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article imageReview: ‘When Albums Ruled the World’ Special

By Alexander Baron     Feb 10, 2013 in Entertainment
The long playing record was introduced by Columbia Records in 1948; it is now all but dead and gone, but for those of us who were around in especially the 1960s and 70s, it was and will remain a major part of our lives.
Howard Goodall is currently trying to tell the story of music in 6 programmes. In view of the sheer quantity of music recorded over the course of the 20th Century, telling the story of the long playing record in one programme that logs in at just under an hour and a half is nearly as big a task, but this programme makes a full-blooded attempt. Broadcast by BBC 4, it is currently on iplayer, though it won't be for much longer.
The programme concentrates on the 1960s to the late 70s and includes contributions from many big names including an unusually humble Noel Gallagher, Nile Rodgers, Bob Harris, Richard Branson and Mike Oldfield.
From the beginning, albums covered classical music and soundtracks, but it wasn't long before jazz and then rock 'n' roll began to invade the medium, and it was the latter, melding into melodic rock, progressive rock and heavy metal that began to dominate. Let us not forget either folk music; the programme identifies Dylan's second album ...Freewheelin’ a watershed.
Another landmark was psychedelic rock, which was inspired by LSD. A white-haired Grace Slick tells us that many of her contemporaries had good experiences with this drug. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Syd Barrett.
It was the West Coast radio station KSAN that began playing albums, and soon this practice spread across both the country and the Atlantic.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was another landmark; by this time the Beatles were already massive, but they had been a singles band, and the transformation was something that affected not simply them but the entire world of contemporary music; it was arguably the world's first concept album. With this, albums became a billion dollar industry, outselling singles for the first time. After Sgt. Pepper's... came Tommy - not a personal favourite of mine!
There is a great deal more in this programme including the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin - the band that refused to release singles, on into the 1970s, an era in which the singer-songwriter came into his (and her own); Carole King, Bowie and Glam Rock, Marvin Gaye... As far as this latter category goes, they don't come any bigger than Elton John, who is still touring and creating music today.
Unhappy with "these long-haired white boys" stealing his riffs, jazz musician Miles Davis threw his hat into the ring, and fusion was born. Less inspiring were compilation albums, and then there was the live album. The massive live double Frampton Comes Alive gets a mention, and Frampton himself is interviewed, but there is no mention of the other three live double rock albums that are arguably the best ever made: Strangers In The Night by UFO, Live Dates II by Wishbone Ash, and Live And Dangerous by Thin Lizzy. It could be that I'm biased because these three bands were all predominantly from these islands, but I was lucky enough to see them all live, so I think I know what I'm talking about!
The front cover of UFO s massive double album  Strangers In The Night   recorded live in Chicago and...
The front cover of UFO's massive double album "Strangers In The Night", recorded live in Chicago and featuring Michael Schenker on lead guitar.
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There is also the question of what has been called self-indulgence: bands like Pink Floyd and Yes who were not satisfied simply with making money by making music but who wanted to make statements as well. Not everybody approved of this, but there is a simple solution - listen to something else! Regardless of the truth or otherwise of that statement, the world would have been much poorer without it: The Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here are concept albums par excellence that will still be played a hundred years from now. If Man still exists. The former spent a staggering 14 years on the Billboard Top 100. Follow that!
Album covers and their artwork were also a major feature of this era; some of them were truly amazing.
Now alas, that is all gone. Was it the cassette that killed the album? Who remembers cassettes now? Then came the video, with of course Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Arguably the most remarkable thing about this programme is that the bulk of the music of this period was created by just two countries: the United States and the much smaller UK. The rest of the world hasn't quite caught up with us yet, but the good news is that although the album is now dead, as far as music is concerned, the best could yet be to come. If you can imagine that!
More about Columbia Records, Elton john, grace slick, bob harris, Noel Gallagher
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