Long Players: Writers on the Albums that Shaped Them
Edited by Tom Gatti
There is a mystical link between music and memory. And it’s no surprise that repetition seems to amplify music’s considerable formative power in the human mind. In Long Players, editor Tom Gatti has solicited and compiled short essays from 50 accomplished authors on their one “cherished” album – the album that had the most significant impact on their lives.
Deputy editor at the New Statesman (and fan of Michael Jackson’s Thriller), Gatti originally conceived Long Players as a regular feature for the Statesman. His insightful introduction to this subsequent collection of essays takes us on a brisk walk through the history of recorded music formats in the 20th and early 21st centuries, from the gramophone to streaming, then rewinds back to the vinyl LP.
The long-playing album is the primary focus here, and it’s appropriate that mostly writers of fiction and poetry were invited to contribute. Gatti points to the contribution made by the post-touring Beatles and others to the evolving album format, which in my view brought the concept of the novel to recorded music. No longer just a compilation of singles, the album became a coherent sequence of songs, sometimes connected in theme, but always reflective of the artist’s mood and inspiration during its conception and creation.
The album chosen by each contributor is often one associated with childhood memories or the transition period of young adulthood. Most of the essays are intensely personal. At the age of 25, novelist Marlon James received answers from Bjork’s Post to questions he hadn’t even asked. Songwriter, activist and author Billy Bragg connected with an old friend he never knew through Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance. And novelist Rachel Kushner believed that a secret having to do with her was contained in Gun Club’s Mother Juno. You’ll also find contributions from Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, Everything But The Girls’ Tracey Thorn, and bestselling author Neil Gaiman.
Novelist George Saunders, in commenting on Yes’s Fragile, offered astute insight into the process of discovery shared by creator and listener, “The aim is realized through the process of making, and an aim realized through the making is going to be more profound than an aim decided upon in advance.”
And music that accompanies the making of our lives will have the most profound impact of all.
Long Players: Writers on the Albums that Shaped Them will be available 3 August from Bloomsbury Publishing. You can pre-order direct from Bloomsbury.