I have recently bowed to the inevitable and taken on a paid Spotify subscription – both the kids are on it, so a family sub works out cheaper and lets me skip the adverts on the three times a month I use it.
Which got me thinking about music, and what we pay for it, and what it’s worth – and what that means.
I consider myself to be a futurist – change is normally good, and the blade of progress does (generally) lead to an improvement in all of our lives – but I look at my children building playlists, with instant access to the last 100 years of rock music (and beyond) and seamlessly moving between Elvis, The Smiths and Billie Eilish and I am simultaneously jealous and conscious of what they’ve lost.
Jealous? When I was a teenager I had Radio 1 and whichever music I could afford to buy. I’d read an interview with someone who would casually mention in passing how they were influenced by the Velvet Underground, or the Fugs or MC5 or whatever and I wouldn’t have a clue what they were talking about. I’d cast around and see what I could find in my Dad’s record collection (No chance, although he was good for Neil Young, Willie Nelson & Johnny Cash – all artists who I came back to many years later) or what I could steal/borrow from the library. I would have killed for the ability to dial up a playlist of Alternative Proto Punk and just being able to skip through to find the good stuff.
But they’re losing something important too.
I own a lot of awful records. Records bought on whim to fill in that musical gap, or ones that were bought because they made me smile, or ones I got because I was 14 and it was in the charts, or albums that I bought for the single which then came with nine genuinely dreadful filler tracks, or ones that were bought for me (thanks to my cousin Steve, I’ve still never been able to sit all the way through Gillan, although Bat Out of Hell has been a keeper), well, you get the idea…
And you might say, “Well, so what? Good riddance to bad rubbish isn’t it?”, and you’d be right.
To an extent.
But when I pick up Musical Youth’s disappointing third single (Never Gonna Give You Up, B-Side “Jim’ll Fix it”) or The Brat’s “It was funny at the time” Chalk Dust, or Arthur’s Theme by Christopher Cross, or Jimmy Nail’s take on Rose Royce – no matter that I have no desire to ever listen to these songs again, part of me transports back to that 14 year old idiot casting around trying to find his place in the world. It doesn’t matter that these were the records I left behind, they were part of what made me.
And will we ever really get that from a playlist?