more extraordinary might the album become?  We live in a time where the gatekeepers (the BIG labels) are no longer the only game in town.  Of course, that was starting to become a threat way back in the late ’70s as small, independent labels began to form and have great success with some excellent artists.  But that was still a smaller threat back then.  Now, that is simply not the case as many labels have formed outside the periphery of Sony, Warner, and Universal to tout their latest and greatest band.

yawning-man-with-headphone-3023b1As the cheaply made, and widely distributed music appears on a series of well-read internet sites, the exposure to these bands become unprecedented.  However, those bands are filling available bit space with lots of songs, some of which would be better off if they never saw the light of day.  What ends up happening is that we become inundated with music, so much so that we can only pay so much attention.  With new albums from all over being filled to the max with thirteen, sometimes more, average tracks, our ability to become a fan diminishes greatly.

Frankly, we begin to lose touch after seven songs.  By the time you reach number twelve, the last song has eradicated the effect of the first three.  And so we wander through life rarely becoming a fan of a complete album.  And if you did, it took some super-human effort on your part to engage and repeatedly listen to the whole thing.  And I don’t say it’s impossible, just difficult.

When the time constraints of the vinyl LP limited song inclusions back when LPs were the primary game in town, we were able to listen to the usual low count of tracks.  And we often found that not every song, even then, were to our liking.  But it didn’t stop us from becoming a fan of an entire album.  That doesn’t seem to be too much the case these days, becoming a fan of an entire album.

The second side to this argument puts more blame upon us as listeners.  With the proliferation of so much music, we do not have the inclination to carve out specific time frames to listen completely all the way through.  Often, if we’re not too sure in the opening seconds of a song, we often move forward to “listen” to the next.  Call it laziness on our part, and it is to a degree, but I have to fault the quality of a song here.

Songs are an extension of an artist.  Often, some of those songs aren’t worth the time of their creation.  Back during the smaller constraints of the medium used to play-back the songs, artists had to pick the best of their batch.  Once chosen, they worked to make them better.  When that collection of “great songs” were finished, they became an album, often heralded as classic, and listenable to this day some decades later.

If the artists of today followed the same formula as if they could only place nine or ten tracks onto an album (and let’s face it, with digital files become more and more prevalent, the constraints of even a CD is long gone), how much better might an album be, any album released by an artist of note?  I dare say it would be better.

Even more so, it’s likely that we might be able to pay closer attention to each song as we have greater time opportunity to replay the complete album.

I suggest to artists of this time that they pay greater attention to the quality of their songs by limiting the collection written for an album.  I’m betting that they will gain in greater stature, selling more albums, and enjoying more longevity, not only in rotation, but in classic status.

I just want to see albums created these days to be able to enjoy a 30th or 40th Anniversary Edition when that times rolls around.

I just don’t have that much faith any more.

By MARowe

13 thoughts on “Is Song Quality Affected By Album Length?”
  1. Sequencing is another issue. The “hits” tend to be placed at the beginning of the album. The strongest tracks should be spaced out. Producer George Martin actually had a formula for it. I used this technique for the one and only album I co-produced.

  2. I agree that albums should contain only primo tracks – even if they end up being less than 40 minutes. I think there is a general fear among labels, large and small, that consumers are checking total times and will not buy if they are “not getting their money’s worth”. I wonder if we Tap Readers do that? I certainly don’t – I don’t check length – I just want music that appeals to me. If I listen to an album, and there is more than one track that I really don’t like, I usually pitch the CD unless I am keeping it for historical or cultural significance in my alleged mind. There are a number of great bands that I just don’t have in my collection because I find so much wasted space on their albums.

  3. I don’t often disagree with Matt and the readers of Musictap but I don’t have a problem of anyone giving me too much music on an album. That is even more true today when all you have to do is press a button to advance to the next track if the one you’re listening to now doesn’t do it for you.

    Sure there are lots of albums now that are chocked full of filler but that was true back in the vinyl days as well. Lots of classic LPs by big selling bands had lots of great songs but in some cases half of it was filler. I’m talking about bands like Foreigner, Journey, Boston, AC/DC, KISS and others that sold millions of records each in the 70’s but with a lot of each records being filler. I’m talking about albums that were only around 30 to 40 minutes long and still contained filler.

