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When Albums Ruled The World: The LP's golden age

Steve OHagan

Director and Producer

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Like most men of a certain vintage, I remember well the first album I ever owned. Age around 10, I found myself in possession of Back In Black by AC/DC.

I got it from my big brother. Well, I was made to buy it from my big brother after I scratched it while listening to it when he was out.

So when it came to directing BBC Four’s documentary When Albums Ruled The World, plenty of memories came flooding back. Good ones of course: Back In Black is a classic.

Noel Gallagher, Slash and others on the rituals around vinyl LPs

These days, an album is a click on a mouse, its tracks soon dispersed into the ether by playlists and the shuffle button.

Back then, an album still meant getting a thick slab of unwieldy vinyl stuffed inside an intriguing cardboard sleeve.

The album was the package: two sides of music listened to in order, while digesting the sleeve notes.

When we were told we had 90 minutes to fill with the story of the 'golden age of the album', we had to ask ourselves two questions: How are we going to fill 90 minutes? And what golden age exactly?

The second answer came first: we soon discovered that from around the mid-60s to the late 70s, the vinyl album – the LP – turned music into America’s most popular entertainment industry ahead of Hollywood and sports.

In these years the vinyl album let artists think about music in new ways, and the albums they recorded – from The Beatles' Sgt Pepper’s to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon not only turned popular music into an art form, but sold by the truck load.

So that was our ‘golden age’ – we’re not talking about albums in general, but the original album - the vinyl album.

Record shop memories from the documentary

Once the second question was answered, the first was turned on its head: it’s not how do you fill 90 minutes? It’s how do you fit all this in to 90 minutes?

Between the mid-60s and the end of the 70s, tens of thousands of albums were released, hundreds of millions sold, and billions of dollars made by record companies and artists.

Where do you start?

We ended up filming with around 40 contributors – from musicians, to producers, to record company executives, to journalists. And still we felt like we needed more.

We tried to keep our own tastes out of it: this isn’t a documentary about the ‘best’ or our favourite albums.

It’s about the albums that had the biggest impact, those that changed music history, forged careers, or set new artistic standards.

In the end, hopefully the story of the vinyl album is a gripping one. It was a privilege to work on a project like this, and I know my music tastes came out of it expanded.

My favourite album discovery? Well, that would be a toss-up between the Small FacesOdgen’s Nut Gone Flake and In The Court Of The Crimson King by King Crimson – two records that weren’t in my collection before.

Put the needle on the record... where?

Neither of these fantastic albums is covered in our documentary – we felt that despite their amazing music and packaging, they didn’t help tell us the bigger story of the LP. I’ll be interested to see which other classic albums you may have missed from the story we told.

Of course vinyl is making a relative comeback today, but one moment on the shoot reminded what a thing of the past it is.

One of our researchers – in his mid-20s – went to put an LP on a turntable and asked whether you put the needle on the outside or inside groove of the record. I laughed thinking he was taking the mick.

He wasn’t.

Steve O'Hagan is the producer and director of When Albums Ruled The World.

When Albums Ruled The World is on BBC Four at 9pm on Friday, 8 February. For further programme times, please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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