Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The First Track Faux-Pas

You've probably heard Hello, the lead single from Adele's long-awaited new album 25 (if, by some miracle of avoidance, you haven't, the song's video can be found ↓down there↓ somewhere). Now, 25 isn't actually out yet, but it was leaked yesterday - kinda, sorta - and this is how I discovered that Hello has committed the cardinal sin - in my book, anyway - of being both the album's lead single and its opening track.

Why does this bother me? It's not like I'm not used to it; the 'lead single = track one' approach has been a pop music mainstay for years. All kinds of different artists from all sorts of different genres have done it: Independent Women Part 1 was the first track on Survivor,  The Wicker Man was the first track on Brave New World, Leaving New York was the first track on Around the Sun, and so on and on.

In a way, it makes sense, particularly for million-selling pop stars like Adele. A lot of listeners want instant gratification when they buy a new album, and putting Hello - the song they've all heard already - in pole position is a good way to give it to them. It's also a good way of engaging listeners right away and making sure they don't get bored of the album too quickly.

Hello is kind of boring anyway, but whatever.

For my part, though, I'm always a little disappointed when the only song I know is its parent album's opening gambit. When I go into an album already familiar with one of the tracks thereupon, I'm excited to find out how the track I know fits in with the album as a whole. If it's the first track on the CD, it feels like it's not 'in with the album as a whole' at all; instead, it's basically that song I know followed by an album I don't. Or, to put it another way: when the lead single opens the album, it kind of feels like a back-to-front bonus track. And you know how I feel about bonus tracks.

Furthermore, I'm not even sure I buy my own point about how starting with the single prevents listeners from getting bored. Personally, I'm much more likely to switch off when the song I know is out of the way already; it's far better, I think, to plonk the big hit somewhere in the middle so that people will wait around for it, perhaps even finding that they enjoy the rest of the album in the meantime.

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