The Art of the Album

An Allegory

So, I was sitting around today, listening to records and reading up on baseball and the soon-to-begin season (Thursday’s Opening Day!!!). This is nothing out of the ordinary for a day off for me. Yet, while having my me time, a thought occurred to me, which mostly pertains, critically, to Pop Music records these days, but also many different artists and genres who release, with the democratic freedom of the digital age, records that don’t pay as much attention to flow and continuity over the entire album as was once paid. Then it hit me, a perfect allegory for album formatting to suggest to artists or producers who have lost their way in this respect. The batting lineup for a baseball team (okay, maybe it’s not a perfect allegory, but I think you’ll find it is a damned good one)! Here goes.

Opening track. I remember my first great writing teacher in high school telling me to always work to have a strong opening line or idea; something to pull the reader right in so that you wouldn’t struggle to keep their attention. Same thing goes for the opener on your record and if you think about it, this is the leadoff hitter’s spot. The leadoff hitter is always someone with a high on-base percentage. Read that as attention-grabbing.

In the two hole of a classic baseball lineup, you want a hitter who can move the runner aboard, presumably the leadoff man, over into scoring position. Think of this as a track that supports the theme or motif of the opening track; a song that works in tandem with the first to pique the listener’s interest.

The meat of the order. Any ballclub worth their weight in Gatorade makes sure their 3-4-5 hitters are power hitters, guys who drive in runs. So, this would be the middle portion of your album, where you really wanna lay it all on the line for a few tracks and just let your audience have it. You might introduce your listeners to their favorite track on the album. You might almost make them forget about the opening couple of tracks, as they’ve been driven home at this point by the power hitters.

The bottom of the order. Slots 6-7-8 are not as potent at the plate as 3-4-5, but they can still get the job done and they certainly are more than serviceable enough parts to turn the lineup over and get the process started over again (assuming that taking the analogy past just baseball here, your goal would be multiple repeat listens from your audience). These tracks have to keep interest alive to finish out the album, but also can’t tire the listener out or bore them. They may also want to reinvigorate certain themes, motifs or variations of earlier tracks.

The 9-hole. No, this is not some secret pornographic trick, but the last slot in the lineup. In a lineup where the pitcher bats 9th, well, my allegory is kinda stuck in the mud. Guess we’ll be assuming modern era Designated Hitter lineup, with another position player hitting 9th. Now, I would think that this track needs to serve dual-yet-opposing purposes. It needs to bring closure, for one, since it doesn’t automatically recycle like a batting order. It also could benefit from tying back into ideas put forth in the opening tracks.

This analogy, of course, doesn’t mean that all albums successful at this level of continuity would have only 9 tracks, so at least free your puny fucking mind from the strictness of translation. It’s just a theoretical rambling of a lonely guy who is dorking out to music and baseball simultaneously.

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