When I was at university in Newcastle — during that era both before and after vinyl was cool — many hours were whittled away in second hand stores digging through crates of old records, pulling out classics such as Rumours, Tapestry, Blue, various Kinks records, that Beach Boys best of that was secretly just Pet Sounds, and all the other rich history of popular music that was ours for the taking. I can’t recall paying more than $3 or $4 for a record back then, which meant that risks could and would be regularly taken. Despite the old adage, albums were routinely judged by their covers, which can have varying results: there is — after all — a fine line between the artwork to a psychedelic masterpiece and that of a bloated prog album about robots or Jesus.
The attraction was the link to the past, the chance of stumbling upon an unknown classic, and the cheap nature of these records. The artwork was big and beautiful, the liner notes corporate and clunky, and the crackling of the record, the sudden skipping and physical nature of it appealed. People were tossing out old collections as parents died and downsized, or as collections were replaced with CDs – which all meant there was a surplus of records. They weren’t cool, they were a burden. They were taking up space in corners of lounge rooms better utilised by a table and a lamp.
As CDs were replaced by downloads then with streaming, the tangible nature of vinyl made it popular with a new generation, while luring back those elder fans who figure if they are still having to pay for music, they may as well get a physical emblem of this. Plus, it’s romantic, it sounds more 3D and ‘in the room’ (hard to explain), the artwork looks lovely the bigger it is, and new vinyl releases often contain a download code anyway.
What happened to vinyl back when I was at uni is happening now with CDs. Everyone is getting rid of their collections, which they built over decades, at $30 a piece, in favour of Spotify, iTunes and the endless deep catalogue such services provide. It makes sense: CDs are bulky, take up a lot of room, and minimalism is the fashionable thing right now. It’s no accident that Marie Kondo bullshit sold in the millions, despite basically being able to be summarised as: get rid of the shit you don’t use anymore. (The irony of her book cluttering millions of households around the world is too delicious to go into here.)
The upshot of all this decluttering is that second hand stores now have boxes upon boxes of discarded CDs which average around $1-$2 each, and these objects have the potential to spark joy in numerous music fans looking to bolster their collections and fill in gaps they couldn’t afford to spend $30 on a decade ago, or younger music fans who feel CDs hold the same link to the past that I once felt vinyl did. You can now build a collection of 100 classic albums for under $200 (plus $30 for a CD player), plus — as you no doubt have discovered — Spotify has gaps, most notably entire scenes of EPs released in the ’90s on indie labels around Australia.
CDs will swing back into fashion as enough time passes and generations who have never held a disc start to age into discerning, curious music fans.
Now is the time to stock up, to discover weird albums you always liked the artwork to, or to re-purchase the collection you hastily tossed two share-houses ago after reading that book.
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CDs are a gateway to so much un-discovered music, and they also come with lyrics, credits, and silly photos with that fish-eye lens look.
Embrace the life-changing magic of tangible music.