Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Top 10 Double Albums

This summer’s release of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium has brought up the perennial issue of the prudence of double albums. Are double-albums a good idea? Are they a sign of the sheer volume of genius? Or are they just the bloated expression of artistic hubris? Or are they simply the result of a lazy production not willing to shave a record down to its best elements?

As with so much in music criticism, the wise approach to this inquiry is not to evaluate the double-album as a medium in general. Rather, one ought to evaluate each double-album on its own merits. Although there are many terrible double-albums, there are also many great ones. I have provided a list of the Top 10 Double Albums (according to my humble yet impeccable opinion). Note: I am excluding all compilations and live albums.

Top 10 Double Albums:

10 – Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland (1968)
9 – Sonic Youth, Dirty (1992)
8 – Bruce Springsteen, The River (1980)
7 – Wilco, Being There (1996)
6 – Derek & the Dominoes, Layla and other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
5 – Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde (1966)
4 – The Beatles, White Album (1968)
3 – The Clash, London Calling (1979)
2 – Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street (1972)
1 – Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (1975)

The interesting thing about this list is that a number of these albums could also be placed in the Top 100 albums of all-time. Also, about half of these records are considered by some to be the best albums produced by the respective artist. So, despite the dangers of the double album, sometimes the risk pays off.

Unfortunately for the Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium will likely be categorized among the many double-albums that would have been great albums if they just would have been cut in half. Albums such as Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) Pink Floyd, The Wall (1979), Prince’s 1999 (1982), Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I & II (1991), Smashing Pumpkins’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) and Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/Love Below (2003) were all good records boasting great songs, but they lack what the albums above had: solidness. If you find yourself skipping through the filler to get to the next “real” track, the hubris of bigness has trumped musical integrity. Despite its size, a great double album should feel like any other great album: you love every song on it.

What double-albums would you add to and subtract from the above Top Ten list?
What double-albums should also be place in the “should have been cut in half” category?
What generalizations (if any) could be made about double-albums as a medium?


Tim said...

Not that I'm a fan of the Foo per say, but In Your Honor might have moved from a 2 out of 5 to a 3 if it was on one disc. Probably not, though.

I think all double albums should be cut in half.

Wait. London Calling was a double album? I own London Calling and it's only a "regular album" so did they not heed ALIEN's message and cut it down, or did I get screwed out of more Clash for my buck?

BullandBearWise said...

Absolute must be in top-ten:

Steven Stills - Manassas
The Who - Quadrophenia

Also, Elton John's GBYBR needs to be in there.