This post on the Word Magazine blog raises an interesting point about whether the ‘clunkers’ on great albums (the songs that are a bit sub-standard in comparison to the rest of the track list) actually serve a useful purpose. The C-list songs, goes the argument, are essential listening "because they make the classic songs that follow them even better." If you think that’s utter hokum, then consider this: don’t great songs standout better for the sequential, linear context of an album?
Perhaps it’s a generation thing. I like Last FM but I still buy, and like listening to, complete albums (I feel such a luddite for saying that). The unbundling of music encourages the sole downloading of individual well-known or recommended songs. But in doing that might we be missing some absolute gems? After all, as one of the commenters on the post notes "one man’s clunker is another man’s favourite".
I recently bought the Best of Ed Harcourt and I’m almost regretting it. Not because it’s no good – it’s brilliant. But that’s the point – this was the first Harcourt album I’d bought but in a way I wish I’d discovered him via one of his early albums. That way, maybe I would have unearthed some songs which are not so well-known but I would have liked even more. And maybe I would have liked those ‘best-of’ songs even more in the context of their album peers rather than their ‘best-of’ peers. Maybe all those great songs sound even greater if they are not in the company of so many others of comparable greatness. Maybe, too much cream is not such a good thing after all.