Pink Floyd: We Don't Need No Single Downloads

Now you have to buy the whole album

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This week, venerated prog-rock band Pink Floyd won a court case against its record label EMI. At issue was EMI's decision to sell certain Pink Floyd songs as individual downloads, divorcing them from the context of their full-length albums. According to Pink Floyd's contract with EMI, the label can't just sell any song it likes; the band needs to give its permission before a track can be made available as a single. EMI contended that this clause only referred to physical records, but the court ruled that the band's wish to "preserve the artistic integrity of the albums" applies to digital formats as well. The decision has been received as both a victory and a setback, depending on how one feels about creative autonomy, online content distribution, and Wish You Were Here.

  • Huzzah!  The Guardian's Dave Simpson sees an unequivocal triumph. In his eyes, downloading music on a song-by-song basis has brought about "the slow death of the album as a creative form." Simpson guesses that "Michelangelo wouldn't have wanted his Sistine Chapel ceiling to be chiselled into bits and flogged to individual buyers," and argues that we should show similar respect for Pink Floyd's "painstakingly crafted" LPs.
  • Good For All Music Lovers  "You don't need to be a fan of The Wall, Pink Floyd, or concept albums in general to sympathise with this ruling," writes David Stubbs in The Independent. The full-length album can and should be an immersive experience, he submits, one where "you are transported into a band/artist's soundworld, over an arc of moods and ideas bound by a cohesive and engaging musical vision ... If it has taken a rock dinosaur to help stave off this idea from extinction, then so be it."
  • Not So Fast  Gadgetsteria's Mike supports Pink Floyd in principle, but hopes other bands don't follow their lead, since most artists simply aren't making work for the ages: "When was the last time you purchased/downloaded an album and actually liked every single song?" Mike is also uncomfortable with the music industry trying to impose outdated purchasing habits on consumers. "Digital music now gives consumers the choice" to pay only for the content they want, he writes. "Removing that choice and trying to enforce an old physical, 'you have to buy the entire album' approach just won't fly anymore."
  • 'Get Over Yourself, Rog!'  So jeers Nige, the mononymous blogger behind Nigeness, who flatly declares that the court case was "all about money." Nige points out that Pink Floyd didn't have a problem with releasing singles back when it was hugely profitable for them to do so. He or she also takes a few shots at concept albums in general: "They were one of the worst ideas (sorry, concepts) ever to occur to the drug-addled brain of a prog rock noodler. Their appeal at the time was strictly limited to navel-gazers with no sense of humour and too many drugs at their disposal."
  • Doesn't Really Make Sense  The A.V. Club's Jason Heller rolls his eyes at the ruling. "There you go: listening to 'Money' or 'Comfortably Numb' sans those songs' original contexts is doing Pink Floyd an aesthetic disservice," he writes. "Now would Roger Waters please call every classic-rock radio station in the world and tell them that?"
  • 'The Bad Bits'  British spoof-newspaper The Daily Mash chimes in with an Onion-esque headline: "Pink Floyd Force You to Listen to the Bad Bits." Though satire from top to bottom, the piece clearly comes from a place of familiarity with the band. "Tedious prog rockers group Pink Floyd have won their legal bid to make you listen to every last bit of their ghastly albums," the article begins. "The group argued that single song downloads compromised the artistic integrity of the other tracks where Roger Waters bangs a pair of a tubas together for 20 minutes."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.