They were now tainted with a vague guilt, like distant elderly relatives I didn’t visit very often…
The first record I bought – or had bought for me – was Telstar, by the Tornados, when I was six. I was fascinated by its raucous, spacy sound. Ownership seemed too good to be true: I asked my Dad how many times I would be able to play it. “You’ll be tired of hearing it before it wears out” he said ruefully. Perhaps he was already tired of hearing it.
When I started paying attention to pop music, singles were 6/8d (33p) and LPs were 32/6d (£1.62p). That was a hefty sum in pocket money, and until my brother and I were old enough to do paper rounds, all albums and most singles we owned were bought with grown-up money as presents. The LPs I remember us playing repeatedly in our shared bedroom include Summer Holiday, With the Beatles, Help!, Peter and the Wolf, and The Sound of Music. We were that cool. We also had an EP of Twist and Shout, and for some reason, two different EPs from Oliver!.
After about 1967 the collection grew rapidly, mostly from Rob’s purchases, and by the time he was due to leave for university six years later, my anxiety at his imminent departure took the form of a frantic attempt to record his entire collection onto cassette, including B-sides and albums which I didn’t even like. “He will be coming back” Mum reminded me.
Over the next few years I discovered rock’n’roll, then soul and 1950s R&B, and my collection broadened and stretched back in time. When it was my turn to go to university, I spent many happy afternoons in the junk shops of Coventry looking for discarded gems. As I’d always been more excited by individual songs than albums, a large part of my collection consisted of greatest hit and multiple artist compilations.
When CDs emerged in the 1980s, I treated myself to a combined CD/record/cassette player and radio, and a CD to play on it: The Whole Story, the Kate Bush hits compilation. I didn’t rush to replace my vinyl with CDs, not at the scandalous price the record industry had set for the new technology, citing “the higher cost of manufacturing CDs”.(Within months they were being given away free with Sunday newspapers). Vinyl, CDs and cassettes coexisted happily in my collection for a few years. The last vinyl record I remember buying was Shaggy’s Oh Carolina in 1993 – so gritty it didn’t seem right in digital perfection.
For the next few years, CDs dominated music sales. Then in 2003 Apple launched the iTunes Store for downloading digital music, and downloads started to take over from CDs: and when Spotify and similar streaming services became popular around 2010, streaming started to take over from downloads. I’ve had the opportunity to pay four times over for Telstar.
Typically I’ve paid a mere three times, duplicating the music I had already bought on vinyl either with CDs or downloads, and now subscribing to Spotify Premium, where I now stream most of my music, supplemented by YouTube. At £9.99 per month (ad-free) to access just about all the music I care about, old and new, this seems extraordinarily good value for customers.
Meanwhile, I haven’t had a working record player for five years, and haven’t troubled to replace it or get it fixed, because even when it did work I have barely used it this century. My record collection has been taking up physical space in my lounge and emotional space in my head. So many records, once so much loved and treasured, each item reminding me of the joy of discovering new music. They spoke of happy times sharing music with loved ones and lonely times when they supported me, but were now tainted with a vague guilt, like distant elderly relatives I didn’t visit very often.
But unpacking these thoughts, I realised that I haven’t played these records for so long because it’s the content – the music – that I love, not the hardware. This was a liberating, if obvious insight, and mentally my record collection shrivelled to a pile of cold plastic and cardboard. I can and do listen to the music anytime. So I resolved to dispose of my collection. The current vogue for vinyl should work in my favour – although presumably the high prices were what the buyers paid, not what the sellers received. Knowing how much music means to me, Debbie was a little shocked at my resolve, and gently tried to protect me from my rash impulse. Perhaps she was worried it was a sign I was somehow growing tired of life. I replied that if I could take it, so could she.
While in Chesham I dropped into a shop specialising in vinyl (and boxing memorabilia) to enquire whether they would be interested in buying my collection. The fellow was straightforward and helpful. He could visit my house and make an offer, aiming to double his money. He would take them all away, whether he wanted all of them or not.
This seemed fair, and after allowing a couple of months to adjust to it, I called him and made an appointment. But then I thought: what about my niece – is she still interested in LPs? She was, so I arranged them in stacks and took photos so she could choose what she wanted by reading the spines: she came back listing the ones she and her boyfriend wanted, and before long they came round to collect them, and to plunder a few more. And I realised that, happily, I wasn’t too bothered about the few hundred pounds I might receive in proceeds: it was more important to me that these records, which had been so much loved, went to good homes, as if I was giving away a much-loved pet I could no longer care for.
So I asked my music-loving family members – which is roughly all of them – whether they still played vinyl, and whether they’d like any. I asked friends and Friends on Facebook, and had a few responses. I farmed out a few selected records on request. Several visitors picked through the collection to choose a few. One or two others expressed initial enthusiasm, but on reflection realised that, actually, they didn’t play much vinyl themselves these days.
Albums by classic acts went quickly: Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bowie etc. But there were still plenty left cluttering up our art and music room. It was time to call the man from Chesham.
So today I arranged the records around the lounge for easy browsing and Mike went through them with an experienced eye. “An eclectic collection” he noted, seeing Butcher Baby by The Plasmatics featuring Wendy O. Williams nestling against Snowbird by Anne Murray. Well, I never cared what was cool, just bought the ones I liked. He said there was little demand for singles or for compilation albums, only really for original album releases. We agreed what I thought was a fair price – not high, but it would take time and effort to sell them for a decent profit. I helped him load them all into his car.
I might regret this of course. The digital apocalypse might end streaming, or corrupt my downloads. Or the streaming services might increase their prices dramatically to give artists (or themselves) a better return. And there are gaps on Spotify where original hits have been replaced by inferior re-recordings, or where major artists have withdrawn their music. So I’m hanging on to my CDs, for the time being, at least. But as I write, I feel liberated from the pieces of card and plastic which have gathered dust in my cupboard and attic for most of this century.
Before the giveaways and disposals, I went through and put aside a few which I couldn’t part with. There was In the Red, a quirky 45 rpm “mini album” from my 1980s favourites the Panic Brothers, and One Time, the live album from the wonderful Mint Juleps. Nor was I parting with Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye by Ella Fitzgerald, which I bought for my Mum, a song we played at her funeral. Or Adeste Fideles, the carols which Dad would play every Christmas morning before breakfast. Or a homemade ten-inch bootleg of Professor Longhair, clearly issued for love not profit, because the records weren’t previously available in England. Or No One’s Gonna Change Our World: “The Stars Sing for the World Wildlife Fund”, where, amid gems like Cuddly Old Koala by Rolf Harris and When I See an Elephant Fly by Bruce Forsyth, sits the first version released of Across the Universe – early access to this Beatles track must have boosted sales hugely.
And there was Rock Lobster by the B-52’s. Jonathan and Gina each owned a copy in the early 1980s, so I asked them please could they get on and marry their fortunes together, so I could have the spare? They did indeed get married and duly gifted me the 45. (Whether they were compatible was not my problem, but they’re still going strong 39 years later). And Telstar? That record is going nowhere.
Thanks to Jonathan, Phil, Robyn, Simon, Mark and Jackie who gave good homes to some of my once treasured vinyl.