Saturday, September 06, 2008

Seven Inches of pure pleasure (MRR #304)

I know it's a far from controversial opinion, even in the era of the digital download, but the seven-inch single is by far the superior format for recorded music ever invented. That's not to say that all seven-inch singles are great, but done correctly, e.g. one perfect, two-and-a-half minute pop nugget on the A-side, and a carefully chosen B-side (especially an equally great non-album track), it cannot be beaten. (Due to the comparative shortness of most hardcore songs, the EP naturally becomes the preferred format, but still on a 7" please).
That said, I came to this realization pretty late in the game. My introduction to collecting music came via cassettes, as we didn't have a record player in the house. I went through a succession of cassette players that my dad bought off some guy in the pub. The first one came with a Johnny Cash tape, the first piece of music I ever owned. My wee brother and I played it over and over again. I don't know if it occurred to us that we could go out and get more tapes. Those songs are embedded in my memory, never to be forgotten. It could have been worse I suppose. The mind boggles at the thought of the utter garbage that could have been on a tape deck bought off some random boozer in the Pine Lodge. (Later, in a moment of desperation for blank tapes, I recorded The Stupids' Peel Session over the Johnny Cash tape. Still got it though). Eventually I got a cassette player that also had a radio, exponentially expanding my musical exposure. I spent the summer listening to BBC Radio 1 all day, and taping the hits off the Top 40 rundown on Sunday afternoons. Inevitably, I ended up listening to the radio into the late evenings, when the pop DJs went home and the night shift came on–Tommy Vance with his metal, Janice Long with her weird indie stuff, and of course John Peel. I'd hear all sorts of stuff that I didn't understand or thought was too weird (or, in the case of 'White Riot' by The Clash, too fast. Too fast? Have you listened to that song lately? It plods along).
At some point a record player turned up in our house. It was a behemoth of a thing. It probably weighed fifty pounds and came equipped with a non-functioning 8-track player, which were already completely out of vogue by then. So much for taping records for friends.
I had started buying albums on tape, but now I could finally purchase vinyl. I continued to buy LPs though. For a while, I was especially fond of singles collections, greatest hits albums, and 'Now That's What I Call Music' compilations. I viewed these releases as offering the best value for money. All hits, with minimum filler. Given that I was spending my hard-earned paper round money, that was a huge consideration. Singles just didn't cut it. Two songs for a quid, when you could get a whole album for a fiver, or sometimes less? Do I look thick? It took several years of buying albums with two or three good songs (the singles, naturally) and a bunch of tossed-off piss takes for me to realize the error of my ways. I still couldn't bring myself to spend a lot of money on records though. Luckily, I discovered the joys of the Woolworth's 50p record box. The slightly out-of-date hits of the 80s at 1970s prices! I snapped up singles by Madness, The Jam, and Adam & The Ants, as well as a few guilty secrets I won't mention. And while you were in there you could help yourself to as many Kola Kubes and Strawberry Bon-Bons as you could stuff in your mouth from the Pick'n'Mix (or Pick'n'Nick) aisle. (After a considerable dry spell in the mid-80s, Woolies' cheapo box later yielded scores along the lines of Public Enemy and Run DMC singles).
Once I started getting into harder-to-find punk and hardcore, my main sources were taping stuff off the John Peel show, and trading tapes with friends, both locally and through the post. Amongst the few of us in our area that shared similar tastes, it was unheard of for all of us to buy the same record. One person would buy an LP and at least five of us would get a tape of it. There are some albums that I consider among my favorites to this day that I still only have on the tape someone made me in 1985. It still throws me off to hear some of those records played somewhere and not hear the extra tracks tacked on by Sandy at the end to fill the space on the C90.
This process of acquiring music led to many disappointing purchases, and the discovery of second album syndrome. Someone would tape me a copy of some band's blistering first LP, and then I'd see a later record by said band in the shop. Since I liked the album I had on tape, I'd dutifully purchase this later release, only to get home and discover that the band 'crossed over' in between the two records. Suicidal Tendencies' 'Join The Army' and 'You Got It' by Gang Green are two purchases that particularly smarted at the time.
I was still passing up any singles that weren't in the bargain bin at this time, on the grounds of value for money. I did eventually start gravitating towards singles and EPs later, but only when they were fairly cheap. I've never really been much of a record collector. For most of my music-loving life, I've been pretty happy to just have the music, in whatever format. Nowadays, that's become easier than ever. For a while, I found myself 'sharing' (ahem) the complete discographies of bands I already liked, filling my hard-drive with album after album I already possessed in some form or another, whether on a cassette dub, CD, or LP. I also downloaded records I'd always wanted to own but had never seen available for a price I could (or would) pay. Once the novelty wore off, and I got over my excitement at finally getting my (digital) ears on some of those long-lost or forgotten gems, it really felt kind of empty. I could listen to 3000 songs in a row on shuffle on my iPod, but most of the time I'd really rather just listen to one perfect single on my record player. So nowadays, if you're looking for me, you can find me in the 7" racks, indiscriminately picking up any old shit on 45 that I passed up first time around when I was skint. Most of what I pick up is still under $3 and I rarely go over a tenner though.
If you've got 70s/early 80s punk and post-punk for sale/trade, send me your list: PO Box 22971, Oakland, CA 94609,

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