A double album is an audio album which spans two units of the primary medium in which it is sold, typically records and compact discs. 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 a single piece artistically; however, there are exceptions such as Pink Floyd's Ummagumma, one live album and one studio record packaged together, and OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, consisting of one practical solo album by each member of the hip-hop duo.
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. A new innovation is the accompaniment of a CD with a DVD of related material, such as video related to the album or DVD-Audio versions of the same recordings. These could be regarded as a new form of double album; some such discs are also released on as a two-sided format called DualDisc.
The same principles apply to the triple album, which comprises three units. Packages with more units than three are often packaged as boxed sets.
The first double album was Benny Goodman's Live at Carnegie Hall, released by Columbia Records in 1950. The first rock double album, and first studio double album was Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde in 1966, also on Columbia, although at the same time the Mothers of Invention (featuring Frank Zappa) were preparing the double album Freak Out!, released six weeks after Blonde on Blonde.
The best-selling double album of all time is Pink Floyd's The Wall with over 30 million copies (60 million units) worldwide. The best-selling double album for a solo artist is Michael Jackson's HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, with over 20 million copies (40 million units) sold 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, 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. A notable 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.
Esham was the first Hip hop artist to release a double album ("Judgement Day") sold separately, Master P presented the Down South Hustlers Compilation, the first double CD album packaged together, later followed by 2Pac with All Eyez on Me and Notorious B.I.G. with Life after Death, the latter becoming the first gangsta rap 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" records but occasionally as two 10" records.
With regard to vinyl LP records, most double album sets have sides 1 and 2 back to back on the first disc, followed by sides 3 and 4 on the second disc, etc. The record industry term for this practice is "Manual Sequence." However, some double album LP sets have sides 1 and 4 pressed on one disc along with sides 2 and 3 on the other. This practice, known as "Automatic Sequence", began in the early 1960's 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 1970's 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 Jimi Hendrix which was still sold in Automatic Sequence well into the late 1980's. Another common example is Frampton Comes Alive by Peter Frampton which was released in Automatic Sequence on A&M Records in 1976.
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. Joe Jackson's 1986 release Big World is another example. 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 5 bonus tracks and the same 5 tracks on the flip side. The Monty Python album Matching Tie and Handkerchief was originally issued with two concentric grooves with different programs on side B. Elvis Costello and The Clash (amongst other 1980s acts) would sometimes release early pressings of their albums with extra material on a 45 rpm single. Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life was released as two LPs and a 45rpm 7" disc. In 2005, The Mars Volta released their album Frances the Mute, on which the vinyl pressing spans five sides of vinyl, the sixth is an etching of tree roots. In 1994, the Norwegian band Motorpsycho released their album Timothy's Monster, where the vinyl edition contains three LPs - five sides with music, the sixth side has a drawing/etching. They used the same technique for Motorpsycho Presents The International Tussler Society and Heavy Metal Fruit (four sides of vinyl, three with music and one with a drawing/etching). The Sunlandic Twins by Of Montreal follows this same format (although the third side is officially called a "bonus EP").
Among the first successful triple albums (or triple records) were Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More, released 15 August 1970, and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass released 27 November 1970. A triple album may be live, such as Led Zeppelin's How the West Was Won; 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 due to it including many of the band's longer compositions. However, due to the extended space on CDs as opposed to LPs, many albums that once spanned across three discs have now been able to fit on two discs.
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 & 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.
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, Pan sonic released a four-disc studio album named Kesto (234.48:4), 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 which could be seen together as a double album. Examples include: