Letters to my sons.

Trying to explain the world to two very small children.

The changing face of music.

without comments

Dear Boys,

Many years ago when I was a boy there were three ways to listen to music: on the radio, playing records, playing a cassette. Uncle Phil and I both had a record player each by the time I was 9 or 10. Uncle Phil got Grandpa John’s old record player and I got given one by a person at church. The first record I ever bought was Funky Town by Lips Inc and I paid the princely sum of 99 pence for a piece of 7 inch vinyl. In today’s money (2013) that would be £3.60. I only got 50p a week pocket money in those days so I could only buy a single every two weeks if I didn’t spend more than a penny on sweets or crisps. The record players that we had would allow you to stack the records up and when one finished another would drop down and then play. As children we found this cutting edge technology to be amazing although it was a good 20 years old even then.

I was able to maximise my music purchasing power in two ways. The first was to buy second hand records at church and school fairs. Old records and singles could be bought for as little as a penny although what was on offer was what other people didn’t want i.e. rubbish mainly. The other way to get quality stuff was to wait until the record fell out of the charts and pick it up for 49p. This happened to some songs quicker than others but because almost everywhere sold records: WH Smiths, Boots, Woolworths – at least one of them would have over ordered and want to clear the stock.

Except at church and school fairs, albums were out of my price range and to be honest not really my thing. As I kid I just wanted the songs they played on the radio not the more self indulgent album tracks. Compilation albums did exist – the top songs of the last few months – but they weren’t by the original artists but done by supposed sound-a-likes although they sounded like they had be recorded in one day and in a single take. The albums were called Top Of The Pops and had the same name as the main music program on BBC1 at the time although the two were not related – although for a few yeas I believed they were. These albums would usually have a scantily clad woman on the front and I remember nearly buying one in a supermarket called Hillards.

Then in either 1981 or 82 things changed and a company brought put an album with all the original popular songs of the day out and with album one you got album two free. No more naff sound-a-likes that didn’t sound anything like the original. Then in 1983 came Now That’s What I Call Music and the series went on to dominate the market, killing off Top Of The Pops.

So many things from that era no longer exist: Hillards, Woolworths, major shops selling music and the easy availability of vinyl. Music is downloaded now for the same price as a single back in 1980 – 99p. Although downloading is not the same as buying for many reasons. Only being given a stingy amount of pocket money meant my music purchases had to be something that I liked, something that I knew. The only time I could take a risk on something that I might not like was at church and school fairs where I could pay a few pence and if I didn’t like it, simply donate it to the next one. With digital music it is easy to find new artists and songs if you can be bothered to search YouTube or if you have a friend to tip you off. But what is missing is the physical product. I remember when I decided that I was going to buy my first single. I turned on my little radio, tuned to Radio 1, and decided to buy the first record that was playing. I thought about what I would do if I didn’t like the song – let’s hear the song first and then decide what to do. And it was Funky Town. I like the song so I walked in to town, on my own, and visited the different record shops to see which sleeve the vinyl came in. In one shop the single may be in a plain sleeve while in another it would have a full colour sleeve – I learnt that from a lad at school the week before when he was out shopping for singles. The BBC were embroiled in strikes at the time and the TV program Top Of The Pops wasn’t being broadcast so it wasn’t until the advent of YouTube that I got to see the video for the song.

The thrill of owning a physical music product is something that you will miss out on. I spent my Xmas money in 1985 on the album “Fugazi” by Marillion. I spent the 45 minute ride back from Newcastle studying the gatefold sleeve: reading the lyrics and admiring Mark Wilkinson’s artwork and seeing how the two matched. You don’t get that with downloads – everything is instant. No journey to the record shop, no journey back, no sleeve notes or album art to appreciate while listening to the music. And I think you’ll be worse off for it.

Written by Administrator

August 7th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Culture,Memories

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.