As a kid in the 1970’s, I could not get my hands on enough music. I enjoyed listening to current hits of the day, and I reveled in discovering great rock and roll music of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I risked life and limb to ride my bike down busy Lake Cook Road to get to the record store at Northbrook Court every Friday so I could spend my hard earned allowance on another 45 RPM single. No bike helmet as I breathlessly cycled down the middle of the busy street. Nothing could stop me, and I couldn’t wait to get home to enjoy my new purchase.
I soon discovered the magical cassette tape, and if I was careful and lucky, I could record great songs directly off the radio. I remember dreaming up ways to connect with someone at WGN radio. Maybe, just maybe, they would let me into their music library and let me make tapes of all the great songs they had. I never did connect with someone from WGN, but in some ways, that dream still exists.
But it was more than the music, and it was more than the physicality of the album cover with the great artwork and the liner notes. It was more than the smell of the record coming out of the sleeve, and it was more than carefully placing the needle in the grooves of the record so I could hear the music fill my room.
I miss my records, but I don’t live in the past. In fact, in many ways, it’s as if all my childhood dreams have now come true in the 21st century. Through a simple $10/month subscription to Apple Music, I now have access to almost every popular recording I would ever want. For about the cost of a record album in the 1970’s, and without the trouble of having to find a connection at WGN radio or flipping a record albumover for side B, I have every song. A few taps on my phone, or a few vocal commands to Siri, and I can play anything from Buddy Holly to Carole King to The Sex Pistols to Norah Jones to Kanye West to Willie Nelson. It’s all there. Well, it’s almost all there.
I keep framed record albums on my office wall, and every now and then I go through my old record collection to see if there is something else I want to include on the wall, just to keep things fresh. Thumbing through these great musical memories, I realize the missing ingredient. We are living in this glorious time of immediate availability and access to music, but what we are missing is the wealth of information that could often be found in the record liner notes. This information was not meaningless trivia, but rather itserved as a vital backdrop to enjoying the music. The songwriters. The band. The producer. The recording studio. The backup singers. This was where the music came alive.
Let’s take Running on Empty by Jackson Browne, for instance. I dug that album out of a dusty box in my garage, and at one glance, so many connections came alive.
Jackson Browne came from the great southern California Laurel Canyon folk rock scene of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I see David Lindley played guitar on the Running on Empty album. I remember that David played with Warren Zevon throughout his career (“Let’s do another bad one then, cause I like it when the blood drains from Dave’s face.”) and I even remember seeing him perform as an opening act for someone at an outdoor concert. Seems like a colorful dude.
Russell Kunkel is listed next, on drums. His name is all over great music from the era, and he has been touring with Lyle Lovett’s Large Band now for about 20 years. He’s an amazing drummer, with a subtle yet punctuated style. After that is Leland Sklar. You may not know his name, but you have probably seen him quietly and beautifully playing bass behind a number of artists. He’s got impossibly long hair and an impossibly long beard, and has played with everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Carole King to Steely Dan and beyond. I don’t remember the name Craig Doerge (I’ll have to look him up), but after that is Danny Kortchmar, widely regarded as a master of the rhythm guitar. He produced Billy Joel’s 1993 River of Dreams album, giving the songs a studio sheen they had been lacking.
Not to brag, but I did not do any online research regarding the Running on Empty information. I love music, and I savor all those tasty bits of trivia that live as the connective tissue between artists and their music. When we can connect Lyle Lovett to Jackson Browne through Russ Kunkel, decades collapse. Genres cross. Music comes alive.
I no longer listen to music sitting on the bed in my teenage room next to the turntable with the record sleeve sitting comfortably in my lap as I carefully peruse every detail. Now I am toggling between music sources on my computer, or my phone. Technology companies have done their best to take best advantage of the different screen sizes and platforms, and provide accurate listings with good audio. They have also recently introduced lyrics to their services as well, which is great. But there is still so much missing.
So my friends at Apple, Google, Sonos and Spotify, here are my constructive suggestions. 14 year-old Larry Glickman is desperately hoping you are listening.
- Include song and album credit information. If the information is available, it should be included on your digital service. If the information was included on the original release, it should be included on the digital release. If the information was not made available in print, but is available somewhere else (it is), it should be included on the digital release. The information exists…let us see it.
- Take advantage of the technology. It used to be, I could just flip the album over and read all the lyrics and song credits. Sometimes there was a gatefold, sometimes there was information on the inner album sleeve. It was never too far away. On audio applications, I usually need to click at least 2-3 times to access any information, and usually the information is lacking or non-existent. There should be a universal “I” icon (for “information”) that is shared between all of your apps, and we intuitively know that if we click on the “I”, we will see album and song credits.
- Expand on the functionality. I love the Internet Movie Database, iMDB.com. After I watch most any movie, I go right to IMDB to read the credits, trivia and reviews. Why is there no iMusicDB? I would absolutely LOVE to click on Leland Sklar’s name to see all of the recordings on which he has appeared. It would be great to read reviews of when Running on Empty was first released and to know if Jackson Browne has produced albums for any other artists.
We truly do live in a golden age of music availability and access, but I think we need to do just a little bit more to make our music apps a place where we can spend time and immerse ourselves in all of the amazing gifts the music we listen to has to offer. Come on…we’re almost there. We’re so close.