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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Farewell to the "B" Side

Somewhere between my rash experimentation with the Jeri Curl and my addiction to my Blackberry, the whole world changed. In the span of those two decades, the universe flipped from Beta Max to NetFlix, and, while I dearly love the ability to fit every album that I own on a device that's slightly longer than a credit card, I've found myself missing something - the "B" side.

Surely, all of my Gen. X and older folks (as well as some of you hipper-than-thou vinyl enthusiasts) remember the time when an album described a physical, two-sided object. Side one had all of the goodies, including those several cuts that got major radio airplay. It had the song that you couldn't wait to hear, that had you running into the house and stripping the record of its Waxie-Maxie bag and cardboard jacket before throwing it onto the record player.

But the "B" side - well, it was a place of hidden gems, those songs that may not have made you jump off of your sofa and bust a move. The "B" sides were places for experimentation, a special place beyond market testing and focus groups. Part of the joy of the "B" side was the joy of discovering what other listeners didn't have the stamina or patience to hear.

Today, there is no "B" side. The development of auto-reverse on cassette tapes and its continuous loop spelled doom for the "B" side, and with the CD, the drums beat ever louder. Now, thanks to Pandora and iTunes, you can't even hold the music physically in your hand. Every cut is a prime cut - ranked and qualified by other listeners and purchasers for other listeners and purchasers. Not sure what the track sounds like? No need to await its airing on a terrestrial signal - you can just click and listen to a snippet.

All of these changes have made music selection and purchase a far more efficient operation, but I'm not so sure what it's done for music appreciation. If all that you hear is what you want to hear, then how do tastes grow and deepen? If there's never any exposure to new sounds that challenge the ear, and that introduce new shades of complexity, then are we doomed to remain in a static, sonic wonderland? Well, not if I have anything to do about it, and you can do your part, too. So here's my pledge to stop the "B" side banishment (you can use it, too):
  • I pledge to purchase an entire CD (even when buying on iTunes)
  • I pledge to listen to every track, all of the way through on the CD (not just snippets)
  • I pledge that in cases when I'm compelled to purchase only one song from an album that I will then purchase several additional tracks by the same artist from different albums
  • I pledge to ignore ratings and rankings, and, instead, take a chance that I may discover something completely awesome by simply listening
  • I pledge that when I go to a concert to hear an artist perform that I will NOT wander off to the t-shirt stand when they start playing "new material"
Will this grand experiment work? Well, I don't know. But if it does, well then there's a bright shiny sliver of hope, and heck, maybe we'll even get liner notes back!

I'm just saying:)

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