The Compact Disc and me

I had these shiny objects, and nothing on which to play them.

One of my first CDs

While listening to the Coverville podcast about legendary music producer Phil Ramone, who died a while back – I wrote about him, briefly – host Brian Ibbott noted that Ramone produced the first album, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, “to be commercially released on CD when it went on sale in Japan” in the fall of 1978.

This got me thinking about my love/hate relationship with compact discs. I had 1200 LPs in the early 1980s, and I was quite resistant to this new technology. The music industry was working hard to get consumers to embrace the CD.

The Police’s Synchronicity album had an extra song, Murder by Numbers; ditto, Peter Gabriel’s So with This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds). But I had the LPs and wasn’t going to buy the music again. More odd was the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, which had extended versions of some of the songs; I finally DID buy that on CD this century.

The first four CDs I owned were given to me by my friend Broome in 1987; they were the first four British Beatles albums, which, not incidentally, did NOT have extra material, and ran about 35 minutes each. There was much talk at the time about how they SHOULD put extra material on them, the singles of that period, just because the CD had a capacity of more than twice that. Heck, I wouldn’t have objected to “From Me to You” added to an early compilation. But it was not to be; I mean, they ARE the Beatles and people were going to buy them.

So now I had these shiny objects, and nothing on which to play them, and Broome knew that. Reluctantly, I bought a simple CD player. But I couldn’t justify having the hardware without more software, so I went out and spent $50 on CDs. I didn’t want to buy what I already owned, so I bought greatest hits by Billy Joel (the 2-disc set) and Elton John. I also got Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms and some others.

Eventually, I had lots of CDs, some fortunately provided to me gratis, and a five-CD player, which became my music player of choice, before it broke down; I tried to get it repaired, unsuccessfully.

One of the things I’ve realized is that because the artist, or the record company, CAN put more music on a CD, they DO. And some 14-song, 70-minute albums are just TOO LONG. It’s even more true on rereleases. I was listening to Who’s Next one morning – my family was obviously away – and I LOVE that album, but the rest of the “Lighthouse” project, save for “Pure and Easy” I could have done without. Lots of albums have alternative versions, which are historically interesting but do not enhance the listening enjoyment of the album; the second The Band album, which I also love, falls in that category.

Still, the library file cabinet, which I bought when the local branch was renovating a few seasons ago, was a cool place to store them, I thought, although, even getting a few more occasionally means a laborious shifting around. The Wife, though, decided that we needed furniture to store them in, or maybe she didn’t think having a file cabinet in the hallway was as much fun as I do, or, did. But the two pieces of furniture hold no more music. I made it clear we were doing this, not out of some need of mine but of hers. When I first had LPs, I used orange crates.

I’m likely to keep the discs I have, if only because I LOVE reading the liner notes. New acquisitions, though, will be few and far between.