The Hodgepodge: Please Stop Making Albums Over 12 Songs Long

ZBB Jekyll + Hyde

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:

  1. Homegrown
  2. Loving You Easy
  3. Remedy
  4. Heavy Is The Head
  5. Bittersweet
  6. One Day
  7. Dress Blues
  8. Junkyard
  9. I’ll Be Your Man (Song for a Daughter)
  10. 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:

  1. Smooth
  2. Life is a Honeymoon
  3. H.O.L.Y.
  4. Island
  5. May We All
  6. Wish You Were On It
  7. God, Your Mamma and Me (I would cut out the Backstreet Boys)
  8. Music Is Healing
  9. While He’s Still Around
  10. 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 YoakamSwimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
    • Reckless KellySunset Motel 
    • Kevin RoyHeartworn 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

2016-dierks

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.

Advertisements

25 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Please Stop Making Albums Over 12 Songs Long

  1. Black follows the direction of Dierk’s live sets. They are clearly modeled after Luke, and the frat boy crowd. Shotgunning beers on stage etc. Dierks clearly decided that he was sick of not being “A” level and totally went after mainstream trends this year. And he was massively pushed by WME/LN (hence the awards nominations).

    And his numbers (concert, album, single sales) have increased (which is depressing on many levels). But despite that he’s not even close to in the same group as the truly “A” level sales guys (Luke, Blake, FGL, Jason, Chris). So he went mainstream in the worst way, for not so much gain.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article, Josh. I also think albums should also be trimmed down to 12 songs. I feel that one bad song (*cough *cough “Beautiful Drug”) can really weigh down an album in terms of quality.

    On the other topics: Great George Strait song. Dustin Lynch solitaire is completely unnecessary. What’s so wrong with good ole fashioned original solitaire? Besides, Dustin’s music sucks nowadays, aside from Cowboys and Angels (which was a fantastic song, in my opinion), Your Daddy’s Boots, and a few others that were just decent to me. But Seein’ Red is a catastrophic train wreck meets plane crash clusterfuck. As for the iTunes review, Black is just a sad album, aside from a couple of good songs. Dierks is so much better than this adult contemporary schlock. He’s such a talented guy. Why should he waste his talent on shit like Somewhere on a Beach and Different for Girls?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting article. I’ve noticed a trend over the last few years (across all music, not just country) that albums I buy are getting shorter. In the 90s and early 00s, it seemed most albums were 50+ minutes and in some cases 60+. I guess I kind of like the longer album and am willing to take a little filler for not having the song at all. I have a hard time spending money on an album that’s only 30-35 minutes long. I think that’s too short.

      Like

  3. What’s next? Dustin Lynch strip-poker?

    Long time Dierks Bentley fans will forgive one bad album. But two or three? Time will tell.

    Back in the late 80’s RCA Nashville released 9 track (vinyl-)albums & 10-11 tracks on the cd version. Full price for nine songs & still a couple of filler tracks.
    The current Randy Houser album goes over the top. 17 tracks on a live/concert-album is ok. It’s more like a greatest hits package. Even George Strait is not able to release 15 or 17 quality tracks on one album. Randy Houser…well…an Ep would be enough for his music. 10-12 tracks on an album should be the standard.

    New EP: Ryan Follese – Ryan Follese – BMLG – 6 tracks – released
    “Float Your Boat” is one of the six tracks. The rest: in the best case boring & dreck. Together with the other “next generation” acts (Beathard & Rhett) Scott Borchettas trio of terror. 0/10. (Let’s not forget Levi Hummon).

    New EP: Ryan Robinette – Progression – Ryan Robinette – 7 tracks – released (08/26)
    Progression? What a joke. Boring voice. The tracks are Nash-trash-standard with awful lyrics (“…roll around in the hay girl…”). The same melody over & over again. “Blame It On The Country” is decent. 2/10.

