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.