In this time of the resurgence of vinyl, many LP features have been noted as being superior to the compact disc’s features: warmer sound, bigger and more substantial packaging (sometimes even worthy of a frame), closer identification with an era of great popular music. One feature that doesn’t necessarily fall into the superior-to-CDs column but that, I think, is worth mentioning is that fact that a record album has two sides. I grew up in the LP era, and I always think in “record sides.” I usually have a clear picture of which side of an album a particular song was on, if I played that LP myself. The song has a particular orientation that fits in on that particular LP side.
So, some music-lovers of my generation do something that listeners of later generations may not do: they recall their favorite album sides. Here are a few of mine.
Side 2, The Beatles—Abbey Road
This is the one that does come up most often when people talk about favorite album sides. I probably haven’t listened to side 1 of this record since about 1971. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of novelty songs, with one classic, George’s ultra-covered “Something,” thrown in. The last song on that side gets my vote as the worst Beatles song title of all: “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Side 2, on the other hand, starts off with two of the Fab 5-minus-1’s treasures, “Here Comes the Sun” and “Because.” Then comes the suite of songs that may or may not make cohesive sense together but continue after decades to be a fantastic aural experience, so who cares?
Side 2, The Clash—London Calling
All four sides of this album are wonderful (not a common characteristic of the dread double-album). It was voted Rolling Stone’s best album of the ’80s. There are lots of standout songs on the record, but for me, side 2 is the one I’ve kept coming back to. “Spanish Bombs,” Lost in the Supermarket,” “The Right Profile.” “That’s Montgomery Clift, baby!”
Side 1, Charles Mingus—Mingus Ah Um
I almost hate to give preference to a particular side of this 1959 jazz classic—it’s great from beginning to end. But side 1 begins with two of the best compositions in all of jazz, a yin and yang opening: the raucous “Better Get It in Yo’ Soul” and the plaintive “Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat” (a tribute to sax player Lester Young). “Boogie Stop Shuffle” shakes things up again and the rest of the side completes the experience. So, honor and adore side 1, but don’t ignore side 2’s “Fables of Faubus” and other gems.
Side 1, Harry Nilsson—Nilsson Schmilsson
I’m just wild about Harry, and this breakout record is more consistently great than his later ones, but side 2 starts off with two songs, “Without You” and “The Coconut Song,” that I believe I got my lifetime quota of decades ago. Side 1 I’ve always thought of as a sort-of “wee hours” suite, from “Gotta Get Up” and “Driving Along” through “Early in the Morning” and the ethereal “The Moonbeam Song.” “Down” caps it off with a sense of the other end of the wee hours—reckless late-night barroom despair.
Side 1, Van Morrison—Moondance
This album is a high point in Van’s copious output and is good all the way through, but side 2, in comparison to the first side, is relatively lightweight and forgettable. Side 1 contains four of his best songs of all–“And It Stoned Me,” the title song, “Caravan” and “Into the Mystic.” Right in the middle is “Crazy Love,” which ain’t too bad either. It’s a line-up that couldn’t be maintained on side 2 and has never been equaled by Mr. Morrison since.
So, what’s your favorite album side?