My last post, on the first records I bought, reminded me of the days in which I used to spend time rootling through racks of LPs. I was something of a late starter in music buying, not acquiring any kind of record player until I left home for university. In my case, this was a ‘music centre’ – it was several years before I obtained components that might reasonably be termed ‘HiFi’. In any case, I enthusiastically explored many genres of rock and pop before moving off down a direction informed by punk and its sequelae of post-punk and industrial genres.
Anyway, in those days record buying was a far more satisfying business. One hung on the words of the inky music papers, alerted to upcoming releases, deciding whether to believe Paul Morley’s review which seemed to feature his grey socks, picking out what one should be seen to like, etc. Of course, the inky rag of choice both reflected and directed one’s taste – in my case I favoured the NME. Down in the record shops, we leafed with great dedication through the racks of greasy plastic covered sleeves trying to divine from the graphic design what might be within.
But back to record shops. It’s always seemed to me, looking back, that we’ve moved from smaller local shops (staffed by people with a real interest) to a more supermarket approach (Virgin Megastore, HMV), and now to a general disappearance of record shops from the high street (presumably as we move to online shopping and buying music via downloads). I did a quick google search for one or two of the shops I frequented and came across this serious nostalgia-fest: Record Shops (at the Edinburgh Gig Guide website).
Thing is, I can recall both the circumstances of the purchase, and the shop in which I bought almost all of the vinyl LPs in my collection. These LPs are really a series of hooks into the memories I have of being a student. Also I have a better memory for individual tracks on these LPs than those bought on CD or as download. I think this is at least partly due to the punctuation of turning the record over halfway, but also to the element of scrutinising the record sleeve and I suppose the sheer dedication of my listening in those days. There are very few CD sleeves I’ve ever spent much time with, and of course the lack of decent artwork and sleeve notes is a major let-down of download purchases.
I find myself in an era where – probably as a result of my age and lifestyle – music listening and discovery has become a very solitary activity, though much, much easier. I’m not a luddite: the majority of my music these days is obtained online, and I enjoy Last.fm, Soundcloud and Bandcamp as avenues to find music, but I have to confess to moments of nostalgia for the days of leafing endlessly and greasily through racks.