Depends on the genre. With classical music, I generally listen to the entire piece and that can occupy the entire "album" or, even, several discs. With any other genre, I most often pick and choose only the cuts I want.
My **usual** preference is to listen to the entire album. Further, I've found I prefer to listen to an artist's entire (original, not "best of") album, as the collection of songs usually provides a context that makes the whole greater than the sum of parts.
That said, I on occasion like to listen to random songs - and random genre's which the Ipod is great at serving up in "shuffle play" mode.
As for how it came about - I guess in the beginning I only bought vinyl albums and played them on a fully manual table. When I bought my first multidisc cd player with shuffle mode, I found it was everything I wanted from FM - random music, no talk. But I also learned that after listening in shuffle mode for some time, the context for the songs was lacking.
I too usually listen to the entire album.
However, since I mostly listen to vinyl, that is pretty much a given. (In fact, I consider that a plus to listening to vinyl, as it almost forces me to listen to the non-hit cuts on the LP.)
With CDs, I usually listen to the entire album, however, I occassionally pick out a few cuts if I am either limited in listening time, or really only like a couple of cuts on the album.
Since, I don't own a MP-3 player or an Ipod, and nor do I really have much desire to own one, I can't contribute to the discussion for those formats.
My two cents worth.
Interesting question -
I am 100% hard drive based and find myself alternating between modes. With classical I tend to listen to the whole piece, and I also do it with a lot of Jazz albums - especially live performances where there really is some context.
But I also really enjoy making playlists and listening to a variety of cuts. As an example I have a smart playlist called Smart Blues... Anything I rip with Blues in the song title automatically goes into that playlist. There's something like 450 songs in there by everyone from Al Lee to Louis Armstrong to Julie London to BB King. It's really a fun way to explore the nooks and crannies of a collection that is too big to listen to any other way.
BTW I can't imagine doing this with vinyl... or even CDs - you'd have to spend too much time moving the physical assets.
Thanks for the input. As stated I grew up on vinyl and listening to the entire album seemed the way to get the full impact of whatever an artist was doing. One thing I noticed with the advent of cd and it's 74? minute length was albums became longer. This is not always a good thing as they can sometimes be 25% filler that's not worth the effort. I actually prefer when cds are 45 minutes or less, that has to come from the ex-vinyl habit.
I'm with Ckorody. If I'm listening to LPs or CDs, I almost always listen to the entire album in order. I'm sure I got in that habit from all the prog rock "concept" albums I bought in the 70s, when they were designed as a coherent whole. Plus, as Chadnliz points out, you end up hearing great tracks you might not if you skip around.
My iPod, however, is set to shuffle 100% of the time, AND I have a smart playlist set up so that it never repeats tracks until they've all been played once. I only use my iPod at times when I'm doing something else - mowing the lawn, walking, airplane trips - so I don't really care how the tracks fit, and I enjoy the variety.
When my tuner is on, I generally listen to whatever the DJ picks.