Listening to Black Mountain’s soon-to-be-released In the Future, which is just about a song shorter than the Clash’s London Calling, I started thinking about the double-album format and just how often it fails to live up to expectations. When I was a kid, the idea seemed so tantalizing.
For example, Led Zeppelin was a good thing, so twice as much of a good thing must be twice as good, right? Of course, the math seldom works out that way. Anyone who’s ever heard Physical Graffiti knows that, as good as it might be, it’s certainly not twice as good as Led Zeppelin’s best album (III), and perhaps not even as good as its predecessor, another single album (Houses of the Holy).
Here are ten that, I think, live up to the promise, and are as good as—or better than—any single album from the same artist (in alphabetical order):
Chicago Transit Authority – Chicago Transit Authority (Columbia)
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (Columbia)
Dead C – Harsh 70s Reality (Siltbreeze)
Bob Dylan & the Band – The Basement Tapes (Columbia)
Genesis – Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Charisma)
Keith Jarrett – Köln Concert (ECM)
Minutemen – Double Nickles on the Dime (SST)
Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street (Rolling Stones Records)
Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (Enigma/Blast First)
Karlheinz Stockhausen – Hymnen (Deutsche Grammophon)
Something else that occurred to me while compiling this list is that, because technology has rendered the format quaint—as evidenced by the lack of good hip-hop double-albums—listeners have lost the one format that actually demanded listening. You know, sitting in front of the stereo, kicking off the shoes, looking at the liner notes, thinking about the music, etc.Being a function of technology or format, the double-album belongs to a certain era and I don’t think the analog nowadays is the double-CD, which, if loaded to the brim, is too long at 150 minutes. I think the analog nowadays is the artist that, in this iTunes-and-Myspace era, at least tries to make an album as a unified effort, as opposed to a depository for songs. Radiohead does this and kudos to them. Sales of In Rainbows suggest that there’s a vast audience that still has an attention span longer than, say, a Soulja Boy or Kate Nash song.