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The Last Great Double Album

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

In the Digital Age, the double album has virtually disappeared, once a staple of any great artist’s catalogue (for better or worse) it really was something that belonged in the vinyl era when space was truly limited and although the CD medium offered a similar experience, it has virtually become extinct. Many lists and catalogues of these “Double Albums” cite Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde as one of the first one to be anything of note but, with the 60s and 70s being the era of the album, soon the double album became something of a career achievement around when The Beatles released The White Album, soon to be a standard for everyone from Hendrix to The Who to Pink Floyd. It was an ideal that resonated through the ages with the late 70s classics like Physical Graffiti and the Clash’s London Calling, an ideal that was true in strange sounds of the 80s with Prince’s Sign o' the Times and The Smith’s Louder Than Bombs and even into 90s where we saw it from The Smashing Pumpkins with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and both the post-humous albums of Biggie and Tupac. It was the idea that to create the double album was to attempt a masterpiece and the last true time we saw that greatness was with the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Stadium Arcadium.

By the time the RHCP came to release Stadium Arcadium in 2006, they’d already been a band for 20 years and were more notably one of the biggest bands on the planet still riding the success from Californication (1999) and By The Way (2002). While it could easily be argued that they were great before it’s release, it was the kind of thing that would cement them in the pantheon as one of “The Greatest Bands” of all time. At least you could say that’s how I saw it at 17 when the album was released just before the summer of my senior year and in that I have to admit my bias because it is one of those albums I cherish. I remember buying it and looking at the discs made to look like the planets they were named after, Jupiter and Mars, thinking that this was one of the few decent pieces of a modern-day rock music, thinking that it really lived up to the hype, thinking that Jupiter was better than Mars but that it was good the whole way through. It was important that it be good too and the fact that it both sold well and won them five Grammy’s gives it enough merit if you’re into that sort of merit but the real tell is just how much it meant to us at that time, how big of a piece of culture it was to that era. Just because you make a double album, doesn’t mean it is legendary, just ask Coldplay.

The thing about a double album is that it can very easily become bloated, a piece of self-indulgent music that bores the speakers of the world. I would even argue that every double album has weak points, even The White Album has “Piggies” but the RHCP actually had to cut Stadium Arcadium down from 38 songs on three discs they were going to release in separate installments, down to 28 songs when they then decided to make it a double album and it’s really hard to find any weak points, in my opinion. Sure there are the obvious singles like “Dani California”, “Tell Me Baby” and “Snow (Hey Oh)” that are etched in our brains to the point of “Stairway to Heaven” and it’s telling that 2 of the 5 singles are on the Mars disc so although I’d still agree with my 17 year old self that Jupiter is the better disc, it really is not as definite as I believed it to be back then. The true testament to its greatness, to me, is that you find new tracks as you listen to it more and more, one’s that you passed over before that now become even more important than the singles, like nuances from a movie you missed the first ten times you watched it, songs like “Slow Cheetah” and “Wet Sand” that show the dynamic abilities of the RHCP that had never been seen before.

Now, I’m sure there have been good double albums released since 2006, Nine Inch Nails put out two in the two following years for instance and then there’s the argument of ‘what is’ a double album because from the Wikipedia list I looked at there were some listed that I have to disagree with. In Rainbow, for example, he Radiohead album from 2007 is listed as one but as someone who purchased it in digital form when it came out (it was a big deal because they let you pay what you wanted and digital releases were not a thing yet) it was definitely not considered a double album. Even a few of the other RHCP albums like Californication and By The Way were considered double albums on this list because they took up two vinyl but they were not double albums in the same way. The double album I’m talking about is that crown jewel in a musician’s career, a championship to an athlete, something like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road or The Stones' Exile on Mainstreet, and it’s not something every great musician has, just as Charles Barkley doesn’t have a ring, The Allman Brothers only notable double is At Fillmore East and as legendary as that is, a live album doesn’t count, sorry Frampton. I don’t think it’s out of the question that someone will release another great double album but for the moment it doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s priority list (although watch out for Kayne with his new breakup energy). For that reason, I think it’s safe to say that Stadium Arcadium was the last great double album but I’d be happy to see it dethroned any day.

Below are notable double albums I found in my research, as well as links to a few lists of Double Albums

Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde (1966) – studio

The Beatles, The Beatles (1968)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland (1968) - 2×LP

Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) - 2×LP, 1×CD

The Allman Brothers Band - 'At Fillmore East'

The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St. (1972)

The Who, Quadrophenia (1973)

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti (1975) Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same (1976)

The Clash, London Calling (1979)

Pink Floyd - The Wall (1979) - 2×LP – studio

Prince - 1999 (1982) - 2×LP

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense (1983)

Prince - Sign o' the Times (1987) - 2×LP, 2×CD

The Smiths - Louder Than Bombs (1987) - 2×LP

Sonic Youth, ‘Daydream Nation’

Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion I (1991) - 2×LP, 1×CD - studio

Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion II (1991) - 2×LP, 1×CD – studio

The Smashing Pumpkins - 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness' (1995)

Radiohead – OK Computer (1997) – 2×LP

Tupac Shakur - All Eyez on Me (1996) - 2×CD

The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death (1997) - 2×CD

Wu-Tang Clan, Wu-Tang Forever (1997)

Outkast, ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’

Elliott Smith, ‘New Moon’ (Kill Rock Stars)

LCD Soundsystem – (2005) – 2×LP

Nas - Street's Disciple (2004) - 2×LP

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Stadium Arcadium (2006) - 2×CD

Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero (2007) - 3×LP Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV (2008) - 4×LP, 2×CD

Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007) - 2×CD + 2×LP

MGMT – Congratulations (2010) – 2×LP MGMT – Little Dark Age (2018) – 2×LP

Arcade Fire, ‘Reflektor’ (2011)

deadmau5 - while(1<2) (2014)

Coldplay – Everyday Life (2019)

Bob Dylan - Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020) – studio

Beach House announce new double album ‘Once Twice Melody’

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