Most of the albums we listen to usually have between 10 and 15 traditionally structured songs, clocking in between 30 and 60 minutes. However, there are plenty of progressively minded artists who dispense with traditional structures and release full-length albums with only a few tracks. Here are seven great albums with just three tracks (or less).
1. Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick (1972)
It's almost unfathomable today, but there was a point in music history where an album consisting of a single, 44-minute song could top the Billboard charts. Jethro Tull did just that in 1972 with Thick as a Brick, an album designed as a parody of the pompous concept albums that were gaining popularity at the time. Though the album features just one song, its original vinyl format caused it to be split into two 22-minute tracks, one on each side of the record.
2. Miles Davis - In a Silent Way/A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1968/1971)
Because of the loosely structured and highly improvisatory nature of bebop jazz, most pieces in the genre tend to stretch on longer than the average pop song. Most of Miles Davis's albums featured just five or six tracks in total, but when he began experimenting with jazz-fusion and ambient music in the late '60s, his pieces began stretching to twenty-minutes in length. His 1968 classic In a Silent Way features just two sidelong pieces, a structure he would use again for 1971's A Tribute to Jack Johnson.
3. Yes - Close to the Edge/Relayer (1972/1974)
In progressive rock, the line between awe-inspiring and laughably grandiose is so fine that most bands in the genre end up running past it blindly at some point. Yes edged right up to the line with its masterpiece, 1972's Close to the Edge, which features the 18-minute title track on one side and two more tracks on the other, coming in at a palatable 37 minutes. However, the band's next album Tales of Topographic Oceans is classic prog-rock bloat, with four tracks in 81 minutes. The band would return to its winning three-track structure with Relayer in 1974.
4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F♯ A♯ ∞ (1997)
Whenever an album is reissued on a new format, it's completely reasonable to expect this new edition to contain the same recordings as the old edition. However, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's debut album F♯ A♯ ∞ was actually recorded twice: once for vinyl, and once for CD. The vinyl edition clocks in at 38 minutes and contains just two tracks, while the CD edition features three tracks that come in at 63 minutes, which couldn't fit onto a record.
5. Kyuss - Welcome to Sky Valley (1994)
The invention of the CD didn't really do the full-length album any favors as an artistic medium. Though records are designed so that skipping around to different tracks is difficult, CDs allowed listeners to skip around with ease and disrupt the flow of an album's sequencing. Stoner-metal band Kyuss got around this disruption by dividing its album Welcome to Sky Valley into just three tracks (titled "Movements"), despite the fact that there are ten songs on the album. This structuring forced listeners to hear the entire album at once.
6. Sleep - Dopesmoker (2003)
Vinyl records may be the best format to hear a complete, structured LP, but the technical limitations of vinyl forced artists to cut off their albums at 50 minutes or so (unless they wanted to release a double album). CDs, however, allowed artists to release albums that were up to 80 minutes long if they wished. Sleep's classic album Dopesmoker is one that could have only been released on CD, with a single song that drones on for 63 minutes. On vinyl, this song would not only have to be shortened, but also cut in two.
7. Frank Zappa - Lumpy Gravy (1967)
Frank Zappa's first two albums with the Mothers of Invention are some of the most bizarre albums of their time, but they were accessible because they played with familiar rock and pop traditions. However, Zappa's first solo album, 1967's Lumpy Gravy, dispenses any accessibility the Mothers may have had. The album is split into two 16-minute tracks of bizarre jazz, avant-garde classical, and sound collages.
What other bands have release albums with only a few tracks? Let us know in the comments section!