As I drove to work a few mornings ago, I was happily warbling along dreadfully as usual to the random selection of songs that Pandora had chosen for me when it suddenly began playing the very first single I had ever bought.
The song was Ghost Town by The Specials and hearing it transported me back in time to the Saturday morning that I bought it.
My mother has always sworn that ‘money burns a bloody big hole in our Susan’s pocket,’ which is Yorkshire-speak for calling someone completely financially inept. I have not improved since then.
So you may appreciate that the experience of walking into the record shop and handing over the pocket money it had taken me so long to acquire in exchange for this revered disc of magical vinyl was something quite special to me.
I really treasured that single. I studied the sleeve artwork and the lyrics printed on the reverse, the etching on the outer rim of the label where the master engineer had left a message for the owner. I felt a little frisson of shock that the lyrics of the B-side (Saturday Night, Sunday Morning) contained a naughty word, but I soon got over that and loved that song too. I even knew what label the Specials were signed to (and soon, which other bands were too).
And for every vinyl single, 12-inch record or album that I subsequently bought, that feeling has never left me. Walking into a record shop with the intention of physically owning this or that piece of music was like a tangible connection to my musical heroes, however tenuous. To this eternal music nerd, it felt special and important.
As I warbled badly to this song again over 30 years since the advent of the digital era, it struck me that the creativity and talent of so many bands these days is just as throwaway to society as a McDonalds burger wrapper. Don’t like that album? Delete it from Spotify or Rdio knowing that if you want it back you can just download it again. Meh, doesn’t matter.
There is no longer any of the magic of stepping over the threshold of a music shop owned by someone whose passion and knowledge for music far exceeded your own as a youngster. Rifling through the racks to see if you could find anything to broaden your musical tastes.
Hearing an album playing in the background and needing to know what band it was so you could save up and buy it. Walking out clutching a brand new record and practically running home so that you could hear that first glorious crunch of the turntable needle hit the record for the first time.
And as I pondered all this, the irony that the decline of vinyl music has turned the industry into a Ghost Town all of its own was not lost on me and The Specials’ singer Terry Hall’s melancholy face lingered in my memory a bit longer that morning.