PUT THE NEEDLE ON THE RECORD!
The musings of a self-confessed vinyl junkie.
I think we can all remember the first record we ever bought. I certainly can – it was ‘I just can’t help believing’ by Elvis Presley. My first ever 45rpm 7” single bought with my own pocket money. It was April 1971, I was eight and I was shopping with my family in Harpenden. It remains one of my all-time favourite songs to this day. Whether it’s a favourite because it was my first ever record purchase or because it’s a great song (it ticks both of those boxes) who will ever know but whenever I hear it an emotional chord is well and truly struck.
It wasn’t the first record I ever got or owned though. I can remember when my Mum and Dad got their first ever Bush ‘suitcase style’ record player (I guess it would have been the late 60’s) and my Dad getting a bunch of singles from a friend at work that we used to play endlessly – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out and I Feel Fine/She’s A Woman by the Beatles, Sealed with a Kiss by Brian Hyland, Summer Holiday by Cliff Richard and Last Kiss by Billy Fury – I’ve still got them today. Absolute gems with their iconic Parlophone 45, Decca and His Master’s Voice labels.
And that day when my parents took delivery of their first ever stereo record player from the Kay’s Catalogue (Remember that? £1 a week on the never never!), a Fidelity if I recall correctly… I was the talk of the class at school!
Records were a big part of growing up. With an older brother and sister I got to listen to a huge variety of music and had the benefit of an extended record collection. It was such a big part of youth culture then. Going to the record shops and spending hours ploughing through the racks of albums, enticed by their exciting cover artwork. FL Moore’s record shop, Boots and Woolworth’s record departments in Luton, Graingers Records and the stall on the market in Dunstable… oh happy days! And when HMV opened in the Luton Arndale Centre – manna from heaven!
Buying an album was always an event as a teenager, whereas today the immediate availability of soul-less downloads makes it all just a bit, well, disposable I guess. Gone is the excitement of walking round your mates house with the latest album purchase tucked under your arm. Everyone sitting around and studying the sleeve notes. It was a real occasion and I guess part of what makes ‘old music’ so much more memorable. Where is the fun in e-mailing your mate the latest download as an mp3 so they can listen to it on their phone… it just doesn’t seem right, or worthy recognition of the time, effort and talent that an artist has put into writing, recording, producing and releasing a record. And don’t get me started on artist royalties… calm down Rob, calm down!
I amassed a healthy amount of vinyl as a teenager and into my early 20’s. I still have most of them now and I can pretty much recall every purchase and every first play of those records. Like I said, it really meant something to buy a new album. And then CD’s came along and I guess that a changed a lot in terms of your emotional connection to an album. Don’t get me wrong, I loved CD’s when they came out and I garnered an impressive collection – so versatile and easy to use. No turning it over mid-way through, seamlessly skipping from one track to another with the push of a button – and that crisp, crystal clear quality. This was the future, or at least we thought it was until the ‘download’ changed the face of the music industry for ever.
Looking back now I can see where the change happened. Gone was the glorious artwork of an album cover (I’m sorry, but rifling through a CD booklet with miniscule type just doesn’t cut it). No longer would the label in the centre of that big plastic disc evoke emotions, the crackle as you put the needle on the record was gone and skipping the tracks you didn’t immediately like was easy. Ok, CD’s were expensive, £12 at the time I think where vinyl was half that price. Little did we know that times would change and ‘record’ shops would soon be full of cut-price digital discs. The emotion, for us 70’s kids anyway, had gone - and so today, sadly, have most of the record shops.
In recent years my passion for old vinyl has become somewhat obsessive – I guess I’m what you’d call a vinyl junkie. Followers of mine on social media will be familiar with my many postings. I don’t have an incredibly impressive collection in terms of numbers but it’s growing by the week. I’m not particularly into buying newly released or re-issued stuff although there are exceptions. My buzz comes from ploughing through racks of old vinyl in second-hand vinyl stores, charity shops and car boot sales. I guess it’s one big nostalgia trip for me. I’m not looking for that rarity or collectors piece (although I have a few), I’m looking for stuff that I may have passed over in my youth, or stuff I already have on CD, or something that just grabs me visually - for just a few quid you can take a punt on something and I’ve dug up some real gems! Getting home and putting a new vinyl on the turntable stirs something emotionally. The crackle as the needle hits the groove is possibly one of the finest sounds known to man. And then sitting back and studying the sleeve notes while the album proceeds through the songs carefully collated in the order intended by the artist/producer.
This, my friends, is what listening to music is all about!