You could write an interesting history of pop music which looked only at album tracks by second-tier boy bands or minor heartthrobs. Assuming this stuff isn’t respected by execs and creatives* - because its presumed audience isn’t - you’re getting a look at music whose role is to do the minimum…
One possible (significant) flaw here is that often album tracks are where bands go to genuinely experiment. Though the semi-cynicism (really just a kind of “market pragmatism”) here is probably often accurate, it doesn’t account for the times when BIG SINGLES are also obscuring a totally separate, or at least totally different, mode of working outside of the singles format. (This is often the case with one-hit-wonders — Emily and I listened to some of White Town’s albums the other day, and they were not only awful, oh well, but, more importantly, radically different from the one fluke single, “Your Woman.”)
My go-to for this kind of analysis has been Aly and AJ, who genuinely seem to get away with some strange and interesting stuff outside of their singles. On album one, “Into the Rush” competes with any number of individualist-triumphal teenpop classix, but there’s also the darker stuff like “I Am One of Them” (about child kidnapping, sensationalism, and the inability to tell one from the other) and “Sticks and Stones” (the bullying song with the message “some day soon you’ll be the victim and when you’re looking for help there’ll be NO ONE” — that’s a direct quote, IIRC). And on second album, Insomniatic, the album tracks are reserved for stuff like “Blush,” kept off the iTunes release (though I nabbed an early pressing copy with it on as album track). Thesis: I’m not ready for sex, but I want you to bring me as close as possible to the limits of my desire (i.e. PLEASE MAKE ME BLUSH OMIGOD).
Now, I suppose a methodology like this one might account for this kind of stuff. But I think that it would generally miss the exceptional album tracks that are so far removed from what we assume to be the “minimum viable product” that they become their own kind of “product.” And perhaps this idea — that there’s a “WTF viable product” — is specific to a corporate setting (like Disney’s) where the control is so totalizing that actually the rare album artist has great flexibility to try things out. But that’s also been my experience with a lot of second-tier stuff — lots of mediocre material (or “minimum viable” material) and a few genuinely strange things tucked in. (And no telling which is which.)
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- barthel said: Shhhhh this is sorta what my vanity project column is about
- o-song said: What everygreatsongever said!
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- ajohnny said: Always! That’s the move historians are taking in general - keeping the “great” stuff at arm’s length in order to get a better pictures of how trends work “on the ground.”
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- everygreatsongever said: Perhaps you should be the one to write this book, Tom. It’s a good idea!
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