I still have this deluded, unshakeable notion that the CD is this glistening, expensive, awesome new format, one that is to be revered, worshipped, and treated with utmost care and respect. When I was growing up, my dad decided it’d be a better idea to put all our family’s expendable income toward a CD player (which cost the equivalent of a month’s wages at the time) than to put the heating on in the winter (‘put on another jumper’), and this thing, this expensive, beautiful thing, a Denon separate that was hooked into the 1960s amplifier and speakers along with the turntable and cassette deck, had me awestruck as much as if it were a Faberge Egg (not that I knew what on earth they were back in 1990). For years, we had but two CDs: Queen’s Greatest Hits, and Queen’s Greatest Hits 2, and only my dad was allowed to touch them, very, very gently around the edges, then transported from jewel case to loading tray as slowly and carefully as if unexploded bombs. I was allowed to copy the CDs onto cassette to listen to on the portable player in my bedroom, and I was allowed to hold the case and read the liner notes, but the discs themselves were off limits to my careless, child’s hands, and they sat next to the Denon unit, resplendent and forbidding.
28 years later, and these CDs are in my spare bedroom, next to Queen albums A Night at The Opera, and Innuendo, in the midst of 600 other discs, which have been arranged on a CD-case-high shelf system that snakes across the length of one side of the room, over the door, and across another. Additional shelves and supports are ready in the garage to continue the system across a third wall as and when necessary, and that time is drawing near (much to my long-suffering wife’s frustration). I would be exaggerating if I said that I have a memory for every single one of these CDs, but for at least half of them I could certainly give a very lengthy and tedious account about where I bought them, how old I was, who I was dating at the time (in most cases, the answer is ‘no-one: grumble, mumble, teenage angst’), what my first reaction was when I first put them on, and how I bonded with them over time. Many of them evoke memories as vivid as any photograph or home video, and just by holding them again, I am transported back to another place and time. Never have I been able to have such reactions to the songs in my iTunes library or Spotify account, or even to my vinyl or cassette collections. For me, my CDs are as much a part of my life as my pessimism or receding hairline (and infinitely more pleasurable).
In the near three decades since the Fosbraeys got that Denon CD player (now in my loft, incidentally, gathering guilt-laden dust), society has moved from CDs being a precious, formidable format, to being almost worthless. A visit to any boot fair or jumble sale will see these shiny metal discs on sale for mere pennies (20p for Manic Street Preachers’ Everything Must Go, anyone? 50p for Bjork’s Debut?), and many are stacked high, without their cases, scratched and forlorn, exposed to the elements and the passing of time (excuse my lapse into romantic poetry, but the sight of caseless CDs is as poignant to me as any rose or daffodil). The value of the compact disc has now plummeted to the extent where a number of my favourite albums are available to buy in pound shops (seriously: Blur’s Parklife; Pulp’s Different Class; REM’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi; The Streets’ Original Pirate Material; Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ Come Find Yourself, and on and on).
Because I still have this outdated notion that CDs are still valuable, and because it only seems like yesterday when walking into HMV or Woolworths and buying an album was a quasi-religious experience, over the last few years, I have been stockpiling these dirt-cheap offerings, buying them, perhaps listening to them once, then stashing them in the CD snake in the spare room. Most of these purchases have been from artists I love whose back catalogues I have yet to complete, but others have been slightly more unusual selections, purchased simply because they were too cheap not to. Walking out of a shop with an armful of albums and my bank balance less than a tenner worse off feels like I’ve just negotiated the greatest business deal of all time, and it’s all I can do to stop myself buying a briefcase, Filofax, and red braces to befit the scene.
The outcome of this period of hoarding, however, is that I’ve accumulated about 50 albums that I’ve barely even listened to, and, if I’m honest with myself, that’s almost as disrespectful to my beloved CDs as selling them so cheap in the first place.
Enter the recent ‘national album day’, and a much-needed kick up the backside which will see me right these dreadful wrongs. Over the coming months, I will take these CDs down from their jewel-case mausoleums and listen to each and every one of them. And properly, too: not just as muzak in the car on my commute to work, or in the background as I answer emails. To prove it, more to myself than anyone else, I will review them here, on Splendid Fred Magazine’s beautiful website.
Celebrate the CD format with me, mourn its death, or simply watch a hapless man try to justify to his wife why we can barely open the door to the spare room. Just don’t try and tell me that there’s an album out there that isn’t worth 20p (except, perhaps, Robbie Williams’ Rudebox; that one can sit outside at the boot fair and let nature work its magic).