However, that year, two horrible, horrible things happened to me - I discovered that my new computer had a CD burner and also learned about MP3s. Flash forward to 2009. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but I would estimate that today anywhere between 50 and 75 percent of my music collection exists on blank silver CDs adorned solely with my putrid handwriting or on an iPod, stripped of any meaningful context.
I’ve owned the Harvest album in some format for the better part of this decade, but I didn’t see the album artwork and liner notes until I bought it on vinyl a couple months ago.
Half the reason I became a used record collector a few years ago was to remember what it felt like to own an album in its actual sleeve, as opposed to a CD book with hundreds of other burned discs. Record hunting is fun and inexpensive and the old albums sound better on vinyl.
But what I enjoy most about records is how inconvenient they are to listen to. I can’t pop one on in the car on the way to work or cue one up on my iPod when I go for a bike ride. I’ve realized once these distractions are eliminated, the only thing I can really do is just sit and listen while browsing the accompanying record sleeve.
The sleeve is an integral part of the listening experience. Whether it contains the listing of musicians on each track, photos of band members drinking with groupies or strange written diatribes from the singer in the band, the record sleeve provides context for the music contained on the album.
Some can hear a song on the radio or at a party and not give one thought about the person singing it, as long as they can groove to it. But I’ve never been able to separate a song or album from the artist who created it. For some reason, it interests me who is playing on the album, where it was recorded, who the band members were sleeping with at the time, what drugs they were on, etc. All these elements help to form a more complete picture of what you are listening to when you pop an album on.
Unfortunately, when listening to music on an iPod, a listener is not privy to this information. Sure, it will include a tiny picture of the album cover, and it’s always possible to look up anything on the Internet – but it’s a sorry excuse for the old-fashioned way.
I’m aware that only a select percentage of the music-listening population care about the issues I’m describing here. Thanks to iTunes and similar websites, many people don’t even bother buying a full album anymore.
Nevertheless, there is a small sect of us out there who do still seek the full album experience. A great record - like a film, painting or any other piece of art – is a creative statement. The photos, lyrics and scribbles from the band members included with it are part of that experience.
I have no doubt that one day most mp3 players will have the ability to browse through digital liner notes. But even when this day comes, it won’t be the same. It’s safe to assume the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band wouldn’t have made the cultural impact it did if it came out as a JPEG the size of a thumbnail.
Marc Ingber is a journalist with Sun Newspapers, based in Minneapolis, MN. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities and attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. His primary interests include rock n' roll, movies, food and drink, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins - probably in that order.
09:music/the lost art of the record sleeve...................................................................................marcingber2009
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The Lost Art of the Record Sleeve

By Marc Ingber
June 2009
Over the course of my life, I’ve heard Neil Young’s 1972 hit 'Heart of Gold' more times than I can count. The other day I happened to find out the people singing in the background of the song are Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. On the long list of secrets of the universe, this little tidbit doesn’t rank too high, but it was something interesting I found out while perusing the liner notes to Young’s Harvest album.

Being the music trivia geek that I am, this factoid piqued my interest. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s because Neil Young and James Taylor don’t seem like the type of people who would be friends. Regardless, I’ve heard the song 'Heart of Gold' so many times over the years that finding out who sang back-up on the track was more interesting to me than actually listening to the song. And I’m a big Neil Young fan.

Anyone who bought the Harvest album on vinyl back in 1972 would have known this information right away by reading it in the liner notes. But sadly, this concept is lost on my generation. Technology has made great advances over the years, but apparently no one has figured out an efficient and convenient way to convert album artwork and liner notes into a digital format.

My history of collecting music is a typical story for someone born in 1982. In my earliest days of music purchasing, I bought cassette tapes. Their diminished size didn’t allow for an ideal audio-visual experience, but it was better than nothing. You needed a microscope to read it, but I distinctly remember opening the little flip book that came with my purchase of Led Zeppelin IV in fifth grade and studying the liner notes.

Then, a few years later, CDs became the medium of choice. I started amassing a sizable collection in junior high and pored through each CD booklet as I got them – liner notes, photos, lyrics – the whole shebang.

My first year of college was in 2000 and I remember packing an enormous box filled with hundreds of CDs in their cases and lugging it into my dorm room. I had read most of the CDs’ liner notes several times prior to moving, but I still wanted to have them in my dorm to get the full experience when listening to them.