The Great R.E.M. CD Hunt (Part 1)
As with many bad ideas, this one started in a pub. History is littered with Bad Ideas That Started In Pubs. The Pet Rock was an idea that began in a pub, naturally. You’d have to be pretty pie-eyed to think that was a sensible business idea, even if it did turn out pretty well.
Quidditch was reportedly invented in the pub when JK Rowling was drowning her sorrows after arguing with a boyfriend. She pictured him being knocked off a broomstick with a bludger, and the world’s most mystifying sport (after cricket, if my wife is on the judging panel) was born.
And the Iron Man Triathlon was concocted in Hawaii in 1977, after John Collins and Judy Collins presumably had a few too many Tom Collins and calculated if they did the 2.4-mile Waikiki Rough Water Swim followed by the 115-mile Round the Island bike race, they would be near the start line of the Honolulu Marathon. And wouldn’t that be fun?
Er, no. Obviously not.
Honestly… Some people shouldn’t be allowed near alcohol.
I was beginning to realise that one of those people might be me, when I found myself in the unlikely position of darting constantly in and out of Charity Shops looking for R.E.M. CDs. It turns out it’s quite an annoying habit when you are in company. There are few more grating habits than charity shop visiting, it seems.
The irritation stems, I understand, from when your loved one thinks they are strolling down the high street with you, only to find they have been walking on their own for the last quarter of an hour, and after ten vexed minutes of looking around, considering filing a missing persons report, and wondering which picture they should use of you on those “Missing Persons” adverts on the side of bottles of milk that you see in Hollywood films, they see you popping blithely out of The British Heart Foundation shop muttering something about how many copies of Dido’s Life For Rent are cluttering up the place.
Apparently it’s also *insensitive* when they are trying on a particularly lovely dress in the changing room of a nice boutique-y shop and they swish back the curtain wearing said dress to ask your thoughts on how lovely the material is, only to find you are next door talking to some old dear manning the Cats Protection League counter and scrabbling around for change.
I don’t even like CDs. Never have done, with their irritating clickety-clacking of jewel cases that shatter upon impact with human skin, a feature entirely in keeping with their mythical indestructibility.
Have you ever spread jam on a CD? No. me neither. And yet *this* was the big selling point when the introduction of the CD was announced on TV in the seventies, as if everyone was going around spilling marmalade over records whilst tucking into the breakfast egg and toast. You could spread jam on CDs and they would still play, we were told.
Or were we? If you ask people of a certain age in the U.K. plenty will swear blind that they remember just a few things from their childhood vividly, including perhaps where they were when Kennedy was shot, the dry summer of ’76, Live Aid, and the moment when Judith Hanna spread strawberry jam on a Bee Gees CD, in an attempt, presumably, to make it less sugary.
I remember it well. At least I thought I did.
Imagine my surprise when I learned it is an urban myth. It’s as real as that story about Marc Almond. Or, as this is 2017 and we’re all very angry with each other, it’s FAKE NEWS.
Here’s The Tomorrow’s World introduction, where the presenter actually scrapes the CD with a stone…
And here’s the clip we are mis-remembering where a presenter spreads honey and spills coffee over a CD.
I digress. Where was I? CDs..bad ideas in pubs…ah, yes, I remember now. Back to the story.
A year ago now, I was chatting with a couple of pals. Andy is a casual music fan who has embraced Spotify and the wireless system Sonos. Chris, on the other hand, still likes buying CDs. We were discussing the general flaws around CDs and the fact that CDs have now never been cheaper. For items that used to fetch £15.99 or more in the shops in 1990, cash converting website Music Magpie will now offer you the princely sum of thirty English pence – just 2% of it’s original value.
The only items to have fallen more dramatically in value than CDs since the nineties are canvases of original Rolf Harris artwork and Jim’ll Fix It medals.
I mentioned I wanted to start building a collection of R.E.M. albums on vinyl.
“What’s the point of buying all those albums on vinyl when they’re all on Spotify?” asked Spotify Andy, as always genuinely bewildered at the fuss I make about vinyl. “I know you like playing the records but let’s be honest, they’re a real pain in the arse…” he added.
“I like to have a physical copy of it” countered CD-buying Chris.
“It’s just so….pointless…” retorted Andy, rolling his eyes.
“Until your wifi goes down” replied Chris smugly. Turning to me, Chris asked in all seriousness “Why don’t you just buy R.E.M. albums on CD?”
“Why would I, when I can buy records?” I asked.
“Because CDs are so cheap” he answered. “Vinyl is really expensive. It’s become so popular, prices are going up – £20 or more for albums. If you like the music and want a physical copy with the liner notes and all that, you should be going around charity shops buying the CDs for a pound. I bet you could buy the whole of R.E.M.’s back catalogue for less than twenty quid now. The same albums on vinyl will probably set you back two hundred quid”
Well. He had a point.
And beneath it all there’s a challenge.
Is it true?
Are we wasting our time on records when the real value is in the CDs? We’ve been here before haven’t we, with vinyl? Everyone sold their record collections in the nineties. We couldn’t give them away… Are we falling into the same trap?
To find out, I have spent a fair bit of time trying to buy the back catalogue of R.E.M. on vinyl and CD.
Did I succeed? What did I pay?
Are CDs a tiny fraction of the cost of vinyl?
What’s the point of CDs?
Did all the jewel cases shatter at the slightest touch?
And would I be better off just listening on Spotify?
I’ll tell you next time…