The Return of the Album


Remember when you used to listen to albums? If you were anything like me — and I was hardly unique — you’d go to the record store, spend an hour or more going through the stacks, agonizing over your selection. Finally, you’d pick out one or two, plunk down your lawnmowing money, take them home, and then…

…maybe you’ve forgotten this next part. I know I had almost forgotten, it seems so long ago.

Anyway, you’d take your new album home, call up some friends and invite them over, and then you’d all sit down and listen to the album.

Listen. To an album. All the way through. And then you’d talk about what you heard, and where the band had gone with it, and what you thought they might do next.

And then maybe you’d put on another album and listen to it, too.

Those were great days, but more likely than not, the communal part of sitting down and listening to an album is gone forever. Maybe kids these days still have time for that, but we grownups just can’t manage, can we?

But I do miss listening to albums, and our song-centric software and devices don’t exactly encourage or even enable you to bring back the habit. Sure, you can select an album, but on your iPod or your smartphone or whatever, that album is still just a collection of singles, and acts as such. Ever tried listening to Dark Side Of The Moon as a playlist? On the off chance you remembered to turn off the Shuffle so the song order isn’t messed up, your player will still likely mess up the way the songs blend into one another. CDs introduced this problem, and MP3 players compounded it.

And I really do miss listening to albums — or at least I used to, until last month when I embarked on The Great Albums Project.

It’s simple, really. Take your favorite albums (they don’t actually have to be great, just great to you) and re-rip them using the process I’m about to tell you. I use iTunes, but pretty much every music management application out there offers similar settings.


When you insert the CD, select all the tracks, then click on the options and select “Join Tracks.” Now instead of ripping each song as a separate MP3 file, the entire album will look like one “song.” I started ripping symphonies this way years ago, but it didn’t occur to me until last month that I could and should do the same for my favorite pop albums.

CAUTION: DO NOT DELETE THE OLD RIPS OF YOUR SONGS. These new rips will play as albums, not as individual songs. If you delete the old versions, you’ll be forced to either play the whole album or nothing, or laboriously swipe through the album to the song you want. I even created a new genre — “Great Albums” — to make it easy for my smart playlists to filter out these whole albums but still play the old song files.

Onward — but don’t go ripping all willy-nilly just yet.


Since these are your all-time favorite albums, show them a little extra love and rip them in a lossless format. iTunes users will choose Apple Lossless, and there are other lossless codecs like FLAC and ATRAC. Poke around in your ripper’s settings and see what works for you — just make sure that format you use is supported by your portable player, if you want to take your albums with you on the road.

Don’t worry about the massive file sizes, either. Hard drive space is cheap plenty cheap enough, and you can always tell iTunes to output to your iOS device at a lower bitrate, all the way down to 128kbps.

If this part bothers or confuses you, then just use the rip settings you’ve been using all along. I just like to sprinkle extra bandwidth on top of my Great Albums.


Next, check the box marked “Remember playback position.” That way if your listening experience is interrupted for any reason, you can pick back up right where you left off — like you used to do by lifting the needle off the record when mom came in to tell you something right at the best part!

So why am I bothering telling you all this? The first thing I did after finishing my Great Albums rips was to tell iTunes to play Michael Penn’s March, The Cure’s Disintegration, and Peter Murphy’s Deep through the whole-house audio system while I was doing chores. And for the next hour or two, just puttering around the house, emotionally I was right back in 1990 with my first cool job, my first apartment, and my first live-in girlfriend.

That’s what albums can do — if you take the time to listen.

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