Tuesday Open Thread: In Praise of the Ten-Song Album

Is it just me, or are country albums too bloated these days?   Alan Jackson’s Good Time is a decent album, but at seventeen tracks, it’s too much to listen to in one sitting.     I remember when most country albums had ten songs.  No more. No less.   That seems skimpy by today’s standards, but it forced artists to make choices.

Less is more.   A focused album without any filler is better than one with mediocre tracks scattered among the good ones.    Wouldn’t it be better to have a new ten-song album every 15-18 months, especially with the life cycle of singles these days?  Or would today’s consumer feel ripped off and think a ten-song album wasn’t worth the money?

What do you think?


  1. Depends for me. There are artists who tend to include unmistakable filler on every album, and they’d do well to go back to the ten-song model. But then there are artists who write most of their own material and/or clearly put a lot of thought into the songs they choose to cover (Keith Urban is a good example of both, in my opinion), and as far as they’re concerned, I want to hear as much material as they feel confident putting out, because it’s usually consistent in quality. Those are the kind artists who have a real vision for what they want their music to be, and I’m happy to let them pursue those visions in whatever format they see fit.

  2. It depends for me as well. I agree that Alan could have stood to cut a few songs from his latest album. Then again, I enjoyed just about all of the songs on Vince’s Next Big Thing album that contained 17 songs as well. Likewise, there are so many great songs on his These Days Boxset, which contained 43 new songs, that I wouldn’t have wanted him to cut very many of them out.

    Admittedly, I think I’d scoff at a ten song album these days. Strangely though, I feel okay when a album only has eleven songs on it. I suppose it’s psychological or something. I feel I’m wasting my money with only ten songs, but eleven songs is okay. Wierd.

  3. PS. I remember being surprised when Alan Jackson released his Who I Am album with 13 songs, because that was relatively uncommon at the time. Unlike Good Time, I felt that album was very solid and each song deserved its slot.

  4. ten song album? we are talking just quantity here, aren’t we? ten is clearly on the short side. i expect an album to offer 40 to 50 minutes of music to represent value for money in terms of quantity. ten songs only rarely get you to 40 minutes.

    provided, there are 2 to 3 songs planned to be single releases (potential hit-songs) and there should be a good balance and rythm/flow between the slow-, mid- and up-tempo material placed arount the potential hit-songs, the good ol’ dozen seems to be almost perfect.

    while 17 songs clearly are the (very) long shot, ten seems to be somewhat minimalistic, in my eyes. having said that, there are plenty of terrific 10 song albums that are worth the money any day but at the same time there are records offering more than a dozen songs and you still don’t want them to end – the priceless ones.

  5. I agree that it depends on the artist. Some would sandbag at 10 songs and that would include filler.
    Some artists can totally pull it off.
    Sugarland’s new cd comes out today and I’m getting the “fan edition” with 17 songs. They have said in interviews that the regular release’s 12 songs carry the mood of the cd while the extra five really didn’t. However, they didn’t want to waste them and thought they would make them available another way.

    I’m with the other’s… if I saw only 10 songs on a cd these days I would wonder why they released it unfinished. Or figure there was a re-release not far behind with “bonus tracks” (a practice that drives me nuts!… but I digress).

  6. I agree there is too much chaff on some albums but one thing I have noticed is that there is sometimes too much chaff within the confines of an otherwise good song.

    Most songs today run 3.5-4.5 ,minutes and yet the storytelling and quality of the songs is not as good as it was back in the days when country songs were 2-3 minutes in length. I would attribute this to most of today’s songs being committee-written.

    It is a tough balance – ten great songs running 2:00 – 3:00 in length yields an album that comes in under a half hour in playing time, which seems wasteful with today’s technology. In the days of the LP where longer playing times much over 30 minutes equated to more groove compression and less audio fidelity, offering some justification for the short playing times.

    You can program your CD player to skip songs you do not wish to hear – unfortunately you cannot program it to skip the dead spots within songs.

    Come back Harlan Howard & Dallas Frazier – Nashville badly needs you

  7. I agree with Leeann: if an album has more than ten very solid, well-written tracks, then putting them ALL on there is worth the trouble, and worth the price to buy.

    “Come back Harlan Howard & Dallas Frazier – Nashville badly needs you”–Amen, Paul!

  8. I was shocked at first that you were suggesting artists only put 10 songs on their albums. But then I finished reading the article, and things seemed more justified. If artists really did release CDs 12-15 months apart, it wouldn’t be so bad to release 10 songs I suppose, but I do like a lot of songs on an album. Although 11 seems to be acceptable nowadays, I feel like it is the bare minimun. At least 13 is nice, but that is rare.

