One of the greatest joys of my youth, that I can remember, is opening the cellophane of a brand new record album that I had been aching to buy until I could save enough money from my paper route. I would carefully cut the plastic on the side of the cover that had the opening for the record to slide in and out of. I remember the fresh chemically smell of a newly printed vinyl record waft up to my nose as I released it from its cover. I remember the gentle scraping sound as I removed the record from its sleeve that enveloped the disc, inside its cover. We really cared about our records in those days.
To me, the biggest delights were the covers that had an extra hinged cover that would reveal even more cover art inside. The covers of those albums were incredible. Just looking at them was special. But that was a treat I would save for later because first, I had to get my newly acquired record onto the turntable. Turn on the amplifier and adjust the volume down so I wouldn’t blow the speakers. Place the record on the turntable, lift up the arm and click, slowly bring it to the left to engage the mechanism and get the turntable turning.
Gently, I would deposit the needle onto the empty groove just before the first track. Pop, hiss, crackle – almost like a bowl of Rice Krispies. They always made those funny sounds, no matter how much or how well I would wipe them clean. Static electricity I guess. But that was nothing compared the electrical surge of elation I would feel coursing through my body when I would hear the first sounds of my new record. Magical. Intoxicating. And oh so satisfying…
“It’s too loud,” my parents would yell from the other room.
“It’s not loud enough,” I would tell myself as I reluctantly turned it down.
I had a modest little stereo in my bedroom that my big brother sold me. Truth be told, he pretty much gave it to me but he asked for a small, token amount of money to make me feel like it was mine – he’s always been clever that way. It wasn’t much but it was good enough for me. I spent hours listening to that thing, trying to play along to my favourite songs on my Yamaha acoustic that my brother also gave me. I suppose I tortured my parents in the process, but isn’t that what a teenage boy is supposed to do? They would tell me they hated my music but I never believed them 100%.
As I listened to my new record, I would take almost as much delight in poring over every square inch of the album cover, studying and dissecting the brilliant cover art of that era. I even tried to copy some of it in my drawing pad. Amazingly, I still have some of those sad renderings kicking around the house, many decades later. From the wild and spooky cover art of ZZ Top’s Deguello; to the minimalist and somber black & white of AC/DC’s Back in Black; to the manic cartoons of Pink Floyd’s The Wall – I loved album cover art. I would gaze at it. Study it. Absorb and delight in its sheer brilliance and artistry. What a story that art would tell.
The best album covers included bios of the band and of these phenomenally talented musicians that I admired, adulated and adored. I would love to read about them and their histories. Even better, were those that included pictures of them on the road and back stage, often in the form of cheesy little renditions of Polaroids. Yes, I would imagine hanging out and partying with them.
My brother moved back home when I was around 15 and he was in his mid twenties. Nothing serious, he just had some things to sort out before he started a family a few years later. I loved those times. We got along really well back then, despite the nine years that separated us. I learned to play guitar from him and he had a band that would practice in our basement. How cool is that? No, I never played the drum kit or electric guitars that I wasn’t supposed to touch when he wasn’t around…wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
He also had an outstanding record collection and a kickass stereo system, that he graciously let me use, just as long as I didn’t break anything. He still has it to this day so I guess I was careful enough. I spent hours exploring and listening to his records. And of course, studying the album art.
Led Zeppelin. The Beatles. Rolling Stones. The Doors. And countless more. I absolutely loved that music. I still go crazy for Classic Rock – what a stupid term but that’s what they call it. That music was (and still is) like a magical drug to me. I couldn’t get enough. I remember one evening, moping up the stairs to do my homework, after getting my musical dose, and my mother and brother both mentioned to me how loud I was playing the music. I’m pretty sure I was listening to Jimi Hendrix Experience Smash Hits – still one of my favorites. I had headphones on! Nowadays, I try to be a little more careful with my hearing.
Spotify is a great service. So is YouTube. Being able to call up just about any song I can think of and having it delivered to me instantly is mind-boggling technology. I don’t even have to pay for it if I don’t want to. But something is lacking in that equation. Sure the music is still great and the service is extremely convenient. I just find it misses the emotional connection of investing in a band by buying their music and sometimes taking a chance on album that might only have one or two songs you like – the ones they played to death on the radio. It misses the connection formed by hearing the whole story of the album these musical geniuses would create. You could hear their mindset and mood of a certain period of their lives, and get to know them vicariously through their music.
Maybe I’m romanticizing things a bit much but the whole music listening experience seems less personal than it used to be. And don’t tell me about current artists’ social media pages. Do you really think a musician that is worth boatloads of money actually writes all of their own posts? I doubt the record companies would allow it. It’s all so contrived. At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, I feel young music lovers are missing something that we took for granted in those days.
I’m glad I kept my old vinyl and all of my CD’s. They are things I will cherish for years to come.