Music fans, like football fans, are forever bemoaning the ‘way things used to be’. Football fans look back on days when burly 15 stone gents launched themselves into their opponents before hoofing the ball up to the centre-forward. All watched while munching on a very nasty pie while icy wind lapped at their weather-beaten face.
It was ace, wasn’t it? Much better than sitting in comfort watching some of the most skilful players in Europe dribble, step-over, shoot from distance etc. And for those who do hark back to the old days, there’s always Robbie Savage.
Music fans have a similar tendency to gaze with nostalgia at years gone by. For example, when I was growing up, if I wanted to buy a new album I used to have to get a train into Liverpool or Southport (there was just one record shop in our village, and you’d have to wait at least a fortnight for any new releases). I’d find the nearest ‘big’ record shop (inevitably HMV, Virgin or – remember this? – Our Price) and rush to the ‘new releases’ section.
Then, it would be a case of searching through the alphabetical racks, eagerly searching out that particular album. You’d gaze at the sleeve (every sleeve, without exception, looked better on old-school vinyl records), and take it to the counter. You’d then have a seemingly endless wait while the assistant disappeared into the back of the shop to match up the sleeve with the vinyl, which were all hosted in a mysterious looking row of shelves behind the counter.
You’d then embark on the journey home, which was the really exciting part. On the train back, I’d take the vinyl disc from the sleeve, take in that delicious vinyl smell and study the inner sleeve notes like they were the most important thing in the world. If lyrics had been printed, I’d obsessively read them, trying to find any sort of meaning and wondering what melody they’d be married to. Sometimes I’d even conjure up a tune in my head for some tracks, being genuinely surprised when I eventually heard the album to hear a completely different melody.
I’d eventually arrive home and rush upstairs to my turntable – carefully placing the record down, taking care not to leave any fingerprints on the vinyl, and slowly drop the needle onto the disc. And then I’d spend the next four weeks or so listening to each and every song, letting it become a part of my life, even if I did have to jump up after 20 minutes to turn the record over. And a month or so later, I’d repeat the process all over again.
Back then, albums literally were a part of my life. I can, even now, recite track-listings of albums I bought when I was about 14 or 15 – I can remember which order they were played in, where the singles were (usually the first 2 or 3 tracks of an album), which track was the best (usually halfway through the second side for some reason) and even which parts of a song the needle would jump on (years later, I heard a MP3 of Faron Young by Prefab Sprout and discovered a whole new line in there that, thanks to my dodgy stylus, I didn’t even know existed).
I look back on those days with fondness – of course I do. But if I’m honest, would I really want to swap them for today’s music-buying experience. Nowadays, you can read a review of a band online or in a magazine, and literally within minutes, can be listening to that band. There’s no trips into town, no searching round record shops – just point and click.
There’s a romantic naivety in play here – that same idea that convinces you that TV programmes you watched as a child, such as Blake’s Seven or Monkey, were really good. When, in actual fact, they were some of the most shockingly amateur programmes ever inflicted in the history of broadcasting.
You may look back on those early days of buying music with a warm glow, but do you really want to swap them for the convenience and choice of today? I don’t think I do.