I’m a middleclass bloke approaching 50. You know the sort: I ride my bike on Saturday, make sourdough bread on Sunday, wear DMs and play music on vinyl. So far so stereotypical. I’ve been playing out on bikes since 1972, wearing DMs since 1974 and listening to vinyl since T-Rex released Ride a White Swan and I could reach my Dad’s HiFi.
I’ve missed vinyl. Not just because I’m getting old and look back on the past with rose-tinted specs (well, maybe just a bit). Not because of the artwork (but then again….). Not because it gave you a big surface area to skin-up on (I was at university — it doesn’t count). None of that. I miss it because I miss linear.
Driving with my daughter in her car has become a stressful experience. Not because she is a bad driver, indeed she’s really safe. It’s not that. It’s the music situation. Yeah some of it is shit. Some of it is good. She knows better than to play Kanye. The problem is the fact that she gets bored super-quickly and skips tracks. Not even to the next track on the album. Often she will skip albums. Or artists. Or genres. I find this infuriating. I grew up in an era when albums were written as albums. When stories and themes were developed across the entire disc. Sgt Pepper was written as a whole album. The Wall was written as an album. Even Dare was written as an album. Each track building upon or contrasting with the previous one. Listening to an album was like reading a short story. The Smiths famously built bigger gaps between the more emotional of their tracks on each album.
My favourite album is The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses. Each track is great. But as the needle drops down onto “I want to be adored” I psychologically settle-in for a journey, not the edited highlights. I love the way the album moves me from the uncertain arrogance (odd, I know) of “I want to be adored”, through the nearly perfect “She Bangs the Drums”, into the majestic “Waterfall” and then onto the garbled, backwards playing, forwards singing “Don’t Stop”, into the duplicitous “Bye Bye Badman” and finally onto the last song on side one “Elizabeth my dear” when you think — ‘my goodness, he hates the queen’. You’ve just got time to pour a drink and turn it over before the honeyed “Song for my sugarspun sister” drips out of the speakers. On into the anthemic “Made of Stone” and reflective “Shoot you down”, straight through the beautiful “This is the one” before the shallow drumming and familiar bass of the finest record ever made. You know the one — “I am the resurrection”. It’s brilliant. But it only means so much because I’ve listened to all the others on the way to it. Each makes the next better. Each builds. Then swoops. Then builds again. Each one lifts the next a little higher.
Don’t get me wrong; I love my daughter; I love modern music. I love digital. But disconnecting tracks from each other; untethering them from their context; has changed the way than songs are listened to; has altered the way that songs are written. They are now a collection of hits; a one dimension “Now” album. The art form is changing. Each song is a chapter. They are great. But the book is the thing; and it only makes sense if the chapters are in the right order.
As the Roses said — “the past was yours but the future’s mine”. I used to sing this with passion. I still do. It may not be true anymore. But there is a big part of me that misses the way we used to do things. You have my permission to hit me if I start talking fondly about chocolate bars of the 1970s. Actually, I did love a Cabana, and a Texan.