"One more time! Yeah!"
February 16, 2009 5:43 PM   Subscribe

For those of you like me who still insist on listening to entire albums: How long does it take you to realize how awesome that album really is?

Recently I started listening to a rock album, and while some songs seemed okay the first couple of times, I was starting to think it may have been a disappointment. Gradually, the album got better and better with each listen until I got hooked on the whole thing and could listen to it every day.

It's rare that I ever listen to an album and take a liking to it quickly. I suppose a lot of it has to do with becoming familiar with the different parts of a song, to the point that I can tap along to it.

But it also has me thinking if there were albums in the past I might've given up on too early, and would've ended up loving if I'd only listened to them, oh, a few more thousand times. I do know there are albums from my favorite artists that I simply won't like, no matter how hard I try.

So I'm left with this overwhelming feeling of "What took me so long?" and "What else am I missing out on?" Is this fairly common, or should I take a different approach to new music, like first listening to a couple songs at a time, to better isolate each one so they're not mixed in the jumble? Reading the lyrics right away? Picking out the drumbeat or guitar lines?

For what it's worth, I like stuff ranging from Sinatra, Elvis, Motown, Beatles, disco, new wave, and pop punk. And I know music is extremely subjective, but some examples of stuff that's highly thought of but something I can't quite "get" are Led Zeppelin and (after a recent Johnny Marr thread here) The Smiths.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I takes me about five years to really know for sure. If I'm bored with it by then, it's no good, but if I find that I enjoy it--even if I thought it was dull at first--I know it's a frickin' classic. I've looked for shortcuts, but haven't been able to find them.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:53 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've just listened to the N.A.S.A album and knew it was a winner by about halfway through track 3. That was purely a background-doing-the-dishes listen too. I'm going to put it on my headphones now and give it some close attention.

I think it's common to miss out on goodies though - I did it with a few albums a couple of years ago and am kicking myself now, because if I hadn't slept on them, I would have had the chance to see the artists tour when they were still raw.

I guess it depends where you get your musical recommendations from, and who you trust to show you the goodies. Having a lot of music played around you by people who know their biz seems like the best way for me. I used to work in a Pool Hall about 5 years ago with a dude who was into all sorts of stuff, and have formed a lot of my taste around what I was exposed to then.
posted by gerls at 5:56 PM on February 16, 2009

Yeah, and I'd even say that there are groups (maybe even whole genres) that, if you haven't gotten into 'em by a certain age, it's probably not going to happen. The Misfits, I think, are another one of these.

Anyway, I agree that it depends. There are albums where you could drop the needle anywhere and be convinced of their genius within a few bars, and then there are albums that, yeah, you might have to listen to a hundred times.
posted by box at 6:07 PM on February 16, 2009

Completely depends on the album and the person. What album was it that grew on you? The thing is, not only is it the quality of music, the production, the type of music you're into, etc., but it's also where you are in your life. Sometimes you can appreciate certain elements of music and other times you can't. I have several albums that I had to force myself to listen to and they didn't get better over the course of weeks but when I listened to them years later, all of the sudden they made sense. Or others that never really got good. Or others that got good after ten listenings or so. Some stuff touches you or you understand it better after having listened to other stuff. You just never know. Never completely rule an album out until after at least three years. There's some stuff that I forgot about because it sucked and now I'm addicted. Take it easy, don't listen to anything TOO much, and think a lot about what kinds of sounds are in each album. I also like to think about what other bands or singers the album reminds me of. Like, maybe the vocals remind me of another band or the texture reminds me of someone else. It just depends!

That was a ridiculously ambiguous answer. Sorry.
posted by cachondeo45 at 6:17 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I break albums in by putting them in my clock-radio to wake me up in the morning. I set it to some track number higher than the number of songs (e.g. set it to wake me at track 14 for a 12 track album) and so when that track doesn't work it switches to some random second choice. I find that I have a higher tolerance for new music when I'm half asleep (i.e. not really listening and too lazy to change it). Pretty soon it's all familiar and once it's at least familiar I can really enjoy it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:17 PM on February 16, 2009

A guy I know doesn't pass judgement on an album until he's listened to it at least three times. Where he finds, the time, I'll never know.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:31 PM on February 16, 2009

Since I'm a lyrics guy, rather than a melody guy, I start to love an album about as soon as I start picking up some of the lyrics, and getting a sense of the narrative or poetry of the words. Usually this takes me about four times through. But a really good album opens up to me within four or so listens, but has enough lyric complexity for me to go on discovering things for many, many more listens. My favorite albums are rich with lyric imagery that presents something new to me every time.
posted by raygan at 7:19 PM on February 16, 2009

At least twice, preferably while commuting.

