To the current generation of pop-music consumers, Record Store Day, which is tomorrow, might seem as relevant as Buggy Whip Day. But once upon a time, boys and girls, people purchased their music in an actual store — you would pay the owner greenbacks and walk out with either a CD, or a cassette, or an album. These were physical objects that could be held in your hands. The covers on the ancient albums were sometimes art in themselves, and the liner notes could be perused for hours and hours.
Record stores themselves each had their own singular vibe, and the best ones would let you listen to any album in the store before purchase. If you knew the secret handshake, the guy in the back might even have pointed you to some quality bootlegs from the latest Metallica concert.
This must seem very antiquated, and rather quaint, but there was something about walking out of a record store with the music in your hand. The unwrapping of the packaging made the music even more of a gift, and the run or drive home was fueled by an urgency to cue it up in your room and play it from beginning to end… over, and over, and over.
The first album — it was a cassette — I purchased with my own money was Billy Joel’s The Bridge. And though it wasn’t Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or the Beatles’ White Album, or some other classic that would make this story a bit more momentous, I distinctly remember the thrill of cradling it in my hands, anticipating how “Running on Ice” and nine other songs would change my life forever.
I have an iPod now, just like you, and there’s no denying the convenience of purchasing a song or album from your computer and listening to it on your earbuds 90 seconds later. But I still seek out the rare quirky record store, shuffle through the stacks for something special, something my iTunes Genius forgot to suggest. Even if I walk out empty-handed, it’s always a half hour or so well spent. Just for kicks, here’s a semi-NSFW clip from High Fidelity that reminds me of all the great hours I spent in Jack’s Music Shop in Red Bank, N.J., and The Soundgarden store in Fells Point, Baltimore.
Do you remember your first real music purchase? Is there still a local record store near you clinging to life? Will you pick up a new album tomorrow to celebrate Record Store Day?