The first single I bought was Rat Trap by The Boomtown Rats.
I remember saving up my pocket money and walking with my friend down to Mastersound in Haywards Heath, the only record shop in town, and looking through the singles charts until I saw it there and asking for the number (ok, I can’t remember the number it was in the charts) single it was. He handed it over, I paid my cash, and we walked home.
I played that single to death. Over and over again, and the B side too, that ‘something extra’, the hidden beauty on the reverse side of the record. I mean, when I say played it to death I really mean that. I put it on, played it, lifted the needle back to the beginning, played it again, and again, and again. And I know from talking to other people I wasn’t alone in doing this.
Back in the day buying music was a journey. I heard songs on the radio, or on Top of the Pops. If I couldn’t afford the single I sat by my radio listening to the top 40 being played on a Sunday evening, finger ready to press the record button, and when it came on I recorded it from the radio. Dreadful recordings, but I had the song!
The same was true for albums. The first album I bought with my own money was Strangers in the Night, the double live album by UFO. I saw them playing Doctor Doctor on Top of the Pops and this time bypassed the single and went straight for the album.
I played that to death too. I still have all of my albums, but they are in the loft – no vinyl record player in the house any more.
I’m not bemoaning the transformation from vinyl to CD. In truth I hated vinyl for its fragility. It seemed I could just put an album that had no scratches away fine, and when I pulled it from the sleeve next time it had either warped, or been scratched. I loved the CD. It was smaller, yes, but I still had that sense of journey when buying it. It still had sleeve notes and cover art I could read, and look at, whilst listening to the music. The recording quality was also amazing.
But as with the cassette tape and vinyl record, we have sacrificed quality for convenience. Along came the MP3. Napster, iTunes and peer to peer file sharing have changed everything. Now when I want an album I just open the iTunes app on my iPhone, find the album, and download it. I have it in seconds. I do like the convenience, but that sense of journey has gone. I wonder how many people value those MP3s in the same way that they value a record or CD collection?
Am I just an old dinosaur? See, to me, something has been lost forever in the way we now consume our music. I can also see streaming services like Spotify and Rdio being used more. Services where we take out a monthly subscription, and then have access to an almost infinite number of albums and songs to ‘stream’. Albums that we can also download to an app for ‘offline listening’. But we could spend £120 a year for the rest of our lives, and not own one single album from spending that money… And if the music service changes their policy, increases their price, or goes bust, we lose all of those playlists and ‘offline listening’ albums, maybe having spent £120 for 5 or 10 years. I find that passing over of my own choices a little weird.
I understand ‘progress’. I can see and experience the convenience of downloading music from iTunes etc. Things have moved on. But with the demise of HMV and other music stores I can also see something I loved as a young boy disappearing forever. I liked the experience of buying music from a shop, and think we are a little worse off without it for our children and grand children.
But there we go, things move on.