I Call Them Albums

Here’s my latest definition of feeling old: Speaking to someone under a certain age about music, referring to a collection of published songs as an “album” and then subsequently being looked at as if I had suddenly lapsed into Greek. “What’s an album?” they usually ask.

It happens a lot more often than I’d like. I was talking to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law not long ago. They’re not young enough when records were never part of their lives but they’re apparently not old enough  so that using the word “album” or “record” is a hard habit to break. My sister-in-law actually laughed out loud and said, “Who calls them albums any more, Lou?” Well, a lot of people I know do, but I guess it all depends on who you hang around with. It was such a weird moment that it stuck with me. The fact that she found it so funny also stuck with me. Was this something I should change? Should I not be using those words anymore? It got me thinking.

I’m one of those children of the 70’s who remembers and owned many of what are called LP’s. The LP stands for Long-playing. These typically vinyl discs were placed on a turntable, spun around, and read by a stylus – or what we commonly referred to as the “needle” which resided at the end of a long arm. This needle delivered the sound to your speakers. Wild.

Cassette tapes came along at some point (as did the relatively short-lived and not discussed here 8-track cartridge) and while it was cool that they were more portable and you could record on them, they were never quite able to knock LPs out of the market. People usually referred to them as “tapes” but it was still acceptable to call them albums at a higher level. They lived side-by-side in harmony for quite some time.

I worked in record stores (<— there’s that word again!) for a long, long time and I don’t recall a time when someone said, “Do you have that new tape by Some Artist?” Usually they’d ask for the new album and we might say, “Do you want it on record or tape?” and that was that. I’m sure there were some people who used the term on a regular basis but they were not the majority then. I’m also pretty sure that saying the word “record” was as taboo as I’m led to believe it is today. In retrospect, I think it’s because the LP format was not totally wiped out yet, which leads me to my next example: The CD or “compact disc”.

I remember when this wonderful monster came along. I was working at a store called “Crazy Eddie’s” (His prices are inSANE!!!) here in Northern New Jersey. I was there for the whole CD revolution. I watched the format hatch and grow commercially. I unpacked the first shipments and put them out into retrofitted bins. At first they came in what were called “longboxes” which contained most of the cover art. Some labels got creative while other cheaper labels simply packaged the CDs in long, clear plastic “blisters” with the booklet up top and the CD with tray at the bottom. They sat in the bins just the same as the ones with the longboxes so browsing the bins would not be a problem.

I was also there, working in those same stores, when we started emptying the LP racks completely and converting them into CD bins. I distinctly remember noticing that two CDs in their boxes, next to each other, took up the same amount of space as an album. For a long time, CDs sat in the bins two columns deep with nothing dividing them. Why I remember this stuff, I couldn’t tell you but as memories go, they are sort of fond ones.

It was fun for a short while in the interim, positioning CDs, tapes, AND record albums all together in a Top 10 sequence according to a Billboard chart. The tapes were in these long plastic “shucks” that were supposed to prevent theft. People usually just broke them, but they looked nice when you put them on the front wall because they became the same height as the LPs and CD longboxes. Working in those stores in the old days was a lot more fun. Try going into a music store today (if you’re around my age). It’s a whole different experience.

Remember, this was all pre-internet, pre-downloading, pre-mp3s, and all that stuff. We’ve come a long way since then and the CD is still around while cassette tapes have gone away. The LP suffered for a long time and was just about to be counted totally out when some nostalgia for the format began to resurface. For all intents and purposes, however, the LP was pretty much thrown to the curb, at least commercially.

I was originally talking about naming conventions but as you may have noticed, this little side-trip down Memory Lane actually serves a purpose. It gives you a little insight as to why someone like me might still say, “Did you hear that new Lenny Kravitz record?” which my sister-in-law seems to find so funny-bone tickling funny. I guess it just comes down to plain old conditioning and/or force of habit. When you grow up saying or doing a certain thing, then that said thing sticks with you.

I have thought about this a lot more than I care to admit and I’ve always come to the same conclusion.  I just can’t bring myself to change the way I refer to popular compiled published recordings. Over the years, I’ve made many other changes in the way I speak based on changing times, but for some reason I can’t let go of using the terms “records” or “albums”. It’s just so hard-wired in my brain that I can’t undo it. It just doesn’t sound right to me.

I think younger folks are used to it and accept it more because they weren’t around when albums were in full force. All they’ve ever seen are CDs so it’s natural to them. I suppose the relevant comparison for me would be television. I was born in 1970. TVs were around for years but in 1970, there were plenty of people around who remembered when TVs became commonplace after World War II (even though television had been around years before that). The 1950’s saw the TV boom; the 1980’s saw the CD boom. I personally don’t ever remember a time when radio was king, when phone numbers didn’t fully consist of actual numbers, or milk was delivered to your house in the morning by a “milkman”. Well, that milkman part might be a stretch. I remember being 5 or so  and having an insulated metal box on the front porch that actually said “milk” on it. I never saw milk IN it, nor do I remember ever spotting a “milkman” but I think you get the idea.

I think the term is making a slight comeback though. They have these “Record Store Days” now where people are supposed to go to record stores and get all nostalgic and stuff. I’ll be honest and say I don’t really have any interest in that. I practically lived in record stores for years and had some fun times but all in all, it’s just another business. The idea is to make money. It was the PEOPLE that made the record stores fun – not the job. No money = no rent = no more store.

I’ve seen music on iTunes referred to as “iTunes Albums”. Some labels are still referred to as “Record Labels” which is nice. (I am lumping the terms “records” and “albums” together, please note.)  To be honest, I hear lots of people saying, “Did you get that new CD by [insert pop name]?” and I’m not even sure that really works anymore with all the digital hoopla. Are they going to start saying, “Did you get that new download yet?”

Maybe I’m not as out-dated as I fear I might be.

Times change and society adapts for the most part. In this case, however, I’m relatively sure I’ll go to my grave calling these musical collections “albums” regardless of the format they reside on.

I’m secretly longing for the labeling convention of “CD” to go away (or at least have the same stigma as “album/record”)  so that when I talk to my sister-in-law and she says she mentions the new CD from some artist, I can laugh and say, “HA! Who calls them CDs anymore? Gosh!”


1 Response

  1. ArtVandelay says:

    The term “CD” is already a dinosaur. Check out iTunes and Amazonmp3. Both use the term “Album” fo how you understand it should be used.

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