A while back, in the post Long player, I disputed David Weinberger’s contention, in his book Everything Is Miscellaneous, that the vinyl record album was a purely economic contrivance and that we purchased and listened to albums not “for artistic reasons,” as we had assumed, but only “because the economics of the physical world required it: Bundling songs into long-playing albums lowered the production, marketing, and distribution costs because there were fewer records to make, ship, shelve, categorize, alphabetize, and inventory.” The form of the album was actually created, I argued, to expand both the artistic canvas and the supply of recorded music, and, indeed, its arrival unleashed a remarkable flood of creativity in popular music while also vastly expanding the supply of recordings, to everyone’s benefit.
In recently rereading Marshall McLuhan’s classic Understanding Media – insanely brilliant, with an equal emphasis on both words – I came across a brief passage in which McLuhan describes how the LP album spurred a burst of creativity in jazz as well as pop:
… the l.p. record suddenly made the phonograph a means of access to all the music and speech of the world … With regard to jazz, l.p. brought many changes, such as the cult of “real cool drool,” because the greatly increased length of a single side of a disk meant that the jazz band could really have a long and casual chat among its instruments. The repertory of the 1920s was revived and given new depth and complexity by this new means.
McLuhan’s book was published in 1964, a couple of years before rock musicians would realize that the LP form allowed them a way to extend their creativity beyond the individual track. Well before what we now recognize as the golden age of the album, the LP was viewed as a liberating technology, for musician and listener alike, not as a means of constraining choice and oppressing music fans.