There’s something that has been grinding my gears regarding albums for a while and lately it’s been bugging me more. And that’s the length of albums. More and more I’ve been seeing not just in country and Americana, but in all of music albums that are over 12 songs long. It’s now a common occurrence to see albums that are 14, 15 and even 17 songs long in the case of Randy Houser’s Fired Up. It drives me crazy because there’s simply no reason usually to have an album over 12 songs long.
Whenever I see an album over 12 songs long, I immediately roll my eyes if it’s an artist that isn’t at the very top of the genre because it’s probably got like five filler songs that are unnecessary. Sometimes even more. But I don’t blame the artist for this, but rather I imagine this is more on labels. Most don’t really care about the concept of an album nowadays, only singles. Hence why albums are 15 songs long because then they have a large list to choose from for singles and can also cover a variety of styles so that way the artist is prepared for any trends that may emerge over the course of that album’s era. Luke Bryan’s last album Kill the Lights is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. At 13 songs long you see a variety of songs on it. There’s bro country themed songs, upbeat pop leaning songs and even a couple of serious songs. It’s to set up him up for any trends that might emerge at country radio.
What really brings this attention to me is when I go back and listen to older albums from the 70s and 80s. This was back when artists and labels actually cared about albums and put more focus on them. No matter which genre I turn to, none of them have the problem I see today of overloading albums with pointless songs. Take for example George Strait, whose career began in the early 80s. His first ten albums were each ten songs long exactly. None of them came close to overloading. Almost every album released by legendary soul singer Marvin Gaye didn’t go over 12 songs. A modern example is Sturgill Simpson (who has cited Gaye as an inspiration), where each of his three albums hasn’t gone over 12 songs. Right now of my top ten country and Americana albums of 2016, none go over 12 songs. While there are plenty exceptions to the rule, it’s pretty well proven that if you care about putting out a quality album, you probably shouldn’t go over 12 songs.
There are many albums I can think of that have been released recently that could have benefitted from being culled down to a shorter length. One that immediately comes to mind is Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde. It’s 16 songs long including the acoustic track, which is just ridiculous. There are undoubtedly some great songs on this album, but they get overshadowed by the bad and unnecessary tracks. If I had the power to cull it down, this is what the track listing for the album would look like:
- Loving You Easy
- Heavy Is The Head
- One Day
- Dress Blues
- I’ll Be Your Man (Song for a Daughter)
- Tomorrow Never Comes (Acoustic Version)
Try to tell me this isn’t a much better album after I cut out all of the EDM crap, the cheesy Mango song, the pointless island song and the fluffy songs that held down the backside of the album. This version of Jekyll + Hyde would have probably been one of my favorite albums of 2015. It’s really that simple. I’ll give you another example that’s more recent and that Florida Georgia Line’s Dig Your Roots. Here’s how I would trim that album down:
- Life is a Honeymoon
- May We All
- Wish You Were On It
- God, Your Mamma and Me (I would cut out the Backstreet Boys)
- Music Is Healing
- While He’s Still Around
- Grow Old
It’s still not a great album of course. But after cutting out the five most annoying songs this album goes from really mediocre to around average. Really though the biggest way you could fix Florida Georgia Line into something more decent is getting rid of Joey Moi as producer, but that’s probably not likely to ever happen. One last example I will choose is Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. Now this is one of the most recent examples of an exception to my 12 songs rule. At 14 songs long, it’s still a great album and one of the best of 2015. However even this I would give a slight trim by taking out “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” and “Might As Well Get Stoned” because the first song has been done so much before and the second gets weighed down by the wedged in reference to the troops that isn’t bad, but feels pander-y. Of course this is just me really nitpicking because Traveller has launched Stapleton into the stratosphere and has netted him numerous awards.
I think I’ve gotten my point across thoroughly. While there are exceptions to the rule, at the end of the day an artist shouldn’t go over 12 songs on their album if they intend on it to be good. It’s a pretty established baseline that you shouldn’t go over unless you’re absolutely sure you can make a great long album. After all the longer an album is, the more chances an artist has of putting a bad song on it. At 12 songs or less, they can present a tight and cohesive album that is enjoyable for the listener every step of the way. So if you’re an artist making a new album and you can’t decide on the length of it, just remember less is more.
Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases
- Tomorrow Amanda Shires will release her new album My Piece of Land.
- Next week there will be a plethora of new album releases:
- Dwight Yoakam – Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
- Reckless Kelly – Sunset Motel
- Kevin Roy – Heartworn Highway
- David Nail’s next single is “Good at Tonight.” Excellent choice by Nail and his label. It was also the most added song at country radio this week.
- Later this month George Strait is sending “Goin’ Goin’ Gone” as a single to radio. It coincides around the same time he’s releasing Cold Beer Conversation in vinyl. As for the single, it won’t do much most likely.
- 99% of the time I don’t care about new Christmas albums (I prefer the classics), but there is one I’m interested in this year and that’s Kacey Musgraves’ first Christmas album, A Very Kacey Christmas. It’s out on October 28 and on November 18 in vinyl. It features Willie Nelson, Leon Bridges and The Quebe Sisters.
Throwback Thursday Song
George Strait – “Living For The Night” – All of this Strait talk inevitably makes me want to go listen to his music, so of course it’s in this spot this week. Most of my favorite Strait songs were released in the 80s and 90s, but this is hands down my favorite of his 2000s music. This is heartbreak music at it’s best. Even later into his career, Strait produces gold.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
Little Richard – “Good Golly Miss Molly” – People love to talk about how Elvis is the king of rock and roll, but he isn’t in my book (he built his career off covering other artists). The real king of rock and roll is Little Richard, who influenced some of the greatest artists of rock, R&B, soul, funk and hip hop. He’s an artist every music fan should familiarize themselves with if they haven’t already.
Tweet of the Week
Why is Dustin Lynch solitaire a thing? Who would want this?
Accurate Review of 2016 Dierks Bentley
I feel like one of the most under talked points of country music this year has been Dierks Bentley’s mediocre output. Black is hands down his worst album and is an obvious attempt at trying to become an A-lister. It’s disheartening and this Dierks fans sums it up pretty well.