Most of my happiest childhood memories are centered around music. I grew up with an uncle and a mother that were complete music fundis. They grew up in the seventies, the uncontested golden age of music ‚Äì the post-Beatles creative explosion of genius guitar riffs and unrivalled lyrics.
It was the decade that bands that had formed in the late sixties really hit their stride. The era of Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd making their greatest albums and some might feel the greatest music of all time, at least for rock music and guitar pioneering. Music was always something permanent, something that could be turned to, like a dependable friend in times of joy or sadness.
Last month a bug inside the iTunes update wiped out some people‚Äôs music collections once they updated. While Apple and iTunes are citing this as a small number of people, I can only imagine what it was like to be one of those individuals. It got me thinking about music collections, about our new digital era and nostalgia. If you had to lose your music, which song or album would be the worst to lose?
One of the clearest memories I have as a small child in the early eighties was my uncle’s record collection. To us, records were surrounded with magic and mystique ‚Äì all sorts of wonders to behold. They needed to be handled delicately first of all. They were kept in beautiful cases adorned with elaborate album art that could be stared at for hours, young imaginations churning in all fantastical directions. Album artwork was transferred to posters that hung from bedroom walls and T-shirts that could be kept and collected alongside the music. From a young age we were educated on the greats of musical history, Angus Young, David Bowie and David Gilmour were familiar faces.
It didn‚Äôt take long before we were checking the albums to see who the bass guitarist was on a particular track, and who had composed a certain melody. In fact by the age of eight I could probably have given you a pretty strong rendition of the entire album of Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens) from beginning to end. By the age of twelve I would have told you that Clapton was the guy who could make a guitar sing and I could tell you in seconds of hearing the opening riff of Layla if it was the original or the unplugged version. Certain music was known as sacred for its sheer power of emotion.
All of this knowledge and all of this joy came from collecting our music. It came from studying the heroes who wove these magic spells. It was from the ritual of collection and the joy of appreciation. Many times in my life I have listened to a hallowed track and wondered about the moment, the source of the creation of that song.
Early in my childhood a big change hit the music world, and our own little part of it. During the early nineties CDs went mainstream. Their shine, their size had us all mesmerised. My uncle diligently started rebuilding his collection in the form of CDs. He replaced all his dearest albums and began collecting ever new ones, to a collection that took up nearly 6 big shelves of the TV cabinet in his lounge. He was not alone, we all converted ‚Äì buying up our favourite albums, limited edition box sets and collectors albums in this new medium. We forgave the regular skipping and rather easy scratching for the sheer genius and sound that was emitted from these tiny, beautiful, silver discs. It was all the joy of our old records in a smaller package. In my early nineties childhood, getting your hands on a portable disc player was the ultimate feeling in the joy of technology and the coveted mix tape was so easy to make before CD players were put into cars.
When we took road trips, our playlists were our nursery rhymes. They were carefully crafted for us by my uncle with all the best the seventies and eighties had to offer. Back then, creating mix tapes, much like creating playlists today was a ritual that needed to be taken seriously. Planning and balance are key. How my parents handled the three of us singing Thunderstruck in the backseat for hours on end I am not sure I will ever understand.
As I entered my teens I started to spread my musical wings, away from the favourites of the seventies and started to build by own impressive little collection from my own little golden age of the nineties. The first CD I ever owned was Offspring‚Äôs hit album Smash. This was quickly followed by Nirvana’s¬†Nevermind, Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik and one of the ultimate albums of all time, Throwing Copper by Live.
It goes without saying that Apple changed the musical and technological world again in 2001 when they released the iPod. This intelligent invention allowed you to keep all of your music in one place. A tiny computer just for music. All of a sudden our music became a little bit more abstract. Gone were the album covers and the disc holders. Gone was the need for CD racks (remember those?) and storage space. Everything could be retained in this little square block. Granted back then we could only keep a gig or two, but to us that was a new kind of magic.
As iPods evolved and grew to be bigger and better and merged with phones, I have diligently kept track of my music collection on drives and computers. I have been careful to transfer coveted albums that have travelled with me for decades ‚Äì kitchen staples like Bob Marley, Pixies and Tracy Chapman. Classics like the Foo Fighters’¬†The Colour and the Shape.¬†Pure nostalgia like Joe Cocker and David Bowie. Lesser known greats like Bedouin Soundclash and The Dandy Warhols. My collection has become organised and categorised: workout music, relaxing music, party music.
