In Defence of the Compact Disc

Kirsty Macleod 30 November 2011

Kirsty Macleod spurns Spotify and returns to a simpler time

I remember vividly the first CD I ever bought, which was, if you’re interested, “C’est la vie” by B*witched. It was 1998, denim jackets were in, and “C’est la Vie” taught me to win the hearts of boys that I was not yet interested in by using French phrases completely out of context. From then on CDs were all I wanted, and quantity was definitely more crucial than quality.

Fast forward quite a long time to 2008. I’m 20, and denim jackets are only in if you’re Jeremy Clarkson. The interweb has become a major part of daily life thanks to Facebook and YouTube, the latter of which has already gone a long way towards contributing some nails to the coffin of The Generic Record Store. And, I’ve just discovered Spotify, which will more or less design the casket, and buy sarnies for the gravediggers.

“Spotify,” I say in an awe-struck whisper. “You are the best thing to ever happen to me.” I have literally millions of songs at my fingertips. I instantly create playlists full of songs that I already own, and listen to the same things over and over again. No matter – I will never need to buy a CD again, let alone take a risk on one I might not like. You can see a review of a new release online, watch the video on YouTube and add the album to a playlist in under 5 minutes.

Musical fulfilment, right? Well, no. Call me indulgent, a disciple of the techno-era having a bit of a strop – but when I drag an album into a playlist on Spotify, it feels like just that – I am dragging it where it doesn’t want to be. I feel pangs of guilt, walk faster past HMV and Fopp. They know that I’m a cheapskate, and they are judging me through their hipster specs and asymmetrical fringes. I have cheated the music industry, and I have cheated myself.

Fast-forward again, to 2011. I am in an independent book shop with a CD collection that I walk past several times, and which I give suspicious sidelong glances. As soon as I have picked up a CD I know I’m in trouble. I have a crisp twenty, and it’s burning through my pocket. One album is propped up and facing out, with an enthusiastic handwritten note on it, the gist of which is “This album is like a golden ray of joy.” Something about my recent musical history makes me feel like I could use a golden ray of joy. I know I’m going to buy it. For the first time in years, I buy a CD.

And then something happens. I buy a little CD player in Argos called a boom box, which makes me sound like I’m trying to bring back the 80’s. So what! Maybe I am! Take that technology! I become buddyish with the staff in Fopp, and actually buy a couple of the albums I’ve had on Spotify playlists. It feels like getting married after years of living in sin. “Spotify,” I say (a little harshly given all the good times), “you are dead to me.”

Denim jacket days are over, and cassettes are finished. Let’s face it, I’m not ten anymore either, and a lot of things aren’t as exciting as they were then. But music still is. As I type, Devendra Banhart is spinning on the boombox next to me and my love of music is renewed. So do yourself a favour, if you’re reading this. Shut down the computer, and go out and buy yourself a CD. Listen to it, enjoy it, and get excited again.

Kirsty Macleod