Partly out of burning intrigue and partly due to a procrastinating restlessness, I found myself rummaging through my Dad’s record collection the other day. I’d been meaning to do it for a while, purely from a curious (and slightly selfish) perspective to see how it matched up to my own, but also because I was convinced there were some hidden gems in there: I wasn’t wrong, but it took a fair amount of sifting to divide the nuggets from the waxy depths.
Amid the assortment of dusty 45s and falling-apart LPs I uncovered some genuine surprises (Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana among them), and more than a few guilty pleasures (the Xanadu and Flash Gordon soundtracks – oof!). The slightly anarchic jumble contained as much cause for hearty laughter as it did incredulity, not least the idea of scrawling your name on the middle of a record. Why anyone would want to lay claim to a Shakin’ Stevens LP I’ll never know.
What really interested me was the story that the collection told, and how it held a set of memories that are passed on, in a way that digital libraries aren’t. The same holds true for the (occasionally dubious) cassette and CD collections of my five older siblings, from which a glimpse of the personalities of the individuals behind them can be gleaned. It took an awful lot more bottle back then to go down to Woolies and buy that Pato Banto single than it does to click buy on iTunes; the selections committed to these physical libraries therefore have even more than just a monetary investment in them.
One 7” in particular stood out from the tottering piles of chipped vinyl and demanded to be listened to. Beat In Liverpool, a live recording put together by a German magazine, which claims – if my German is still up to scratch – to feature two of Liverpool’s “particularly popular groups”, The Clayton Squares and The Hideaways. Admittedly it’s not great, but through the warm crackle and pop of the records you can hear the band barrelling through some classics as a boisterous Cavern crowd cheers them on. The idea was to capture a moment in time, a cut that could stand as a record for future generations, and in this they succeeded. The twelve minutes or so of audio here aren’t gonna change the world; their value, to me at least, lies in the preservation of a set of feelings that give a backstory, something that it would take a thousand books to tell.
For me, the beauty of records is that they’re chunky entities that can be passed on and shared, and in to which people’s memories can seep, alongside the dust and dirt accumulated over the years. In many ways this makes them richer things than when they were first pressed or bought, showing that they’ve played a part (however small) in someone’s life: physical things that have traversed the trials and tribulations of the world in a way that an mp3 (or a WAV, if you’re lucky) never can. If those grooves could talk, eh.
What will our legacy be, from our pixelated, digitised age? What stories will future generations be able to glean from our iTunes libraries and Spotify playlists that say something about us? I don’t know about you, but I think the prospect of my kids one day leafing through my own record collection – the hits and the guilty pleasures alike – and discovering some half-forgotten tales along the way, is quite reassuring. There’s an art to assembling a good record collection; in essence it’s storytelling in another way.
That’s why I’ll be queuing up outside Probe on Record Store Day on 19th April, to make sure that I add some limited edition chapters to my own story. What story are you going to tell?