The first studio double album was French singer-songwriter Léo Ferré's Verlaine et Rimbaud chantés par Léo Ferré in 1964, on Barclay Records. The first live double album came early in the LP's history: The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert by Benny Goodman. The first rock double album was Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, released in June of 1966, with Frank Zappa's Freak Out! released one week later. The best-selling double album of all time is Michael Jackson's HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I with over 33 million copies (66 million units) worldwide. The second best-selling double album is Pink Floyd's The Wall with over 30 million copies (60 million units) worldwide. Other best-selling double albums are The Beatles' White Album and Billy Joel's Greatest Hits I & II.
The double album has become less common since the decline of the vinyl LP and the advent of compact discs. A single LP had two sides, each of which had a capacity of up to 30 minutes (although shorter sides are more typical to avoid compromising sound quality), for a maximum of 30 to 60 minutes per record. A single CD has a capacity of 80 minutes (originally 74 minutes until the 1990s): accordingly, many old double albums on LP have been re-released as single albums on CD. However, other double albums on LP are re-released as double albums on CD, either because they are too large for a single CD, or simply to retain the structure of the original.
There are also double-LP albums, such as Mike Oldfield's Incantations and Chick Corea's My Spanish Heart, for which some tracks were removed or shortened for a single 74-minute CD release, though both were later re-released in their entirety when 80-minute CDs were developed.
Though the average album length has increased since the days of LPs, it remains rare for an artist to produce more than 80 minutes of studio material for one album. Thus, the double album is now more commonly seen in formats other than studio albums. Live albums that either present all or most of a single concert, or material from several concerts, are commonly released as double albums. Compilations such as greatest hits records can also often comprise double albums. Soundtracks and scores are also commonly released on two CDs; particularly soundtracks to musicals, which typically last longer than 80 minutes, are commonly released in their entirety as double albums, occasionally offering a second single-disc version featuring the most notable songs. The double album format is also frequently used for concept albums.
The double album is not entirely obsolete when it comes to studio albums, however. Some artists still occasionally produce a large enough quantity of material to justify a double album. For example, progressive rock band The Flower Kings have released four double albums out of ten studio albums. Barenaked Ladies recorded 29 songs (initially intending more than 30) for their first original album following the completion of their contract with Reprise Records, including several songs that were cut from past albums under that contract. Without needing to get a label's approval, they were able to release a 25-track "deluxe edition" double album Barenaked Ladies Are Me, as well as releasing the album as two separate single albums, as well as a variety of other formats. Nellie McKay reportedly fought with her label to get her debut album, Get Away from Me released as a double album, even though the material would have fit on a single disc. She has been said to be the first female artist to have a double album as a debut.
A recent development is the release of a double studio album in which the two discs contain different mixes of the same tracks. An example is Shania Twain's Up!, which was sold with a pop-mix disc and a country-mix disc in North America, or a pop-mix disc and a filmi-mix disc internationally.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were the first hip hop artists to release a double album, 1988's He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper which at eighty-five minutes warranted a double vinyl package but was edited by thirteen minutes to allow a single CD release.
Many albums since the recent rise in popularity of vinyl records, while released as a single disc on the CD version have been released as double albums, typically because they may slightly exceed the limitations of a single record. Many of these releases stretch the album to cover four sides, while some only fill three sides and leave the last one for a bonus track(s), or occasionally an etching. These albums are usually released as two 12" records but occasionally as two 10" records.
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