Up until recently, I had an iPhone with an unfortunate iTunes quirk: it would only play songs in shuffle mode. Regardless if it was by artist or by album, I just couldn’t listen to something the way it had been laid out by the creators. I tried to fix it at first, but I eventually gave up for a time. When I got a new phone last fall, the first thing I checked was the iTunes play. I felt a kind of relief that things were back to normal.
I say this because Andrew Peterson just wrote a nice piece about the joys of listening to an album as an album. And it came up for him because his daughter, a young musician herself, had grown tired of “singles.” It’s a fun piece that waxes both philosophical (about streaming services) and nostalgic (like the paragraphs below).
When I was a kid, we didn’t have much money. That meant it was a big deal if I saved the ten bucks to buy a tape at Turtle’s Music in Gainesville. When I got home I would smell the cassette, unfold the booklet, and read the tiny liner notes while I listened. I would treat the tape like it was a rare jewel. I had to think twice before I lent it to someone, and I always made sure I got it back when they were finished. The cassette was a treasure. When I rode in my buddy Joe’s 280 ZX I would drool all over the tapes in his Case Logic case and beg him to lend me the newest Tom Petty album. He had to think about it hard, because if he did, it meant he couldn’t listen to it in the meantime. He would miss it, pine for it, until I gave it back.
Not only was the artifact itself a treasure, it wasn’t easy to skip songs—which meant you discovered buried treasures within the treasure. You had to suffer through songs you didn’t like in order to get to the ones you did, giving the B-sides time to grow on you, with the happy result that they became favorites. Nowadays, if I don’t like a song it’s really easy to remove it from a playlist and never give it another shot, and I’m certain that by doing so I’m missing out on some great music.
And then this:
My point is this: if I made a list of my very favorite albums of all time, I’m pretty sure most of them cost me some time and effort before they really clicked. The key was the scarcity. The fact that the CD or tape lived in my car and I didn’t have the world at my fingertips meant that I gave the songs time to unfold themselves to me, to surprise me, to shift the tectonic plates of my taste and understanding enough that the next time I looked out the window I could tell the landscape had subtly broadened. The time spent with the music was the key that unlocked it—and the music, in turn, was the key that unlocked something in me. None of that would have happened if I had bumped up against a difficult song and merely skipped it or removed it from the playlist. Back then, the interface made it a little more difficult to banish a song into outer darkness. But now, the path of least resistance is to make a knee-jerk decision about a song and never revisit it, or to mean to go back and listen again but forget because eighty-five new albums came out today.
I think most of us have certain albums and artists that we think of because of this. Music and long walks has been something of a regular thing for me for a long time (though less now since I refuse to buy a waterproof phone). I think of my summer missions summer and the albums we would play on our long rides: Rich Mullins’ Songs or the self-titled Caedmon’s Call or Chris Rice’s Deep Enough to Dream. All of them, for me at least, always the whole way through. That’s the world at the time, at least as best as I can remember it.
You can read the whole piece here. It’s good on multiple levels.