Dear Tessa - I realised today I know nothing about pop music. Nothing about what is happening now anyway.
Obviously this day was always going to come and it sort of nicely fits into what I’m trying to do here for you which is to blog on about what little I do know and then reminisce a bit. I can also moan about the good old days when rock stars didn’t not get knighted, did not get invited to 10 Downing Street, did not hang out with Royals and were not part of the establishment. More of that in other bloggings.
My Dad used to moan about pop music ‘You can’t hear the words, ’They can’t sing’, ‘They are just long haired layabouts’. This endeared me to both him and them, I liked the Generation Gap.
We weren't allowed to play our records on my parents ‘Stereogram’ - I am not sure what he thought would happen to it. As i mentioned before my Sister Barbara had a Dansette record player, this was handed down to me when she got the upgraded model that had legs!!
My first Dansette was grey and sat on the floor, It had four speeds, 33 for LP’s, 45 for singles, 78 for errr 78s and 16 for … what exactly? I never found out, and to this day still have never come across a record that plays at 16 rpm. Of course I used to play records at lots of speeds for comedic purposes. Apparently if you play Bruce Springsteen albums at 45 rpm it sounds like Dolly Parton and vice versa.
When Barbara left home to get married and bought a grown up stereo of her own I was handed down the Dansette with legs. It was red, I was so proud. But here’s the thing: as music fans, we thought that the better the equipment, the more enjoyable the music would be, the more satisfying the experience. I for one became obsessed with maximising every bit of kit to make it sound better. I would by second cupboard and take the doors off and put my speakers on top to increase the overall bass sound. I would INSIST that my vantage point was right in the middle of the two speakers. I bought expensive speaker cable, all these tweaks were, I thought, making the music better. But was it?
When CD’s arrived we were gobsmacked. No more scratchy noises, it was unblemished. Then of course we went digital, MP3’s iPods surround sound gadgets. The suddenly everyone then starting saying that MP3’s were rubbish, that vinyl had a warmer sound. What is a ‘warmer’ sound. It’s like having a ‘louder’ curry. It’s nonsense. Finally, at the age of 60, I have realised that the enjoyment of music is not what you listen to, it’s what you hear.
The late great John Peel picked a Roy Orbison song when he was on Desert Island Discs. He recalled hearing it when he was standing on a cold foggy railway station early in the morning and he heard a tinny transistor radio in the distance, and on it was the mournful, soulful voice of Roy Orbison wafting over the morning like an invisible angel.
Pete Townshend, guitarist of The Who, once said that their music sounded better on an old record player than a fancy digital system. I remember walking into a nightclub in Nottingham in the early 1980’s and they had old battered speakers hanging off the ceiling and pumping out was The Passenger by Iggy Pop. If I can still remember how good that made me feel, there has to be something said for where and when and with who you heard something. Scientists say we remember emotions not data, so the fact I recall so clearly Eva Cassidy singing Wade In The Water in a branch of HMV tells me it was how it made me feel, not how marvellous the ‘woofers’ were in the speakers.
I recently bought an old second-hand hi-fi set up; turntable, amp and speakers and started buying and playing albums. It was nostalgic and lovely but it didn’t move me any more than when I may have first heard the song on some old crappy car radio.
If musical equipment is so important how come that people have loved music for so long. We didn’t put our hard earned paper round money in juke boxes so we could enjoy the nominal impedence and expressive dynamics. We just wanted to hear that damn song we loved so much. Were we waiting for the Holy Grail of a Dolby Surround Sound System that would make our aural dreams come true?
Well I used to think so, but now I know that a crap song played on iMax Cinema sound will still be a crap song. Give me Roy Orbison on a tinny transistor radio any day.