Thursday, April 02, 2009


A posting by a Canadian e-friend about the demise of "The Record Shop" in his neck of the woods has set my mind going. I am of a sufficiently advanced age to remember when my father used to play records which were made of shellac, ran at 78 rpm and broke if you dropped them. I think prehistoric is probably the right word I'm trying to describe.

I can just (meaningfully) remember Bill Haley and the Comets coming to the UK in the mid Fifties with cinema seats being ripped up at his concerts. But only because I read it in the newspapers. I really found out at first hand about Pop Music around 1957, when I was 11. I went with my cousin, who was older than me, and was therefore in all probability responsible for what my parents saw as some form of irredeemable mental decline, to Whitby, a small seaside village on the Yorkshire Coast.

One of my founding memories was going to a café, near the harbour, which had a juke box and feeding Sixpences into it. We played the first pop song which totally gripped my mind over and over and over again – probably 20 times. It must have driven the poor café owner demented, unless of course he shared out intoxication, which I suspect he did not.

It was Paul Anka’s “Diana”.

It was a song which I can still remember hit me like a Thunderbolt. That mesmerising saxophone introduction, and the gradually rising phrases in the song which the singer blasted out had me totally “gone”. Solid Gone. I had never heard anything like it before.

I wasn’t alone. The record shot to the top of the British Hit Parade, and stayed there for umpteen weeks, and sold well over 1 million copies in the UK alone. My 7 inch 45 RPM copy was played so much I could almost hear the song on the other side being played backwards.

From then on, the local record shop became a very regular haunt. You skulked in the soundproof booths, and tried to con the shop owner to play every new record that came in. He knew full well that kids of our age had no money so the idea of any of us actually buying a record was out of the question, but he still indulged our passions. I suppose he was like a musical drug dealer, feeding our desires to get us hooked so that, when the money did start to roll in, he could reap his financial rewards. A sort of long term social investment in the teenage life of the town. Very strategic in a way, although the possibility exists that he just liked listening to the music.

Buddy Holly was The Man for me when I really got into the music, and I owned everything he recorded up until the day he was killed. That was the first of those days in my life, where you remember for ever where you were when the news broke. You know the thing – Kennedy, John Lennon, Challenger and 9/11 - interestingly, all four are in America, and two in New York. Even after 60-odd years, there aren’t that many of them that I recall.

It was early 1959, and I was idly reading the newspaper, lying on the floor in our small living room, when I turned the page and there was a picture of a plane crash. And the headline about him, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper ("Chantilly Lace, and a pretty face, and a Pony Tail hanging down, a Wiggle in her walk, and a Giggle in her talk …….." Very profound but a Great Song!). And the shock was there because the article was buried in the middle of the paper, and you came across it almost as an afterthought. Bang.

It was just a few weeks ago when I realised that February 3rd 2009 was the fiftieth anniversary of that day. It really hit me that day as a rather scary demonstration of the way my life is flashing past at an exponentially increasing rate, and that there’s a lot more behind me that is left to come. How very depressing.

Carpe Diem. Be-Bop-A-Lula.

1 comment:

Whitenoise said...

It's interesting and perhaps sad how things have changed for my son's generation. They buy everything by iTunes. I would say that the social aspect of the Big Record store has been lost but they still talk about music- albeit on MSN, Facebook and over their Xboxes. Another profound shift. Who knows where it will lead.