Gnarls Barkley, AKA Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse, two Brits, has the number one song in Great Britain, an R&B track called Crazy. What' makes this single the certain subject of future trivia questions is that while it's just been released on disc today, it's already a chart-topper.
As a report today on NPR pointed out, this is an historic first made possible by the downloading. Warner Brothers released the tune as a downloadable single three weeks before it went to stores as a CD.
But this is destined to be more than fodder for future editions of Trivial Pursuit.
It's also a harbinger of the future of the music business. Not too long from now, songs will be hits without one sale being transacted in retail stores. There will be no hardware, just digital product.
I must confess that I lament this to some extent. Whether in the old days of vinyl, reel-to-reels, 8-tracks, cassettes, or CDs, there was a certain excitement associated with tearing into a new LP, especially after the 1967 release of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, lyrics on the back, giant foldout photo of the Beatles in SPLHCB garb on the inside, and the enclosed cutouts of the Sergeant and associated band paraphernalia.
Beyond the music itself, most of which one wouldn't have heard before lowering the phonograph arm or pushing the play button, the entire package would have been a surprise!
Who can forget the poster of fat-bottomed female bicyclists inserted in a Queen LP? Or Dylan's indecipherable liner notes on the cover of Planet Waves? Todd Rundgren's explanation of each track of the two-disc Something...Anything?? The enormous poster with pictures on one side and lyrics on the other that came with the White Album, actually simply titled The Beatles, along with four portraits of McCartney, Starr, Harrison, and Lennon? Or Lennon's parody photo stuffed inside of Imagine, showing him holding onto a pig after the manner of McCartney with a ram on the cover of Ram?
Beyond little extras like these, I've always loved reading LP credits, seeing who produced, engineered, and played and sang on each track. It's fun to see the connections, artistic and otherwise, that develop among musicians. You get to know the work of a particular producer or horn player and you say to yourself (and any of a small company of interested friends and family), "That's why this song sounds that way!"
Through the years, the covers, packaging, and even the credits became part of every recording, making the music and the musicians more accessible. I hate the thought of losing that. (I even love the smell of new releases, by the way, sometimes holding the booklets now inserted with CDs up to my nose the way I do a new book, so that I can inhale deeply. How pathetic is that?) Hopefully, a way to compensate for this loss will evolve as the downloading option becomes more prevalent.
By the way, the interviewer on NPR's report on Crazy points out that the song sounds a bit like something from country-soulster Al Green. True. But interestingly, the end of it reminds me of the beginning of another song, Goodnight Tonight by Paul McCartney.
[For more on Crazy, which has nothing to do with the Willie Nelson-composed tune of the same name, can be seen here.]