The two big formats that have long ruled over popular music are the single and the album. They have a great duality between them: the song and the collection; the sliver and the whole; the appetizer and the main course. Albums are the full-length format long considered pop music's ultimate artistic medium, while the hit single is the galvanizing force that sells albums while blaring from millions of radios, televisions, YouTube windows and cell phones. I've long been fascinated by a slightly more ephemeral concept that exists somewhere in between: the singles campaign for an album. The way an artist or label chooses which songs are released to radio to promote an album, and the sequence in which they're released, often forms a kind of narrative just as much as the running order of the album itself.
Of course, that narrative is often largely about how successful those songs are as singles, and they are often chosen and judged purely by their charting potential. But at its best, a singles campaign is as much an art form as it is a marketing tool. There are formulas and clichéslead with the stylistic curveball and follow it with the surefire hit; start with an uptempo first single, then bring out the ballad second; and, of course, throw songs at the wall for the fourth and fifth singles if the artist has the profile and the promotional budget to go that far.
Just as sports fans often play Monday morning quarterback, analyzing how their home team did in the big game and how they would've made better choices, music fans are prone to imagining a more ideal world, one in which their favorite albums had better production and their cult favorites were worldwide superstars. For me, that often means speculating on and critiquing which songs were released as singles from an album.More »