I wrote earlier in the week about how my daughter’s experiences of Internet music will be very different from mine. This got me thinking of all the other ways I used to discover music that my daughter never will.
1. Top of the Pops
The best thing about Top of the Pops was its’ egalitarianism. There was no attempt to be hip, but equally there was no attempt to exclude artists that were a little strange. If you sold enough records you got on the show, and at its’ peak popularity that meant that most of the country had heard of you (as only 4 TV channels meant plenty of people watching). An appearance on Top of the Pops meant you’d arrived. There’s almost no way now for a band to be exposed to such a large proportion of the population simultaneously, and as a consequence I think less people than ever have an idea of what’s currently popular, music-wise. I watched nearly every week from about 1988 to when it finished in 2006, learning much of what I know, especially of pop music, along the way.
2. Radio 1 Top 40 Chart Show
This still exists, but it’s been shunted to Friday afternoon, and isn’t such a big deal any more, so I doubt my daughter will ever be a listener. For me, for many years, it was the highlight of my Sunday, 3 hours where every one of the 40 best selling songs of the week were played. This meant I hear d everything, good or bad, from every genre (if it was popular enough). This had a massive impact on my musical taste, helping define what I liked and didn’t like. I also became strangely obsessed with the charts themselves. I had a book which listed the Top 40 for every week since it began, and at one stage I even used to try and predict the following week’s chart. When I became a teenage music snob I stopped listening to the Top 40 quite so obsessively, but was still always happy if a band Ioved did well.
3. The Chart Show
An hour long weekly music video show, The Chart Show became obsolete in the world of MTV (now obsolete itself, at least as a music video station), but for a while it was a staple of my Saturday mornings. The music selection always seemed a trifle unpredictable, but it was one of the only ways for me to see music videos at the time. I discovered Aphex Twin through The Chart Show, surprisingly enough, as they showed his video for ‘On’, which I later discovered had been directed by Jarvis Cocker. I especially enjoyed the weekly Dance, Rock and Indie charts, which illustrated my changing musical tastes. At age 12 I liked only songs in the dance and rock charts, and hated all that whiney indie music. Fast forward a year and it was Suede, Blur and erm… Kingmaker all the way for me.
4. Britannia Music Club
I’ve always been conscious of value for money, it’s no surprise really that I ended up an accountant. So, to my 12 year old self, five cassette albums for £1 from the Britannia Music Club seemed a bargain too good to pass up. I chose the first 4 easily enough: Annie Lennox, Shakespeare’s Sister, Now Dance 92, and some other equally dubious compilation. The fifth was more difficult. In the end I plumped for that band whose video I’d seen a brief clip of on The Chart Show earlier that week. Nirvana they were called. The first four albums are unsurprisingly long forgotten, but Nirvana soon became my favourite band and the biggest influence on my young musical taste. The music club itself was a stupid idea (although it kept going for a surprisingly long time), for the up-front bargain you had to guarantee you would buy an album from every issue of their magazine for the next 2 years, but I always be grateful to it for introducing me to one of my favourite bands.
5. Record label cheap sampler CDs
A great way to discover new bands, for a fiver or so you’d get a song or two by every band on a particular label’s roster. They were particularly popular with the pop-punk and ska revival bands I listened to a lot in my late teens, such as Fat Wreck Chords, Epitath and Hellcat. These bands would not get played on the radio a lot so there was often no other way to hear them. When my daughter grows up, or even right now, if she wants to hear all the bands on a particular label she just needs to get on Spotify or Youtube and there it all is.
6.The weekly music press
I bought either the NME or Melody Maker, or both every week for nearly 15 years. Whilst I didn’t love every band they wrote about, if they hyped a band , I wanted to hear them. And they hyped an awful lot of bands (Terris and Campag Velocet are amongst the long forgotten bands to grace their cover). Most bands I love I first read of in their pages, and occasionally I would buy an album purely based on what I read about them, Sleater-Kinney being the finest example. Melody Maker folded long ago, and NME has become a free paper. By the time my daughter takes an interest in music I doubt it will exist in physical form.
7. Mail order.
Hard though it is it to believe now, not all music was instantly available to buy in my youth. Whilst I was lucky enough to live in a city with a HMV, a Virgin Megastore and a number of smaller independent record shops, so I could find most albums I wanted, a few remained tantalisingly outside my grasp. Fortunately the inky back pages of the NME and Melody Maker held a secret. Mail-order catalogues, either from specialist retailers or from record labels, full of rare treats to fill the gaps in my record collection. Now the internet fills the same function of course, in a more efficient, all encompassing, but somehow less thrilling manner.
8. John Peel
Back when there were only a handful of radio stations, mainly playing heavily rotated pop and middle of the road music, John Peel was a beacon for lovers of anything different. He played everything from extreme metal to happy hardcore with no regard for what was cool or popular. We used to joke about the obscure and ridiculous names the bands he played had. One time we were making such a joke, switched his show on, and he was playing something on Death Vomit records, proving our point nicely. I heard artists as varied as Low and DJ Shadow for the first time on his show. Sadly, he passed away in 2004. I was in a record shop when I heard, which seems apt. There are plenty of places you can hear such obscure and strange music now, but it doesn’t quite seem as special without his voice announcing the names.