Broken records

Don Henley

Overplayed. No longer innocent. Also in desperate need of a haircut.

I like to think that there are two kinds of broken records, the first being the overplayed. Ask anyone to name three or four Jimi Hendrix songs and there is a strong chance that those songs would be off his debut, Are You Experienced. To me, that is an overplayed record, which was vaulted into the high and mighty rock playlists where it will stay throughout time alongside “Stairway to Heaven,” “Baba O’Reilly,” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.” The ubiquity of Hendrix songs from this first LP has soured me on the record and other music from that time period. (Band of Gypsies is the ultimate Jimi Hendrix disc). Who’s Next is an album that is played and played out, but thankfully I have found that taking a 13-year break from daily listening cured much of what ailed it. Hotel California and Desperado, both by the Eagles, qualify as overplayed, as does Dirty Laundry and Boys of Summer by Don Henley. Granted, many of these distinctions are matters of personal taste, but everyone can name at least one disc that they no longer love because they heard it one time too many.

The second kind of broken record is the opposite—a record that contains a song that is so devastating, so great, that you simply cannot listen to the rest of the LP. When these songs are the FIRST song on the LP then you’re toast. You thought you were buying an album but you really just bought a single. That can actually be all right, a lead off home run, but when the disc-killer song is buried in the LP then it gets trickier. I just found myself tripped up by one of these killers: “I Can Change” by LCD Soundsystem. I don’t think that I would call the song’s sound groundbreaking—just James Murphy’s voice, synths, and some programming—but the music and the voice and just blend together into a single incredible sound. Murphy’s falsetto 90 seconds into the song is lilting and gives chills, perhaps the way only a falsetto can. The lyrics are nebulous, the narrative shifting. In this sense the song reminds me of “Someone Great,” another LCD Soundsystem song with what feels like three different perspectives or three different stories with a similar starting point. In “I Can Change” the voice in the first part of the song sings, “never change never change never change.” The voice near the end of the song, after the completion of the story, says “I can change I can change I can change.”

I listened to the song three times in the car and only after that third time I let the rest of the LP play. I couldn’t hear any of it. It was pale and boring next to “I Can Change.” Ideally these songs should end an LP, the way “I Am the Resurrection” ended the Stone Roses’ debut LP twenty years ago. That song is a true record breaker. It is so great, so long and so groovy that if were it anywhere else on that vinyl you just wouldn’t hear anything else they did. I hope that in time I can hear the songs which are so overshadowed now, but I feel that no matter when I try, I will still find myself tripped up. I also wonder if this is a phenomenon that can survive our transition to digital music. Can you find and hear an ear-shattering MP3 that kills your playlist? Or does removing the context of the record and the progressive build to a specific song render album killers lame in the realm of the MP3?

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