When growing up, my first exposure to rock/pop music was through singles, or 45's as they were called at the time. Albums were around too, but I mostly was into singles. I don't really know the history of when albums became more important than singles, but initially I believe that rock/pop music was mainly a singles medium. The move to albums probably started in the early 60's, but the single still held it's own for quite a while. A good example to use of this dichotomy is The Beatles, who actually produced quite a few great singles that never appeared on UK studio albums. They are a good example of a transitional band, who helped move the importance of the album format to greater importance than the single. Still, much of their success can be traced to their singles. In my view, the single is to some extent an overlooked and underappreciated medium and art form, which gave us some of the best songs in the history of rock/pop music. For example, consider this list of some Beatles songs which were released as singles and do not appear on UK studio albums (I don't count some US releases as proper studio albums):
She Loves You/I'll Get You
From Me to You/Thank You Girl
I Want to Hold Your Hand/This Boy
I Feel Fine/She's a Woman
We Can Work it Out/Day Tripper
Lady Madonna/The Inner Light
The Ballad of John and Yoko/Old Brown Shoe
A pretty impressive collection of songs I wouldn't want to be without.
How do you feel about singles and albums?