What prompted this particular blog was my listening to Jethro Tull’s second LP, Stand Up. I am particularly fond of Side Two, Track Three, entitled We Used To Know, which features some scorching guitar playing from the band’s then-new member, my first cousin, Martin Barre. I’ve loved this rather mournful rock-out ever since I first heard it, when Martin gave a copy to the 14-year old version of me.
Now, this isn’t going to be about how I have rediscovered my 14-year-old inner prog rock self (even though the genre appears to have regained some cachet over the past few years). No, what prompted this latest outpouring was the whole notion of Side One, Track Three itself, and its companions, from Side One, Track One onward. Why relegate the strongest number (imho) to the matrical dead zone of the middle of the second side? Not that it matters in these days of self-programming, but it did make me think about the art of track sequencing, whether done by the artist(s), producer, manager or whoever. Is it a moribund skill in modern times? Without this becoming a sort of “most perfect no- filler at all” list of great albums, I must here suggest that there is probably an ur-album Platonic ideal in most older music fan’s minds of what constitutes the perfect album structure in rock/pop music - maybe 5/6 tracks per side, each lasting ¾ minutes (perhaps, as in The Clash and Police & Thieves,, with one track coming in at a much longer duration for added heft?). The total time lasting no more than 45 minutes at the outside.
This vanishing art is highlighted by the phenomenon of the box set compilation/completist document, where tracks are re-sequenced into chronological order, with the accompanying loss of architectonic structure that the original LPs provided - some obvious examples, from the jazz end of things, are the sets of Impulse Coltrane’s, Riverside Monk’s and Atlantic Coleman’s, all superb artifacts in themselves, but we thereby lose the original matrix of such classics as My Favorite Things, Brilliant Corners and The Shape of Jazz to Come. Rock compilations tend to be lazier and less bothered by detail, but the point is well made.
Another contention would be that this art became coarsened in the CD age, by excessive length of albums and tracks therein lasting up to 80 minutes of material. Albums of these sort of lengths will inevitably contain filler. Nowadays when I prime up a CD (yes, I still use ‘em), I inwardly have a sigh of relief when the digital display indicates 45 minutes or under, especially under 40.
But would it have made a better album ultimately, if We Used To Know was Side One, Track Five, the last on that half of the platter? Somehow, I doubt it. Album programmers really knew their stuff in those days.