    But then there are always exceptions too because some works are so innovative or in the groove that they need room to stretch out and we’d get a double LP. Are you going to say that the “White Album”, “The Wall”, “Exile on Main Street”, “Quadraphenia”, “Tommy” are too long and full of filler? I’d say they used the amount of time or number of tracks necessary to convey the artists’ idea. Sure there were standout hits on each of these but the rest of the records were hardly filler.

    Beyond that I can think of many albums that exceed 50, 60 or even 70 minutes that are not long enough. The sessions for the Cure’s “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” and “Disintegration” as well as U2’s “Unforgettable Fire”, “Joshua Tree” and “Achtung Baby” each yielded a wealth of great songs that for one reason or another did not make the final cut. Fortunately the songs were issued as B-sides to singles but in mind some of these could have easily been included without being considered filler.

    1. I agree with you, Coleman. There are certainly exceptions to a rule. And the choices you inputted are essential. However, my feeling is that, for the most part, many artists might become more impressive if they concentrated on lesser songs. But, if an artist is gifted, let them fill the album. I think Heartless Bastards fill their albums with 100% great songs. However, they take several years between albums.

  4. This is a chicken and egg debate. First off, just because a song on an album is deemed filler by listener X doesn’t mean it’s considered filler by listener Y. Who is in charge of deciding which songs are filler?
    With that said, I agree with you Matt that sometimes putting more songs on an album lessens the overall impact of the album. Or is it just me being lazy and unwilling to put the time in to give each song a chance. Some of both I would say.

    1. Bear in mind, that not all bands will put out bad albums of 13 o more songs. I’m suggesting that perhaps we would end up with much better albums by more bands if they might be willing to give us less tracks, thereby working on the ones that made it by giving them better attention. This is very dependent on the talent of the band or artist in the first place.

      In addition, also as suggested by the article, and as Bill here has pointed out, sometimes we just do not have the patience or time to pay attention to a complete set of 13 tracks.

      My whole insistence is that perhaps there might be more “classic” albums being recorded these days if we didn’t have to concentrate on a bunch of passable tracks, an objective that might be achieved if the potential quality of ten or less tracks were more superior.

      But Bill is also right in saying that what is listenable to one may not be to another.

      It just seems that albums that I have, even albums made today, are more accepted as a whole, if they had less tracks.

      (I sound crazy, huh!?)

      1. No you don’t sound crazy… you sound lazy. LOL Just kidding. Couldn’t resist the word play since part of the conversation revolved around listeners not giving the album a full chance. But I personally admit to not giving most albums 5+ full attention listens before passing judgment. In the old days, when I could only afford a few new albums a month, I would always give the album several listens. Now, one or two listens for a new group, maybe three of four for a group I like. If it doesn’t do it for me it goes onto the pile and something else gets a chance.
        I truly believe that sometimes it takes work and commitment from the listener to truly evaluate an album. Rarely now days am I willing to put that time and effort in.

  5. Genesis’ albums tended to be over 50 minutes except for Abacab, The Mama Album and Invisible Touch which were over 45/46 minutes and Nursery Cryme was just over 38 or so minutes. Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd, Genesis, the original lineup of Queen, Rush, The Who, Zeppelin and classic Supertramp lineup all released superb albums (Genesis had two clunkers IMHO, Rush had two weak albums out of Roll the Bones and Vapor Trails, the last two Ozzy era Sabbath albums, the first two Who albums as examples).

    I nowadays tend to rebuy albums that I either had to sell due to the ongoing depression we’re in OR replace due to wear out. I did buy the new Deep Purple and it is superb. The Geoff Tate-less Queensryche’s upcoming self titled release is poised to be between 35-40 minutes. I always say QUALITY TRUMPS QUANTITY! Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play by Jethro Tull and David Gilmour and The Orb’s Metallic Spheres only contained ONE SONG but kept me entertained and I either listen to or play drums/guitar to those albums (I add live drums to the latter with a Phil Collins/Cozy Powell approach).

  6. I think one difference nowadays compared to the sixties and seventies, especially on the first few albums by a lot of bands, is that songs were written, tried and tested on the road before being put to vinyl, so there was feedback before they decided to record.

  7. It’s funny – I agree with everyone in this thread.
    Sometimes I’ll be listening to a new band which seems to go on for way too long – by track 11 I want to start listening to something else – and other bands the quantity is not enough because the quality is so above your expectations you don’t want it to end.
    But in general, bands now-a-days throw in too much filler and because of that the whole album experience becomes diminished.
    For me personally, I like 6-8 songs of at least 5 minutes, so the band can flesh out the personality of the song. Porcupine Tree is a good example of this.

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