Hot Trip to Heaven
Love and Rockets
1994

Tubular Bells
Mike Oldfield
1973

Key Lime Pie
Camper Van Beethoven
1989

Today I will spare you a rant about the vanishing concept of the “album,” a group of songs that are thematically linked or that fix an artist in time. That concept didn’t even exist until The Beatles came along, and if the album is no longer needed in an era of music on demand, well, The Beatles aren’t around anymore either. Things change and I like change.

But I do want to recall for a moment one aspect of the album experience, and that is having to buy an entire album just to get one song.

You might remember Love and Rockets from their 1989 hit, “So Alive,” which sounds very 1970s to me, like a lazy lounge version of T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong.” They also did a good job with their cover of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion.” Love and Rockets was a sort of goth/psychedelic act with an enthusiastic though small following. I wasn’t enthusiastic about them until I heard “Body and Soul” from Hot Trip to Heaven.

Like most people, I love a 3-minute record with a beat. But I also like a lengthy, mesmerizing song. I write better in a trancelike state (I also write better after I’ve had my shoes shined) and I find that playing lengthy, mesmerizing songs at work keeps people from bugging me. “Body and Soul” (which has nothing to do with Billie Holiday) is a 14-minute chunk of musical hypnosis, even at the 6:45 mark where the song abruptly picks up speed.

(The lyrics are another issue. The main theme in the first half of the song is “Body and soul,” which isn’t explained. In the second half it’s “Spin the wheel,” and I can’t shed any light on that one, either. Love and Rockets graduated from the same school of lyrical obfuscation as did Screaming Trees.)

The rest of the album I never listen to, though a couple of songs (“Trip and Glide” and “Be the Revolution”) are almost sort of catchy. But in 1994, if you wanted to own “Body and Soul” by Love and Rockets, you had no choice but to buy the entire album. That was about a $12 song. The cover art looks cool if you leave the CD sitting on your desk, but people listening to iTunes tend to snicker when they see any CD sitting on my desk so this is not the benefit it once was.

Another example from my experience is Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, a snippet of which became the theme from The Exorcist. The actual title is “Tubular Bells, Pt. 1,” and it weighs in at a hefty 25:49. Don’t let that figure deter you – you don’t have to listen to the entire epic. Thanks to your computer, you can start precisely at 17:04 and immediately get to the meaty, mesmerizing part. It even has an announcer to introduce the dozens of instruments Oldfield played, as he played them. When I bought this album in the ’70s, I had to memorize where on the vinyl I wanted to go and hope I dropped the needle in the right place. (Side two, the cleverly named “Tubular Bells, Pt. 2,” is a mere 23:20. I probably played that side once. It’s way too short.)

Sometimes buying an album to get just one song resulted in a happy surprise. I wanted Key Lime Pie because of Camper Van Beethoven’s cover of the 1960s’ psychedelium masterpiece, “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Camper Van was an early indie band with a violin and a sly sense of humor, as you can see in their legacy to contemporary music, “Take the Skinheads Bowling”:

Some people say that bowling alleys got big lanes
Some people say that bowling alleys all look the same
There’s not a line that goes here that rhymes with anything

For years I took out this CD and skipped to track 13, “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” played that song a couple of times, then popped the disc out of the machine. Even though David Lowery of Camper Van went on to form Cracker, a band I like, it never occurred to me to listen to anything else on Key Lime Pie. But then one day at work I slipped the CD into my computer just as a co-worker came over to speak to me. Before I could punch in track 13 the music started and I found myself listening to the entire album. I loved about half of it! That’s a whole lotta love in my snobby world.

My experience with Key Lime Pie proves that you should always make time to talk to your co-workers. You should always be prepared for change, too. I don’t know what’s going to happen to albums, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Comments
  1. Accused of Lurking says:

    The opposite of happy surprise is buying Extreme’s CD Pornograffiti for the ballad “More Than Words” and finding out all the other songs are, well, quite a bit different.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Oh so true. I think they did a couple of ballads, but weren’t they a metal act? All I really remember about Extreme is the girl in the leather bikini in the “Decadence Dance” video. Wait, that probably describes most videos by metal enthusiasts.

      I feel your pain, Lurk. The Pixies fooled me with “Here Comes Your Man” on the album Doolittle. What a happy song and what a depressing album. Nihilists! The Ramones probably fooled a lot of people with their cover of “Needles and Pins.” In the ’70s that would’ve been like The Clash covering “I Got You, Babe.” Actually, I’d like to hear that.

  2. Krafty says:

    I have the 12″ Tubular Bells from the Exorcist and I also just ordered Dominoes pizza from your link!

    xoxo Laura

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      How in the name of Ultravox did Domino’s invade my blog?? And you’re eating their pizza? I’d rather listen to Heart!

      Now I have to go play the last seven minutes of “Tubular Bells” again.

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