  9. for most artists, i find 10-12 songs nice, but I don’t mind 14 as a most. After that it’s hard for me to listen to it in one time. For example, Brad Paisley, I think could do well to make his albums just a bit shorter. Especially since he puts the instrumental(which I love) on it, he could cut out a few others.
    Greatest Hits albums are an exception for me, because I normally use them as a starting point to get to know an artist, so when they have more I can determine more fully how much I think I like that artist.

  10. In the 1990s, for example, artists regularly released albums every 12-18 months. Patty Loveless’ four Epic Records from this period all featured 10 songs, all of them being cohesive pieces of work, but many other artists seemed in a rush to enter the studio with a couple hit singles and use the rest of the album for filler. However, with the slow chart movement and the “narrowing” of the country format, albums are now released with (sometimes) 2 to 3 years between them.

  11. Here’s another reason, aside from Paul’s vinyl argument, why 10 songs were the norm, songwriting royalties. It was simply easier math and the publishers and songwriters preferred to keep it that way as they got more money. Looking at my stack of CDs on my desk here (20 released this year or last), only one had 10 songs (Carter’s Chord). 9 had 11 (James Otto, Katie Armiger, Montgomery Gentry, Luke Bryan, Randy Travis, etc), 4 had 12 (Grascals, Andy Griggs, Eric Church, Charlie Allen) while 6 had 13 (Jamey Johnson, Jeff Bates, Billy Yates, Kate Russell, Jason Matthews, Willie Nelson).

    Of the albums with 13, Only Willie Nelson isn’t the primary songwriter on the album. Matthews, Russell and Yates wrote all of their tracks while Bates wrote most of them and Jamey covered 2 classics among his songs). Almost all of the 11 track artists didn’t write their records at all or only had one or two tracks they wrote so it makes sense that they’d have ‘only’ 11 songs when publishers still want as much of a share of these albums as they can get.

  12. As with most things in life, it just depends. There are some 10-song albums that are too long and some 20-song epics that are just right.

  13. I recall reading that the Dixie Chicks put a provision in their Sony contract that stated they wouldn’t release an album with less than 12 songs. They put that provision in there because they felt like putting out an album with fewer than 12 songs would cheat their fans. (At the time they signed their Sony contract, this was a band that had spent around 6 years on the road and they were all about the fans.)

    (For the same reason, they also put a provision in their contract that permitted them to play their own instruments on their albums – apparently a rarity. For the fans, they wanted to sound the same live as they did on their albums. –Actually, they are one of the few acts that always sounds a million times better live.)

  14. Well, back in the ’60s, the standard was 12 songs, 6 on each side of an LP, then
    the record companies got down to 11 songs for the standard country album, then
    down to 12. RCA tried to get the standard down to 9 early in the CD era. That
    was going too far. Generally, I think a CD is half empty if it only has 10 songs.

  15. On this subject, I am of the opinion that it’s more about the quality of the songs than it is about the quantity. Even ten-song CDs can just “sit there” and do little or nothing to stimulate the listener’s interest, while a CD that has 15-17 songs can get the listener truly wrapped up and engaged in it.

    It really depends on the artists themselves. A lot of them nowadays seem to feel the need to produce CMT/radio-ready hits, rather than an album that stands out as an artistic statement, and the end result, in my opinion, is mediocrity. This is true really throughout the entire music industry in general, but in country music it sometimes seems like mediocrity stands out more.

    Instead of just worrying about how many songs are on a CD, how long the CD is, or whether it has any “hits” on it, why not let the artists try to make recordings they believe in? Whether it’s ten songs, or twelve, or fifteen, or whatever–let the artists be who they really are, and let the public be the deciding vote.

  16. I don’t feel it’s worth spending my money on a CD typically if it’s 10 songs or fewer, if only because if you can fit 80 minutes of music, why not try to fill it? The problem is it’s not usually GOOD music filling it, but that’s up to the artist and producer to find more quality music to put on there. I liked “If You’re Going Through Hell,” but it just felt a little bare to only have 10 tracks on there. I’d have might as well bought it off of iTunes and spent $9.90 rather than getting the physical CD (especially since a few songs on there — “Man on a Tractor,” “About the South,” even in my personal opinion, “These Are My People” — were nothing more than filler).

    Looking at my old cassettes I feel really cheated, especially the RCA thing mentioned above — my Restless Heart cassette from the post-Stewart era (the one with “When She Cries”) only had nine songs. Of course, now you can’t even find “When She Cries” in a digital store.

  17. A couple of Vince albums from his RCA days had fewer than 10 songs as well. In fact, if I remember correctly, The Judds’ Christmas album only has nine songs on it and they were popular at the time of its release.

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