    New Album: Curtis Braly – You Matter – GTR Nashville – 10 tracks – released (09/09)
    Curtis Braly was born in Texas. He spend a couple of years in Nashville but went back to Texas. Playing live concerts (“…opening act for Johnny Rodriguez.” – according to cmt.com) & working for a radio station.
    He released three (?) singles so far. One song was a small hit on the Music Row charts. “Sooner Or Later” a duet with Kimberley Caldwell.
    10 so-so country-pop tunes with lyrics like: “…you put on a sexy t (shirt)…turn me on & make me weak…”.
    Much better: the melodic uptempo tune “Storm Chaser”. The guy can sing. But he needs better songs, songwriters & producers. 5/10.

    Like

  4. Please realize I’m only saying the following as a means of taking the “devil’s advocate” position, but I’ve been thinking about the track listing matter for a while now and there is an angle I hadn’t previously considered that I think may explain why we’re seeing all these overstuffed releases, and the clue comes from Jason Aldean’s recent explanation as to why he refuses to release “They Don’t Know” to streaming services for a month:

    *

    “The last time around, I tried to do the right thing and it backfired and made me look like the bad guy; that was never my intention at all,” Aldean says. “It’s about the writers, publishers, producers, everybody is getting the short end of the stick on this deal. I have a lot of friends in this town who make their living writing.”

    *

    My emphasis is on the latter half of his statement.

    Perhaps what’s happening is that, with songwriters observing diminished returns due to streaming and the possible (and frightening) implementation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act among other things……………entertainers are trying to think of ways to partially compensate for their diminished returns. And one of them is by stuffing more tracks onto a single album out of the hope multiple songs of theirs will gain greater exposure.

    Now I know what you may be thinking: 1) “What’s the point of doing so if these tracks may never be released as singles anyway?”, as well as 2) “Well, most of these so-called writers are already successful in their own right and are hogging the spotlight from hungrier, up-and-coming songwriters!”

    And you’re right on both counts.

    Still, there’s one thing that neither of us will fully understand, and that is how so many in Music Row genuinely regard one another as a second family. It sounds strange on the surface, but there’s no denying the emotional poignancy of family and how hard it is to shake. And if these artists are padding their albums with more filler with the purpose of being protective of those they regard as family in the industry………………..it definitely exposes them as commerce-driven rather than artistically-inclined. But, it’s not that hard to understand that motivation all the same.

    That’s what I think’s behind all of this. It’s highly unfortunate coming from someone who thirsts for compelling, cohesive artistic works from front to back. But I sadly nonetheless concede that far fewer mainstream artists think that way anymore (at least in our current climate), and the desire to give albums more tracks has a deliberate intention of its own.

    *

    On a related note, I have to somewhat disagree with you in terms of the tracks I would have cut from “Parachute”.

    I agree “Might As Well Get Stoned” is superfluous pandering, but “Daddy Don’t Pray Anymore” was easily one of the album’s highlights to me. I easily would keep the latter.

    With me, I honestly would have cut “Might As Well Get Stoned”, “More Than You” and his current single “Parachute”. These three songs largely epitomize what holds the album back: which is while they may SOUND pretty good, lyrically they either come across as superfluous or else remind you of a vastly better song and can’t help but look unremarkable in comparison (“More Than You” comes across as a poor man’s “Remember When” to me, sorry).

    I do completely agree with how you would have pared down “JEKYLL + HYDE”, however. That’s EXACTLY how I would have arranged it! =)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a great counterpoint and if this is indeed the case why artists are making such long albums, then I can understand this viewpoint. But it shouldn’t be this way of course. Songwriters simply need to be paid more and eventually this is a problem that the music industry has to address, otherwise they’re not going to have songwriters anymore.

      Like

  5. And Dustin Lynch Solitaire?

    REALLY?!!!

    It didn’t even look like the cards were relevant to his act. It’s just his logo being advertised next to a generic Solitaire application on any basic Apple or Microsoft operating system. WHAT’S THE FRICKIN’ POINT?!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The biggest selling album of all time Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ has only 9 songs on it. Seven were released as singles and they all went to the top ten on the Hot 100 Singles chart.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. 10 songs is perfect, in general (there are always exceptions).

