When’s One Better Than Two?
When someone mentions a ‘double album’ you might automatically think of a Double LP. Specifically one from the 1960s or 1970s. Most obvious amongst these are such classics as The Beatles’ White Album, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde or The Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland, all of which are noted as being double albums in their concept, layout and design. Today these albums can fit on a single CD and most of the time are bundled in with bonus tracks, alternative takes and singles as a ‘Legacy/Special Edition’. Most people born after 2000 listening on Spotify today probably wouldn’t be aware that London Calling, Exile on Main Street, Allman Brother’s Live at the Fillmore East and The Wall were all double LPs but at the time this was their main selling point.
It was a challenge of the medium more than a necessity of expression. A single 12’ LP has 20 minutes of recording available per side which meant no album could be longer than 40 minutes without making serious compromises. If you had more material than could fit, whether that was too many songs or only a handful of longer songs, you had to spread the runtime over two discs and four sides. With gigabytes being the unit of measurement now, not side length, you can produce an album that’s well over an hour long for release. Although most albums today are between 30–60 minutes. This excludes playlists, however, which can be measured in days not minutes. If an album is released on vinyl today it generally HAS to be a double LP because it won’t all fit on one disc.
But back then a double album was the height of decadence, only the greatest artists could accomplish such a feat. You had to have a lot of money to record, let alone release, such a massive bundle, and you also had to be prolific enough to have enough material, but the implication was also that it would be a whole experience with lavish art work and foldouts and a whole hour of aural stimulation. Today that length is standard and the artwork just shows up on your phone screen. As such, double albums — or at least their decadence and marketing possibilities — are a thing of the past. But perhaps not so distant a past. You see, at some point in the mid-2000s there was a strange resurgence in the double album, but this time on CD.