This is the month that the beloved CD turns 30. Gosh, that’s a big one. It won’t be long til the midlife crisis kicks in. Mind you, from the press of the past few years, it seems as though that could already have started. The MP3 revolution devastated the music industry as people simply stopped buying what had been the most popular musical format yet. The demise of many a high street record shop followed, much to the disappointment of many a music fan. That’s not to say there’s none left. On the contrary, HMV’s still going, though it’s reported a drop in profits in the past few years. Loads of independent record shops across the country are making a killing catering to those who still want to buy ‘the real thing’, be that CDs or other, older formats like tape or vinyl.
Now I’m not that old, but I am old enough to remember a childhood spent picking out CDs for long car journeys, buying my dad all of ‘The Best of Air Guitar’ compilations, figuring out how to burn my own mix CDs, and searching through the aisles of HMV for suitable ‘first’ CD purchases (summer 2006, HMV Inverness, 2 singles: Christina Aguilera’s ‘Ain’t No Other Man’ and Kasabian’s ‘Empire’- even then my taste was, erm, eclectic). Like many others, I dabbled in the ‘Now’ compilations, though I didn’t get there until they were into the fifties.
Few people can claim to have never listened to, or bought, a CD. There was a while when I got my first iPod that I strayed from the shiny silver path of the compact disc, but in my youthful naivety and hunger for the Apple, I forgot one thing. MP3s don’t last forever. They’re virtual. Press delete by accident, get a virus, or forget to back everything up, and they’re gone. 79p x all the lost files… right down the drain. Buy a CD, however, and unlike the disposable iTunes voucher, where £15 buys you bits and bobs and sucks all of the beauty out of the process of listening and buying, and you buy a whole experience.
First, there’s the trip to the shop. There isn’t a record shop in my town, so it requires a specially-planned journey, a whistle-stop on a shopping trip you plan for. Make a list of albums you’re looking for, set aside some of that hard-earned cash, and off you go. Every time you wander in, no matter how prepared you are, you never leave with what you came for. But it doesn’t matter, because what you’ve left with is infinitely better. You really have always been meaning to give Radiohead a chance, so you bought OK Computer at last. It’s a classic, you’ve been told. A signed copy of Be Human is something you can’t pass up, you just can’t. And the second-hand At the Drive In album was too good a deal to let someone else get hold of! This one just had a cool picture on the front. You get a bit of banter at the counter, and the smattering of fear that the shop assistant is judging you on your purchases- but this isn’t all of me! you shout, I have more diverse taste than this! I know I’m not dressed like an emo kid, but I’m not trying to be one! And then you have your carrier bag, emblazoned with the record shop logo, which for the rest of your shopping trip you can proudly display to everyone in the street. Always make sure it’s on top of what else you’re carrying, just to make certain it’s seen. The rest of the shopping trip doesn’t really matter any more, you’re too filled with excitement to go home and listen to what you’ve just bought.
A few hours later, you arrive home. Abandon everything else, you MUST hear what is on these discs. Cd player out. Headphones in- you can’t afford any distractions. The first listen is key. You have to listen to all of the songs, all the way through, in order. Before you do this, though, check the inlay. Are there lyrics? YES. Who wrote what? Who played what? Who produced and mixed? There are many questions, but all the answers are before you in that tiny booklet. The first listen is key. Sit back, relax. Press play. Let it run…
I know I’m not the only one this appeals to. There are loads of people out there who still do this, even with vinyl (must be minted). Another wonder of the CD is that you have two copies! There’s one for show, for the collection, to listen to ‘the real thing’ when you want to. The other one is on the go, in your pocket, on your MP3. No matter how much you love CDs, it’s just not practical to humph about a couple of hundred in your jeans.
If you, like I, are feeling like the MP3 revolution needs a counter-revolution, or maybe more of a reformation (but we won’t burn the Pirate Bayers at the stake… maybe), then start one. Go to a record shop and buy a CD- take the time to pick out what you want to hear. Tease them a bit, pick up a couple then choose one. Take it home. Turn on, tune in, drop out. The first listen is key. Sit back, relax. Press play. Let it run…
*edit* as I’ve written this, I’ve just learned that the very record shop that gave me a musical life is in danger of closing down. Understandably, this makes me very upset and sad. If you live in the Aberdeen area- HELP ONE UP SURVIVE. https://www.facebook.com/#!/OneUpRecords?fref=ts