The Single Life
As Hiding From Andy preps its upcoming, as-of-yet unnamed EP, we’ve found ourselves facing a rather difficult dilemma: which song should be the album single? The complications largely exist because, presumably, the role of an album single for a jamband could be quite different and unique, considering the genres’ focus on lengthy improvisation. So we had to decide whether we should pick a long meandering jammer, a concise radio-friendly cut, or something in between? But we worried, if we chose something too pop would it receive a cold shoulder from jam fans? Then again, would a purist jam odyssey be too much for most mainstream listeners? Rather than committing to a bad decision, I thought it would be a good idea to look at album singles released by jambands in the past with the hopes of garnering some heady guidance. My search would lead me into the very history of the album single and its roll through the preceding decades of music, and conclude with a rather surprising discovery.
In the late 1800’s, long before Mo-town and Rock n’ Roll popularized its usage, the album single came into existence out of necessity, not publicity. Essentially the record producing technology of the 19th century could only cut record grooves fine enough to accommodate no more than three minutes of sound per side; in other words a “single” song. Naturally, bands – predominately jazz at the time – wanting to utilize the emerging technology would have to write abbreviated songs to do so. And consequently, for decades to follow, three minutes became the standard single length, even after technology had progressed to the point where more time was possible. In fact, the first truly notable challenge to this unofficial standard was The Beatles’ 1968 single, “Hey Jude,” which came in at an impressive 7 minutes – lengthy even by modern standards. Today, even with digital technology allowing for practically infinite length, mainstream singles are often still brief, if now mainly to accommodate radio standards.
However, one would think that the roll of the single in jamband albums would be unique, considering the unique length of songs within the genre. But the opposite proves true with most jambands opting for a more traditional usage, barring only a few exceptions. Consider Phish’s album, Farmhouse, where “Heavy Things” was issued as the single. Coming in at 4:15, the song would prove their biggest mainstream success, even breaking Radio & Records pop 100 chart. Again on Umphrey’s Mantis, the single “Made To Measure” hovered around the three minute mark. Even newer jambands largely follow this model, with The Heavy Pets releasing the pithy, pop-laden, “Drenched,” as the single ahead of their recent self-titled album. The winning balance seems to be including enough improvisational hallmarks to please the jamband base, while pruning excessive instrumental flourishes to achieve more accessible song lengths, possibly with the hopes of attaining radio play.
With that in mind, the single we selected for our upcoming EP is “Less is Sometimes More,” an eager number with brief, but effective bass and guitar solos wrapped in a fun lyrical amble. Coming in at around 4 minutes (and streaming on relix.com), we hope this song proves both accessible while still remaining rooted in jamband approved principles. Further still, as in all effective singles, “Less is Sometimes More” best represents the music throughout the EP to follow, and likewise may hold the greatest potential to whet listener appetites. So, in summation, what started out as a search to find out the role of the single in jam music, turned out to be a history lesson in the role of the single throughout music in general. And despite jam’s unique attributes, an album single’s long-held tradition of brevity applies even here and, after much consideration we’ve concluded, who are we to defy tradition?