Shuffering and Shnacking

The Importance of the Album

I spent the better part of my evening last night working through an August 1967 issue of Crawdaddy I’d picked up at Amoeba before meeting my wife for dinner. The cover feature was an 8 page interview with Paul Rothchild, who talks at length about recording the then just released first Doors LP*.

Rothchild rambles through a bunch of Doors anecdotes, some interesting details about microphones and his recording process. Then he touches on a great note about how important recording the 1st album can be for a group:

“It’s a relief for them to have this first album out because it gives them an opportunity to move on towards music and musical concepts they’ve been discussing and wanting to get into. This is a very interesting thing that a lot of groups have, the effect that making albums has on them, and how it’s almost an insistence that they change their repertoire. It’s like a group goes into a recording studio and that giant performance mirror, the tape recorder, is put in front of them, they finally work out all of the problems and all of the fine points in the music that they’ve been wanting to for so long, and then when they get through with the tunes a great many of them fall by the wayside. Their statement’s been made.”

“…another thing has happened, now that it’s on record and the musicians can listen to it on record it is the statement that they wanted to make on that song and now Jim tends to perform it that way. Sometimes he’ll leave something out, sometimes he’ll put something else in but it’s a formed piece, it isn’t that open canvas any more.”

– Paul Rothchild, Crawdaddy, August 1967

Reading this got me thinking about something I hear semi-frequently, that despite all the great albums anyone can rattle off, the album was always largely considered to be a business instrument, a way to sell listeners something more expensive than a single and now that we’re back to singles, we can get rid of the album, ’cause most albums are 3 good songs and a bunch of filler anyway.

And for those acts that live and die by their radio singles, or make 3-song-plus-filler records, sure I suppose that makes sense. Why spend all that time and mony trying to make one batch of singles when you can tour and the go into the studio as needed?

But for more ‘serious artists’ (in quotes cause who knows what that means anyway, you can use your own judgement there) recording an album actually does serve several remarkable functions, the process acting as a sort of mental drain snake while at the same time creating a canonical reference for the future of what the songs are ‘supposed’ to sound like. Maybe it’s all a bit obvious, but I thought Paul nailed it.

* Speaking of The Doors, I recently discovered that the mono version is available on Spotify, which if you’ve never heard I enthusiastically recommend giving it a listen. The first album always sounded really wussy to me in stereo, I could never figure out why all the older LA guys worshiped them, but in mono the drums and guitars are a lot more upfront and punchy. It’s still a pretty soft record when compared to some of the other rock records that came out in ’67 but in mono it’s considerably less flaccid.

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