In the approximately 40 years since I bought my first long-playing vinyl record-type album thing, a whole lot has changed about the way the average person consumes music. This is pretty obvious stuff. Most of the big record stores are gone and the majority of the music-buying public is pulling down stuff from iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. I’m still one of those dinosaurs who likes to go into an actual store and buy a physical thing. Of course, I then go home and play the thing on an actual stereo, so that puts me in an even smaller group of listeners.
But don’t worry, because this is no diatribe about the way things used to be. Hey, technology keeps moving on and society changes with it. No, I’ve just been thinking about our relationship to popular music and how technology has changed it. Specifically, how the Internet has changed the mystery that used to surround the release of new music.
So the reason that I walked into Kings department store on that day back in 1973 — to buy a copy of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road with my hard-earned Hartford Courant paper carrier money — was that I’d been hearing “Bennie and the Jets” on the radio and just had to have that record! This sort of radio-driven purchasing went on for decades, probably up through the early ’80s. I’d hear something, the music lust would arrive, and I would begin to make my purchasing plans.
What I don’t remember is if I was aware of album-release dates. While I was an absolute fiend in my consumption of rock magazines (Rolling Stone, Hit Parader, Creem, Crawdaddy), I don’t know if they published dates for future releases. Did I go out looking for Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous because I’d read that it was coming out, or did I stumble onto it at that store? Even as late as 1982, there was room for surprise. I as in college and still soaking up the rock journals, and yet I walked into the University bookstore and there it was: Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. I was stunned.
I suppose that none of this really matters. The music comes out and it finds its way into our hands and ears. But we’re almost never surprised anymore. We know that a record is coming out, who played on it, and the reasons for its existence. Springsteen’s High Hopes was officially released just this week, though through various channels it’s been in the hands of fans for a few weeks. Already it’s been examined, dissected, debated, praised and dismissed. In the midst of the analysis and complaint, I found myself looking back at my younger self. The plastic wrap was on the floor and I’d already moved on to the second record, “Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting” making a welcome home for itself in my little universe. It seemed like nothing could be better than listening to that glam-soaked electric guitar.
Shoot, I didn’t intend for this to be a lament about the way things used to be. Sorry about that.
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