The Paratext: The Ecstasy and Misery of the Side Break

Welcome to the second week of The Paratext. This week I’d like to explore something that’s very near and dear to my heart: the side break. To me, the break in a record is of vital importance to how an album works as a piece of music in its own right. CDs allowed albums to be presented as one continuous listening experience, without the use of special equipment. True, previous to the advent of the CD, there were turntables with automatic changing capabilities (and even some that would flip the record for you), and because of the make up of tapes, cassette and reel-to-reel players could double the length by simply reversing the play direction. But CDs had an inherent continuous playtime of 74 minutes (later extended to 80 or so minutes with certain shenanigans). Now, of course, with the advent of digital music the playtime is practically limitless. Indeed, just today I downloaded a four hour release. And with streaming, it would be fairly incidental to create a playlist literally lasting the rest of your life.

But, our mind starts to wander when presented with infinity. There is enormous value in knowing when to artfully deploy an intermission. This is not merely an academic discussion: even with CDs offering up to 80 minutes of time, it’s not unusual for artists to ship a seventy minute album on two CDs for structural reasons. Indeed, there was plenty of discussion last time about various rational for breaking an album up into thirds (or sixths). The people that make your albums know the value in making you get up off of your butt to change the media, even if we constantly find ways to subvert that intention.

As such, this topic can veer dangerously close to ‘text’. The line between paratext and text is probably not as clearly defined as it might seem. There is an art to track sequencing, and it is a wise musician that takes full advantage of that. This is also a rather large topic. I could spend an entire treatise on examples of albums that have good track sequencing, and albums that have bad track sequencing.

However, the impact of a particular side break is a bit more focused. What side breaks work for people? What side breaks don’t? (Disc breaks work here too, of course). Do you prefer your music uninterrupted? Have you ever listened to the same album on a CD and vinyl and noticed how the side breaks affect your experience?

I will give some of my favorite examples in the comments, a bit later as I have to work right now.