The Vinyl Issue: Double Albums

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Sometimes one disc isn’t enough to contain all the music and ideas a band have. Which is where the double album comes in…

BOB DYLAN

Blonde On Blonde (COLUMBIA, 1966)

Rock’s first studio double, and still a masterpiece of sequencing, with each flip feeling like a fresh start and Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands sprawled across the entire fourth side. A half-century later, Blonde On Blonde remains inextricably bound to vinyl’s uncontested golden-age. To own it on CD feels plain wrong; to download it from iTunes should be a hanging offence.

THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION

Freak Out! (VERVE, 1966)

A key text in the emergence of the West Coast counterculture and the second-ever double, after Dylan’s. Freak Out! was extraordinary, combining psychedelia and avant-rock with tart parodies of doo-wop and bubblegum, culminating in side-long epic The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet.

CREAM

Wheels Of Fire (POLYDOR, 1968)

Two sides each of studio and live – the first ever million-selling double – highlight just how much Cream were two bands in one. Good as the studio platter is, the live tracks take the gongs, with Crossroads still one of the most electrifying live tracks ever committed to tape.

TODD RUNDGREN

Something/Anything? (BEARSVILLE, 1972)

The ultimate in self-sufficient 70s rock, Rundgren’s third post-Nazz album was almost entirely written, sung and played by its creator, save the seven tracks that make up side four. It was also the record that established him as a commercial force, creating hit ballads (Hello It’s Me), post-Beach Boys pop (I Saw The Light) and thrilling hard-rock (Black Maria).

THE WHO

Quadrophenia (POLYDOR, 1973)

Since Tommy four years earlier, Pete Townshend had imagined rock music on a grand operatic scale. His second magnum opus, Quadrophenia, was the more complete work and not just in a musical sense. The lavish booklet that accompanied it told teenage mod Jimmy’s story via a series of cinematic black and white portraits, the perfect foil for the record itself, which gave full vent to Townshend’s flair for drama.

FLEETWOOD MAC

Tusk (WARNER BROS, 1979)

How to follow-up the perfectionist, monster-selling Rumours? Simple. Spend 10 months and a then-unheard-of sum of $1m on a sprawling double that often sounds like an experimental vanity project for Lindsey Buckingham. That said, his inner Brian Wilson emerges to devastating effect on Save Me A Place and the title track, while Stevie Nicks hits a peak on Sara.

PINK FLOYD

The Wall (HARVEST, 1979)

The Dark Side of the Moon sold more and Wish You Were Here was better, but The Wall still stands as the Floyd’s most imposing monument. It’s all here and writ larger than ever: Roger Waters parading his demons across four sides of vinyl and with the band whipping up a stentorian storm behind him; the gatefold cover colouring the bleakest of backgrounds with Gerald Scarfe’s garish cartoon creations. In short, the full Floyd package.

HÜSKER DÜ

Zen Arcade (SST, 1984)

If US hardcore was supposed to be brief, bloody and unswerving, Hüsker Dü weren’t listening. Instead they opted to charge through nearly two dozen songs over four sides of vinyl, including 13-plus minutes of Reoccurring Dreams, on a record that transcended its underground niche by making room for folk, jazz and psychedelia.

MANIC STREET PREACHERS

Generation Terrorists (COLUMBIA, 1992)

They swore it’d sell 16 million copies – at which point they’d split up – but the seething ambition of the Manics’ 18-track debut felt stunted by the CD format. Generation Terrorists made much more sense on vinyl, with each new side tearing straight out of the blocks like a self-contained polemic.

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS

Southern Rock Opera (LOST HIGHWAY, 2001)

With_ Southern Rock Opera_, these sons of Georgia pieced together a double album steeped in time, place and history. Detailing the adventures of fictitious rock band Betamax Guillotine in the American south of the 70s, it both echoed the glories of Lynyrd Skynyrd and nailed the free-flowing spirit of the era, the four sides of vinyl allowing its narrative to unfold across an appropriately stately canvas.