Compulsive Listening: Getting To Know An Album

I don’t know how many albums I have listened to in my lifetime. Hundreds?

Of those, only a few have gotten the bulk of my lifetime listening time.

What I mean is, probably like 90% of the time that I’ve spent listening to music, it’s only been TWO ALBUMS. Those are: Steve Vai’s Sex & Religion and Metallica’s Black Album.

Vai: Pig (With Devin Townsend)

Some history… In the mid-90s, I spent hours a day driving 40 miles each way between Venice and Bradenton, Florida. One of those two records (in cassette form) would play on repeat for months at a time.

It didn’t matter that only one speaker worked in the mini-van, or that I had to crank the volume up until it badly clipped over the sound of wind blasting through the windows (there was no AC).

I sang along and drummed on the steering wheel to every bit of those albums every day for years. It was uninterrupted time with music.

Probably due to these things:

  1. I was excited about music at that time in my life, as I was studying composition and theory in college
  2. I had nothing else to do while driving for hours a day. No cellphone to call people, no podcasts to listen to, etc.
  3. It was easy to leave the cassette in the auto-reversing player!

But why those two albums, out of everything available? My suspicion is it had nothing to do with the albums or songs themselves. It probably had more to do with habit. I’m habitual about so many things: food, clothing, etc. As a high-anxiety person, I find comfort in predictability and safety.

The benefit of listening on repeat (or watching movies on repeat) is I notice more details each time. This could be because I’m just slow at noticing details, or that’s just the way it works.

This all got me thinking that I should try to recapture some of that experience. I’d like to devote some time to compulsively listening to a single album — really getting to know it, to the point of being able to (kind of) hum along to the whole thing.

But not rock music this time.

My musical interests have changed in the past decade, to 20th century classical and film scores. I love music by Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Bartok, Varese, Ligeti, Rouse, Ives, and film scores by Goldsmith, Herrmann, etc. But I find myself skipping around from track to track because there’s just so much stuff I’ll never have time to listen to. Orchestral music is so dense! Not as easy to get to know as your average repetition-filled guitar-drums-bass-vocals music. Even the most complicated bands you can think of have so little information in them compared to a score like Planet of the Apes. It’s not created for the sake of being remember-able and hum-able.

All the more reason to take on the challenge.

The album I’ve chosen is Close Encounters of the Third Kind by John Williams. At 77-minutes long, it’s a wild, 20th-century style orchestral sound hurricane. Also, I’m sure I’ll learn something, even if only subconsciuously.

John Williams: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

My first goal will be to listen to the album 10 times and report back.

Have you compulsively listened to an album? If so, post a reply.

One thought on “Compulsive Listening: Getting To Know An Album

  1. There have been several albums that I listened to compulsively. When I was in 7th grade, it was Prince & The Revolution’s “Purple Rain.” When I was first introduced to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” I was compelled to listen to it in its entirety with headphones every night before going to sleep for at least a year. Then when I began finding the more “unorthodox rock” of King Crimson and Primus, it was “Discipline” and “Suck on This.” Then of course Mr. Bungle came along and I could not get enough of that first album. I listened over and over, and could not stop talking about it or showing it to other people. Every year or so, I find a new album or artist that I become obsessed with. Right now it’s Igorrr. I can’t seem to get enough of it.

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