Ways I listen to music

Back in the early 70s, where my teenage son still thinks I reside, I first listened to music on my Dad’s Phillips’ radiogram. If you’re too young to know what a radiogram is, google it. You won’t believe your eyes. T. Rex Great Hits was my first album. You plonked the vinyl on the deck and you listened to one side, then the other side. That was how it was done.

And you read every word on the back cover. It wasn’t until my third album, Sparks’ Propaganda, that the joy of reading all the lyrics on the inner sleeve became apparent. (If pushed, I can still recite most of the words on Propaganda.) You heard music on the radio and then you went out and bought the album. Or your Mum and Dad bought it for you. It was a simple process but it brought me many, many hours of pleasure and was the start of a lifetime love of music.

But in 2021 things are very different, aren’t they? Now we have a multitude of ways we listen to (and purchase) music. I thought I’d list all the ways I’ve listened to music over the years:

On your hi-fi, at battle volume
This is ideal if you can get the family out of the house first. Preferably the neighbours, too. There is no music that doesn’t sound glorious at this volume, although if you’re still playing that vinyl copy of T. Rex Great Hits from 1973, the clicks and scratches may rankle. However, Metallica and Rammstein. Oh yes. The youth of today won’t even know what a hi-fi is, but that’s their problem.

On your hi-fi, but using headphones
This was my teenage years when Mum and Dad had gone to bed. Discovering Radio Caroline was a revelation. This is how I heard Rush and Blue Oyster Cult for the first time. I cannot thank those pirates enough.

In the car – always at battle volume
This is your domain. Go nuts. I would think many people of a certain age would say this is their favourite place to listen to music. Aren’t we all John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles doing the Mess Around? And how many times have we pulled into the drive or into the car park at work and sat there for 2 or 3 minutes waiting for Smoke On The Water or Hotel California to finish?

On laptop using speakers – streaming platforms yadda yadda, compressed files yadda yadda. I get in to work, I turn my laptop on, I open Spotify (other platforms are available), I click play to listen and that’s me set for the day. But always remember to buy stuff you like from Bandcamp, folks.

On laptop using headphones
As above, but for working at home. Currently playing Hong Kong Garden by Siouxsie and the Banshees while I type this. My favourite 7” single ever. Ooh, now it’s She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult. Probably my favourite 12” single. Blokes do like lists, don’t we? And playlists.

Image showing the single "Hong Kong Garden" by Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Hong Kong Garden picture sleeve

Sony Walkman
It’s impossible to convey what a game changer the Walkman was. To be able to have your own music with you at all times. Well, as many cassettes as you could carry. Which was usually just the one. But with you at all times. Cool.

Using Alexa when making dinner / doing the washing up
Only really worth it for stuff you’ve played a thousand times before. If you listen to unfamiliar stuff you keep having to stop and say ‘Alexa, what’s this track called?’ That can get tedious, especially if the microwave is going or you’re boiling the kettle and you miss what she says the first three times.

Whilst doing the hoovering
Okay, the vacuuming. This works for listening via speakers at all sorts of volumes. Obviously, if you’re listening to a bit of classical while the machine is on you won’t hear a thing, but it’s always interesting to notice which bits of the music cut through the noise. With Slayer all you can hear is Lombardo blattering his double bass drums. As a drummer, I am fine with this.

Having the music on but moving between rooms
So if it’s on in the kitchen but you pop upstairs to put your phone on charge or go out into the garden to check on Muddle the tortoise. You can still hear the music in the background and you notice things you wouldn’t necessarily notice. I found this handy for when I spent lockdown seriously getting into Genesis. I noticed Tony Banks’ splendid keyboard work more when I wasn’t focussing on Collins’ magnificent drumming.

Phil Collins sitting behind his drum kit playing for Genesis in the 1970s.
Phil Collins of Genesis – Photo courtesy of Quite Frankly Drums

Play the music quietly
This works for speakers or headphones. A lot of stuff will be hard to pick out but I found this a great way to spot under-rated Walter Becker bass lines in Steely Dan. This is a good thing. In the past it was also a great way to pick out those brilliant Michael Schenker solos when he was in UFO.

Leave Spotify on and go live your life for a couple of hours. Then come back and see what Spotify has selected for you. 90% won’t mean anything but that other 10% … that could be life-changing.

Ubiquitous. Isn’t that what they call it? The youth of today couldn’t survive without it. I’m with them on this, although I suspect I use YouTube in a slightly different way. I don’t see teenagers checking out Split Enz live from 1980 or isolated drum videos of the late great Neil Peart of Rush. Their loss.

Music channels on the telly
I can’t believe anyone really does this but I have to include it because this is how I discovered Oceansize. Flicking through the channels one day in 2004, I caught crunchy guitars and a drum pattern that intrigued me. I listened for about 45 seconds until the song finished. Catalyst by Oceansize. Meant nothing to me. I phoned up a mate who worked in a record shop. He had their first and only (at the time) album on CD. He said he’d stick one in the post. It arrived the next day. Oh my laws. I was in love. And always will be.

Image of the cover of Effloresce, the debut album by Oceansize.
Gatefold cover of Effloresce by Oceansize

So there’s a few different ways I listen to music. You almost certainly have more. Write in to Sussex Bylines and tell us. On a personal level, what I’m saying is – I listen to music all ways.


See what I did there?

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