A Nostalgic walk to the Record Store…

rattrapDo you remember the first single you ever bought? I bet you do. And probably the first album too.

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.

9 responses to “A Nostalgic walk to the Record Store…”

  1. Hi, Dave. We do all have our nostalgic stories linked to music. I remember sitting with my legs on a big electric fan heater so the hot air would blow up my school skirt and make my bum warm [=D like you do] when I first heard Pretty Vacant. I swear, I still count that moment as one of the most life changing I experienced.
    But I also discovered Muse very recently (a bit late to the party, I know) and HAD TO HAVE an instant download. And being able to click on youtube to access Nicki Minaj videos whenever I get the urge… you know, music is music. It is always going to stop us in our tracks and pin us to the sofa if it’s powerful no matter how it’s delivered.

    • I’m not surprised you remember that clearly 🙂

      I’m torn too tbh. That’s why I used the word ‘nostalgic’ in the blog post title. I love the memories of buying physical music, but I also love the way it has all opened up now. I know that if I was a musician back in the day (without YouTube, iTunes etc where people discover music) I would never have got a record deal, never have been heard, and subsequently never fulfilled my dream of living through music. Swings and roundabouts…

  2. It’s not just the pleasure of the record shop that has gone. MP3 has taken so much from the real quality of the sound. Music is analogue and vinyl came close. As CD technology progressed it came close but MP3! When you have to extract and discard 90 – 95% of what has been recorded in order to compress a file… I sound like Neil Young promoting his PureTone

  3. Hmmm! Never actually bought a single. We did have a wind-up gramophone for a while when I was young and I remember buying a couple of LPs (Nic Jones, Dick Gaughan, The Chieftains) once my girlfriend bought an electric record player. (I went on to marry her – amazing what access to technology can bring! I’ve moved onto CDs now (bought her a new CD/tape player for Xmas!!) – unremitting progress.)

    For me though the journey starts with hearing a song somewhere (often on the radio or at a folk club) and feeling I must learn it. Sometimes I can get an artist’s CD but many of these are only available directly from the artist at their gigs. Youtube has been brilliant for finding tunes that I can listen to often enough to learn them and words are usually available somewhere on the ‘net. Then the journey of working out how I could sing or play it with my limited talents. So, from first hearing to being able to sing/play it through from memory it will take anything from a couple of weeks to months.

    There’s a certain satisfaction once I’ve finally “got” the song fixed in my head. It may not be (OK it won’t be) as good as the one I originally heard but each one I’ve learned has been treated with respect and effort. I recommend the process.

    (P.S. Sons and Daughters (of Robin Hood) is on my list but not learned yet.)

  4. Thank you so much for this post today, Damh! You zinged me back to the sixties (I’m Henry the 8th, I am – by the Herman’s Hermits my first single:D) I share your nostalgia for walking into a music shop. Music stores were places of kindred souls and people who could literally initiate you into a new way of thinking, just by showing you new artists. But for me, what I truly miss, is the album art. There is nothing on a tiny CD cover that can compare to the richness of the visual experience of the old album art. When I first bought Aqualung – I wanted to frame it, as well as listen to it. Strangely enough though, I get a feeling of that experience with the art direction of your cds – they are always doorways to not only the expression of your art, but that of the artist as well.

  5. I too recall those days. My first album was “Kilroy Was Here” by STYX. My first 45 rpm single was Journey’s “Faithfully”. I still have all my hundreds of albums and dozens of 45’s. I even have a few 8 track tapes (don’t know why I still have them. The old car with the 8 track player has been long gone). Even today, I still find myself buying a CD over buying and downloading an MP3. I guess I like something tangible. Plus I like to see the artwork that goes into making the CD sleeves. That’s part of the experience of music that you don’t get with a digital download. Music back then was not only an auditory experience, but it was a visual one as well with the brilliant cover art.

  6. Damh….love this post! I too am nostalgic for “the olden days” in many ways. I have realized in conversations with my grown daughter that she has never had some of these delicious experiences that you (we) speak of and I think a bit of wistfullness is being missed out on. I recall many hours of pure joy shutting the world out and losing myself in rows of vinyl records at Tower Records (which was the largest music store here in the states) and feeling that rush of excitement when I left with my latest favorite purchase. And, of course, playing it over and over again at home, losing myself once again as the strains of music filled my house, my mind and my soul.

    When Tower Records went out of business and closed all their stores some years ago, I was shocked for a time, because I didn’t really think that could ever happen, and the reality of time and progress moving us on hit me deeply. Then I really took notice of other similar things happening, and I do feel a sense of loss for a grand time gone by that will never be captured again quite in the same way.

    As you say, progress is good, but not to the point of stamping out the past completely, which i believe we (as a whole) are in danger of doing. And, if we have no recall of where we came from, where we are going loses some of its foundation and becomes a bit more precarious.

    (A little secret – I still have a VCR and movies on tape that I watch. Of course, I have DVD;s, streaming and all that…but I can’t let go of my dinosaur VCR yet. Probably never will!)

    Thanks for the walk down a seldom trodden road today! Love this, your music and your spirit!

  7. Oddly enough, the first I bought with my own money was “I Don’t Like Mondays” from Woolworths. I used to love going to Vinyl Demand and my other local record stores when I was a kid, putting deposits on records and paying them off.
    I am happy to see a resurgence of vinyl here in the states, I’m not sure singles will ever return as they were but vinyl is back.

  8. I have nostalgia for both vinyl and for Mastersound in HH…. I used to work there so maybe it was me who sold you the single….All my vinyl has long gone (1000+ Lp’s) for space reasons but all replaced by CD’s as time and money has gone on….no compressed mushed up “lossless format” rubbish in this house… Just worried that one day this mp3 and similar rubbish will be forced down all our throats (or should that be into our ears?)

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