    I just listened to Dwight Yoakam’s new album on NPR First Listen and it is, as expected, excellent. The cover of “Purple Rain ” is fantastic. Dwight always puts his own stamp on the covers he does, and this is no exception. It kind of reminds me of Dolly Parton’s covers of rock songs on her bluegrass albums from the late 90’s/early 2000’s (such as “Shine” and “Stairway to Heaven”).

    I found the episode of the “Walkin’ the Floor” podcast with Dierks Bentley to be quite interesting. It was recorded after “Black” had been recorded and before it was released. He talked a lot about his love for traditional country music and bluegrass, which is quite at odds with his new direction.

    Like

  8. Another thing that makes this annoying is that these performers NEVER go away. I could almost understand this if this were the only new music they were releasing for four or five years but instead they crank out new albums like clockwork and are never out of the spotlight with songs being send to radio and videos and touring just non stop. I referred earlier to Michael Jackson who really established the modern way of doing this in pop music. He released his first real solo album ‘Off The Wall’ (a masterpiece by the way far better than ‘Thriller’) in 1979 with fourth and final single peaking in the summer of 1980 and then he was out of sight for over two years until ‘Thriller’ was released on November 30, 1982. He continued this pattern for the rest of his peak years and Madonna followed suit with her career and it has continued to this day. Where has Katy Perry been? Other than that crappy Olympic song she has been off the radar and the same goes for Taylor Swift. They understand the value of being missed.

    In country music these people just won’t go away and when that happens they need to be prepared for all trends and when frankly most of these clowns are just followers anyway they need to crank out as many songs as they can in case the winds change before they come out with the next thing.

    I always thought it was kind of cool that the best were never off the radio in the days of Strait, Jackson, etc. but now it is just a never ending parade of crap.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You hit the nail on the head in regards to the value of being missed and wish I had added this in the post myself. Many artists fail to realize this and that’s why I advocate for shorter albums. You always want to leave the people wanting more. By giving them less, you make them want you more. Somebody in country who I think is starting to understand this and is taking after Michael Jackson’s Thriller is Eric Church. He recently said in an interview he plans to release 7-8 singles off Mr. Misunderstood and doesn’t plan to release another album for a while. By doing this he’s putting importance on the album, but it also builds anticipation to when he does release new music again.

      Like

      • I think the missing you thing is also important when touring. Country acts now tour constantly, every year, and of course then it’s the same show. And unless you really love an artist how many years in a row are you going to go see them? I think Miranda ran into this issue this year, in an off year, which is why her tour sales were down.

        Pop acts tour constantly on a new album, even playing mid-week dates, And then when the tour is over, they go away till they have a new album. The only person in country who does this is Carrie & her tour numbers this year are excellent.

        Like

        • It really seems like country music is the only genre where the biggest performers live in mortal fear of losing their place at the table and therefore they are terrified of being off the radio or off the road for any length of time because someone could be taking their place.

          Like

          • No, it’s much that way in pop music as well, honestly.

            Rihanna is a perfect example of this. She and her label deliberately pushed an album out almost every single year between 2005 and 2012 (2008 being the lone exception) out of the fear of being lost in the shuffle. They blatantly admitted it was all about the fear of her being forgotten.

            Or take Fifth Harmony. After “Worth It” became their breakout hit, their label was adamant to keep the momentum going and were hurried to release their sophomore album and padded it with more songs in the vein of “Worth It”. Same with Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas.

            It’s worst at country without question, but you see that mortal fear across many formats. The only ones where I don’t really notice it are Adult Alternative, Adult Contemporary (not to be confused with Adult Top 40, where that panic is very real) and Urban AC.

            Like

          • Rihanna was the one exception I thought of when I wrote this. But the list of A list performers that go away is long. Timberlake, Perry, Lady GaGa, Bruno Mars all have had extended absences. I would differentiate between the big stars and the up and comers like Fifth Harmony or other C list acts.

