When I was younger I would rush home with a new 45 and play the B-side first. I was pretty sure there was something wrong with me, but that B-side… that was new. It was fresh. It was something I had never heard before. It was mysterious and I had to – I absolutely had to – discover it. It was the mystery and the discovery that drove me to listen to everything I could turn an ear to.
Once a week we would visit the the city where I would race from record store to record store and headset to headset, ears perked up, like a horse listening for the jingle of his bit and bridle. I would listen to the newest singles on the old record players and tape players – B-side first. Always B-side first. My mom once pointed out that the rest of the kids were playing on the mechanical bull. I’m pretty sure she thought I was odd, but wasn’t worried because I was spending my allowance on music and not injecting heroin into my eyeballs like all the other kids she saw on the news.
When the record store opened in my home town I was thrilled. It was on the other side of town though. It was an hour walk, up hill, both ways, in the winter, in August… year round. If you live in Calgary you’ve seen snow in August and beach weather in December. Going to the Record store after school on Thursdays was always a challenge. Listening to the B-side was also a challenge. They didn’t have any listening stations. So I got job so I could afford to pay for a Walkman. The job? At the record store of course. I told the boss I would work for one dollar an hour. She gave me five times that, because she had to. I’m pretty sure she thought I was a freak, but I was the only one who scored 100% on her music test and under 18 meant she could pay an even more minimal minimum wage. It took me 3 months to afford my $199 Walkman, not because of the low wages, but because I spent more than half my pay on new music. Oh wow, did I spend money.
And I didn’t just buy things off the shelf, oh no. As soon as I discovered that I could “Special Order” things from Europe and Japan that $12 tape turned into a $24 limited edition or a $32 collectable or $100 on a box set. Oh, the box sets… fuck.
The radio I had was a clock radio with a headphone jack that I got for Christmas in 1986. The antenna was the ground wire and it got reception like no other radio I have ever owned in my life. I could regularly listen to the local University radio station and on cloudy nights I could tune in to radio stations as far as Seattle. And if you don’t know what was playing on alternative radio in 1988… I am so sad for you. My gods, the music! I used to race home when the clouds rolled in just so I could tune in, and tune in I would, most nights until 3, 4 sometimes 5 in the morning listening and recording everything I had never heard before. It was so amazing. You probably don’t even know, unless you’re a music mutant like me.
I mean, all the greatest grunge bands – ever, really- were on the radio (Nirvana, Gin Blossoms, etc…). The greatest post-punk bands were there, doing their thing too (Fugazi was new, Jane’s Addiction was new, REM just broke and the Pixies were everywhere). Some of the greatest music you could ever hope to hear was new and on the air, begging to be discovered. Some of my favourite bands of all time were either brand spanking new or new to me. The entire history and conversation that is Music was moving and it’s that conversation that I was listening to.
Then someone asked me if I could bring my music collection to a party and play some music. And you better believe that I did. And you can believe how much everyone at that party absolutely hated everything I played.
“Yeah, but do you have any Metallica?”
“What the fuck is this? Can’t you just play Def Leppard? or Bon Jovi?”
“sure….” I said, “I have some Def Leppard and Bon Jovi here”. And I would play Def Leppard’s Switch 6 to 9, an instrumental with 2 movements that totally kicked ass. And I would play the flip side for the Bon Jovi stuff, but not the US flip, oh no, I had to play “Breakout” off the “Special Order” single from the UK.
To sum it up, I was the worst house party DJ ever. Though I’m pretty sure nobody at that party or my old home town have ever even heard “Breakout” as a single on vinyl before or since. Hell, I’ll bet only my sister has heard that song in the last 20 years and she spent hundreds of dollars to see Bon Jovi play live just a month ago. I’m pretty sure they didn’t play Breakout or Love Lies or the A-side, Runaway that night. Too many people want to hear the same old shit over and over again and I just, don’t, get, that.
I’m sitting here listening to one of the greatest bands I’ve never heard before and every track that comes on makes the hair on my arm stand on end and I get a little shiver. That feeling will evaporate with 2, 3 or 12 listens. There are maybe 10 songs in the whole world that still do that for me today. Maybe.
And the internet is my new needle, my new bong, my hit, my source, my dealer. A random playlist on Grooveshark, lastFM or Rdio… How can you not be listening to random, B-sides 24/7? Screw sleep!
Come check out my playlists on Grooveshark. I would like to check out yours too. Thanks for reading.