I'm from a different era. A time before downloads, digital files and cd's. I'm talking about pieces of plastic with grooves. Yes, vinyl records. Becoming a teen in the 1970's meant growing up to what is now seen as a 'golden age', not just for soul music (which was, and stil is my favourite), but actually genres right across the board, pop, rock etc. We all heard new music either on the radio, at a friend's house, if you were old enough in a club or, again my favourite, the record shop. It was in the shop where you met up with like minded people who felt the same experience as you. Hearing the first few bars of a song that immediately hit you where it mattered. Your spirit. Whether it made you dance, hum, sing or just plain feel good, you knew it, you felt it. Because my love was for American soul music I could be found at a very early age spending time in what was known as 'specialist' shops. These were the stores that sold the newly 'imported' American releases. I can still picture myself on a Saturday afternoon watching as the record store assistant, behind the counter, would slam one record on after another to a crowded pack of (usually) men waiting to hear the first few bars of each song to decide whether or not they were going to purchase it or not. All it took was a hand going up in the air and a copy would be placed on the counter in front of you. I would marvel at the huge stacks of wax growing steadily higher in front of some of the customers. Me, I would maybe walk away with one or two records. The whole experience was a joy. I can still clearly remember back in 1974 when I first heard the ultra funky James Brown produced 'Across The Tracks' by Maceo. It was in a record shop and when the neddle hit that track the whole room lifted with excitment, as did most of the listener's hands. Even my own pocket money went towards owning a copy.
Another aspect I picked up from the record shop was the total investigation I carried out on the album covers. Being a geek when it came to such things, I would take immense delight in reading every scrap of information on these 12" sleeves of colourful, inviting artwork. It was my mission to know who played what instrument, who produced the recording, who wrote the song, which special artist was featured, the list was endless. At the time little did I realise I was actually gaining a knowledge which would put me in good stead in later years. Then it was just another ingredient to the love affair between myself and the music. I can remember that the American copies of my favourite soul acts like Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye had gatefold sleeves which would open up to display dazzling imagery, unlike their UK counterparts which would usually be the regular, boring sleeve. In Britain those special gatefold sleeves were normally reserved for the rock acts. Admittedly the beginning of the end for those spectacular covers began with the introduction of the cd. With the reduction of the artwork to a smaller size, it seemed to me to also diminish their importance.
Then of course there was the ritual of taking your records home and (if they were imported copies) breaking the seal before pulling out the vinyl and placing it on the turntable. I found myself (like a junkie) even addicted to the distinctive smell of the new vinyl. It held a special kind of excitement for me. Knowing very soon you would be placing the needle on the record and the sounds would come blasting out of the speakers. That experience is now gone with the digital age. Most people now hear their music either through tiny headphones, or a small device. What ever happened to big-ass speakers, carrying lots of treble and even more bass?!!! I suppose I must accept the unavoidable fact that everything changes, it really does. I do acknowledge the leaps and bounds we've made swapping music with each other and so on, but a little bit of me feels that a tiny bit of the personal connection through a shared environment and experience has been lost forever.