A double album (or double record) is an audio album which spans two units of the primary medium in which it is sold, typically records and compact disc. A double album is usually, though not always, released as such because the recording is longer than the capacity of the medium. Recording artists often think of double albums as comprising a single piece artistically; however, there are exceptions such as John Lennon's Some Time in New York City and Pink Floyd's Ummagumma (both examples of one studio record and one live album packaged together) and OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (effectively two solo albums, one by each member of the duo). Another example of this approach is Works Volume 1 by Emerson Lake and Palmer, where side one featured Keith Emerson, side two Greg Lake, side three Carl Palmer, and side four was by the entire group.
Since the advent of the compact disc, albums are sometimes released with a bonus disc featuring additional material as a supplement to the main album, with live tracks, studio out-takes, cut songs, or older unreleased material. One innovation was the inclusion of DVD of related material with a compact disc, such as video related to the album or DVD-Audio versions of the same recordings. Some such discs were also released on a two-sided format called DualDisc. Due to the limitations of the gramophone record, many albums primarily released on the format were under 40 minutes long. This has led to record labels re-releasing two of these albums on one CD, thus making a double album.
The same principles apply to the triple album, which comprises three units. Packages with more units than three are often packaged as a box set.
The first double album was recordings from the Carnegie Hall Concert headlined by Benny Goodman, released in 1950 on Columbia Records, that label having introduced the LP two years earlier. The first studio double album was French singer-songwriter Léo Ferré's Verlaine et Rimbaud, released in December 1964 on Barclay Records. The first rock double album was Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde released on May 16, 1966. It was soon followed by Frank Zappa & the Mothers Of Invention's debut record, Freak Out!, released on June 27, 1966.
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) sold worldwide. The second best-selling double album and best-selling concept double album ever 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, The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St., Billy Joel's Greatest Hits I & II, Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, and The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
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 20-25 minute sides were more typical to avoid compromising sound quality), for a maximum of 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 (in the early days of CD production double albums were sometimes made to fit onto a single CD disc by cutting one or more songs).
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 eleven 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. Guns N' Roses famously insisted on releasing their Use Your Illusion I & II albums simultaneously but separately so as not to burden their fans with the expense of having to buy a double CD set. 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. However, in 1995 "Master P pres. Down South Hustlers" was released as being supposedly the first double rap album to ever be entirely of an original album format, and was one of the earliest double rap albums to have not been edited by thirteen minutes for a final release. A year later, The Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death was released, later becoming the first hip hop double album to be certified Diamond.
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-inch records but occasionally as two 10-inch records.
Jamaican recording artist Eldie Anthony was the first reggae artist to release a double debut album at the launch of his career on February 17, 2015. The album, entitled Break Free, was produced by the Reggae Embassy.
With regard to records, most double album sets have sides one and two back to back on the first disc, followed by sides three and four on the second disc, etc. The record industry term for this practice is "manual sequence." However, some double album LP sets have sides one and four pressed on one disc along with sides two and three on the other. This practice, known as "automatic sequence," began in the era of 78s and was intended to make it easier for listeners to play through the entire set in order on automatic record changers. The use of automatic sequence gradually declined during the 1970s as automatic record changers fell out of favor. High quality manual turntables became more affordable and are often preferred because they cause less record wear.
After a company decided on manual or automatic sequence, production of that title generally stayed in the same configuration indefinitely. Notable examples of albums using automatic sequence include the 1968 Reprise Records release, Electric Ladyland, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience which was still sold in automatic sequence well into the late 1980s. Other common examples include Frampton Comes Alive! by Peter Frampton, Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder, Quadrophenia by The Who, and Bad Girls by Donna Summer.
