It’s settling more and more upon me that the music listening public has always been about the single.  And that assumption sure explains a lot about album sales, even the so-called high album sales.  Yes, that’s right, I’ve always bitched about the fall of the album, but never really, REALLY realized that accepted music was always about the song, rarely the album.


Take Led Zeppelin as an example. According to the RIAA, Led Zeppelin has only had four Diamond albums with Led Zeppelin IV at 22 million copies sold, Houses Of The Holy with 11 million, Led Zeppelin II with 12 million, and Physical Graffiti at 15 million.  Yes, that’s a lot of albums.  But that is designated after nearly 40 years of measurable sales.  And with the upcoming Deluxe Edition of these titles, those numbers will go higher.  But, if you were to look at the most impressionable years (sales immediately after release to perhaps two years later), you’ll discover that the actual album sales were not so high.  Yes, they were in the millions, but when you realize how many people were able to buy the albums after release, and how many actually did, it’s a bit surprising.

The same is true, much more so, for the rest of the world of Rock and Roll, where many of the high profile ones generally sold a few million.  But looking at the songs, well, they went through the roof.  Bolstered by radio play, those 7″ circles of vinyl did well. Many of the songs that floated through Top 40 in any market did well.  Why?  Well, people liked songs.  The album of songs were for those extremists who loved the band that made the songs.  Look at The Eagles, whose album of their hits (Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975) has sold more than 28 million copies.  Then measure ANY of their studio efforts, sales-wise.  Many of them only generated a million units of sales.


I had a sudden realization today yesterday while listening to the ’70s channel on Sirius/XM Radio.  The songs were all fun, all delightful.  In fact, I was quite pleased that many of them had some interesting mixes and influences within their make-up.  Jazz, blues, etc. And I USED to listen to Top 40 in my younger years.  Although I will admit that I never really took many of the songs as seriously as I should have.  Listening now, it is easy to realize why people dig songs as opposed to entire albums of music.  What makes it more interesting is that there really has been no change with people who typically like the song as opposed to an album by an artist.  They continue to buy singles, or seek them out.

The problem likely lies with many of us that did buy albums back then.  Many of us (not all of us, of course, and certainly not the readers here) have elected to concentrate elsewhere.  Albums sales fell.  And thus, we have the industry wide problems that we have had for some time.

If I were a label these days, I’d concentrate heavily on pushing singles for EVERYTHING.  Then after enough successful singles, I’d put them all into an album and sell a “best of”, and see what happens.

I know that I’m a bit of a dullard with this new realization.  I kind of knew it, but it really didn’t set in until I realized just how good the many 45 RPM hits of the ’70s actually were.  And I bet that some of those great songs were on lackluster albums.

Well, there you have it.  My sudden realization that we have always really been a singles market.  And that will never really change, I guess.  Now that streaming have literally placed the world’s repository of songs  in a single subscription, well, who’s going to resist that call.  Google Play does not have free play, while Spotify does.  I suppose that once Spotify ends their free play option, then many more will sign up for the subscription.  This could have a better impact for the industry, pay-0ut wise (for artists).

Of course, it would be better if all the artists had complete control of their own music with a viable means of getting airplay to the fans who would love their songs.

Ok, ok!  Give me your best “what are you, stupid” rants.  I certainly deserve them by now.

By MARowe

10 thoughts on “A Single Revelation Of Song”
  1. Can’t argue with the numbers and you did kind of state the obvious. There have always been more people buying singles than albums and some of those singles came from rock bands. What’s amazing is that some of those rock band songs sold as many singles as those from one-hit -wonder bands, and then all those albums on top of it. The sweet-spot; where the single and album crowds intersect.

    1. By the way. Zeppelin isn’t really a good example for this discussion (at least for tallying up numbers), right? They didn’t release singles, did they?

        1. Ahh, yes. After doing a little research I see why I was wrong. In the US there were 10 singles released. I’d always heard that LZ didn’t release singles but that was in regards to the UK.

  2. Matt, I kind of agree with you, but don’t? I guess I’m biased as a album buyer, rather than a singles guy. Yes’ Tales is one of my all time favourites, so singles have never been high on my list. As I grew up in the 60s and 70s, I remembered a lot of great songs, and now have gone and got double disks of some of those great bands, like Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Herman’s Hermits, Gene Pitney etc, but after there 3/4/5 singles, the rest are fillers. In some cases, your approach would mean the only albums would be by “Various Artists”! Alternatively it will take a long time for some bands to bring out 1 record. One of my favourite collections is the Dream Theater – Greatest Hit (amp; 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs), and I love it all. I have a Sonos system, and with a Spotify subscription, I’m in another world. I can try new acts like Israel Nash Gripka and decide whether I want more than streaming (some great songs, but others pretty derivative (early Neil Young, Bob Seger etc)). I download albums to listen to on the train. Down side is when bands like Pink Floyd do radio edits to release singles! Bizarre.

