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Is iTunes killing the album?

A couple of weeks ago, as I was performing some obligatory household chores, I was rummaging through some old VHS tapes and my mom’s old record collection. While I was impressed with the number of timeless Neil Diamond, Chicago and Elvis albums, I realized (in a cloud of dust mites) that the album is going the way of the 45, the LP, the 8-track, the dinosaur.

As much as I try to support the off-shore Swiss bank accounts of some of my favorite recording artists and bands, I admit that I am partaking in the slow, ritualistic killing of the album by surrendering my soul and credit card information to the powers that be. That power would be iTunes.

iTunes, along with the single and probably bi-curious A.M. deejays, have been destroying the album and glorifying the single ever since the semi-popular 80s group Was-Not-Was released “Everybody Walk the Dinosaur.” Ok, two dinosaur references in the first three paragraphs – sorry, I was a big T-Rex fan too…but I digress. Anyway, in the era of overplaying sappy Tonic songs that made them filthy rich from ASCAP and BMI royalties (and which also made them lazy and on the brink of three-hit-wondership), music listeners as a whole are separating themselves from the album aisle at their local music store and hitting the recordable media aisle at a suburban Best Buy en masse.

Somewhere, Jerry Seinfeld is saying ‘What is the deal?’

If you thought your senior prom date circa 1987 didn’t like your “mix tape,” which included such power ballads as “One I Love” by R.E.M., and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer,” she’s gonna love seeing you roll up to your 20-year class reunion next spring in your detachable-face Pioneer car stereo-sporting Volvo hatchback, crushing amps in the back while you crank out 18 tracks of pure, unadulterated rock (and a secret track, but here’s the hint – Baha Men). But hey, America loves the single and loves putting 80 minutes of them on a CD-R. “Got the new John Mayer single, Timmy?” “Hells yeah, now let’s go get a 6-pack of Heineken before the collar on my polo wrinkles.” Kids.

But in the music industry, it’s the almighty dollar (preferably large bills with Benjamin Franklin on it), so whether or not Ricky Martin’s third Christian-Spanish crossover album sells a billion copies at a mom-and-pop in East Los Angeles or the estate of Bing Crosby releasing his 401st Christmas album just in time for the holidays, the music industry is taking your money to the bank and laughing as they tell the poor woman behind the counter she needs a new haircut. All this because the single is dominating the music industry. I’m not talking handcuff domination here. I’m talking candle wax, latex, a goat…yeah, you get the point.

When a pimpled-face youth from Essex County, Connecticut logs on to his wireless internet on his G4 Mac while sipping a latte with an Alternative guide to New York City pamphlet on his lap, he suddenly tries to fight back an urge to find a single that Euro-house band Kreo released and was played an astonishing 8 ½ times at a rave his buddy George hosted at a loft near the University of Connecticut campus just recently. What does this pimpled-face, LL Bean loafer-wearing collegian do? Short story long, he gets on iTunes. Downloads the song “Burning For You,” and for a measly .99 cents, swings his head to-and-fro, reminding everyone in his neighborhood Starbucks why they moved south from Massachusetts.

I am just as guilty as the next guy. I don’t know how many mix CD’s I made in my four years of college — for every date, pub crawl, frat event, tailgate, roadtrip, spring break, fall break, etc.; the number is mind boggling. And looking back, it’s hard not to laugh at some of the titles I named these mixes… “The Metz Mix Madness,” “B. Metz and the Rockin’ 80’s,” “Jim, Jimi and Jimmy…a tribute to The Doors, Hendrix and Jimmy Eat World…” that one always brings a smile to my face.

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And as hard as the album companies in North America push albums by doing in-store promos and taking the newest American Idol third place finisher to Six Flags, Joe Cool will have none of it. He’s waiting for the hot single to drop and click, he’s got it. For .99 cents, it’s a tradeoff he’s willing to make. Long gone are the days of kids waiting outside in the rain for the new Metallica album. Now days, a true fan will have the access to someone inside Metallica’s camp who has a demo of the new album and has the new single three weeks before it hits the airwaves. There’s no more thrill of falling asleep Monday night and knowing that when the sun rises on Tuesday that you’ll be unwrapping the new Limp Bizkit album. But if you’re a big Bizkit fan, you’re binging on No-Doze and orange juice, right? No sleep for the Bizkit fan.

There are a few select bands/artists that I will support by buying their album at my local record store or online, but in a point-click world, music has been slayed by the “gotta have it now” dragon. The album won’t become extinct, but it’s definitely an endangered species.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to download the new Coldplay b-sides….yeah, I said it.

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