There are only a few examples of a sesquialbum (i.e. one and a half records). Johnny Winter released what would be the first three-sided rock album, Second Winter, on two 12-inch discs, with the flip side of the second disc being blank. In 1975, jazz artist Rahsaan Roland Kirk released The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color which apparently had only three sides. However, on closer inspection, there were a small number of grooves pressed on side four with a few short "hidden" conversation snippets (the CD reissue includes them all). A 1976 live concert recording by Keith Jarrett and his quartet was released as Eyes of the Heart by ECM Records in 1979, featuring three tracks covering three sides of the original double album, with the fourth left blank. Joe Jackson's 1986 release Big World and Pavement's Wowee Zowee are other examples. The 1992 Julian Cope album Jehovahkill, contained three sides or "phases," with a laser-etched fourth side which was unplayable. In 1982, Todd Rundgren and his band released the self-titled album Utopia featuring one full LP of 10 songs and a second 12-inch disc with five bonus tracks and the same five tracks on the flip side. The Monty Python album Matching Tie and Handkerchief was originally issued with two concentric grooves with different programs on the second side (this was done for comedic rather than practical reasons). The Stranglers, Elvis Costello and The Clash (amongst other 1970s/80s acts) would sometimes release early pressings of their albums with extra material on a 45 RPM single. The Sunlandic Twins by Of Montreal features a third side officially called a "bonus EP"), essentially offering an alternate definition of an EP, a single 33 1/3 RPM side instead of a two-sided 45 RPM record. The Norwegian band Motorpsycho released their albums Motorpsycho presents The International Tussler Society and Heavy Metal Fruit in vinyl editions containing four sides: three with music and one with a drawing/etching. Excepter's 2014 album Familiar covers three sides (the third, with only one track, being shorter) with an etching on the fourth. Seattle band Alice in Chains released their first two EPs, Jar of Flies, and Sap (EP) on two vinyl discs in 1994. The two releases only took up three sides on vinyl, and the fourth side contained a laser etching of the Alice in Chains logo. The vinyl pressing of the My Chemical Romance album The Black Parade also has three sides worth of content, with side four being a laser etching of a portion of the limited edition album art.
Among the first successful triple albums (or triple records) were Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More, released August 15, 1970, and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, released November 27, 1970. A triple album may be live, such as The Band's The Last Waltz (1978) and Led Zeppelin's How the West Was Won (2003); or a compilation of an artist's work, such as Stevie Wonder's retrospective anthology Looking Back. Yes' live album Yessongs was made a triple album owing to its inclusion of many of the band's longer compositions. With the longer time available on compact disc, many albums that spanned three vinyl discs are able to fit on two compact discs (an example being Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile).
Frank Sinatra's Trilogy: Past Present Future was originally released as a three LP set in 1980. Compact disc pressings of the album combine the triple vinyl set onto two CDs, with "Past" and "Present" taking up the first disc.
American hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco's canceled third studio album release LupEND would have been a triple album, composed of discs titled "Everywhere," "Nowhere," and "Down Here." Joanna Newsom's 2010 album Have One on Me is a triple album; due to the unusual length of the songs, there are only six tracks on each disc.
Escalator over the Hill, Carla Bley's jazz opera (lyrics by Paul Haines), was originally released in 1971 as a triple album in a box which also contained a booklet with lyrics, photos and profiles of the musicians.
The Knife's 2013 album Shaking the Habitual is spread across three LPs and two CDs, being an hour and forty minutes in length. (Although a single-disc edit exists omitting the 19 minute track Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized)
When albums exceed the triple album format they are generally referred to as box sets. Normally, albums consisting of four or more discs are compilations or live recordings, such as In a Word: Yes (1969-) and Chicago at Carnegie Hall, respectively. In a very rare move, French singer Léo Ferré released a four-disc studio concept album named L'Opéra du pauvre in 1983. So did Pan Sonic with a four-disc studio album named Kesto (234.48:4) in 2004, as did avant-garde guitarist Buckethead with his 13-disc set In Search of The in 2007. Esham made a box set of Judgement Day in 2006 which contained Vol. 3, Vol. 4 and Matyr City.
Some performers have released two or more distinct but related albums simultaneously (or near-simultaneously) which could be seen together as a double album. Moby Grape's Wow/Grape Jam (released in 1968) is an early example. Others include: