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The Almost-Album: Promoted as a Major Product Yet Mostly Comprised of Recent Singles: The Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady

The ideal almost-album consists entirely of A sides and B sides, the quality of the latter nearly equal, or better, than the former, all released within the previous three-five years and cohering surprisingly well as a singular listening experience. Perhaps needless to say, this ideal is not often reached. No, actually... has it ever? The British Indie Rock band the Wedding Present certainly came close: in 1992, they released a single every month, and the results were almost immediately released as compilations. To be exact, Hit Parade 1 in June 1992 after the first-sixth 45s were complete, and Hit Parade 2 in January 1993 after the second six. These recordings are considered among the band's best; still, the B sides were covers; a fine concept, but hardly making either album the first thing that listeners who are new to the band should check out. And of course the term, "hit," is being used ironically.

The greatest almost-album of Rock's post-1965 album era comes from a band not too dissimilar: the Punk legends, the Buzzcocks, and their album, Singles Going Steady. It does not precisely match our ideal, as two singles—‘I Don't Mind’ b/w ‘Autonomy’ and ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)’ b/w ‘Just Lust’—had been previously included on albums: their first and second, Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites, respectively. But it is close enough. The other 12 tracks at the time were only available on singles. And the singles were released in a period spanning November 1977 to July 1979. Moreover, the resulting album generally ranks, among both their devoted fans and casual listeners, as the pinnacle of the Buzzcocks' recorded work.

As indicated by the albums' release dates, the Hit Parade releases combine A and B sides into a single album. However, all of the A side tracks are presented first, on the A side of the album; the B sides follow on the B side of the album. Singles Going Steady takes the same approach. This set-up seems appropriate, but for me it only confirms the sad tendency of the A sides of albums being significantly better than the B sides (because, unlike in the ideal described above, rarely have the B sides of singles been as essential or significant as the A sides). Also, for the sake of discographical non-complexity (can that ever really exist?), I cannot but want the singles to be repeated exactly as they were originally released, the A side followed by the B side, one single after another. In our Twenty-First-Century online television-dominated life, we of course can easily make a playlist making this alternate track order of Singles Going Steady a reality of sorts:

‘Orgasm Addict’
‘Whatever Happened To?’
‘What Do I Get’
‘Oh Shit!’
‘I Don't Mind’
‘Love You More’
‘Noise Annoys’
‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)’
‘Just Lust’
‘Everybody's Happy Nowadays’
‘Why Can't I Touch It?’
‘Harmony in My Head’
‘Something's Gone Wrong Again’

The 2001 C.D reissue of the album appropriately expanded the album to include the singles released after Singles Going Steady. ‘You Say You Don't Love Me' and its B side, ‘Raison D'Être’, were also on the band's third album, A Different Kind of Tension [1979]. Three other singles were released later: ‘Are Everything’ b/w ‘Why She's the Girl From the Chainstore’; ‘Strange Thing’ b/w ‘Airwaves Dream’; and ‘Running Free’ b/w ‘What Do You Know’. This gave the 2001 reissue a total of 24 tracks, which still fit on a single C.D (and would have made for a fine double L.P, if anyone had bothered). The temporal span of this expanded version now extended to November 1980, that is, up to the band's dissolution, almost exactly three years after ‘Orgasm Addict’ (and nearly four years after the release of the band's debut E P, Spiral Scratch, in January, 1977; it has always been released separately from the singles, included on the Time's Up archival album with other recordings from the same session). When Singles Going Steady was first released, it was considered secondary. It came out in the U.S first, in 1979; a U.K release having apparently vetoed by the band because the individual singles were readily available there. But the album sold well in Britain even at a high import price and it was finally released there in 1981. At that point, the additional four singles could have been added; presumably, the potential costs involved—again, it would impossible to fit all 24 tracks on a single L.P—and the relative lack of popularity of the later singles counted against that possibility. The 2001 reissue would seem to have rectified this. However, when the album was reissued again (and of course in the future it will be reissued yet again, and yet yet again) in 2019, the original 16-track order was used. Indeed, these 2019 reissues of all of the Buzzcocks albums ridiculously rejected not only the expanded version of Steady but all of the bonus material made available in 2008 on deluxe editions of the three major albums.

