Hudson and His Ipod (from the February 2005 Etc. Sioux Falls Magazine)

I, Scott Hudson, am now officially a “flip-flopper”.
No, I haven’t changed my mind about that silly downtown events center. And I’m still not a fan of reality television, lip-synch divas, Wal-Mart, or KELO’s Dirk Diggler Doppler 10,000 super-duper weather predictor.
The topic that has labeled me as a flip-flopper concerns the Apple Ipod. As long as they’ve been available, I have been adamant that any kind of MP3 player is useless for me. I never saw the need for carrying a thousand songs, let alone the 10,000 that can be stored on the Ipod. My theory has always been to just leave the house in the morning with the handful of discs that I think I’m in the mood to hear, along with a compilation or two of my latest favorite tunes. Plus maybe a bootleg or two.
That opinion changed just a few weeks ago when my son received a forty-gig Ipod for Christmas. Suddenly, they looked kind of cool...and two weeks later I had one of my own.
The rise of these miniature devices has created a lot of rambling in the press about the “death of the album”. With online services allowing tracks to be purchased individually, and with Ipod users able to create their own playlists, is there any need for the old-fashioned album? (Note, compact discs are still albums, as they are a “collection of different recordings”.)
It’s a question that’s been raised for decades, and the predictions are always pessimistic. Personally, I don’t see any difference between creating a playlist of favorite songs on an Ipod than making a mix tape twenty years ago or a compilation CDR a few…uh, days ago. Hell, it’s no different than when we stacked a dozen 45-RPM singles on a Close-and-Play turntable in the late 60’s.
There are certain times when you want to hear a full album by a favorite band, and there’s times where you just want to hear a bunch of favorite tunes by many bands in a row. The Ipod actually allows more flexibility by not limiting one to a 90 minute cassette or a 80 minute blank CDR. Songs that I would have never considered for these sorts of compilations have become highlights of my Ipod experience, particularly when the device is in “shuffle” mode. Just today, R.E.M.’s “Wendell Gee” came on – a buried track on Fables of the Reconstruction that I probably haven’t heard in five years – and reminded me of how great their early albums were.
Speaking of the “Ipod shuffle” – much has been made of the mind-reading ability of this feature. It’s spooky. The very first track it conjured up for my pleasure was the Replacements’ “Darlin’ One”, followed by Paul Westerberg’s “As Far As I Know” and Son Volt’s “Windfall”. This machine knows its owner.
Back to the album versus single debate – there has always been artists that are known as album artists, and others that don’t translate well to the album format. I doubt if there’s many Destiny’s Child fans who can honestly say that their entire albums are top-notch. That’s the main reason why greatest hits and remix albums seem to appear every other year.
This will not change as we proceed further and further into the digital era. Pop stars may see a decline in full album sales, but at the same time maybe there won’t be as much pressure for their computer programmers to come up with a dozen different songs.
At the same time, cutting-edge artists will possibly have more freedom to release experimental tracks and remixes that don’t fit the themes or sounds of their full-length albums. I-Tunes, Apple’s online music store, already offers otherwise unreleased material by acts such as Green Day, Westerberg, Morrissey, and Modest Mouse.
Yet I don’t see the rise of these devices as the beginning of the slow death of the compact disc. Sure, it would be nice to get rid of those discs that I’ve downloaded onto my Ipod. And why am I still buying CD’s when I could buy those same albums from I-Tunes?
I continue to buy “hard copies” not just because I like the artwork and lyrics that come with the CD. It’s from years of experience with computers and other electronic devices – everything eventually fails to work. Sometimes they’re dropped; other times they overheat. Hard drives explode and laptops crack. Portable devices are dropped, stolen, lost, or stepped on.
I know many people who have unloaded their entire collections after purchasing an Ipod, and I can’t wait for the day when their little toy bites the big one. Can you imagine losing an entire music collection in one unfortunate incident?
My policy in stocking my Ipod so far is a three-tiered method. New releases are uploaded in their entirety, with lesser tracks and artists to be deleted in the future as space is needed. Favorite artists and albums are also uploaded in their entirety, although not necessarily the entire catalog. A half-dozen Elvis Costello albums is probably more than enough, and if I suddenly have an urge for one of the 25 Stones albums I didn’t upload it will only take a few minutes to add it in. The rest of the artists and songs were added on a case-by-case decision – sometimes a greatest hits album hit most of the high points; other times tracks were pulled from a variety of albums. For instance, the nine-disc Complete Stax Singles box was narrowed down to mainly Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, and Sam and Dave.
As for online services, one of the disadvantages of the Ipod is that one must use I-Tunes, which also places a few restrictions on song usage (for example, you can only burn your purchases to CD once). But I will use I-Tunes for guilty pleasures and tracks that aren’t available anywhere else. Compact discs will remain my main source of music, and at the very least they will be my backups for that horrible day when my new toy falls into a slushy puddle. Hopefully, that won’t be for quite some time but it’s an inevitable probability in my mistake-prone life.

The First Shuffle Mix:

1. Replacements, “Darlin’ One” (Don’t Tell a Soul)
2. Paul Westerberg, “Actor in the Street” (Suicaine Gratification)
3. R.E.M., “Radio Free Europe” (Murmur)
4. Replacements, “I Won’t” (Don’t Tell a Sould)
5. Son Volt, “Strands” (Wide Swing Tremolo)
6. Pinback, “Sender” (Summer in Abandon)
7. The Jam, “Going Underground” (Compact Snap)
8. Paul Westerberg, “2 Days til Tomorrow” (Mono)
9. Neko Case, “This Little Light” (The Tigers Have Spoken)
10. Bright Eyes, “I Woke Up With a Song In My Head This Morning” (Lua)
11. Ryan Adams, “Rock & Roll” (Rock & Roll)
12. The Cure, “Plainsong” (Disintegration)
13. Ray LaMontagne, “All the Wild Horses” (Trouble)
14. New Order, “Temptation” (Left of the Dial Box Set)
15. Ike Reilly Assassination, “Our Lady of Arturo” (Sparkle in the Finish)
16. The Wrens, “Faster Gun” (Meadowlands)
17. The Smiths, “Stretch Out and Wait” (Louder Than Bombs)
18. Rolling Stones, “Monkey Man” (Let It Bleed)
19. Paul Westerberg, “Knockin’ ‘Em Back” (Come Feel Me Tremble)
20. Wilco, “Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)” (Summer Teeth)


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