More is not necessarily better

I decided to include the Wild Cherry album cover for a couple of reasons. One, it was a pretty sexy, eye-catching cover in its day, and two, it represents something to me. I was sixteen years old when this album came out, and I wanted it. I really wanted it. Since the year was 1976, I did what kids did back then – odd jobs, like mowing a neighbor’s yard, or washing their car until I had the $5.99 I needed to run out to Yard Birds and (finally!) grab the album.
I don’t mean to say that life was hard in the 70s, because it wasn’t. Contrary to the myth, we didn’t walk five miles to school barefoot in the snow. I rode with Mrs. Anderson and Bus #9, unless I smarted off too much, in which case I might have had to walk for a few days.
No, I mention this because it speaks directly to how inaccessible music was at that time. I didn’t know for sure if I wanted the whole album. I mostly just wanted Play That Funky Music. But, if I wanted to hear that song when I wanted to hear it, not when the radio wanted to play it, I had one choice: go out and buy the album.
Today, if a sixteen year old kid wants to hear whatever the 2017 version of Play That Funky Music is (I hesitate to think what song that might be) they have a lot of options. I suppose they could still buy the CD, but I doubt they would. Instead, they would go to YouTube or Spotify and listen to it as many times as they want. Then, if they still liked it, they could download it from iTunes or the equivalent for .99. Ultimately, they’d probably load it onto their phone that already has three or four thousand songs on it competing for their attention.
And… that’s the key difference to me, because even though I fanatically loved music at that same age, when I finally bought that Wild Cherry album, it brought the number of albums I owned up to about eight. Because I had access to far fewer songs, I think it’s likely that each one of those albums meant more to me. I can still recall every musical nuance from every one of those albums: The Beatles Abbey Road, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, even The Carpenter’s Close to You. 
Don’t laugh. I love The Carpenters.
I can’t help but wonder whether today’s 16 year old loves their music with the same intensity. This is not a direct comment on the quality of today’s music (a topic for another day) but on the sheer volume of the music available today. If I’d had access to 5,000 songs on my iPod as a teenager, I don’t know if those albums that I love so much would resonate with me after all these years. It feels a little like trying to take a shower by standing under Niagara Falls. It’s overkill.
So, what do you think? Does the volume and accessibility of music today detract from the passion for music?

6 comments

  1. I think that the current music-acquiring environment is a symptom of an attitude that is running rampant through our country. “I want what I want when I want it. I want it cheap and I want it now.” There IS no paying of dues. No VALUE. You say you worked until you had the money to pay for it. I daresay that album meant something to you. You remember it today. You remember the feeling of triumph in acquiring it. THAT is priceless.

    Now, I’m not a luddite by any stretch of the imagination. I like digital music as much as the next person. But that music is compressed. It doesn’t have the same sound quality that an album had. That’s not nostalgia, it’s science. Compare your album to the digital version of the same album. It’s not the same. Digital music is like an avatar of real music. If you are a music-lover, you want what you’re listening to, to come close to being in an actual concert. If you’re a music-liker, digital music is fine.

    I went into a specialty bookstore the other day and they said that CDs are on their way out. They’re going to have digital downloading stations where you bring your phone or your mp3 player or whatever in and pay to download the song/album of your choice.

    Oh, yippee.

  2. I’ve never really thought about it that way before, but you bring up very valid points to consider. I think most kids nowadays have no idea what it’s like to “do without” while saving chore money until the goal is reached. We’re such an immediate gratification society now that I think we’ve all become rather spoiled. To address your question, yes, I think songs meant more to teenagers back when assessibility was much less, and we had to set goals and work for what we got.

  3. I never really thought about it that way, but I think you have a very valid point. Many kids nowadays have no idea what it’s like going ‘without’ while saving chore money until reaching the goal. It’s all about supply and demand. Back in the day when music was less assessable to us, I think we had more passion for it because it was a more meager commodity amplified by the fact we had to set goals and work for what we got. I, too, remember saving my money to purchase a favorite 45 or a coveted complete album. Today, we’re such an immediate gratification society that I think we’re quite spoiled and aren’t as passionate about the simpler joys of life we worked hard for.

  4. I think there’s a lot of truth to this. I remember how many mailers I had to address for my dad’s motorcycle club events to earn “Wings Greatest” (575, twice …) and putting albums on Christmas and birthday wish lists. If I had a sum total of a dozen before I moved out on my own and discovered used record stores, I’d be surprised. Still, the number was certainly a modest 40 or on vinyl (with most of them still in my possession). I don’t listen to music the same way now that it’s a matter of being able to buy only one song if that’s all I like.

  5. I remember very well the amount of time I spent addressing event flyers for my dad’s motorcycle club events in order to earn “Wings Greatest,” and putting albums on Christmas and birthday wish lists. I suspect that even now my collection on vinyl (which is in a closet) is fewer than 50 albums, and most of those were by David Bowie (the majority of which came from used record stores). CDs becoming less expensive, and now iTunes, have definitely changed my buying habits.

  6. I don’t know if it detracts from the passion for music. It continually amazes me how passionate and rabid people are about music and what they like and why. I am a child of the 70’s. I love anything 70’s, especially disco. I too LOVE The Carpenters. I found a radio station on I Heart Music out of Detroit and all they play is 70’s easy listening, disco etc. I’ve heard a lot of songs on there that I can’t hear anywhere else (John Denver comes to mind). I don’t care for today’s music much and I am not a fan of any kind of rap or hip hop. That’s just me. I am eternally grateful that I can still find music I like in a lot of different places.

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