“That’s quite a good collection isn’t it, some amazing songs on there” said my mother a few weeks ago. Walking past the shelves that house my LP collection she had pulled out one boxed set of albums and peered at its contents.
This was the set in question, a boxed pack of eight discs, dating from the days when the mighty Readers Digest empire specialised in lovingly curated themed collections, all sold in special presentation packs and designed with the aim of being something to treasure and appreciate for some considerable time. It is in marked contrast to today when the themed compilation market now consists of “100 Best Songs About Farting” 3-CD sets sold for a fiver at supermarket kiosks.
My mother was the person who had actually bought it for me, at my special request as a Christmas present in 1987, this after I’d picked up the leaflet breathlessly advertising its contents after it had been left lying on the living room table having clearly been bundled with a prize draw mailing or inserted into a Sunday supplement somewhere.
A collection of old Number One hit singles made my eyes gleam, for it was advertised in the exact week that Radio One had gone to town on the fact that China In Your Hand by T’Pau had just become the 600th Number One single. To commemorate, they announced that over the coming weeks they would make a point of airing every single one of those chart-toppers at some point during daytime programming. It is hard to imagine now that the network would contemplate drip feeding records that were some 35 years old into their programming, but back then the station was at the forefront of noting and celebrating popular music history.
I’d always had an appreciation of older hits and the songs of the days before I was born. Years of listening avidly to Jimmy Savile’s Old Record Club shows on a Sunday lunchtime and studying the history of each artist he played in the pages of British Hit Singles had helped to ensure that. But suddenly here was the chance for me to start collecting older hits for myself, a selection of the very same famous hits that Radio One was airing in full was but a polite request away. It was one of my favourite presents that year.
I tell this tale simply because I’m kind of sad that the joy of building a music collection is one that the next generation may never experience. Quite simply why should they, given that just about every piece of mainstream recorded music is now available with just one click of a mouse or one tap of a screen. Yet unless you stumble across an old song, how will you ever know of its existence? That’s part of my motivation for writing the Top 40 Annual series of books, just so for the benefit of someone, somewhere the significance of every pop hit is written down for reference and future discovery.
Meanwhile the past belongs to the 14 year old me, who thanks to the combined efforts of Radio One and Readers Digest spent the Christmas holidays 28 years ago cultivating a proper appreciation of Number One hits from 1955 through to 1985, from Adam Faith and Buddy Holly through ABBA and Dr Hook and ending up at The Police, Bucks Fizz and Jim Diamond (RIP). And I’m glad you pulled it off the shelf to remind me of this, Mum.