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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Who still lives the long-playing life?

In the fifties and sixties pictures like this one were staples of the greetings card trade. The teen couple whiling away their time with a limitless supply of long-playing records was a dream of the age.

The figures reported by the music business yesterday weren't altogether bad. People are buying downloads in greater numbers than ever (at this stage in the game it would be surprising if they weren't) but they're buying the tracks they want and leaving the rest at the side of their plate. It's a singles market, the singles often elected by the buyer at the point of purchase, not by the industry. Volume sales of both digital and physical albums declined by 11% in a year. People spend less time listening to one artist for a sustained period. The record industry is heavily invested - financially, creatively, nostalgically and emotionally - in a format, the 45-minute album, which the first business consultant off the rank could tell you appears to be an obsolete medium.

One of the reasons it's obsolete is because the grandchildren of the couple in the picture above don't set aside the time for the sustained listen which the long playing record demands. One of the things that helped the long playing record flourish was that there was such a thing as not much else to do. Entire days of it. Rushing into that vacuum came all those huge selling records of the 70s. You'd come back to your student flat every evening and play the same fifty albums again and again, not least because there was no radio in the place and certainly no TV. There were great albums, of course, which is one prerequisite for an albums boom, but there were also plenty of time, which begged to be whiled away in album-shaped denominations.

That's the thing that strikes me about all those end of the year lists of ten (ten!) albums of 2012. Who's actually listening to all these albums all the way through more than once and where are they getting the time? If they've elected ten then presumably they must have listened to fifty all the way through more than once.  How? With more TV and radio than ever before and the advent of the Great Time Waster the internet? I can only conclude that it must be their job or they don't have a job. How else could they clear the time? And do they still sprawl on the carpet just like the couple above?