  3. I’ve read several books on the changes in the music industry over the past 20 years, and they all agree on one thing: The beginning of the end was when the record labels got greedy and stopped manufacturing singles in the mid 90s. Their thinking was if people heard a song they liked, force them to buy the album, thereby increasing the label’s profit. What they didn’t figure was that when someone bought a single and liked it, they bought the album too. Amazing that the labels could be so short-sighted and ignorant of buying trends.

  4. I know, I know…it’s fun to engage in polemical, argumentative discourse for the sake of sheer entertainment…but this constant attempt to codify and explain ‘art’ and associated businesses is just pointless. You can’t reduce an emotive element to the level of a binary code, a simple ‘on’ or ‘off’, as the passion affixed to music making and use thereof represents a direct contrast to the aforementioned. I know we all try to manage ambiguity and introduce order into a confusing, chaotic world…but trying to do so with art, specifically with music, is already doomed to fail.
    YES, I heard ‘My Sharona’ for the very first time, back in whatever year it was in the 70’s on the radio and immediately went out and bought the entire album…as I couldn’t find the 45 anywhere (and I would have added it to my huge collection of that format). Was pleasantly surprised as to how good the entire album was…perhaps easier in those days, as artists didn’t have to find a way to fill over 70 minutes of ‘CD Space.’ I did the same thing with Steve Miller’s ‘Book Of Dreams’ by purchasing the entire album off of one song only, the song that played on the radio.
    But in contrast to that approach, the one that supports your hypothesis, I bought every Rolling Stones album without EVER hearing anything promoting same on the radio…same method with the Mighty Zep, Grand Funk and many others. I was committed to what the artist was giving as I had already MADE a commitment to that artist – good or bad. SOOOO, I have crummy Stones albums (with one or two good tunes in them – and you know what I’m talking about) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. “Black ‘n’ Blue” had as a single ‘Fool To Cry,’ a song I certainly would never listen to again, BUT the ALBUM had ‘Hand of Fate’ which I still adore to this very day, a tune I WOULD NOT have had I not purchased the entire album, as it wouldn’t receive the life of your beloved ‘single.’
    I remember buying every Sweet single that came out throughout the seventies (easily done living overseas as I did) and wishing that I could put all of them on one giant recording – thankfully cassettes arrived and I could do just that – and yearning for a ‘Greatest Hits’ vinyl album that would compile all of these for me. One did eventually come out, but it didn’t have ALL of the songs I wanted…so I had to go back to the singles.
    Today there are, oh I don’t know, 50 million Sweet ‘Greatest Hits’ CDs out there and you can satisfy your ‘Ballroom Blitz’ Jones alll you want. Boy, did I have to wait, though.
    Too much time on my hands for this discursive opus so in closing:
    If you like an artist, you’ll support them regardless of available format, regardless of airplay, regardless of reviews or critics.
    If you’d like to discover soemthing new that you’ll like, well you might have to work just a little bit more than simply turning on your radio like in the good ol’ days.
    But in referencing the latter just remember this: back then there was no ‘AMAZON’ where today I can shop for just about anything from anywhere in the world (unlike Mick Jagger who had to get Chess Records imported from the States just so that he could listen to Howlin’ Wolf), there were no digital formats that allowed for relatively cheap production with more content (with admittedly more filler and more ways to fail) and thus freeing record labels up to sign more struggling artists and giving just about EVERYBODY at least ONE chance to release an album (CD),
    and there weren’t such things as Sirius or MUSICTAP that allowed you to regularly check in on ALL things related to music, both old and new, whenever you’d want to. I think I’ll stick with today’s developments…
    NOW if you want to talk about the OLD DAYS, let’s talk about concerts…but that’s a different website.
    Keep up the good work…if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t know who ‘Heartless Bastards’ are…and they don’t have a single in heavy rotation, do they?
    Let’s put it this way

  5. I definitely understand what you’re saying, but I’ve always been an album buyer. I bought maybe ten or fifteen singles when I was first getting into music when I was nine or ten. From then on out, I don’t think I purchased another single. If I heard a song I liked, I wanted to hear the whole album, not the single and it’s flipside. And it would progress like this: hear a song, buy the album. Love the album? Buy the artist’s entire catalog over the course of the next few months.

  6. I think the ongoing sales of Zeppelin albums (not just an initial burst in the few months after a release) makes an argument for the artistic importance of complete albums; my listening is mostly complete albums. Of course, the most accessible songs will be picked as single releases. There’s a place for both, even in this song-oriented market.

  7. while some of the public is about singles, there’s some people out there who’re just plain ‘ol ordinary radio listeners, believe it or not!

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