"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Elvis Costello
In Praise of Liner Notes
Way back in ancient times (read the 1970’s) people tended at times to listen to music a little differently than is the norm today. Instead of a pastiche of playlist-style tracks melded together from different artists, it was fairly common to put on a new record album and just listen from start to finish. Kind of an event, if you will. (Note to Millennials: not that this was better, just different, we love our playlists). For most people, there were two ways this was done. Either you sat down, closed your eyes and let Astral Weeks take you someplace far away, or, if you wanted a more corporeal sort of involvement, you could read the album liner notes while listening.
Long sigh here. Oh, compact discs still come packaged with liner notes in most cases, but who buys CDs anymore? Liner notes were a part of the vinyl experience that completed the package. Easily readable lyrics. Locations of recording. Actual songwriter credits. Who played what on which track. If you were a young tween/teen open to discovery it could actually open up whole new musical worlds. Who was this Sonny Boy Williamson credited with writing “One Way Out” off the Allman Brothers Eat a Peach album and where do I find out more? And without liner notes, you’d miss nuggets like this little addendum to Chuck Mangione’s Feels So Good: “This album is dedicated to a rabbit named Jeffrey who resides with Mama & Papa Bear (a.k.a. Mick and Ellen Guzauski). Jeffrey is toilet-trained, eats corn flakes and bananas for breakfast, and doubles as an alarm clock for Bear engineers during hibernation.” It may be no coincidence that this album also contained a track titled “Maui-Waui”. See how things come together with a little added information?
So the next time you listen to more than one song in a row by the same artist, do a little digging for some backstory (the website albumlinernotes.com is a good source) and you may just find something special. As a note attributed to Janet Planet about the songs on His Band and the Street Choir states, “They belong to you now, dear listener, especially for you.”