Sweets From a Stranger

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Today is Record Store Day, an international day for celebrating independent record stores and for celebrating the humble vinyl record. Recent years have seen the decline of music sales at record shops all over the world, and independent record stores have felt this decline most of all. The rise of illegal downloading has been cited as the principle reason why the quantity of physical sales of music has decreased in recent years. Yesterday, the four founders of The Pirate Bay, a site that facilitates the sharing of music and other types of files, were sentenced to a year in prison as well as a fine of a few million euro for allowing their site to aid the illegal downloading of music and films. Personally, I think that there are other factors involved. These include competition from other forms of media, the high cost of cds, and the legal availability of music in cheaper forms online. Music companies were quick to take advantage of music fans when cds first came on the market, but the progress of digital technology has favoured the fans over the industry. Unfortunately, mp3s are an awful lot less collectible than records or even cds

I first got into music in the pre-digital world of the late eighties when vinyl’s only competition was from the even more humble cassette tape. Music was in no way as ubiquitous then as it is now. I grew up in a little village in the days before the internet, satellite TV, compact discs and mp3s. The stuff I heard on either of the two radio stations didn’t do anything to spark any musical interest in me, either. Rather, it was television that first piqued my interest in music, in particular music videos. And I’m not talking about MTV here, but the two Irish channels that were my only window onto some fantastic place beyond the Galtee mountains

Soon, I graduated to listening to tapes, LPs and CDs. I would buy an album by a particular band or singer and this would lead to a domino effect wherby I’d buy all of their albums. I travelled around the country visiting record shops and even got a job in the record department of an Irish retail chain in the more cosmopolitan city of Limerick. I actually enjoyed getting up and going to work. It wasn’t too busy and I got paid for listening to music all day and chatting to customers about music. I was able to play new albums as they were released and to check out older ones that I’d been reading about. I still lived in the village of Galbally where I spent a ridiculous amount of time listening to music. It was harder to find like-minded villagers who shared my musical interests, but there was a girl who worked in the grocery shop who was into Elvis Costello. Whenever I met her she would babble on and on about music; she was really cool for cats. One day, she asked me if I had heard of an English band called Squeeze. I had a few LPs, tapes and a cd of East Side Story by the group. I popped them in a plastic carrier bag and dropped them into the shop

When I got them back a few weeks later they were all intact and there was even a little something extra inside. Once I took everything out of the bag I noticed that there were a few chunks of food lodged in the bottom. On further inspection it turned out to be the remnants of a cake of some kind. I found out that the bag had been used to transport some sweet cake while it had been away. The cake even left a particular aroma on the Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti LP for a while after, which made me wonder about where these sweets from a stranger had come from

I was reminded of all this when I picked up a Squeeze cd yesterday. It wasn’t in an independently-owned record shop, but the bargain bin of a chain store. I hadn’t rooted through a bargain bin in ages and, to be frank, I didn’t expect to find anything of any worth in it. It wasn’t too busy at the time, so there wasn’t too much argy-bargy going on and I was able to root around to my heart’s content. As I piled cd boxes and dvd cases on top of each other I began to find some albums by acts I liked as well as ones that I had been meaning to check out. After about ten or fifteen minutes I had a nice stack of nine albums, four of them doubles. And all for the price of less than two new albums! One of those doubles was The Complete BBC Sessions by Squeeze for only €4. It contains over two dozen tracks that the lads performed live on BBC radio from 1977 to 1994

Here is a medley of two songs from a 1992 Live Session. Pulling Mussels From a Shell is a distant cousin of Morrissey’s Everyday Is Like Sunday as it pokes fun at the English seaside while also feeling nostalgic for it as well. Labelled With Love is a country music pastiche that actually works as a country song. It tells of an aging Englishwoman who looks back on her life from the bottom of a bottle. Both songs highlight Difford’s way with words and Tilbrook’s way with a tune and the two boys combine to wonderful effect on these versions

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)/Labelled With Love

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  1. Pingback: Slip Sliding Away: Sound Shopping in Scotland « Town Full of Losers

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