Remembering Life Before iTunes

Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 6.15.43 PMToday is the 10th Anniversary of iTunes. What started as a way to legally download music has morphed into a digital giant. On April 28, 2003, there were 200,000 songs available to download for 99¢ each. Today the numbers are mind-numbing (over 20 billion songs sold), and of course the available downloads include not only music, but also apps, movies, books, music videos, and so much more.

What was life like before iTunes? I’m sure there are some youngsters of today who can’t even imagine a world without music-on-demand.

Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 4.01.48 PMI am old enough to remember a stack of 45’s on a record player.
You’d grab a pile of records, order them as you’d like to hear them (the original playlist? 🙂 ) and then load them on the spindle. Each record would play, and then another would drop, and so on. The spindle, however, was a lot smaller than the opening on those 45’s, so we needed an adapter. I’m guessing that if we showed one of these gadgets to random people on the street, there would be many many folks (especially those under a certain age) who would have absolutely no idea what this plastic gizmo is used for.

Photo Skitch Document-17We graduated from 45’s to LPs (a long playing record). As a teenager in the 60’s, I gathered quite a large collection of these LP albums. That collection still sits in my basement… full of the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, the Four Seasons, the Who, the Doors, Peter Paul and Mary, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas… so much music! And so clearly “then”. I wonder how the teenagers of today will hold on to their music memories? Certainly this boatload of albums is a physical reminder for me. Will the digital collection be as powerful?

photo credit: NPR

photo credit: NPR

After LPs the big innovation was the 8 track tape. These were huge clunky plastic cartridges with the new ability to choose a song to hear, rather than having to listen to all of them in order (as you did on an LP). However, a frequent complaint was that as you listened to one song, you could faintly hear another in the background. And, of course, you had to buy the whole album. And it would jam up. And the cases would crack. In general, 8 tracks were not the best way to do music. However, for teenagers they were great since you could have an 8 track player installed in your car and listen to your music as you drove. That gave it a “wow” factor.

Photo Skitch Document-19Gradually the compact cassette took over. I remember the thrill of being able to bring my “own” music into the car with me. It was very common to copy LPs to cassettes, even making your own ‘mix tapes’. Many home stereo systems included a cassette player/recorder so that you could copy record-to-tape or even tape-to-tape. We still have our big old dinosaur LP-cassette ‘machine’ down in the basement. I’ve included this picture, cobwebs and all.

photo credit: wikipedia

photo credit: wikipedia

Then came the compact discs. I really thought that was the ultimate. Couldn’t get better than that.

But now CDs are yesterday’s news. Just ask a young person. They aren’t buying them.

It’s all digital now. And to me, this seems like “the end.” But of course it won’t be the end. There will be something else. I wonder what it will be?

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30 thoughts on “Remembering Life Before iTunes

  1. Did you ever play a 33 of Rick Astley on 45 and a 45 of Kylie on 33? They sounded the same. What was hilarious though, was playing one of my dad’s old 16’s on 78. That had me in fits.

    With the spindle arm, leaving it to the side would have record playing again and again. Much to the annoyance of my parents 😉

    Do you remember the icon in the corner of the LPs? The one that said “Home Taping Is Killing Music”? One album (by a thrash metal band called Venom) put underneath that “So is Venom”

    • So true! Great fun to play the records on the wrong speed. Sometimes people claimed there were hidden messages in those slowed-down or sped-up versions. 🙂 Good trick with the spindle arm! I’m surprised your mom didn’t ‘break’ it when she was dusting 🙂 🙂 🙂
      Thanks for all the great memories!!!

  2. Great post – a trip down memory lane. I remember having a 45 rpm (revolutions per minute, for those under a certain age) record player and I would put Jack the Knife on it and let it repeat over and over and over. Probably drove a lot of people nuts.

  3. LOL- I suppose growing up around more adults than children I have seen LP’s, cassettes and even 8 tracks up close. I do remember being in college in the late 90’s/early2000’s when illegal downloading via Napster was all the rage. I didn’t sign up for internet until 2002, so I used to check out CD’s from my local library and burn them to my computer (but I never shared the files). Now, my local library subscribes to a service that allows you to download 3 free MP3’s a week. It is quite a surprise to realize ITunes is 10 years old. Great post.

    • Thanks, Nicole. So good to see you! 🙂 I did some of that library-burning thing, too. I agree with you… hard to believe that iTunes is 10. I wonder what we’ll be downloading (if at all..will there be something new?) 10 years from now.