The 24-track version of Singles Going Steady, each single featured in chronological order, sequenced as a double L.P, follows below. The only slight complication with this set-up is that the C side is too long, because of the uncommon (for the Buzzcocks) length of ‘Why Can't I Touch It?'. Overall, though, this would be about as great as a double album can get. That said, if one wants to listen to the Buzzcocks studio work in toto, you may want to remove the six repeated tracks, to make for a three-sided album. When embarking on a chronological run-through of an artist's complete discography, the placement of a song released as both a single and an album track always complicates the matter. ‘I Don't Mind’ b/w ‘Autonomy’ came out roughly a month after the two songs had been released on Another Music, whereas ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)’ b/w ‘Just Lust’ came out just prior to Love Bites. Of course the first single from an album is commonly released prior to the album. Either way, the songs remain in our memories and perhaps in our listening habits as both singles and album tracks. A potential box set of an artist's complete work in such a scenario cannot strictly be ordered chronologically without repeating tracks.

‘Orgasm Addict’
‘Whatever Happened To?’
‘What Do I Get’
‘Oh Shit!’
‘I Don't Mind’
‘Love You More’
‘Noise Annoys’
‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)’
‘Just Lust’
‘Everybody's Happy Nowadays’
‘Why Can't I Touch It?’
‘Harmony in My Head’
‘Something's Gone Wrong Again’
‘You Say You Don't Love Me’
‘Raison D'Être’
‘Are Everything’
‘Why She's the Girl From the Chainstore’
‘Strange Thing’
‘Airwaves Dream’
‘Running Free’
‘What Do You Know’


The biggest problem with the concept of the almost-album, when attempting to distinguish it from the compilation, is that any compilation, strictly speaking, is already an album. So how can any compilation be only "almost" an album? The easiest explanation goes like this: first you must distinguish singles from albums; then you must make distinctions among different kinds of singles and albums. When we define the almost-album, we have moved past the first step and are now dividing up the broadest album category into subsections. The problem, thus, is that neither the music industry nor music historians ever settled upon a useful term for what we could call an artist's major, or primary, albums: those which are marketed with some combination of singles, promotional releases given gratis to radio D J's and journalists, concert tours, interviews with the press, new publicity photographs, and so on. Some concert albums are major albums, but many are only released many years after the fact and so can be considered archival albums. Some singles compilations are also treated like major albums, indeed as Singles Going Steady was in the U S; its release coincided with the band's first tour there.

Before 1965, when fewer pop artists focused on albums as integral works, singles compilations were more prevalent and, appropriately enough, more likely promoted as major releases. The list of albums for certain artists as found at the Rock Annual may seem peculiar at first glance because of this. Two Supremes albums, I Hear a Symphony and The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, are numbered because they count as major albums in the Rock Annual method of cataloging, whereas the Supremes album that likely gets recommended more than any other, Where Did Our Love Go, is not numbered since it counts as an almost-album. Any unnumbered album is listed below the major albums and singles, alongside archival and other compilation albums. Going back only a few years, several significant artists, especially Chuck Berry and Howlin' Wolf, are largely represented in the Rock Annual lists by almost-albums. In other words, in the Fifties and early Sixties they focused on singles.

As noted in the ‘Setpoint’ essay, an album must have fewer than half of its tracks be previously-released to be considered a major album. For the single year that we have begun to flesh out, 1965 (seen at the “details” version of that year), several almost-albums come very close to being such proper albums: namely, Little Milton's We're Gonna Make It, Otis Redding's The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, Martha and the Vandellas' Dance Party, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' Going to a Go-Go, each having exactly half of its tracks being previously released. In the case of the Temptations' Temptin' Temptations and the Sorrows' Take a Heart, seven out of 12 tracks had been previously released. We may be better off counting these albums as proper studio albums, perhaps making it so that only albums with roughly two-thirds of their tracks (eight out of 12 or 13, seven out of 11 or 10, six out of nine, five out of eight, nine out of 14, and so on) need to be previously-released in order to be demoted to the almost-album category. If that change is made, this paragraph (and the corresponding section of the ‘Setpoint’ essay) will be appropriately edited.

