When Less is More… Should Bands Release 70-80 Minute Albums?

     In the “old days” days when the 33 1/3 LP vinyl record had a maximum capacity of 30-50 minutes(longer albums generally meant less bass & lower fidelity), bands were restricted to including only their best material(although we all know there was often some filler, too, usually confined to side-B).  The practice was to at least start & end each side with a strong track or hit single.  In the case of single & double LPs this formula was generally applied, but the increased length of double albums was mitigated by the listener having a break every 20-minutes, or so, to change sides & refresh their ears & attention span.

     When the compact disc was introduced in the 1980’s, albums were simply transferred in their original form to a continuous 30-50 minute listening experience which was considered a welcomed convenience as now the listener needn’t stop to “turn over the record”.  In the case of double LPs they were also straight transfers with album sides 1 & 2 on disc-1 & sides 3 & 4 on disc-2.  This was good because although in many cases both LPs could have been squeezed onto a single disc, it again gave the listener one attention-refreshing break & ear rest during the changeover of a lengthy album.

     Sometime during the 1990’s it occurred to the record companies that because a cd’s maximum capacity at the time was 74 minutes they could add “extra value” & hopefully increase sales by including additional, previously unreleased, “bonus tracks”:  usually nothing more than demo versions of album tracks, perhaps a live recording, interview, &/or songs that weren’t good enough to make the album in its original time-restricted format.  This gave consumers added incentive to buy an album “again” even though they already owned it on vinyl …one of the early inhibitions of people to adopting the new format which essentially involved the daunting & costly prospect of buying their entire record collection again;  some felt the cd was a scam to persuade them to do so.

     In the new millenium cd capacities have been extended to 80-minutes & suddenly many bands, particularly big-name acts, now feel an obligation to fill nearly every available second of these discs, presumably to provide extra value to the purchaser.  In theory, this seems like a bonus for the buyer.  Almost without exception, though, this added capacity is utilized to include every song the band recently recorded …good or bad.  The concept of including only the best material has now seemingly vanished even though many listeners, now conditioned to mp3 singles & fast-paced living, don’t have the attention span for an uninterrupted 70-80 minute listening experience.  There’s an old saying in show business which still holds true: “Always leave ’em wanting more”;  it’s far better than burning-out the listener.  The inclusion of so much “B-side” filler material keeps ruining new albums which, had they been pared-down to the best songs, could have potentially become great classics, but instead leave the listener fatigued waiting for, or skipping to, the “good songs” & thinking, “Man, there are some good tunes on there, but I don’t think I’ll be sitting through the whole thing again.”  Could this be contributing to the rumored decline in popularity of the cd?

     As an experiment, I suggest taking the 70-80 minute cd album of your choice(that you legally own) & making a CD-R containing only your favorite songs arranged in order from most to least, or in an order simulating that of “the old days”, not to exceed approximately 45 minutes.  Listen to the results & be amazed at how much more frequently you play “your” version versus the original!

P.S.  Any additional thoughts on this subject?  Feel free to leave a comment!


1 Comment

  1. Howard Byrne

    Agreed. I could easily knock a few songs off the new Rush CD to make a much more cohesive album.  The same can be said for the new Van Halen CD.  Although, admittedly the new Van Halen album is a bunch of remade demos from earlier in the DLR era of Halen, the entire middle portion of the album just seems like filler to me.  That 60+ minute running time could have easily been paired down to their former 25-30 minute DLR/Van Halen days and really been impressive for a comeback.  Instead, most reviewers gave it a “ho-hum.”

    Would fans feel jipped?  Hell, just announce its release as an extended E.P.!

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