There was a time when I found the prospect of a free CD almost thrilling (remember CDs? They were like these silver mug coaster kind of things that were wider than your phone but could only store like 14 tracks at most – which is probably why they never really took off as a business model).
During an enforced gap year, I found myself working at the WH Smiths depot in Gloucester where it was my solemn duty to dispose of last month’s and last week’s unsold magazines.
Your average mag went straight in the recycling but the magazines that proved of particular interest to gentlemen with a passion for gynaecology would need to be collected together and boxed up separately. I assume these were then distributed along railway sidings and in park bushes for 14 year old boys to discover and take back to keep under their mattresses.
My main job, though, was to deal with the magazines that came with a free gift whose cost had in no way been factored into the RRP on the front cover. Obviously.
Comics and children’s magazines may have come with bits of plastic tat, gardening magazine came with free seeds and the glossy women’s magazines came complete with an air of smugness that made their readers feel strangely inadequate.
All the free stuff was duly ripped from the obsolete paper publication and thrown in the bin. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES was anyone allowed to keep any of the stuff for themselves. Which made the temptation to pocket to CDs on the cover of Uncut and the NME all the more tempting.
I didn’t take them. Not a single one. Because I’m a good boy. Too good a boy. While I wasn’t taking any of those CDs, plenty of my colleagues around me were happily munching on the free Love Heart sweets that had come with copies of some teeny-bopper mag last month.
I am and always was such a goody-two-shoes.
On reflection, I’m not sure I missed much. When I get (and pay for) a music magazine these days I rarely listen to the accompanying CD.
But there have been a couple of exceptions when freebies have knocked my socks off.
One example was in the wake of John Peel’s death when Uncut curated a CD of stuff as heard on – and celebrated by – the much-celebrated DJ’s Radio 1 show. Unlike the £14 a pop CDs that did the rounds in HMV and the like at the time (all Blur, Pulp and T-Rex which, though lauded by the legend, didn’t exactly represent Peel’s reputation for representing unheard – and often unlistenable – music), the Uncut offering provided a refreshing, more accurate flavour of what he was about.
The track listing was as follows:
Half Man Half Biscuit – ‘Trumpton Riots’
Camper Van Beethoven – ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’
Spizzenergi – ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’
The Mighty Wah! – ‘Remember’
The Sugarcubes – ‘Birthday’
The Woodentops – ‘Well Well Well’
Billy Bragg – ‘The Saturday Boy’
The Field Mice – ‘Sensitive’
The Bhundu Boys – ‘Foolish Harp/Waerera’
Pavement – ‘Gold Soundz’
Felt (feat. Elizabeth Fraser) – ‘Primitive Painters’
The House of Love – ‘Destroy the Heart’
The Wedding Present – ‘Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft’
Robert Wyatt – ‘Shipbuilding’
The Fall – ‘Eat Y’Self Fitter’
And it finished off with the man himself rambling on about The Smiths.
Rather stupidly, I allowed that CD to go the way of all the other freebies that were clogging up space in the shed and it was last seen (or the box it was in was last seen) being flung into the household waste skip of the Cuxton tip.
But what of the 2010 entry in this catalogue of tracks of my years?
Ah, that would be Cherry Ghost’s ‘We Sleep on Stones’ from their album Beneath this Burning Shoreline which came to my ears courtesy of a Word magazine freebie (now they were CDs worth listening to).
I’m still yet to work out exactly what the song’s about – other than a grizzled kind of yearning for…something or other, but it sounds immense, packing a massive punch.
Listen to it. Listen to it now. Just stop what you’re doing right now and listen to it. Now.