I remember it like it was yesterday. It was around this time of year and I was a callow 17 year old visiting Glasgow to stay with my big sister. We were round at her friend’s house and we were doing what people did in those days…playing records. ‘Have you heard of Jackson Browne?’ I was asked. Before I could bluff my way round the answer (I’d not) he was pulling the vinyl out of the inner sleeve of ‘For Everyman’ and telling me the story of how Jackson had written this one about his girlfriend getting pregnant. By the time he’d ‘hit an unemployed actor’ I was hooked.
There were so many moments like this: lurking in record shops to find out what the hell was playing because…well you’d just fallen in love, gazing at the turntable and getting dizzy as the record rotated and you tried to decipher the label copy and the obscure gems played on the intro tape before a gig. Oh that we could have Shazzamed.
This coming Saturday is National Album Day and right here we are standing up already. We are saluting the beautiful intervals of twenty odd minutes in which we can experience joy, tears, hope and exhilaration all from the correct sequencing of some (already) great songs. But we also recognise that even the mediocre can be lifted by the right placing on an elpee. We’ll recognise the gems to be found which no one, who didn’t own the album, could ever know about by only listening to the radio. An album was like getting to wander backstage during the interval. It told you, not just what you were expected to know but let you see what they’d been thinking about in the first place. Anyone who loved the long-player at that time held up The Beatles White album as a genre defining piece of work. One thing people probably don’t understand today is that the classic singles people associate with The Beatles weren’t even on their albums, they were recorded to be singles and remained ‘off the record,’ as it were.
The album is alive and may have moved from its status from ‘life support’ but the direction of travel still leaves its status as ‘critical.’ I console myself in a memory of driving round my home town in the seventies when my father used to point to the Bingo halls which populated the city. ‘All these were cinemas’ he would tell me. Interestingly the Bingo halls have almost disappeared and the cinemas have, against considerable odds, risen Lazarus-like to become even more sophisticated palaces of pleasure.
It strikes me that no one wanted to lose the magical experience of watching films together in the dark. So I take heart that the joy so many of us received can’t simply be a thing of the past. Why would we collectively let such a rich tradition disappear into the noise of the static?
On this Tuesday’s Another Country we are going to celebrate the album by playing some Deep Cuts. The surprising track ten, the classic that never was the lead single and the gem from an album of supposed left-overs. Listen out for The Byrds, The McGarrigle Sisters, Willie Nelson, Gillian Welch, Richmond Fontaine and American Music Club. It’s two hours of Country, Americana album-only songs celebrating music that plays at thirty three and one third revolutions per minute. We start at five past nine this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.