The Record Industry and Nostalgia

As we reach the end of the teens – the decade beginning in 2010 – we are also reaching the end of the 50th anniversary of the sixties. Much has been written about the influence of this seminal decade (though to be fair, the sixties didn’t start until the middle of the decade, and didn’t end until the middle of the seventies), and the use of “50th anniversary” on books has made it look like a distant past.

The same is true with music. Just today, browsing Amazon, I came across Music From Big Pink – 50th Anniversary Edition (Super Deluxe). (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This record was The Band’s debut album, after having been Bob Dylan’s backing band, and was very popular. It contained a wide range of musical styles, and was typical of sixties rock.

Naturally, this set is geared toward people who remember the sixties; who may have owned the record at the time, or at least heard the music on the radio. At $125 or £80, it’s a fairly expensive memory. It contains five discs, including all the original music on both vinyl and CD, in a new stereo mix. It also offers “some previously unreleased chatter from the studio sessions.”

This is the record industry’s last gasp. Aging boomers might buy this as a memory, but will anyone be shelling out this kind of money in ten years for 50th anniversary releases of, say, the first Talking Heads album, the Sex Pistols’ debut, or The Clash’s London Calling? They may spend for the 50th anniversary releases of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, due in four years, or Wish You Were Here, a few years after that, but that’s about the end of the line for record labels.

Sure, this may continue a bit, another decade or two, but as we head into the anniversary period of years when downloads were prominent, the idea of the album fades away. (Not to mention how people perceive streaming; they often don’t even think about albums.)

You can’t blame an industry for exploiting its back catalogue, and in some cases – such as Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series releases – there is a lot of interesting extra material: outtakes, alternate versions, and live recordings. But reissuing a classic album and offering nothing more than a new mix and “some previously unreleased chatter” shows that the record industry is just trying anything, hoping they can flog records to people who may remember them from their childhood.

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