            In country though it is every level from Bryan, Shelton, McGraw, FGL down to the C list talent that never go away.

            Like

  9. As a consumer I actually don’t mind more title’s on an album, especially as song lengths are getting shorter. As long as the cost of the album doesn’t increase, it means we sometimes get funk, quirky cuts that we wouldn’t normally get & can end up being a favorite. Also as seen above, not everyone agrees on which 10 cuts from an album are the strongest. I can always skip, or take out of my playlist, songs I don’t like.

    I’d have far more of a problem with a shorter/smaller album, because then as a consumer it feels like I’m getting less than I paid for.

    Like

  10. ‘Because then as a consumer it feels like I’m getting less than I paid for’

    I could be mistaken but I think the advent of the 12-14-16 song album started when the CD became the dominant format and also when the recording industry started jacking up the recommended minimum price for a full length LP. They would say ‘sure the cost is going up but you’re now getting 16 songs’ and soon it became very common.

    Like

  11. This is one topic i am very mixed on. I do think logically though, it all comes down to space in most instances. If you think about it, in the 60s, 70s, 80s, /vinyl lps, 8 tracks, cassettes, space was a huge issue. Then along comes the compact disc, and a whopping 80 possible minutes of music. I also loved the records of the 70s, where a theme and quality truly meant something. Sometimes less is more, but i have heard instances when an album held my attention for well over an hour of running time. If all you have is 5 to 6 tracks per side, i could understand quality over quanity, but i do love it when my favorite artists takes advantage of cd space for long car rides. Id say alot of modern artist consider all these things, especially if they want to release their albums on vinyl, which i truly appreciate. Recently i think Margo Price and Sturgills latest albums accomplished the shorter listens very well on both mediums. Some instances of longer listens still working out would be of course Stapleton, Cody jinks, and a few years back Shooter Jennings apocalyptic-opus Black Ribbons came in over 70 minutes! All these used a little extra time and i believe benefitted. Can you have too much of a good thing? Hmmm…

    Like

  12. Personally, I don’t think a longer album necessarily denotes “filler” or outright bad songs. I think ultimately it just comes down to the album and/or artist. Zac Brown’s last album seemed to be a business move more than an outright desire to stretch their creative boundaries, and FGL….eh, I got nothing.

    If an album has say 14 or 15 or more tracks, I think we need to look at the context. Perhaps the artist is using more space in order to sketch a theme for the album (with each song being essential to the listen). What’s bugging me is that I can’t find an example off the top of my head…

    Or on the other hand, perhaps it’s a mainstream country star. To be fair, we should all walk into art unbiased but…..oh come on do I have to say it? There’s going to be filler.

    It’s funny, Broken Bow has made albums with at least 15 tracks for awhile now. Aldean’s last 4 I believe, Dustin Lynch, Granger Smith, Randy Houser….plenty more. Yes I realize those last 2 aren’t actually on BB but they are connected to it.

    Like

  13. I love Living for the Night. I wanted it to go number one so bad it was too bad it only made it to 2. Hard to believe it’s been 7 years since Twang was released

    Like

  14. First thing I thought of was space. Vinyl records/8 tracks only had so much space. As mentioned above, so I’ll leave it at that.

    Also touched on above, there is no gauge to determine these 10 songs are the best on a particular project trying to be cut down. Whereas you would cut Might As Well Get Stoned, and Nadia would cut Parachute, I would keep both of those. Also, I’m cheap. I’ll admit it. I want to get my money’s worth, and I like to have the physical copy, not just a download or a stream. So, I have to really like a short album before I’ll spend my dollars on it, and I have to hear it first, usually several times through on youtube. And I still shiver when I go to the store and see the price. Whereas in the case of Traveller (14 tracks), and The Blade (13 tracks, first two examples I thought of) I was more inclined to buy after only hearing a couple of songs.

    Just my two cents. When you’re a penny pinching guy like me, less is rarely more.

    Like

Comments are closed.