Reprint Special – Two Sides

Okay, okay, I lied a little bit about the schedule.  Shocking.  This will probably be the only exception, though, and I’m only posting this because it fits in with yesterday’s Chimes of Freedom post.

This is another one from the old Yelling About Music blog, this time about the vinyl format and the benefits of it from a storytelling standpoint.  I wrote it in early 2013, and, looking back, it’s not actually all that good or coherent.  I only wrote it because I’d just gotten my hands on a copy of Chimes of Freedom and wanted to write something about it, so have some more Springsteen shit.  You’re welcome.

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The format of vinyl dominated popular music sales for decades.  The medium is iconic – much of the language we use when discussing music today (“album”, “LP”, “EP”, even “record label”) comes from the longest-lasting format of music distribution in history.

Vinyl was used because it was the dominant medium.  But, beyond being the method of distributing music, vinyl offered an interesting opportunity for artists that would be lost with the advent of CDs and digital downloads – the split between side A and side B.

The split exists for the purposes of space; obviously, a musician can put out more music using both sides of the disc as opposed to just one.  But the split served another purpose for many artists – designating a thematic difference between the two halves of an album.

This is something Bruce Springsteen would do with his albums.  He called it the “four corner approach” – the two sides would begin with an uplifting, fast-paced track, while the sides would end with a bleak epic.  Both Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town exhibited this concept.  The vinyl format provided, essentially, two beginnings and two endings, with the potential for two distinct experiences.

The relatively obscure Chimes of Freedom EP, released in 1988 as a record of the Tunnel of Love Express Tour, used this format in a different manner, as a way of delineating the thematic difference between the two sets of tracks on it.  Side A has two hard-hitting anthems about enduring love (“Tougher than the Rest” and “Be True”).  Side B, however, has “Chimes of Freedom”, a Bob Dylan cover, and a bleak, acoustic version of “Born to Run.”  Thus, the two sides have two very different meanings behind them – Side A represents the show’s first message, about love and how it can last.  Side B, however, reveals the unerlying darkness that permeated that tour – Born to Run, an anthem about escaping the life you’re stuck in, becomes almost a mockery of itself, with the implication that its characters won’t ever be able to escape.

This distinction in themes is lost on the CD version of the album, where “Be True” leads right into “Chimes of Freedom.”  There’s no time to take in the message of the set of songs; instead, you’re pushed right into the next set.  There are obvious practical benefits to the CD and digital download formats, but sometimes I wonder about how many albums are hindered by this inability to split its songs up.

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