Sitting here watching the BBC (is there another channel?) iPlayer showing ‘The joy of the single’. It’s the usual array of old geezers reminiscing about the era of the 7″ vinyl. Yet again it’s hard to explain to today’s over-hyped-music consumers that the joy of the single wasn’t just that it conveyed a piece of music, it brought you dreams. But you had to work at it. With no computers, no mobiles, no iPads, no streaming! Definitely no miserable teenager squawking about how lost love means the end of his life at 15 years old and played over the sad bits in Casualty. No these dreams were hard won.
First off was the trek to the shops. This was either a group outing with your mates or an urgent solo mission for the latest sound that you heard that morning on the radio. If you missed the DJ naming the band you had to ask your mates or wait until he played it again. Kids would hang around record shops huddled in listening booths or later on headphones. This meant going up to the shop assistant and asking if you could listen to such and such by so and so. This could be acutely awkward if the record was considered uncool or the shop assistant was old enough to be your Grandad. Imagine asking your Aunty Gladys behind the counter for ‘Sex Machine’ by James Brown. It was easier to buy condoms.
The labels were also exotic each company having its own format and recognisable logo. This is when the record label was bigger than the performer who’s name would be written in black type just below the hole for the record player’s spindle. Other nuggets of information spelled out the artist, song name and writer, the speed – 45rpm, copyright and sometimes in little scratched letters on the run out some indesipherable rubbish presumable added by some engineer or press operative.
For the true record collector only original pressings were worth having, hopefully with a tiny hole drilled through the label denoting that it was an American import and even more highly prized. To carry this great mound of plastic you needed a case. So manufacturers produce ‘single’ sized pvc leather-look cases ideal for hauling to the next party. You could even write your name all over it, or your girlfriend/boyfriend’s name. sadly only to have to scratch it out, overpaint it or ditch it and get a new case if romantic circumstances took a turn for the worse.
‘B’ sides were either some track which usually bore no resemblance to the A side and may even have a been an instrumental, or, even worse, an instrumental version of the ‘A’ side. In fact, the ‘B’ side of the Manfred Mann single Mighty Quinn was called ‘a “B” side’ and was a sultry track that ended up as background music for a Manikin cigar advert complete with 1970’s semi naked women.
At the Youth Club cool guys would casually thumb through their collection, maybe even taking one out of its sleeve and holding it up to the light like a precious diamond. Uncool guys and wannabees would stand a dicrete distance away or even slope away like a kicked dog knowing that they couldn’t compete with that.
You also needed to be strong to be a record collector. Records are heavy. A full singles box with 50 discs in is heavier than a zillion iPods and only has 100 songs, 50 of which you will probably never play. And you need a record player to hear what’s on them. But it wasn’t about the music as much as the actual vinyl. It was a possession to be traded, fought over and protected. A status symbol and a badge of style.
The rarest and most desirable singles are now competing with antiques as investments and there are collectors clubs, magazines and dealers vying for the best ones.
Try that with mp3s