Freelining with Mike Freeman: The uncertain fate of the compact disc.

The compact disc helped kill off vinyl ... no, wait, the LP is making a comeback. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

What’s going to happen to the compact disc? Will it fade, like the 8 track tape player or vinyl records?
No, wait, everyone tells me vinyl is making a comeback. I’m not convinced that’s true, but I wonder sometimes if the concept of the rock & roll “album” or “LP” is becoming antiquated. The culprit: the ability today to download songs onto your laptop, cell phone or IPad. Because let’s face it, if you have the opportunity to select the one or two songs on an album that you really love, why buy the whole CD, record or cassette?
I wonder.
If you’ve ever read The Rolling Stone Rock Guide, which ranks every major rock artists known to man and their entire collection of albums, you know that starting in the 1960s, rock performers really went out of their way to create the entire album as, well, an experience – and not just a couple of hit singles and plenty of by-the-numbers filler. The Rolling Stone critics lionize what they consider examples of the greatest albums in rock history: The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the Rolling Stones’ “Beggar’s Banquet,” the Who’s “Tommy” or “Who’s Next.”
As a true rock connoisseur, you weren’t supposed to buy “St. Pepper” just to listen to “A Day In The Life” or “Beggar’s Banquet” just for “Sympathy For The Devil” – the entire album was a listening tour de force, a magnificent musical journey that expanded your mind. It’s no wonder that today we revisit these brilliant works through the Classic Albums Live series at Hard Rock Café, which meticulously recreates every song, every note, to be rediscovered by a new generation.
The problem, though, is that today’s 20-something generation may be getting bored with the notion of buying one of those classic albums on CD, even if the original work has been completely remastered and has a ton of songs from the vaults, extras that didn’t make it onto the original vinyl version. For the artist, it’s an opportunity to broaden the scope of what they created back in the late 1960s or early 1970s. But for the young listener, it may all be overkill. A CD with 12 songs on the original vinyl version gets expanded to a compact disc that can contain 75 minutes of music, and has 25 songs on it. And if you’re driving in your car, grooving to that CD, maybe you just want the one great single that made you buy it in the first place. The rest …. you keep hitting the switch button for the next song. Or you just keep going back to that hit you noticed on the MTV or YouTube video.
And the truth is, for every classic album, there are scores of really bad ones that contain at best one really catchy song — and a lot of duds. Groups like Abba perfected the art of the snappy hit single, but can anyone remember a great Abba album? Does anything think Classic Albums Live will ever recreate an Abba album on stage anytime soon?
Today kids can download everything. No need to buy a book, just download it on Kindle. If you don’t like it, you don’t have a crummy book lying around your house. The same with DVDs – download the movie, watch it once, and no DVD sitting there taking up space, never to be watched again.
But the CD is supposed to be different from reading a book or watching a movie. Music is supposed to capture your spirit and change your mood, your emotions, as you listen to it, prompting you to return to it over and over again. But the same concept exists: why buy the CD when you can download just your favorite songs. Even “Sgt. Pepper” falls into this category; maybe you just want to hear “With A Little Help from My Friends” and not “When I’m 64.”
If this trend continues, I don’t know if the record companies will keep producing compact discs, or if anyone will bother buying them. We may just have music as the ultimate online Juke Box: select the hits you want and that’s it.
Once upon a time, the CD seemed like the king of music. It helped kill off vinyl.
No, wait …. Vinyl is making a comeback.

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