  4. We really were separated at birth, you know. I have the same selection of old LP’s, plus many more. Janis Joplin, James Brown, Donovan, The Cream…man. I’m older ‘n’ dirt! I not only remember the little yellow device pictured above, but we had a heavy metal (not in the cool music sense) cylinder thingie that would fit down over the spindle so you didn’t have to use individual gadgets for each record. And then you could pile the 45’s on, too. Lots of Elvis, The Everly Brothers (hence the name of my General Store), Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Big Bopper, Richie Valens, Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, and oh so many more. Do I miss those days? Yeah, sometimes. Would I give up my computer, my iPhone, my GPS, or my iTunes? Not willingly!

    Great post, SC!

    • I sure agree with you. I would not give up the goodies of today. I love hitting “shuffle” on my music and filling my ears with surprises. Loved the Everly Brothers and Janis Joplin, too! Very eclectic tastes we have. 🙂

      • The way I choose to see it is that we of a certain age are LUCKIER than our younger friends. WE have gotten to see (and hear) so much more music than they have, by having experienced these various eras. We have been exposed to experiences in the industry that they will never have, and have watched it grow over the decades, enjoying the advent of ever newer devices and methods and entertainers and musical works. There is something to be said for a long life and being able to remember way back when. My personal memories go all the way back to the earliest crooners and the very first rock and rollers. From Vaughan Munroe (how old am I? Hahaha) to Bill Haley & the Comets. Buddyt Holly and Kate Smith. Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and the still going strong Tony Bennett, and Boots Randolph, Duane Eddy, and the early days of Conway Twitty. Patti Page, Peggy Lee, and Lena Horne.

        Oh, yes, we have very eclectic tastes, don’t we? I find that I have my two or three favorite musical genres today, but I can usually find one or two artists from each one I really enjoy, even if I don’t care much for the genre overall.

        Who do I listen to on MY playlists now? Really only two singers on most days…the only two to accompany me in my car all the time: Michael Buble (for his butter-smooth voice and retro sound) and Phillip Phillips who has brought the joy of old-fashioned, down home crossover music in a country-rock/jazzy/un-quantifiable way that makes me smile every single time I hear him. And not just his biggest hit so far, “Home,” but in all the types of music he writes and sings with such a happy heart. He makes music fun again, after a decade of repetitive pop sounds and/or ear-bleeding levels of loud, angry rap.

        Life is good. Who knows what new musical pleasures, among others, we will see tomorrow?

  5. Purple People Eater, Kathy…! You know they still play that tune on our community broadcast station; it sure brings back lots of good memories.
    I loved my parents stereo; they didn’t love my love of it because I’d be the one ‘up late’ listening to their fabulous LPs – like: Johnny Mathis – he was my second love, and Perry Como – he was my first. Then the Beatles came along, and Barbara Streisand… Arrr, such great music….!
    As for iTunes; was there a time before it…!?! We sure get spoiled real fast. I used to think that cassettes were the greatest, then CDs came along. Now we have music at the touch of a button… What next? Dunno; but I bet it will be great. 😉

    • Oh my, you just hit a nerve with me. I gobbled up every Barbra LP (and eventually CD) as they were released. Her last ‘album’ was the first one I bought digital, only. Moving along with the times. 🙂

    • Oh, you touched a nerve with Perry Como, Carolyn. He was my favorite all time crooner! Ever! I just loved his sweet smile and gentle nature almost as much as his beautiful voice. It was a black day at my house when he died. I wanted him to live forever!!

      • Marcia, I totally understand that…!
        I was given a marvelous gift some years back of 10 CDs containing the biggest hits of the 30s, 40s & 50s. I took the best of them, made a playlist and created a few CDs for the car. We do a lot of car travel, so I get to hear them often; Perry’s music is sprinkled throughout. You are so right. He was such a lovely, gentle soul..! What a wonderful legacy he left behind…!

  6. Being a teen in the 90s I did the whole making your own mixtape (just), but I did also make my own mix ‘minidisc’ (remember those?). When my computer finally got the software to burn CDs, I also had fun creating my own mix CDs. The kids I teach still don’t understand why I buy music (when you get it for free, though not strictly legally), although my daughters friends are still amazed when they see my CD collection.

    • Somehow I missed the ‘minidisc’, but I did make some burned CDs. But oh, my …. aren’t playlists so much easier! Most of the time I really enjoy just hitting ‘shuffle’ and surprising my ears with whatever turns up. How funny that your daughter’s friends gasp at your CD collection. Feeling old? 🙂

  7. oh dear i am in good company with your other readers in having all the same albums and memories .. yes we still sing the Purple People Eater for the grandchildren .. just for fun! i do love my iPod for its convenience and the huge number of albums it holds … but the feel of vinyl and the sound of the 45’s dropping are all still present as you mention them …

  8. My daughter is collecting LP’s now as vintage archaic objects. Jim has kept his because when he retired, he was going to copy them to cd’s….right. We don’t have a record player. Only my daughter does!! Too funny…..

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