The digital space has made music so wonderfully easy to discover. We are directed to things we might love and bands I may have never known: Gaslight Anthem, Kaleo and Bad Books populate my collection. The Apple Music app allows you to explore the vast world of musical cyberspace with ease, picking up your tastes and presenting you with more options that are geared towards you.
And now, we enter the age of streaming. In a commitment phobic era, propelled by an overwhelming amount of content being thrown at us we¬†now have options that can remain so much more temporary. The market is becoming increasingly populated with options and mediums ‚Äì we have Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music ‚Äì all fighting it out to present us with exclusive content. They need exclusive content because content is moving faster and faster. Retaining a level of exclusivity buys them time in finding more and newer content.
The younger and more technical savvy are turning to these mediums to access their music, to listen to it whenever they want to and to constantly discover more. But where does this leave the collector? The music itself moves into the evermore abstract digital space. It‚Äôs not really owned, its almost rented. It‚Äôs stored in the cloud, a concept that remains vague for many of us.
While trying to decide which tracks or albums would be my worst to lose, I took a browse through my iPod and got completely distracted by music I hadn‚Äôt listened to in a while. This list is mainly made up of nostalgia and emotion and many of the choices have to do with young love ‚Äì as any good music list should be. Choosing 10 was impossible, 11 was also impossible. I need more choices.
11. Wild World ‚Äì Cat Stevens. A drinking song, a loving song, a crying song, an adventure song. I love this song so much.
10. November Rain ‚Äì Guns and Roses. Why? I fell in love for the very first time to this song at the age of 13. School social, slow dancing ‚Äì enough said.
9. Bohemian Like You ‚Äì The Dandy Warhols. A regular feature on my thirteen hour road trips to university. It also made me want to become a vegan and get a tattoo. My best friend at the time was a vegan and had a tattoo.
8. Santeria ‚Äì Sublime. The beach, beer flowing, young love, good times. Also ‚Äì I wanted someone to love me enough to, ‚ÄúPop a cap in Sancho.‚Äù
7. February Stars ‚Äì The Foo Fighters. That guy that I loved in my early twenties that never loved me back ‚Äì honestly they wrote this from me to him, literally.
6. Kaleo ‚Äì Way Down We Go ‚Äì ok, this one‚Äôs new, and maybe a little out of place in a list of nostalgia. But, I‚Äôm getting to know it, and so far I want it around.
5. Fools Rush In ‚Äì Eddie Vedder cover. I will always be in love with Eddie Vedder. I introduced my husband to him and he totally got it. That‚Äôs why it made perfect sense that this was our wedding song. It brings back one of the greatest nights of my life every time.
4. Three Little Birds ‚Äì Bob Marley. Five days into my Kilimanjaro climb, it was cold and it was getting tough. Everything hurt and all we could see was this huge mountain to go. Suddenly my mom breaks out with this song. Next thing ‚Äì all the sherpas join in – everyone knew the words. It was so awesome. Bob was looking down and loving it.
3. The Boxer ‚Äì Simon and Garfunkel. My grandfather was heavily involved in the boxing world. I always think of him when I hear this song. I am not sure a song has ever moved me more than this one. It inspired my novel. I even love the Mumford and Sons cover.
2. Unchain My Heart ‚Äì Joe Cocker. Now this song was actually written by the great Ray Charles. I never got to see him but I was fortunate enough to watch Joe Cocker perform it live before he left us. It was one of the most unexpectedly brilliant, awesome concerts of my life. I still listen to it when I want to feel happy.
1. Throwing Copper ‚Äì Live. The whole album. This was the album that shaped my musical tastes for the rest of my life. I fell in love with this album, I got my heart broken with this album. I bonded with friends over this album, got drunk for the first time with this album. I became a woman with this album. There is not a flaw to be found in the whole thing. In my angsty, teenage years ‚Äì this album totally understood me. I could listen to it for hours and I still can. We‚Äôve all got that one.