Yes, you probably read that title right; this post is about the difference between playing a whole Album and popping your whole collection into a Play All Songs Randomly mode.
Now it is entirely probable that you are thinking “who cares” and working out what you want to click off to instead. Sure, you can do that. Or you can trust that I have a reason and it just might be worth the attention of a few of your moments and brain cells.
Thank you. You chose the latter. As usual, let me start with the back story…
As you should already know, I love music. Music for me is the soundtrack of my life. No, far more than that trite & banal phrase, music is the way that I understand & communicate best with my world. Every week I used to go to the music store and pick up records (yes them big flat vinyl things) and take them home not only listen to but to fully integrate into my life.
Fast forward 35 years to a year or so ago when I I had finally recorded all those albums to mp3 and could have my whole collection on the move with me on my phone so I could play it in the car, at work, in my bedroom… Even better I could lay a carpet of my beloved music by hitting the Shuffle button so all Songs could be fired off at me in a random order. The technology had allowed me to let the music be everywhere at once, with no breaks.
Beat’s So Lonely
It didn’t all go to plan. The longer I listened to my carpet of random songs that represented my life, the less they seemed to represent my life. I was becoming isolated and disillusioned with music in general and my feeling of connection with my collection was diminishing. I would buy new albums (mostly from Google Play or Bandcamp) and find that a month or so later they didn’t feel special. Those songs and albums were not becoming part of my life the way they used to. Also, records that had defined sections of my life were feeling meh. “Remind Me To Smile” from Gary Numan’s “White Noise” concert double album would shuffle up and I would barely feel a thing.
Music no longer felt like my companion.
Was I losing my love for music? Was I unable to take in anything new? Was I only buying rubbish?
Aliens Ate My Buick
No. The issue was that music had transitioned from being an occasion to a pervasion. I had my collection coming at me, wall to wall, but in no sensible order at all. .
When Springsteen was making his “Born To Run” album, Bruce (or someone on the creative team) decided that Thunder Road should start the conversation and it should round out with Jungleland. Those choices define how the album feels, how it speaks. I know this because not only have I read enough artist bios to know that running order is part of how many records are made but it is how I do it too. The record is a set of conversations, one in each piece or song but a meta-story in the totality of the album.
When I listened to vinyl (and CDs) there was a certain amount of ritual in choosing & playing an album. Media players strip much of that occasion from the playing of an album but allow any and all tracks to be thrown together at random. Sure that could seem like a great thing but it isn’t. It seems great to be able to allow fate to slam Sisters Of Mercy up against Spice Girls but it isn’t. There is no meaning to that pairing. It is as bad as talking to a lover who only replies with things like left go fortune red banana truck free Wellington hairspray toaster… on and on. Each word is a good one in itself but as a whole means absolutely nothing. So it becomes irritating and irrelevant.
I found myself trying to find meaning in the way that the songs were played. I was even starting to create some sort of (almost) conspiracy theory around the song pairings as I got desperate to have my music make sense.
My beloved music was starting to cause me stress instead of helping me make sense of my world. Wrong!
Stand & Deliver
I decided to put a stop to it. The Shuffle button in Plex was to be ignored and I would play only albums in their entirety. Sure I may leave the room, or start watching a film before the album finished but it was better to listen to an album than a purple dishwasher monkey that pretended to be of value but was nothing but music flavored noise.
Within an album or two, I could feel the value of my music returning. Christopher Cross makes sense when I choose to play it against Doobie Brothers. Doobies make sense when I choose to change musical direction and pop on Judas Priest. Priest makes sense when I decide to go deeper and commune with Sanctuary. This is because of two reasons:
- The musical choices are mine. It may seem random to you that I chose that album next but there is a reason I did that. The best reason the computer had was that it hadn’t already played that song between now and when the Shuffle button was hit. The Lord may move in mysterious ways but that doesn’t mean that His Godliness is leaping about the universe like a coked-up Pokemon. There is order. I just went from Adam Ant’s “Prince Charming” album to Screaming Blue Messiahs’ “Gun Shy” album. Why? Well, it is complex to put into words but it is because they have connections for me. One of the obvious ones is that they are both Rockabilly based; another is that I used to listen to these in the kitchen whilst making dinner in a house in Ashgrove in 1988. I would pop the record on the turntable and drag a speaker out into the kitchen. And there would be more reasons that I can’t articulate properly like both records are Pop but have an edge, both records have themes that affirm the individual who feels on the outside of things. No media player can fully replicate that.
- Which brings me back to the sense of order within an album I spoke of earlier. A song is a small part of the story, a good one is complete within itself but when you put that song in the context of the album that it came from then everything makes more sense. You can take “Purple Rain” out of the Prince album of the same name but it is greater in the context of all the other songs around it when you play the whole album.
The albums I choose help me to express or process something that I am dealing with. The choices may seem as diffuse and wacky as dreams but they have sense.
If you got this far it is possible that you may be thinking that albums don’t matter because you don’t dig em. Fine. It may be that you like your music coming at you like a drip-line of narcotic noise. Fine. You may listen to music as you see fit but if you find that the only way music moves you now is if it is louder, faster, more alternative, more extreme… then maybe I have presented something that can help you get back to how and why music makes your life better. Personal connection through choice.
What with life being the way it is just as I have realized this about getting back to the sanctity of choosing the album I play, YouTube presented me with this talk about how we are destroying our ability to be alive properly with a steady assault of random music. It is 10 mins long and Roger Scruton definitely doesn’t sound Gangsta (or whatever shit is dope this second) but it is well worth taking his points in.
Roger Scruton – The Tyranny of Pop Music