By firstname.lastname@example.org (Chris Britcher)
Once upon a time, buying music was a rather thrilling experience, writes columnist Chris Britcher as he remembers the lost record stores of Kent.
You’d catch a snatch of it on the radio and vow to tape it next time you heard it if you were quick enough. For all the claims back in the day that ‘taping music is killing music’ if you liked it, inevitably, you’d want to own the thing.
You might not even know who, at first, the song was by or what it was called.
Money was saved, bands identified, release dates discovered… a trip to the shops planned.
It was good for you too. You actually had to move; catch a bus into town, walk down the high street and have some – albeit limited – interaction with the human being behind the counter of Our Price or any other of the many record retailers which once littered our town centres.
Then, if vinyl had been your format of choice, the small matter of getting it home again without getting a crease in the cover.
Reading the sleeve, slipping that slab of fresh vinyl out, carefully getting the stylus lined up with the intro grooves and, finally, enjoying the song from start to finish with no annoying DJ blithering on.
All that, often for just one song if your purchase was a good old fashioned seven-inch single (I exclude the b-side – so often a hugely disappointing ‘instrumental’ version, the earliest form, perhaps, of karaoke).
All that effort for just three-and-a-half minutes of music.
Pretty much all my pocket money in the mid to late 80s found itself in the pockets of my musical heroes. Or, at least, the record companies which churned their material out.
I can still clearly remember collecting my first Saturday job pay packet – in cash, before my second shift at a Kent supermarket. Every single penny of it was spent on music within 48-hours at Ashford’s long-gone Richards Records. And I enjoyed every note I owned (both musical, and fleetingly, financial).
If there was a special release (are there are phrases more tantalising to a music fan than the words ‘limited edition’ other than perhaps ‘individually numbered, limited edition’ – ‘oh look, I’ve got number 1,288,065!’?) then more action was required… a trip to London to tour the big megastores or trawling the listings in the back of Record Collector magazine and then having to ring them up to reserve it before sending off a cheque and waiting the obligatory 28 days for delivery. None of this buy today, get it tomorrow stuff.
It’s all rather different to now.
Today, accessing music is something you can do with a couple of jabs of a single thumb. No pre-planning, no raising additional funds, no physical exertion.
Streaming is, ahem, music to the ears of any music fan. You pay the price of one CD album a month and, in exchange, have access to pretty much every album released by the most popular artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. And more besides. What, frankly, is not to like? Granted, you don’t actually own a physical copy, but do you really need to anymore?
Courtesy of the Shazams of this world, if you hear a song in the pub or shop and like it, just open the app and it will even identify who it is for you. No more having to sing snatches of what you can remember to your mates in the hope they might have heard it too.
And within seconds of knowing it is, you can tap into your Spotify, Tidal or Apple Music and be jigging along to it in the comfort of your front room, bedroom, car or through your wireless headphones on the bus. Incredible really.
It wasn’t so long ago that the only way of getting music ‘on-demand’ without actually buying it was by dialling the number 16 on your (landline) phone and hearing a random chart hit played down the phone to you down the crackly line through the Dial-a-Disc service. Yes, really. Imagine telling a youngster today to do that… they’d laugh you out of town.
Don’t get me wrong, streaming is a complete God-send to those of my age who like to wallow in musical nostalgia – or the youngsters who want to keep their fingers on the pulse of every new release. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the most magical advantages of the internet.
The only time the old excitement and need for exertion returns is Record Store Day – the annual release of a clutch of limited run, mostly vinyl, releases designed to nab the middle-aged music fan’s disposable income.
It provides a taste of the old days – actually having to go to a shop. Queue up, normally, outside and then pray they’ve got enough in. Invariably, though, they don’t and you end up spending the rest of your day bidding against other frustrated fans for copies on eBay, cursing having to pay an extra £20 but somehow squaring it away in your head that it’s an essential purchase.
It rarely is, of course.
I’ve now reached an age where I buy physical copies only if the words ‘limited edition’ or ‘deluxe box set’ somehow feature and only then of one particular cherished artist. And then, for fear of somehow spoiling the product, not actually taking it out of the glorious shrink-wrap it comes in. I leave it pristine; untouched.
I’ve spent literally hundreds of pounds on products, the booklets and coloured vinyl of which I’ve never actually set eyes on, let alone hands. But I feel safe in the knowledge those hype stickers on the front remain intact. For several years I bought them without actually having a turntable to play them on having felt confident that when I ditched mine in the 1990s it was outdated technology. You can also feel the pang of pain my record player now feels when another set arrives from the States but rather than being able to play it, it just sits in a cupboard.
I’m never going to sell them. Many are still even housed in the (albeit opened) protective cardboard packaging they were mailed in. A psychiatrist would have a field day. When I die, a charity shop will, no doubt, be grateful.
Why? Well, why bother, when I’ve got Spotify?
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