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The exotic, alien world of 90s music formats

February 20, 2015

I enjoy having kids, if for no other reason* than explaining things that happened a decade or two ago to someone who wasn’t there and has no earthly idea what it was like.

Yesterday I found myself telling daughter about getting They Might Be Giant’s “Flood” album on CD in the early 1990s, and how cool CDs were, because unlike tapes and records, all the music was on ONE SIDE. And it was a cool shiny space age format. And they eventually figured out they could put more than a record’s worth of songs on it.  Tom Petty commemorated the ONE SIDE thing by making note of it on the CD version of one of his albums…the song ends, and he says something like “This is the point at which a person with the tape or record would have to stand up, or sit down, and turn the album over. So let’s just take a minute to mark that. ………. Okay, here’s side two.”

And about the 50 CD changer we bought. You could put in 50 CDs on a carousel, and select which one to play. And it was just the most amazing awesome thing ever.  And how that was the precursor to a few format changes – remember MiniDisc, anyone? And then to digital music, and Napster – which was amazing – and burning your own CDs, and mini digital music players. And how I wasn’t paying attention to the announcement of the iPod, but how it kind of sunk into my consciousness, and how super amazing cool that was.  Digital music on a compact, easy to user player was, as it turned out, everything I wanted out of music consumption in my tweens and teens**.

All of this is an alien world to my children, who of course have never known what it’s like to be without digital music – “Hey Mom, can you download that Minecraft song onto your phone?” – in the same way I never knew what it was like to be without television.

This great foreign world perspective, the idea that history is reality, something you actually LIVE THROUGH instead of just read about…it’s not a great reason to have kids, but it’s a wonderful fringe benefit.



*And there are MANY other reasons.

**iPods became popular a little later than my teens – when I was in my mid-20s, apparently – so I have memories of stacks of records, and a tape-to-tape high speed dubbing deck I got for Christmas, and mix tapes and on and on.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2015 5:24 pm

    Amusing on the timing: I just stumbled across this article, “The CD was dying, and Starbucks just killed it” ( )

    • February 20, 2015 5:34 pm

      I came back to this article to post just that, and you beat me to it. You probably saw the Kevin Roose tweet of this article that I retweeted, so its probably entirely my fault.

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