Among the compilations that formally stand as almost-albums but which we could justify excluding from the category: “greatest hits” collections that happen to be limited to a short time span, perhaps becuase they are the artist's first such collection. An artist who gets a “greatest hits” album early in his career has tended to be highly successful. The obvious examples here are Elvis' Golden Records and the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). Second, almost-albums comprised entirely or mostly of tracks released as E.P's when those E.P's ideally would maintain independent status. The best examples: the Tall Dwarfs' Hello Cruel World, Pavement's Westing (By Musket and Sextant), and Big Black's The Hammer Party. And third—a minor category, really a subcategory of the second—compilations that were released largely for convenience's sake, bundling together releases in other formats: namely, Bikini Kill's The C.D Version of the First Two Records; the Minutemen's three Post-Mersh compilations; and the Vaselines' The Way of the Vaselines. The Birthday Party's Mutiny/ The Bad Seed E.P fits the second category, but was released six years after the two E.P's in question originally came out, so it has been deemed an archival release. For now, we consider these all to be almost-albums intead of archival albums.

The almost-albums listed at the Rock Annual are as follows. Similar short reviews of their contents as seen here for Singles Going Steady will be a regular feature of the Rock Annual.

Johnny Ace - Memorial Album for Johnny Ace

Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys - Songs of the Smoky Mountains [The Best of Roy Acuff: Songs of the Smoky Mountains]

Johnny Adams - Heart and Soul

Eddy Arnold and His Guitar - Anytime

The Avengers

Bark Psychosis - Independency

The Bats - Compiletely Bats

Big Black - The Hammer Party

Chuck Berry - After School Session; One Dozen Berrys; Chuck Berry Is on Top

Bikini Kill - The C.D Version of the First Two Records

Ruth Brown - Ruth Brown [Rock & Roll]; Miss Rhythm

Solomon Burke - Rock 'n' Soul

The Buzzcocks - Singles Going Steady

Johnny Cash - Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash

Ray Charles - What'd I Say

The Chills - Kaleidoscope World

Petula Clark - Downtown

The Clean - Compilation

Bo Diddley

Dion and the Belmonts - Presenting Dion and the Belmonts

Fats Domino - Rock and Rollin' With Fats Domino

The Eagles - Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)

The Fall - 458489 A Sides; 458489 B Sides

Left Frizzell - Listen to Lefty

Fugazi - 13 Songs

Halo of Flies - Music for Insect Minds

Hanoi Rocks - Self Destruction Blues

Howlin' Wolf - Moanin' in the Moonlight; Howlin' Wolf; Howlin' Wolf Sings the Blues; The Real Folk Blues

Ivory Joe Hunter - Ivory Joe Hunter; I Get That Lonesome Feeling

Mahalia Jackson - In the Upper Room With Mahalia Jackson

Wanda Jackson - Rockin' With Wanda

Albert King - King of the Blues Guitar

B B King - Singin' the Blues

Ben E King - Don't Play That Song!

Freddy King Sings

Johnny Mathis - Johnny's Greatest Hits

Little Milton - We're Gonna Make It

The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon [Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers]

Mecca Normal - Jarred Up

The Minutemen - Post-Mersh Vol. 1; Post-Mersh Vol. 2; Post-Mersh Vol. 3

Morrissey - Bona Drag

Les Paul/ Mary Ford - The Hit Makers!

Pavement - Westing (By Musket and Sextant)

Elvis Presley - Elvis' Golden Records

Jimmy Reed - Rockin' With Reed; The Legend - The Man

Martha[ Reeves] and the Vandellas - Dance Party

Rites of Spring - End on End

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - Going to a Go-Go

The Rolling Stones - Hot Rocks 1964-1971; More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies)

Jack Scott

The Shangri-Las - Leader of the Pack

The Smiths - Louder Than Bombs

The Sorrows - Take a Heart

Stereolab - Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2)

Billy Stewart - I Do Love You

The Supremes - Where Did Our Love Go

The Tall Dwarfs - Hello Cruel World

The Temptations - The Temptin' Temptations

The Vaselines - The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History

The Wailers - The Wailin' Wailers

Muddy Waters - The Best of Muddy Waters; The Real Folk Blues

The Wedding Present - Tommy (1985-1987); Hit Parade 1; Hit Parade 2

The Who - Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy

Sonny Boy Williamson[ II] [Rice Miller] - Down and Out Blues

Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I

Robert Wyatt - Nothing Can Stop Us

Dwight Yoakam - Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

Neil Young - Decade

–Justin J Kaw, March 2021