The Singles World

Much has been made of Taylor Swift’s recent album release, “1989.” Discussion focuses as much for the format – an album – as for which digital services are no longer distributors. Swift recently added the cover of TIME to her portfolio of accomplishments and acknowledgments.

One supposes we might also discuss the quality of the songs, too.

But she’s selling, you see, as many albums as she is singles and this fact is noteworthy today.

A longer form format selling as many units as does its shorter form. Shocking.

One wonders if this – the commentary and accompanying response to Swift’s bold throw-back (all the way to the year she was born) venture – is yet another form of tear-jerking nostalgia certain to soon pass.

Much like the current fascination with letterpress printing. Whereby wedding invitations, retirement announcements and the like are hand-pulled off archaic and, in many instances, enormous floor-mounted machines of cast iron. And the printing is, uh, uneven in quality so as to better telegraph its hand-wrought origin.

Or, and closer to the present Blog’s theme, the reputed resurgence of vinyl records – albums, in particular.

For those who never experienced the analog joys associated with pops, hisses and related aural distortions never intended – indeed, actively suppressed at the time – by the recording artist, the magnetic attraction is understandable.

But haven’t we always been a singles world? We like the hits. Those catchy songs with the great hooks. “Three minute operas,” as Tom Wolfe once described hitmaker Phil Spector’s work.

Maybe we even had a little bit of resentment toward the album format, with all its “filler” – the other 10 or 11 songs. They never seemed to equal that of the single.

Admit it, we all loved Top 40, however briefly. And if not love, then at least an affair. Back when we were teen angel teeny-boppers.

Recall, too, the singles that came on vinyl on a color other than black. Kids’ records had long featured such eye dazzlers. But pop 45s rarely had colorful vinyl. Or picture sleeves, for that matter.

On the other hand, there’s the “throw-up” album by Dave Mason – his first solo effort – with its multicolored vinyl.

The music single has today an analogy in the newspaper industry. Digital news is, essentially, singles format news. All the news, with each “article” 25 words or fewer.

And the single format even transfers to the book form: today, chapter sales instead of the whole “album” (book) are viable revenue streams for publishers.

Whether newspaper/book or single/album, as a listener or reader, you know you’re missing something when you purchase only an element.

As for the artist/writer, the single format insists upon a whole other way of composing.

“Oow-whee, baby,” as Ronnie would say.