There's only one album that I've ever acquired that I really regret owning (note: not telling), and I include people as varied as Johhny Cash and the Backstreet Boys in my collection. It does take a while to recognize the songs that aren't the obvious hits--songs that would go on what used to be called the B-side usually have a lot of cool stuff to offer.
posted by librarylis at 7:47 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

One thing that can really help for 'appreciating' a certain band is to watch a documentary on them. You really get a deeper appreciation for a band you already like, or a newfound appreciation for a band you didn't feel anything towards. There is definitely a phenomenon of music that takes a while to click with a certain person and watching a doc can really expedite the process of finding out whether you like them or not.
posted by GleepGlop at 7:49 PM on February 16, 2009

Every now and then an album will inspire me to the point where I can't stop listening to it - even though I know on first listen that it's genius. I get so excited by how great each track is that I find myself wanting to skip to the next even though I'm loving the current track.

Perfect example: Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

On the other hand, some albums are more challenging to get into, for whatever reason. I really enjoyed R.E.M.'s Reveal, but it took me forever to get into. Initially, I hated it. Months later, I was hooked.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:01 PM on February 16, 2009

Nthing that it depends on the album and the artist. If it's an artist I trust, I will listen to the album as many times as necessary until I truly feel that I "get it" (good or bad) - this usually takes three full listens. IME, the albums that have the most staying power also tend to be the ones which are hardest to learn how to listen to (with a few exceptions), but I usually know after two or three listens that there's something I will like there. Some things I know just aren't going to work for me right away, but if enough people whose opinions I respect recommend something, I will at least give it a couple of listens before I decide it sucks.

I agree with GleepGlop about watching documentaries, also a collection of videos, or concert DVDs if the band are good live.
posted by biscotti at 9:09 PM on February 16, 2009

As stated multiple times above depends on the artist & album In general i will give any random album/artist two listens. If it is a trusted artist that i have like previous or friends who i trust their music taste i will give it three or four. To be honest even four is pushing it when there is so much new & interesting good music out each week.

RIP OiNK, but bless what.cd for taking its place.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 9:49 PM on February 16, 2009

Sorry about the bad grammar...tired & something is up with my keyboard
posted by Black_Umbrella at 9:50 PM on February 16, 2009

I have to make sure I'm in different moods when I listen a second, third... time. My mood at the time of listening makes a HUGE difference in whether I keep jabbing the back arrow to hit it again or impatiently skip it 15 seconds in.

I like about 10% of every type of music there is, just not all at the same time. If a song is in the 90% I don't like, no amount of repeat listening is going to save it. On the other hand, I have to give the 10% a fair shot. I keep it on the play rotation until I'm sure which it is. That's a subjective amount of time, to be sure.
posted by ctmf at 12:10 AM on February 17, 2009

I've had this conversation with most of my friends that are into music, and it's unanimous that one must be engaging in some type of low-level mental activity to let the music and words massage the associative and subconscious mind. This low-level can mean many things: distracted, concentrating, pharmacologically altered, whatever, but in all cases, not-quite-there mentally.

For me - Ani DiFranco's To the Teeth and Pink Floyd's Dark Side while altered, Minutemen's Double Nickles and Buena Vista Social Club while washing the dishes. Alice in Chains' Jar of Flies while doing laundry. Gentle Giant's Power and Glory while doodling on a piece of butcher paper late one night. Soul Coughing's Ruby Vroom while on a night-trip across five states.

In fact, now that I think of it, that may be one of the things I like about liking music - an artistic creation has it's particular time and place in my life, and it's up to me find it, to give it a narrative or context that is particularly mine, and in that way, I join with the artist and extend his creation, and not only does the art become a part of me, I become a part of the artwork, in the larger sense.
posted by eclectist at 12:17 AM on February 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. And none are too ambiguous. And I think I'm definitely more of a melody guy than a lyrics guy. And that's both instrumental and vocal melody.

I think cachondeo brought up one interesting point... production. It's something I've always wondered about.

I love Nevermind like everyone else, and it has a reputation for being a clean production. But In Utero doesn't quite do it for me, with some exceptions. If the different producers had any effect, I'm not consciously aware of them.

Another example is Foo Fighters' The Colour and the Shape. It's my all-time favorite, and also has a reputation for being "clean." It was one of the first albums I ever really listened to (I started really late), and my love for all of it was almost immediate.

Their producer there, Gil Norton, also did their last album, which I only like about half of. (Incidentally, what prompted this question is the second album by their guitarist's side band, Jackson United. And I think it did grow on me while listening to it repeatedly at work, eclectist.)

On another note, as I went through the Beatles catalog in '01, I was a bit intimidated before hearing Sgt Pepper, because it's always hailed as THE be-all end-all of music. I was relieved when it turned out that it was no trouble at all for me to get into.

I'm still working on the Zeppelin thing...
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:39 AM on February 17, 2009

The best albums seem to take the longest to appreciate.
posted by caddis at 4:47 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

A few of my favorite albums were disappointing when I first heard them. Skylarking, by XTC, was slow and boring after the rocking sprawl of The Big Express. Guided By Voices was supposed to be amazing but Alien Lanes was just one unmemorable song fragment after another. Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart was a legendary album but literally made me nauseous the first time I heard it. Now I think they are all amazing.

Of course there are also plenty of albums that I didn't like on first listen and never did. I think if it isn't doing anything for you after three listens, it's time to move on.
posted by dfan at 11:28 AM on February 17, 2009

« Older Help me avoid coding a lame webpage!   |   Can a grow light save my plants? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.