Have you ever wondered why we call a group of songs released together by the same band or artist an album? No? Well, I guess you and I are just very different people then…
It occurred to me as strange recently while writing about mistletoe. If you recall, the plant’s Latin name is Viscus Album, with Album meaning white. How did we get from there to a music album?
Thinking about it a little, I could understand where the term photo album comes from (for you young people, a photo album is a book with blank pages to put photos on. Like a sticker album, which I believe still exist). The pages are white before you put any photos on them. Album in this general sense was brought about by German scholars in the 1650s, who would carry blank books called album amicorum in which to collect colleagues’ signatures. This meaning then expanded to include any book for collecting souvenirs.
Considering all this, I then thought that perhaps a music album is so called because it features a collection of songs, but the truth is more mundane. The sleeves of vinyl albums resemble(d) photo albums, and they came to be known as albums.
Albums have also of course been known as records (because the music is recorded), and LPs (short for long player). And we refer to songs as tracks because on physical mediums, each song would usually follow a specific physical or magnetic track when played (such as the track inside the groove on a vinyl record that the needle follows).
The White Album, released by The Beatles in 1968, now seems like an unintentionally appropriate title. Except of course that that’s technically not what the album’s called. Strictly it’s simply called The Beatles, and if you own a physical copy, you should see the band’s name embossed on the right of the cover (in hard-to-notice white, in fairness). And I believe if you have it on iTunes it’s called The Beatles. Still, from its release, it became known as The White Album, and now we know there’s an unintended logic to that!