Yesterday evening, back in Nottingham and hence re-united with my turntable, I started working my way (in chronological order, obviously) through the boxed set of Clash singles which my darling sister gave me for Christmas.
I tried combining this with some simultaneous ironing, but had forgotten how short singles are. Especially early Clash singles. You don’t get this problem with iTunes playlists, do you? Nevertheless, I did enjoy re-acquainting myself with the rituals of sleeves, lids and needles, which lent a strange sense of significance to each single I played.
(Word to the lapsed vinylist: remember, you should always put the previous single back in its sleeve before placing the needle on the next single, or else your attention will be disrespectfully divided. Also, it’s OK to leave the turntable lid up for single track 7-inch sides, as the accumulated dust levels will be negligible, and you’ll only make a distracting clunking noise through the speakers, however softly you close the lid.)
Yes, significance. Something about the physical act of choosing each successive piece of music leaves you with the feeling that you “own” your listening experience, on an altogether more direct, personal level. Because you’ve put the work in, you are more minded to recoup your investment by paying closer attention to what’s playing.
And then there’s that lovely, warm, rich, bottomlessly muddy analogue sound, with its irreducible curves. Just as you cannot express Pi in a finite set of decimals, so you cannot compress the infinity of musical sound into a series of rigid binaries – at least, not without excising a crucial component of its essential mystery. With analogue sound, no matter how often you listen to a piece of music, you will never quite hear all of it – and so you will keep returning. With digital music (and I’m with Neil Young on this one), if you play it once then, somehow, you’ve heard it all.
However, none of this stopped me from momentarily pausing over the fading notes of “Jail Guitar Doors”: a B-side of no great distinction, which I was in a hurry to dispense with as “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” was next in line. As my impatient hand reached down to lift the needle, a little voice inside cried caution.
“No, don’t do that. Let it play out in full, or else you’ll screw up the Play Count.”
How quickly we adapt.